When you meet a prospect for the first time, do you…

A. Immediately launch into your presentation and extol the virtues of what you can do for him?
B. Follow a script with questions specifically designed to draw out what is important to the prospect?
C. Make small talk and ask questions through the course of a conversation in an effort to get to know the prospect and his hopes and concerns?
D. Pitch your favorite annuity product as the answer to all their needs—no matter what they are?

Let’s hope your answer isn’t A or D. B might feature the right questions, but if you follow the same script with every prospect, you aren’t exactly treating the lead as a unique individual with unique needs.

Making a sales pitch without knowing the lead’s needs is a common mistake of many salespeople, but it shouldn’t be one a qualified advisor ever makes. If your pitch does not address the specific issues and concerns of the prospect, you have given him no compelling reason to become a client.

Certainly it is important for an advisor to be able to help a prospect see how your services can provide the promise of a better tomorrow and a secure retirement. You do need to be able to quickly establish your credentials. But you don’t want to do all the talking or give away too much free advice, either at an initial consultation or at a seminar. You need to make them want to come back for specific solutions to their situation from a highly competent advisor who is genuinely interested in their financial well-being–you.

In that spirit, here are five tangible steps to convert those leads into satisfied clients.

1. Make Contact

“The first time you contact a prospect, start out by asking questions about what he or she needs, rather than assuming anything,” says C.J. Hayden, a San Francisco-based business coach who teaches independent professionals about marketing and author of the book, “Get Clients Now!“.

Then, Hayden says, the key is to really listen, and respond to what you hear very specifically, instead of with a standardized script. “Then offer him or her something for free, with no strings attached–a guidebook, an assessment quiz, a checklist, an online resource, or a class, for example–that addresses the individualized issues your prospect raised. Your free offer needs to be truly a useful gift, not just another vehicle for a sales pitch,” Hayden says.

Once you’ve done that, you can ask for a meeting, perhaps even in the same conversation. “But you need to do this in the context of an offer of help with their problems,” Hayden adds. “For example, ‘You know, if you’d like to talk about this in person, I’d be happy to meet with you. Would that be useful?’”

If first contact comes at your seminar, having a proven method of booking appointments from a high percentage of attendees can be crucial to making your seminars worthwhile. If they attended your seminar, you likely collected some information about them–enough to determine whether or not they are a good a candidate. Even if they didn’t book an appointment right then at the seminar, you may still be able to book a meeting by scrutinizing the information they provided for areas where you can be of assistance.

2. Refine Your Follow-Up

You’ve had your first meeting, made your presentation, and the prospect seems interested but is hesitant to pull the trigger and become a client. This is certainly not the time to give up on them, and it’s not necessarily the time to get pushy. Sometimes it just takes some time–and some non-aggressive contacts that can build your relationship and show them you are really interested in helping them, and not just trying to make a sale.

“Salespeople often default to the standard, ‘Are you ready to buy yet?’ phone call as their preferred method of follow-up, but clients today want to be informed and engaged, not just sold to,” Hayden says. “If you can become a trusted source of information and a friendly voice in their ear, prospects will welcome contacts from you rather than avoid them, and you’ll also receive many more unsolicited referrals, even from prospects who haven’t yet worked with you themselves.”

Bellevue, Wash.-based advisor Douglas Nickson knows first-hand how that can work, based on a meeting that came out of one of his seminars. “One time a couple years ago, I met with a fellow who really liked his stockbroker and just wanted a particular thing tweaked. I informed him exactly what to tell his stockbroker to make it happen and that if that’s all he needed, he really did need me. As I was leaving, he mentioned I was seeing his good buddy, who also attended my seminar, a couple days later. His buddy and wife turned out to be a $500,000 client, and I always figured the first guy must have called him and told him that I was a straight shooter.”

At the first appointment, Nickson gathers basic information on a standard one-page form. He tells a prospect at the beginning there is no charge, and he informs him at the end of the hour if he can help or not.

“My objective on the first appointment is to listen to their story and determine if I can help them. I take pride in the fact that I am honest enough to tell them if I can’t help them or if it wouldn’t be a good fit,” Nickson says.

3. Be Conistent and Persistent

The way you would ideally draw it up, that first individual meeting leads to a second meeting where you come back with your solutions to their issues. Then, or perhaps at a third meeting is where paperwork gets signed and whatever parts of the plan you agree on begin to be implemented. But landing a new client doesn’t always happen by the book. It takes many prospects longer to become comfortable with making this kind of commitment.

“Where most professionals seem to fall down is in following up consistently and persistently,” Hayden says. “They forget that it typically takes five to seven contacts to close a sale, and drop a lead after placing a call or two. Or they follow up only in bursts when business is slow, so a prospect might not hear from them for months and months, and any relationship they’ve established drifts away.”

Hayden says if you want people to rely on you to look after crucial aspects of their lives–their investments, their retirement plan, their insurance coverage–then you need to be as reliable in your sales and marketing as you are in the service you provide. “Let your prospects hear from you on a regular schedule, with a helpful message, and an attitude of generosity and caring. That will do more to land clients than all the marketing tricks and closing techniques in the world,” Hayden says.

4. Target Your Leads Wisely

Just because you have a bunch of leads does not mean you have to work your fingers to the bone trying to convert every one of them. Often, it is better to move on quickly rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

“I only see those people who want to see me. I don’t bug anybody.” says Nickson, who has done more than 200 seminars. “Personally, I’ve reached a point where I don’t want everyone as a client. After the first couple hundred clients, I realized they almost all had three things in common: 1) they were smart people; 2) they were nice people; and 3) they appreciated my services. Nowadays, if they don’t have all three, I really don’t want them. I don’t get upset about anyone not buying. It all works out over time.”

Not all advisors can afford to be that particular, though, and most need to convert as many leads as possible to get to where they want to be. For those advisors, not following up properly is in effect throwing away the time, effort and money spent to collect those leads. So follow up and give the lead a reason to do business with you instead of someone else.

5. Effective Follow-Up Techniques

The way you would ideally draw it up, that first individual meeting leads to a second meeting where you come back with your solutions to their issues. Then, or perhaps at a third meeting is where paperwork gets signed and whatever parts of the plan you agree on begin to be implemented. But landing a new client doesn’t always happen by the book. It takes many prospects longer to become comfortable with making this kind of commitment. “Where most professionals seem to fall down is in following up consistently and persistently,” Hayden says. “They forget that it typically takes five to seven contacts to close a sale, and drop a lead after placing a call or two. Or they follow up only in bursts when business is slow, so a prospect might not hear from them for months and months, and any relationship they’ve established drifts away.”

Hayden says if you want people to rely on you to look after crucial aspects of their lives–their investments, their retirement plan, their insurance coverage–then you need to be as reliable in your sales and marketing as you are in the service you provide. “Let your prospects hear from you on a regular schedule, with a helpful message, and an attitude of generosity and caring. That will do more to land clients than all the marketing tricks and closing techniques in the world,” Hayden says.