Over the years I have found a sales formula that works very successfully. I use it to close every deal. It works for me; maybe you should give it a try.

1. Prospecting for new business is 80 percent of your time, especially if you’re new and just starting out. Paperwork will take the other 20 percent. If you’re already an established salesperson in your field, this will be difficult to do with all the referral business you should be getting on a daily or weekly basis. Oh yeah, you have to fit in the customer lunches, golf, and networking into this as well.

2. Do your homework before you walk in to the meeting. Once you have a meeting set up, find out as much as you can about the prospect’s business before the meeting. If they are worth their salt, they will be more impressed that you know about their business and feel that you care. Have a meeting agenda prepared. Base the agenda on your follow-up phone call to go over what you will discuss during the meeting. Hand the prospect a copy as you go through the items. Only a true professional will take the time to do this.

3. Dress appropriately for the person you are meeting with. You wouldn’t dress in a suit if you are meeting with the facility engineer of a building. It may make him feel uncomfortable. Nor would you dress in blue jeans to visit the CEO or owner unless he or she has asked you to. Remember, you only get one chance for a first impression.

4. Never look or act like you need a sale. Prospects can sniff this out sometimes before you even walk into the room. I’ve learned that the relaxed, nonchalant approach puts the prospect at ease and isn’t so nervous about getting sold something. If you don’t look or sound like you need a sale, you will more than likely get one. It’s kind of like when you’re job hunting. You can’t find a job until you have one and then everyone wants you when you’re not available.

5. Be truthful and honest about all things all the time. Do not promise more than you can deliver no matter how bad you want to make a sale. Always under-promise and over-deliver. Your integrity and good word take a lifetime to establish and a few seconds to destroy. Do what you say and say what you mean. Don’t mince your words.

6. Answer email and voicemail promptly. I’m not saying that you have to stop and answer every call or email as soon as it hits your phone or inbox. Be sure to respond at least by the end of the work day or, by the latest, the next morning for non-emergency messages. Emergencies require prompt attention. I have won more business by responding to an emergency message simply because I called back and offered to help. I hear excuses all the time of why people don’t return my calls or email, especially, “I’m just too busy or I just have so much to do I haven’t had the time to get back with you.” If you want to make sales, don’t be one of those people.

7. Smile, be polite, and be respectful. People buy from those they like. Always greet the people you meet with a smile and an appropriate handshake, but let them dictate the firmness or availability of the initial contact. I’ve had plenty of limp-fish handshakes from men and women, but just as many firm ones from both women and men.

8. Turn off your phone or place it in silent mode or leave it in your vehicle. If you must have it with you, don’t ever look at it while you are speaking with someone else. It is so disrespectful to constantly look at your phone or device while speaking with others. It will give the impression that they are not important. (Please see No. 7.)

9. Listen twice as much as you talk. Don’t get caught up in small talk so much that you use up all your planned meeting time. Most people have a very busy schedule and if they give you some of their time, even if it’s only 10 minutes, please be a good steward of that time. I have had numerous meetings that began with only 10 minutes of time allotted and ended 30-45 minutes later based on the questions I asked and the responses I gave to questions asked of me.

10. Never be late for an appointment. My father taught me that “on time” was late; being early is on time. You never want the prospect or potential customer to be waiting for you. Whether you want to believe it or not, arriving late sends the wrong signal from the very start. If conditions throw you a curve, and you have a reputation for being prompt, you will be allowed a late arrival once or twice. You only get to make a first impression once. If you blow it, that’s it; you face an uphill battle to make a favorable impression and it’s never quite the same. Face it, people are, for the most part, unforgiving. They want to feel important and that someone actually cares about their situation. All too often I uncover the reasons why people leave or fire their current service providers: their providers just got too big to care or grew complacent because they had the business for a long time. Keep your contacts fresh and never assume anything.

11. Never assume anything when it comes to a customer. Although it’s great to be able to trust those you are in business with, you can never know who is above the person you deal with from day to day or how they will react to a situation that you may have been through a hundred times before with your contact. Remember, they may tell you everything you want to hear to your face, and the next guy gets the same story, while in the back of their mind they are thinking, “This guy doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.”

12. Get to know more than one person at the business where you perform services. Find out everything you can about them to discover what you might have in common. In today’s business climate, people get fired or quit their jobs at an alarming rate. That person you know may love you, but his or her boss may like someone else. Their boss can and will fire you if given the chance because he or she doesn’t know you. These people are your inside salespeople for you and your product or service at their company.

13. Never burn a bridge; always take the high road, whatever the situation. No matter how angry you may be or how convinced you are that you’ve been treated badly, don’t give in to those feelings. Taking the high road will always be in your best interest. A great mentor of mine taught me you have to learn how to step on people’s shoes without messing up the shine.

14. Follow up with prospects and be persistent, but not pushy. Most of the time people don’t get a sale because they don’t ask for it. Ask the prospect how they want to be contacted and how frequently. You’ll be surprised how many times they will tell you exactly how they want to be contacted and when.

15. Don’t get too high or too low when you win or lose a sale. We have all had those moments when we close a big deal and experience the euphoria — and the incentive — that come with it. Although it is important to celebrate your wins, it is equally important to acknowledge your losses. Learn what you did in both cases.

16. Ask for the sale. All they can say is no. So many people forget this one simple thing. Maybe they fear rejection to their offer.

17. Don’t take it personally. Remember, when a prospect says “no” to your offer, they’re not saying no to you, just to your offer. Trust me, the reason most people don’t return follow-up emails about your proposal (see No. 13) is they don’t want to tell you “no.” It makes them feel bad. They all love to get in touch with you when they intend to give you their business; when they don’t respond to your phone calls and email, they don’t intend to give you their business. That makes sense, right?

18. Learn what the ABC’s of selling means. Another great friend and mentor of mine told me it means to Always Be Closing. You never know where your next sale will come from. Keep your radar up and be sensitive to the opportunities around you. There are so many things that are right under your feet and you don’t even notice them. Russell H. Conwell talks about this in his book, Acres of Diamonds. It’s a great read and worth your time.

19. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you are new to sales, read about successful salespeople and do what they did. It works; just ask me. It’s not a complicated thing, but it seems that so many try to make it hard.

20. Remember, people love to buy, but hate to be sold. Work on creating a buying/positive atmosphere with your prospects or clients. People want to know that you have their best interests in mind. They also don’t mind paying a premium for that trust and confidence for whatever it is they are asking you to do for them.