Taking Notes in a Client Meeting

306cdebe-31af-4f82-9689-d4794266688cRob Fitz’s book, The Mom Test, was recommended by a friend, who is the CTO of a financial startup. It’s essentially a book about sales conversations for startup entrepreneurs. The Mom Test explains to an entrepreneur how to have a conversation with potential future customers; a conversation that truly allows you to validate (or disqualify) your startup idea. In the preview of the book the author says one of the topics he’ll cover is how to take notes in a meeting while still paying attention.

Naturally, our first thought was, “Rob Fitz has stolen our idea!” How to take notes in a meeting and still have a conversation is a Never Be Closing idea. We talk about how to effectively take notes in a meeting. We haven’t seen anyone else write about it — until Rob Fitz.

Rob’s book is really useful if you have a startup idea you want to vet. One must read to the end of The Mom Test to find out Rob’s technique on the how-to-take-notes question. Although Rob’s technique is different than ours, the premise for why and how to take notes is the same. Since it’s not easy to write down the answer to one question while asking another, the premise for effective note taking in a meeting is this: write as little as possible and have it mean as much as possible.

Rob’s technique to do this is to use a series of symbols that replace words one uses often; shorthand headings really, to help you understand and navigate your notes. Here are Rob’s symbols.

[Z-symbol for lightning bolt] Pain or problem

Π Goal or job-to-be-done (symbol is a soccer/football goal)

☐ Obstacle


⤴ Workaround

^ Background or context (symbol is a distant mountain)

☑ Feature request or purchasing criteria

$ Money or budgets or purchasing process

♀ Mentioned a specific person or company

☆ Follow-up task

Never Be Closing suggests a different technique: organizing your notes spatially on the page, by quadrant. We call it Q-notes. You write different categories of notes in different quadrants. Q-notes works like this:

The upper left quadrant is areas to explore further in the meeting- Questions. (Rob’s first four symbols might fit there.)

The lower left quadrant is information you want to remember but won’t explore further in the meeting. (Rob’s next four symbols fit there.)

The lower right quadrant is for follow-up items, Rob’s last symbol.

The upper right quadrant in the Q-notes format is the ideas you have to deliver value to your client; transmitted at the end of the meeting. (Rob’s book is more about exploratory sales conversations, finding out if someone would truly buy your future product or service. Delivering value today to your client isn’t featured in his thinking.)

The top half of your page is for use during the meeting, and the bottom half of your page is for your use after the meeting.

If you know that everything you write in the upper left quadrant of your page is a question you want to ask during the meeting, you can write less and still decipher what you wrote and what it means.

The two methods taken together allow you to capture even more information while paying attention to your future customer instead of your own scribbling. With a little practice, you can make a note (and a symbol) in a quadrant of your page and never break eye contact with your client.

Good luck!

Pest or Perseverance

perseveranceWhen you call a prospective client to request a meeting for the first time, the primary rule is, have something useful to say. It’s data they might be interested in. It’s a transaction that is similar to one they did or might do. It’s a problem they might share, that you’ve already solved. It’s data information or research that might be relevant, or it’s how you are connected or linked to them. (It’s also best if you can pre-deliver this info.) That’s the legwork that makes a cold call less chilly.

Once you know what you are going to say that’s either potentially useful to them, or connects you to them (or both), then you’re ready to call.

Before you call take five minutes to practice what you want to say and how you want to say it. Write it down. Read it. Say it. Say it without reading it, from memory. Then get your calendar, a pen, and we suggest making the call in the morning. (But that depends on you and, something that’s difficult to know at this point, how they use their day.)

“Hi Jon, this is Tim Wills at Berenger. I know you through Bill Stern at the K of C Club. Berenger developed a new add-on to our product that you should know is out there. I’m going to be in St Louis in three weeks. Can we meet for 30 minutes?”

When Jon says “yes,” make the date and get off the phone. Your goal is to meet your new client face to face. Save your ideas and thoughts for the meeting itself when you are better prepared.

The chances you get Jon on your first try are pretty slim. Even after eight bounces to voicemail, assume that every call you make will be the one that is picked up by your client prospect. Even on your ninth call, you still do a quick in-your-head rehearsal. And, you haven’t left eight messages, especially on voice mail. That’s a great way to lower yourself to pest status. You might have left one or two so your client knows you are calling to set up a meeting, delivering on the promise you made in your initial correspondence.

Preparing to make the meeting request call is one of the differences between being a pest and persevering.

Good Luck!

The Cold (Call) War

coldcallThe battle over cold calling rages on.

Is cold calling a necessary part of being a salesperson? Or should a good salesperson never be cold calling?

The battle continues because the answer is contextual. Both of the above statements are true, depending on context. Whether cold calling is useful depends on your situation, your industry and your product.

Cold calling is a viable option if the following criteria are met.

  1. There are many potential buyers of your product. Many means many, like nearly everyone — examples are insurance and shoes.
  2. The opportunity cost to a ‘no’ to your request, whether that request is for a meeting or to actually buy your product, is low. In other words you don’t really care if they say no, presumably because there are many more folks out there whom you can find. As an example, you have a hundred more names on a list of people who clicked a web link identifying their interest in Florida real estate, and that happens to be what you’re selling.
  3. There are many routes into a client organization. If you are selling facilitation services to run meetings more effectively, any departmental manager could use your services. If one manager at Aquacorp says no, you are not closed out from calling on another.
  4. Your pitch can outline a need quickly. People have to get it. And to get it, the problem your product solves must be universally understood. “Tired of sewing patches on the ripped knees of your children’s pants? Toughskins will outlast any other pair of pants.” Parents who have that problem get it right away. (Still, my brothers and I wore a lot of holes in the knees of Toughskin jeans.)

Another way to think about it is the reverse. Would you be disappointed if the person on the other end of the phone said no to your request? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then don’t cold call.

7 Commandments of Scripts

elevatorA sales script is a short, rehearsed speech that informs someone about your industry, your company, your product or you. Scripts are useful in client meetings and other situations as well – in a coffee shop, at a party.

You probably already have scripts: those things you say over and over about yourself or your company or your job. They grew organically from having to present yourself or from being asked the same question over and over (like what do you do?).

A short script about who you are and what you offer can position you as credible, intriguing and worth spending time with. The ability to express your essential message quickly and cleanly sets you apart from the crowd.

Here are the seven commandments of scripts:

  1. Focus on one key point per script that illustrates something unique about you or your company.
  2. Tell a story. Facts and figures that support the story are even better. Stories are about people. Data and a person with a personality are the ingredients of the best scripts.
  3. Be relevant to your audience. Have custom scripts for specific types of clients. Don’t use scripts that aren’t relevant.
  4. Every script ends with a question. The goal of your meeting is to learn by asking questions. Ending with a question to your client reminds you of that. And you never know when you’ve earned enough credibility that the person you’re talking to will start answering your questions.
  5. Be brief. A script is said in less than sixty seconds.
  6. Be brief, really. Monologues are only for evil superheroes.
  7. Always finish with a question. Got it?

Figure out what you’re already saying and follow the seven commandments of scripts to make your scripts better.