It was Marty Clarke’s first day traveling with his new boss and after seven calls, Clarke was sure he was wowing the big guy. “By my very conservative estimate I was doing great,” he recalls. Clarke was expecting his boss to be blown away, but instead of waxing poetic over Clarke’s customer skills his manager steered him into a drugstore and handed him a spiral notebook. “If you ever go on another appointment without taking notes I’ll fire you on the spot,” Clarke recalls his manager saying. “I thought I was Super Sales Guy, and he had to teach me Sales 101.”
Though note taking is a basic sales skill, many salespeople prefer to wing it and rely on their memories, or they assume others will take down the pertinent information. “The instinct for salespeople is to say: Well, I’ll remember.” But going note-less is stupidity, says Clarke, author of Communication Land Mines! 18 Communication Catastrophes and How to Avoid Them (Liberty Publishing Group, 2003). If you’re visiting 10 customers a week there’s no way that over the course of a year you can recall all the details of more than 500 appointments. “After the appointment your notes are everything,” he says, noting that even if you have a fail-proof memory, “just out of respect for the person on the other side of the desk, you have to take notes.”
Here are Clarke’s tips for making the most of your notes.
Take notes, not dictation. Taking notes means jotting down the pertinent information, not creating a verbatim transcript of he said-she said. Write down the important things, such as delivery dates, items with a dollar sign in front of them, contact names, personal information the customer shares and so on, and skip the rest. Even if you’re a pro at shorthand, don’t attempt to write down everything, says Clarke. “That’ll just make customers nervous.”
Inspire confidence. Asking the prospect for a pen doesn’t say much for your credibility, nor does scrawling notes in lipstick on the inside of a book of matches or on the back of an envelope. Find a professional way to take and contain your notes, whether it be on a basic legal pad in a leather portfolio or high-tech with a laptop computer or PDA.
Refer back to your records. Notes aren’t worth much if you don’t put them to work. After a call, transfer important dates to your calendar, and input relevant data into your contact management system. Then use your notes to refresh your memory before your next sales call.
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