There are many different ways to show a customer you’re paying attention. If you’re connecting with them in person, you can lock eyes with them and keep focused as you listen deeply to what they want and need. You can nod to show you understand what’s being said. And you can follow up with questions that build upon what they say.
One of the surest ways of demonstrating you’re taking in what a customer says, however, is to take it all down -- in other words, becoming a world-class notetaker.
The best sales reps already know this, of course. As much as those working in sales might be depicted in movies and TV shows walking around with a bluetooth headset or standing in a pitch meeting, the reality tends to look a lot different. A lot happens in real conversation with customers, and it’s not always in person. Sales people also tend to have many different conversations with customers happening at once, which means lots of details could easily get forgotten or confused. This also makes note-taking an essential selling skill.
Of course, the point of taking notes is not merely to show customers you’re alert and engaged. After all, they might be connecting virtually and have little sense that you’re taking notes at all. Instead, the impact should be felt throughout the buying process, when you’ve managed to come back with a quote that aligns perfectly to what they’ve described, or you follow up with the exact information or materials they’d asked for in your previous encounter.
Notes also have an even longer-term value when the most salient data points get put into a CRM like Sales Cloud. When that happens, the entire sales team can collectively use it to improve their odds with other customers by correlating with other notes and data they’ve contributed to the system.
The good news is you don’t necessarily need a lot of fancy equipment to take notes. An everyday pad and paper will do. Some might prefer to install an app on their smartphone, or have a folder on their laptop where they can jot down things easily. Whatever your method, though, you need to make sure you’re taking notes on the right things. These are some of the basics:
Customers may share a problem they’re trying to overcome by purchasing your firm’s products and services, but look beyond the surface. Think of Simon Sinek’s bestselling book Start With Why, which suggests smart companies tend to make most of their key decisions based on a unique sense of purpose they offer to the world.
When you see or hear clues that relate to why the customer is in business, why they’re focused on a certain problem area and why it matters to them, you’ll be able to nurture a real relationship based on trust. It will elevate the buying conversation far above price points and features and gets to what motivates them most.
Sales reps are used to hearing pushback from the moment they start selling, and often have rebuttals or counter-arguments ready in their back pockets, so to speak. Those aren’t necessarily the only barriers to closing the deal, however.
Think about how purchases have evolved, particularly in a B2B environment, where buying teams may include half a dozen people or more. As a sales rep, you might never even meet all of them, but you’ll certainly have to address any issues or barriers they might raise.
Sometimes customers will let these kinds of details slip -- like the fact that their CFO is adverse to working with new vendors, for instance, or that the IT department already feels overworked managing the company’s current portfolio of applications, let alone something new.
The notes you take on these hidden objections should be the first things you research and prepare to address as you continue the conversation with the customer in future meetings.
The products and services sold by most companies will have more than one strength that appeals to customers. Sales reps often need to run through all of them, but you should take notes when you hear terms that tend to align more to one kind of feature or benefit than others.
Certain customers might be focused on doing things more quickly, for instance. If they talk about how slow certain processes are, or if they keep referring to speed or being fast in a positive way, the details of your pitch or your follow-up meeting should be themed accordingly. In other cases, “costs” will be a trigger word, or “help,” if top-notch support is among the most important criteria.
Body language can speak volumes. Facial expressions can also tell you a lot. Without looking like you’re playing psychologist, a good sales rep will take note of the things they say that make customers frown, flinch or look confused. More positive signs, like smiles or a sense of excitement should be duly noted, too.
Even if you’re primarily dealing with a customer by phone, you’ll want to note changes in their tone based on how the conversation unfolds. Note any long or sudden silences that a particular topic or point provokes. All of this is essential to fine-tuning your approach later on.
When a customer call or meeting wraps up, go over the discussion highlights. Clarify what outstanding questions are to be answered, or any other next steps you’ll need to take on their behalf. Also write down any additional details about what the process will look like on their end. That way, you won’t reach out again or follow up before they’re actually ready to hear from you.
Bear in mind, of course, that you’re never going to be able to write down every word the customer says in your conversations. That’s not the point anyway. Your notes don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be good enough that you’ll be able to understand them and use them to do whatever’s necessary to close the deal -- and to build a better partnership with your customer.