Take note

There’s a simple tool at your disposal that could really help your sales technique. SUE BARRETT

Sue Barrett

By Sue Barrett

I would like to focus on something that at first glance may appear rather trivial. In fact it might seem so inane that you are wondering why I am even writing about it.

It’s “note taking”.

I learnt a very salient, if not embarrassing, lesson in my early 20s. When in my first sales consulting role I turned up to a sales meeting with a prospective client with no obvious note-taking materials. Up until that time I had never been told to take notes by my managers. I hadn’t thought about talking notes myself. I relied on my memory.

However this call was different. I sat down and proceeded to ask the client questions without taking notes. This client stopped me in my tracks and said: “Why aren’t you taking notes? How can you possibly understand me and my business if you do not take notes? Bloody sales people never take notes. What do they teach you anyway?”

I didn’t know what to say. I was in shock. After a long silence he handed me a note pad and pen and we picked up where we left off with me taking notes.

It has to be said that I have taken notes ever since, and for good reason too – it really works.

OK, so we can put my faux pas down to youth, however it never ceases to amaze me how many sales people (of all ages) still do not take notes when they are speaking to clients over the phone or face-to-face.

For the last 10 years we have been running a true-to-life sales fitness simulation exercise where we have tested 1000s of sales people. Part of the exercise requires people to listen to a body of text that has vital information in it.

Sadly the vast majority of people (over 90%) do not take notes, which severely affects their ability to successfully undertake the remainder of the exercise. When we debrief the exercise many confess to not taking notes in the field either.

Note taking is one of those small but really important things you can do in any client sales interaction.

Note taking:

  • Helps you capture what the client is actually saying in their own words.
  • Keeps you focused on your client.
  • Gives you something to refer back to when verifying your understanding of your client’s needs.
  • Helps you prioritise yours and your client’s thoughts.
  • Helps the client feel confident in you as they see you making an effort to really understand their priorities and requirements.
  • Helps the client feel ‘listened to’ and understood.
  • Shows you are paying attention.
  • Gives you good content to work from when pulling together a quote or proposal.
  • Means you don’t have to rely on memory alone.
  • Gives discipline to the person taking the notes ensuring they get everything they need to know (and the client is willing to let them know) from the client.

Rules of thumb

  • Ask permission to take notes.

Let the client know that you would like to take notes and check that this is OK with them. Sometimes clients may want to say something to you but do not want it recorded. By asking permission you show you are working together on gathering the right information.

  • Draw little flags against the key areas where you know you can make a sale or be of service.

Too many sales people jump in at the first sign of a sales opportunity, often missing additional information that could lead to bigger or more sales. To prevent this from happening I draw a little flag against each potential “sales opportunity” I come across.

When I have finished gathering all the information from my client I go back over my notes and let them know what I have flagged. This helps both of us get a clear picture of their situation and where I could be of service.

I find clients respond very favourably to note taking and my verifying their situation. First, they seem pleased to hear someone else repeat back what they have just said, and second, they feel more confident in my ability to work with them and help them in the best manner possible.

With B2B sales becoming more complicated and consultative in nature you need to take notes to keep a check on all the different facets of the client’s needs and priorities.

Give you and your client and easy break – take notes.


Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

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