I have been teaching consultative sales for the past 20 years and in my opinion three of the most critical skills necessary to be superb as a salesperson are: asking highly focused and thoughtful questions, being an intense listener and then taking excellent notes. Great questions allow you to gather the essential information needed to understand the customer’s problems, create the exact right solution and close the deal. However, if you ask great questions and don’t listen carefully and write superb notes, you might as well not ask any questions at all.
Let me help you understand how important listening is. Think about the average value of one of your larger sales, then determine how much time (in minutes) you actually spend in front of the key decision-maker during the sales process. Then divide the total value of the sale by the number of minutes and it will give you how much money is on the line for every 60 seconds you’re talking to the key decision-maker. For some of my clients that number has been in the thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute. The number might be much smaller for you, or it might be quite large, but either way it is essential that you be incredibly focused on your customer during the brief amount of time you get to spend with them. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you are paying attention and truly care about what they are saying is to be absolutely fantastic at taking notes. Again, if you ask a great question and they give you an in-depth and detailed answer – and you don’t write any notes – you are telling the customer not to answer any more of your questions because it will be a waste of their time. (**As someone who has owned several businesses I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve had a salesperson sit in front of me while I explained my problem or need in detail – and they didn’t write a single note – nothing. Which is exactly what they got from me, nothing. No sale, no deal, and no invitation for a follow-up appointment).
Here are some of the things I recommend to increase your listening and note-taking effectiveness and clearly demonstrate that you are focused solely on your customer.
- Turn off all electronic equipment that you do not plan to actually use in the meeting. No phone, no iPad, no computer – nothing that can distract you.
- Bring a professional notebook such as a Moleskine to write your notes in. Unless you are a phenomenal typist and can keep great eye contact while typing notes, it is better to use a pen and paper and transfer the notes over later.
- Bring an extra pen.
- As you are listening and taking notes use good body language and eye contact to show your customer you are fully engaged in the conversation. If you are selling over the phone use of verbal cues to let the customer know your listening and encourage them to continue talking.
- As the customer is talking repeat what they are saying over and over again in your head as you are taking notes. This will shut out any mind chatter you have and help you remember what your prospect is telling you because even though they have said it only once, you have heard it several times in your own mind which makes your memory and recall dramatically better.
- I have created a number of special icons that I use to help me focus in on the most important information in my notes. For example, I put a # next to where the customer gives me numbers, and a $ next to where those numbers represent money. I draw small set of clock hands next to anything that deals with time. When a client emphasizes a specific point I put a big star next to it, if they mention it again I put another star – and another if they talk about it even more. I write a ? when there is something I need to come back and ask for more detail on. Then, at the end of the meeting (or phone call) after the client has shared a significant amount of information with me, I can quickly go back over my notes and say something like:
“I’ve listened to you very carefully and from what you have shared with me it looks like you have three major concerns: 1, 2 and 3 (the three items that I put several big stars next to) that are costing you about XX dollars (based on everyplace I have written a $) and are causing you to waste about XX hours a week (based on where I drew little clocks) and you’d like to try to get this fixed by XX day (based on where I put the #’s). Does that sound about right to you?
Typically the client is overwhelmed by the quality of the notes I’ve taken and the information I can summarize and give back to them. I have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that I am listening, paying attention, interested in what they are telling me and because I’ve written it down in such great detail I will be able to remember it and develop the exact right solution based on my understanding and analysis.
- Then as soon as I get out of the meeting or end the phone call I immediately take out my notes and dictate (I use the voice recognition software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking) a clean and thoughtful summary of everything that was discussed and agreed to during the meeting.
- I then send a copy of that summary/call recap to my client to confirm that I’m on target, that I have not missed anything important and that we are in full agreement on next steps.
- Lastly, I post my call recap/summary into my client’s file so that I will have it to review days, weeks, months or years in the future. I still have notes from phone calls I had with clients more than 10 years ago and they are amazed that I can go back and share with them key things we discussed a decade ago.
I will tell you from experience that if you use the tools and recommendations I have listed above it will have a significant positive impact on your sales success. Everything I’ve mentioned is common knowledge, every salesperson knows that they should do this, but very, very few actually do. When you conduct a professional sales meeting, asking superb questions, being a highly focused listener and taking incredibly thorough and detailed notes – you clearly differentiate yourself from all of the other salespeople your customer is meeting and create a level of trust and professional respect that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy.
I hope you find these ideas of value and that they help you close more big deals!