When I was young, there were no xerox machines. We did have carbon copies though. Why me and my friends from grade school are still alive and have not succumbed to carbon or ink poisoning is a miracle. As we sat in Atlantic Avenue elementary school in Pittsburgh at our wooden desks I remember how our teacher would hand out purple ink pages from the mimeograph machine and we would each smell the ink on the paper with a deep breath before handing it back to the kid in the desk behind us and they would snort the ink covered paper and pass it back to the next kid and so on. I can remember that smell to this day – it smelled up the whole room. I also remember my eyes watering if I got a good enough whiff. We would breathe out, then breath in with our noses tight to the paper breathing in as long as we could. With all the things that are bad for you, I am surprised I haven’t had any health consequences, but there is still time I suppose. As you go through your business life, especially meetings and sales calls, you will often find yourself wishing you had an invisible xerox machine so you can truly listen and not have to take notes – which is actually a distraction from listening.
I am fascinated by jobs, job skills and improvement. The fundamentals are critical to getting you to the next level. I am somewhat of a “polymath.” The word has nothing to do with math, it really just means you are more like a renaissance person than a technical specialist. I suppose this comes from a career wherein I have been a large company in house lawyer, a large law firm outside counsel (associate and partner), an entrepreneur and founder of small businesses, a big company executive, a writer, a martial artist and lived in 10 different states. While I don’t necessarily recommend it, the diversity has given me a unique perspective on life, progress, careers, success and failure. I write to share these unique perspectives not because I have done everything perfectly or even well, but I have tried more things more ways and perhaps my experiences can help others skip some steps; especially the ones I wish I would have skipped. This essay is about walking and chewing gum; listening and remembering; walking away from a client or meeting with a photographic image of what happened and what you need to do in your head.
Most people try to take notes as they sit in a sales call or in a meeting. In a modern meeting, you may take notes by hand on a piece of paper, by typing directly into your laptop, by scribbling on a modern day electronic pad which will become notes through a software conversion or some combination of the above. I have tried all these note methods and each time I found while I was transcribing, I was often missing something else. Meetings and sales calls are not like a class in school. At a class in school you are being presented with information with the understanding that you will be taking notes during the lecture. Good professors will even watch as the class takes notes and time their cadence to the rhythm of those who are following along – the students. Good luck with this on a sales call. Just when you are about to write something down, several things will be mentioned that you will miss.
Of all my polymath endeavors, I like selling the best. I have sold legal services, transportation services, logistics services, human resource services, staffing, recruiting, jobs and real estate to name a few. I have been on hundreds of sales calls with some of the largest and smallest companies in America. I love to sell. Selling is about changing behavior. You can’t change behavior if people don’t respect you. And if you can get them to admire you, they will or are much more likely to buy from you. Selling is still an emotional experience between buyer and seller no matter how technical the underlying product or service. One of the best ways to have someone admire you is to have superior listening and remembering skills and use them during the call. This is not just because it is cool; it also allows you to use professional selling techniques because if you remember properly all of their pain points or challenges and opportunities, you can introduce the benefits of your service or product seamlessly into the conversation.
I no longer take notes during a sales meeting or any other meeting; I do write them down afterwards. And while it took me some time to develop this skill, you can do it too. Here are some of my techniques:
1. Active listening that translates needs into your industry jargon. When you hear something important, you need to repeat it. Not in the same words, but capturing the same meaning. And when you do this, use words that you will remember. Example: Suppose you are selling staffing services. The prospect says, “we need our jobs filled within 3 days.” You say, “Okay, I got it, your SLA for time to fill is 72 hours.” “SLA,” “time to fill” and the hours are all language from staffing that you are more likely to remember and yet you have not only understood their requirement, you have shown you know what you are doing and now all you really have to remember is 72 hours – the rest will come to you.
2. Know who you are meeting with and who they are. Use LinkedIn and don’t be one of those creepy anonymous stalkers. I use LinkedIn and I am not one of those ridiculous “anonymous” stalkers. If I visit your profile, you will know I went there – and I want you to know. You will be respected for doing your homework. If someone comes to meet me and doesn’t check me out on LinkedIn, I respect them less. If they tell me they checked on LinkedIn and did it anonymously, I hate that. What are you trying to hide? The better you know the players, the more likely you will remember what they say because you can associate what they say with who they are.
3. You must memorize the names and roles of who you are meeting with before the meeting. If you go into a sales call and don’t know the names, background and roles within the organization of those you are trying to sell, shame on you. You better take notes because my techniques won’t help you. You are entitled to know who will be in the meeting, what role they play and you need to do your research on them. Knowing their role is absolutely critical because you have to communicate very differently based on their role. Example: suppose you are selling billing services. And suppose there is a procurement representative, a CFO, a CIO and an accounts receivable clerk. The procurement person cares about price; the CFO cares about functionality, price, compatibility and scalability; the CIO cares about system integrity, software compatibility and the A/R clerk cares about functionality. Work to sell the A/R clerk on price? They couldn’t care less. Try to sell the procurement person on the great features – deaf ears. And if you know the roles, you will remember who says what because it is predictable around role.
4. Study the room and players as you walk in and notice any unique features. You can then associate these unique features with a point you want to remember. Suppose there is a conference phone and it has a unique shape. You can actually visualize the phone and store points on each side of the phone for remembering later. Or suppose the leader of the meeting is wearing purple, use it to remember something. This integrates your right brain into the meeting. I must confess that I use the services of a memory coach, Chester Santos www.chestersantos.com, and I recommend you study memorization. It is an invaluable skill. And right brain techniques are powerful tools that with a little training and practice can set you apart.
5. Create a story out of the needs of the customer. Stories are easier to remember than lists. Use your right brain to create a story about the need, challenge or opportunity of the prospect. Example: Suppose you are selling radio advertising and having trouble because the prospect tried it once, spent a bunch of money and got no new sales. You might imagine a van with the company’s name on the sign with a radio antenna on top of the van spewing dollar bills into the street while they go into the gutter. Again, this is a right brain technique that will help you remember the problem and challenge you are selling against or into.
We can’t carry a xerox machine into a sales meeting or other important business event. Listening and remembering is a hallmark of greatness. Work on your listening skills and translate customer needs into jargon you remember as a form of active listening. Know the names, personalities and roles of those with whom you will engage and get your right brain into the game to blow away your buyers with your keen focus and photographic memory. If you feel the need to have a pencil and paper in front of you to show respect, you can do that, but your listening will be better if you don’t look down to make a note. I have tried this technique of “no notes” in several key sales to very large companies. In each case the prospects have asked me how I remembered everything they said when I summarized at the end. I simply say, “I listened. We listen.”
Good luck and go get ’em.
If you are following along in my listening series, you should have already read, The Only Resolution You Need for 2015, To Listen Well is To Be Like Water, Love Song Lyrics and Listening Skills, Frosty, The Taz and Listening to Introverts, How to Listen to Your Angry Boss, I am Sorry to Interrupt You, But, What Did You Just Say, Say This Not That and The Beauty of Brutal Honesty. All posts are under my profile on LinkedIn. This essay is the tenth in a planned series of 20 essays on listening.
Enjoy my essays? My fourth book, Getting to Next, Lessons to Help Take Your Career to the Next Level is available. It is only $3.99 on Kindle.
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