5 ways to get the most out of your sales notes

by Steli Efti
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Salespeople don’t like taking notes.

I get it. I’ve been there. I didn’t especially like it, either. But because I understand the power of sales notes, I’ve made great use of them.

Sales notes are a great resource. They don’t just help you—they help your entire sales team, your management and leadership, and even your customer.

Taking good sales call notes drives better results.

Unfortunately, most salespeople don’t take good notes. But there’s a fix for that. With five easy tips, you can start taking great sales notes that get results for your team.

Get my free book about making better sales calls!

Before we get into those tips, though, let’s talk about why bad sales notes are so problematic and the four ways that sales reps screw them up.

How bad sales notes cost you good deals

You probably haven’t given much thought to your sales notes. So you might be surprised to hear that bad notes make it harder to close deals.

Why?

Because if you don’t take good notes, you won’t retain important information from the call. And that causes all kinds of problems.

Has a sales rep or a customer service agent ever asked you a question that you’ve already answered? It’s really annoying. And if you don’t take sales notes, you’re going to be the one repeating questions.

It might be because you forgot what they told you earlier. It might be because another rep didn’t take good notes. But either way, it annoys your prospect. And that’s never a good way to get a sale.

In an effort to avoid this situation, you might scramble before the call to remember what you talked about last time. What questions did you ask? What did the prospect say? Did you jot a couple notes somewhere?

This is all a monumental waste of time and energy. Reps should spend time selling, not trying to figure out what they talked about on the last call.

Bad notes also make handoffs more difficult. If you’re passing a prospect to another rep, your implementation team, a customer success agent, or an account manager, they want as much information as possible. Bad notes mean they’re going in unprepared.

And managers often want to know what happened in a call. Whether it went well or not, you might be expected to report on it. If you didn’t take good notes, you won’t be able to do that. Your manager’s not going to be happy about that.

Bad notes cost your sales team a lot of time, effort, and money. You can solve that problem with just a few minutes and some better note-taking skills.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that reps do that result in bad notes.

Mistake #1: taking too many notes

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This is the worst thing you can do. Sales call notes aren’t supposed to be word-for-word transcriptions of the whole call. Some reps produce ten pages of shit that no one has the time to read.

Writing a ton of notes takes a lot of time, and that’s not your job. You’re supposed to be selling. No one will be able to review pages upon pages or notes before the next call anyway.

Save yourself the effort. You’d be better off not taking any notes at all.

Mistake #2: not taking any notes

This is only slightly better than taking too many notes. At least you save yourself some effort.

But you’ll still use twice as much time down the line when you’re trying to remember what you talked about on the last call. Were you supposed to have some information on hand this time? Is the prospect only available on Wednesdays? Were they considering a competitor?

You won’t know, because you won’t have any notes. You’ve essentially wasted the first call.

Mistake #3: writing notes only for yourself

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Some salespeople write notes that no one else could possibly understand. They use shorthand that doesn’t correspond to any known language. Or keep notes on paper with abysmal handwriting.

Sometimes even the rep can’t understand what they wrote. Seriously, I’ve seen this.

I’ll ask “what does this mean here?” and they’ll say “Hm . . . well . . . you know what, Steli . . . I have no idea what that means.”

Seriously? WTF? It’s exasperating.

Write your notes so that anyone could read them and understand what happened on the call. It’s not hard.

Mistake #4: not finishing your notes

Lots of reps start off strong, and then lose momentum as they go. Maybe they get caught up in the conversation and forget to take notes on the latter part of the call. Or they get tired. Or they just plain forget.

It happens. Most of the time these reps think “it’s okay, I’ll come back later and finish these notes.” But they rarely do. Unless you have a system in place, there’s a good chance you’ll be leaving the rest of the conversation out of your notes.

And we’re back to the problems we have when you don’t take any notes at all.

These four mistakes combine to create a whole lot of frustration for other reps, managers, other team members, and customers. When you’re overseeing a sales team that makes a mix of these mistakes, it can feel like you never have any idea of what’s going on with your sales process.

To remedy that, here are five tips for taking great sales notes. Use them yourself or encourage your reps to use them.

Pro tip #1: keep your notes brief

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Concise, focused notes are much more useful than full transcriptions or rambling treatises.

Summarize the main points of the conversation. Resist the temptation to transcribe the whole conversation or include irrelevant notes.

That being said, make note of personal connections or interesting facts can help you or another rep establish a better relationship with the prospect. Use your judgment to determine whether it’s worth noting.

Pro tip #2: focus on important, actionable, and insightful

Keep those three words in mind: “important,” “actionable,” and “insightful.” If a particular piece of information doesn’t fall into one of those categories, it doesn’t belong in your notes.

These are the things that you, your team, and your managers might need in the future. And that’s it.

Did you give a demo? Show the prospect a particular feature of your product? Discuss pricing? Get information on the prospect’s buying cycle? Establish a timeline?

These are all relevant pieces of information that will make the next sales call easier.

You can also write specific tips in your notes. Make a point to ask a particular question on the next call. Bring up a topic that the prospect seemed interested in. Include a piece of information that the prospect will find useful.

These little pieces of information can make a huge difference.

Pro tip #3: note action items and timelines

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It’s especially important to note action items discussed during the call.

Did you say that you’d do something before you called back? Did the prospect say they’d find something out for you? Anyone who reads your notes will want to know those things.

When did you (or the prospect) say those items would be completed? Without making a note of it, you’re likely to forget what you were supposed to do. Or you’ll call the prospect back expecting something they promised to get to you by next week.

Both are bad.

So make a note of what was promised, who promised it, and when it’s supposed to be done.

Pro tip #4: develop your own style

Reps have their own individual style of note-taking. As long as it’s concise, sensical, and actionable, that’s fine. What works for one rep won’t work for everyone else.

Some people like to take notes on a pad of paper during the call. Others type them directly into their CRM. You might prefer to jot notes as soon as you’re done with the call. Maybe you use bullets instead of full sentences. Or you have a (still legible!) shorthand.

Stick with whatever works for you.

Sometimes the tool you use will make one particular method easier. For example, when you make a call in Close, it opens a prompt for you to type your notes. Those notes are stored alongside information on who you called, when the call took place, and how long the call was. So you don’t have to manually record any of that. (You can try Close for free if you want to experience this yourself.)

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Factors like this can influence the style that you develop. Work with the tools you have to create the most efficient note-taking style you can.

Pro tip #5: build good habits

When you first commit to taking better sales notes, it’s going to be difficult. You’re going to forget some of the tips above. Or you’ll get caught up in a call and forget to take any notes at all.

That’s okay.

The point isn’t to be perfect from the start. It’s to build good habits for you and your team. It’s to take good sales notes more often than you take bad ones.

Just stick to the basics. Keep your notes concise, legible, and useful.

Beyond that, you can do whatever you want as long as it helps you take good notes. Maybe you want to use a sales call notes template. Or require specific information from your reps after each call. You can do whatever works as long as it creates better notes for your team.

If you continue doing that over time, you’ll get better information to the people who need it, provide better customer service, and close more deals.

Sales notes are a powerful tool

Most people learn the power of good sales notes through a bad experience, like when a customer gets mad because they answer the same question a bunch of times. Or when you ask a rep about a call and they have no idea what happened because they can’t read their notes.

Don’t make these mistakes. Build the habit of taking great sales notes early, and your whole team will benefit.


Want more advice on taking great call notes and making successful sales calls? Get a copy of my book “Your Growth Hacks Aren’t Working,” filled with actionable advice for closing more deals on the phone!

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