Rob 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)
^ 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.