When it comes to the details we forget most often, names are the biggest problem, according to Bob Gray, owner of Memory Edge Corp. in Whitby, Ont.

But having an ability to remember names and other personal details about clients and prospects is key to a successful business.

“All business is based on credibility and relationships,” says Gray, who is also a keynote speaker and provides workshops on improving memory retention. “Smart business people understand how important it is to make people feel special.”

When those clients run into you around town and hear you ask how they are, by name, and refer to family members by name, it shows you care. Clients who are made to feel important this way are more likely to provide referrals, Gray says, and speak well of you to others.

Gray recommends the following three steps to help you remember others’ names:

1. Focus on the person being introduced to you
When you meet someone for the first time, Gray says, you generally don’t hear that person’s name to begin with. You are more concerned with what you are going to add to the conversation, or whether you’ll embarrass yourself.

Simply staying in that moment and actually listening to the person state his or her name is helpful. If you missed a name, don’t be afraid to ask this person to repeat it.

You might worry that you will look inept if you ask someone to repeat his or her name, Gray says. But that other person is probably in the same position.

2. Immediately spell the name
Develop a habit of mentally spelling the name of the person you just met. By doing so, you are forcing yourself to truly hear that person when he or she tells you his or her name. If the name is uncommon, ask the person to spell it for you, and enquire about its background.

3. Create a record for that person
If you have met someone at a networking event or you’ve just added a prospect to your pipeline, take steps as soon as possible to ensure that you will be able to recall that person’s name later.

Create a file in your email program’s “contacts” section. Check to see if this person has any social-media accounts. It is likely he or she will at least have a LinkedIn presence and you can download that photo and add it to the file you are creating.

This is the first in a two-part series on improving your memory.

Next: A proven method for remembering.