THE best way to expand your clientele is to clearly identify who you want to do business with and then meet them.

They can then see what you look like, possibly see what your product looks like and also examine any data or statistics you might have. It gives you the ideal opportunity to start building a positive working relationship with your potential customer.

Advertising, direct mail, websites and telesales all have their place, but nothing beats the face-to-face discussion.

The first challenge is, of course, getting to speak to your prospect and arrange a meeting.

When you phone your prospect's organisation, it is highly possible you will not get through initially even if you have his direct number. There is always an assistant, voice-mail and the prospect himself to deal with.

Here are some guidelines on handling each of these "gatekeepers":

1 The other person

* Always be pleasant and polite. Use the person's name as soon as you know it, but do not be over-familiar.
* Use your prospect's name and your name. Say: "Will you please tell John Tan that Alan Fairweather is on the phone for him?"
* If you are asked what it is about, say: "It's about the contents of a letter Mr Tan has received."
* If you are told that your prospect is in a meeting, find out what time he will be out of the meeting and ask if that would be a good time to call.
* Thank the person for helping and say: "I'll call back at 3.30pm and look forward to speaking to John then. Thanks for your help, Mary."

None of this is easy, but persevere and do not be nuisance. Always be friendly, firm and courteous with Mary.

It sometimes helps to send a brief letter to your prospect explaining that you will call to arrange a short meeting. (Do not use the word "appointment".)

Briefly state your product or service benefit or even a couple of questions at the start of the letter. But do not make it a sales letter and do not enclose literature (your prospect gets enough of this stuff).

2 Voice-mail

* Give your name, business name and phone number. Speak slowly and clearly and use a friendly but businesslike tone.
* Say what you do: "We are the people who minimise production time and cost on xyz. I'd appreciate a return call on 61234567."
* You might want to make an appointment to call. "I appreciate you're very busy, Mr Tan. However, I have some interesting information for you. I'll call back at 3pm and would be pleased if you'd speak to me."
* Leave your phone number again.
* Follow up with a fax or e-mail.

Again, this is a challenge but if you sound warm and friendly and worth talking to, then you will get call-backs.

Always keep customer details handy because when a prospect calls back, he will say: "Hi Alan, it's Fred. I'm returning your call." If you made 20 calls that day, you may not initially know who Fred is, so be prepared.

3 The prospect

Once you speak to your prospect on the phone, you need to do a good selling job to get the meeting.

Most of the time, a prospect is going to say something like: "I'm not really interested, we already have a supplier, and I'm a bit busy at present."

Always keep in mind that most prospects are reasonable people and they have nothing against you personally.

There is also a strong possibility that they will welcome a visit from you if you sound warm, friendly and businesslike.

If you sound like you have some worthwhile information to impart and you do not sound pushy or manipulative, then you are more likely to get that meeting.