More on Taking Notes

The face-to-face client meeting is the most important piece of the sales process. Capturing everything you can from that meeting fuels the future of the relationship.

PencilsBlogIn our previous post we introduced some thoughts from Never Be Closing and The Mom Test, about taking notes in a sales meeting.

If you’ve ever tried to decipher your notes after a meeting, you’ll know why this topic is relevant. The face-to-face client meeting is the most important piece of the sales process. Capturing everything you can from that meeting fuels the future of the relationship.

You have to take notes in a meeting so you can mine what you learned in the meeting to build the relationship. It takes a certain skill to conduct a useful conversation, and capture anything useful that surfaces in that conversation.

Our last post gave some key ideas around how to record more information with fewer strokes of the pen (by using Q-notes and symbols), so you can pay attention to your client and not your notebook. Here are some other thoughts on note-taking that we culled from the two books.

Go to meetings in twos. One can take notes, writing as much as necessary, while the other conducts the conversation. The note taker can also be thinking, to make sure important threads in the conversation get followed through.

Capture direct quotes, says The Mom Test. They can be powerful descriptions of your product or service that you wouldn’t think of yourself.

Use emoticons to capture the emotion of the person as he or she said what they said. Angry, excited or blasé; the emotion (or lack of it) with which something is said, is information. How people feel is sometimes more useful than what they say.

Always debrief the meeting notes afterward with your team. Always.

And it goes without saying: Always take notes. Good luck!

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

When you call a prospective client to request a meeting for the first time, the primary rule is, have something useful to say. That’s the legwork that makes a cold call less chilly.

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!

Making Initial Contact

Once you have at least a loose connection to your prospective client, you need to communicate it to your client, so when you call and ask for an opportunity to meet them, they already know who you are and how you’re connected to them…

Employing the Loose Connection

connection
Loose connections may be a nightmare for an electrician, but they are wonderful for sales people. If you want to get a yes to your request for a meeting, it’s useful if you’ve found a connection you share with your client, and even better if they know what that connection is. That’s what this post is about — activating the connection you’ve found.

The process for activating your loose connection is important. Use two separate communication methods (a belt and suspenders strategy is usually enough to ensure that the message gets through). Your email might go to a spam folder, your phone message will likely be listened to, a handwritten note might end up in the circular file, but it will probably be read. Send two types of missives, a call and a note, a call and an email, an email and a note, or an email from someone they know, then an email from you.

The content of your initial message explains who you are, the connection you have to them, and either asks for a meeting or says you’ll be calling to ask for one in the next week. If it’s an email, it’s less than a hundred words.

Your note, email and/or message might say, for example, “ Hi I’m Mary Snell at Berklee. I saw you speak on a panel at the user conference last week. I asked you the question about advanced interfaces [reference to how you’re connected]. I’d be pleased to get together with you and talk about whether working together might benefit us both. I’ll give you a call in the next week [and you do call in next week] to set up a time that works for you if you’re willing. Thanks.”

You can decide if this is better than the unconnected alternative: “ Hi I’m Mary Snell from Berklee. I’d love to get together with you and talk about whether working together might benefit us both. I’ll call you this week to set up a time if you’re willing. Thanks.”

You’ve found the connection to your prospective client. You communicated that connection so they know how they’re connected to you. Our next post will talk about the call for the meeting request; what you say and how you say it.

Finding the Loose Connection

Getting a “yes” rather than a “no” to a meeting request usually requires just one thing: a connection, however loose, between you and your prospect. Establish some connection, any connection, and your request for a meeting will usually be answered affirmatively.

… and Getting Yourself a “Yes”

switchboardYou pick up the phone — to call a prospective client with whom you’ve wanted to meet for a while. Today feels like the day. You make the call, get them on the line, and ask if you can come by their office for a meeting.

They say, “No thanks.”

Once a prospective client has said “no” to your request for a meeting, it’s even more difficult to get a “yes” later. You’ve already been disqualified. Getting a “no” switched to a “yes” is like getting someone to add an item to their to-do list that they’ve already crossed off. They disqualified you. From their perspective, that was progress. Getting an initial “no” is a situation to be avoided.

How might you increase the odds of a “yes” when you make that call?

Getting a “yes” rather than a “no” to a meeting request usually requires just one thing: a connection, however loose, between you and your prospect. Establish some connection, any connection, and your request for a meeting will usually be answered affirmatively.

What do we mean by connection? Here’s a list of reasons people are more likely to say yes to your request for a meeting. (Lists are useful to spark creative thinking.) When you read the list, let your brain make a creative connection — in this case a connection to a connection you may have to your client. (These are loosely ordered, starting with the strongest connections first.)

Network
  1. Someone your client knows referred you, especially if they sent an email saying so first. (This is gold.)
  2. You share a professional network. Someone in your company knows someone in theirs.
  3. You work with a well-known individual (or company or entity). For example if your clients are scientists, and the National Science Foundation is a client of yours, this is often enough of a connection to get a yes.
  4. You are connected to people who might be useful to them, service providers, researchers.
  5. You know people in common outside of work, through a club, a sport a hobby, or simple geography.
Your Company
  1. You can execute demonstrably faster or better than your competitors, and this might matter to your prospect.
  2. You have new capabilities of which your prospective client is unaware, which they might be able to profit from.
Your Business Knowledge
  1. You offer interesting insights into your client’s business.
  2. You have intelligence relevant to an initiative your client is undertaking.
  3. You work with companies in their supply or delivery chain, (and sometimes even a company who is a competitor.)
  4. You have specific experience in a niche they occupy.
  5. You can point to specific tricky problems that you solved with your creative and innovative capacity.
Serendipity
  1. You are going to be in their neighborhood or city.

Find a connection. Once you have a connection, we’ll tell you in the next post, how to employ that connection to get a yes to your request.