It’s certainly neither profound nor insightful to suggest that a salesperson should make notes during his/her dialogs with clients. What may be surprising is that there’s considerable technique involved. At its best, note-making can both maximize your listening skills and signal them to the client; at its worst, it can do exactly the opposite. Here are some tips on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of making notes.
Always ask permission to make notes if you’ve never done so before with this particular client or prospect. Although it’s almost always welcomed, note-making can be seen as intimidating or threatening on occasion. When asking, cite a client-oriented benefit, e.g. it will assure that your understanding of the client’s needs is accurate and complete which, in turn, will lead to more relevant and focused recommendations from you. If the client declines, acknowledge the concern and probe it supportively. Maybe you can reassure him/her that a specific fear (e.g., violation of confidentiality) can be avoided. Make it clear that relying solely on your memory is a risk to both of you.
Make notes; don’t take notes. This isn’t court stenography or transcribing a teacher’s lecture; there’s a world of difference between ‘recording’ and listening. Your notes should capture client needs and requirements, and it’s okay to write down your own initial ideas and solutions, too— even though it’s decidedly not okay to offer them during the ‘situation analysis’ phase of your client dialog. Your notes should be about client needs, and your related thoughts and connections— the seeds from which your product or service recommendations will be grown.
Your notes must be short: make ‘keyword notes’ of no more than a few words each which will serve as mnemonic devices to remind you of the issues, rather than detailing them. (An example: if your client is worried about complex, obscure and voluminous data reporting, the keywords “actionable topline data” could remind you of the entire data needs area and its several elements.) The more you write, the less you are listening, making connections and holding eye contact; lengthy note-taking can actually become your worst distraction (and it’s self-inflicted).
Your keyword notes then become the basis of your situation analysis-ending “review of client needs.” Here, you play back (only) the needs and issues you’ve heard— no solutions or next steps yet— so that both you and your client can be confident that your subsequent recommendations will be tailor-made and on-target. (Please also see our January 27 blog, “Your Most Important Selling Communication…. Playing Back the Client’s Needs?”) Those keyword notes are the fuel which runs the powerful consultative selling engine.
So, devote some time to polishing your note-making skills; you’ll reap the rewards ‘down the road’ in the making-recommendations and objection-resolution phases which make the sale.