I’ve seen professionals taking notes during meetings on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones, and there are few better ways to get a prospect to disengage than by using these “eToys” during initial meetings – especially the damn phone. Don’t do it.

I was recently on a Zoom video call with a client and noticed that she was taking handwritten notes, so I commented on the fact that she was doing so.

“I love that you’re taking handwritten notes,” I said.

Her eyes darted to the camera to look at me. She was trying to determine if I was sincere or jesting at her anachronistic practice so that she could choose her next words.

My sincerity must have been evident through Zoom because she smiled and said, “Yes, and I catch grief about it all of the time!”

I explained that I always take handwritten notes – especially during virtual meetings.

I encouraged my client to flip to a new page to take notes on the following so that she could share with her misguided teammates.

Now, what happens when you’re meeting with a customer face-to-face or virtually, and they see you taking handwritten notes?

Notice that I keep saying “taking handwritten notes” and explicitly not saying “taking notes.”

There is a difference: Handwritten.

Think of the difference you might feel if you receive a handwritten letter from a loved one versus an email with the same content.

The letter is special and more meaningful because with every stroke of the pen, with every crossed t and dotted i, they were considering you.

They took more time to convey a message or sentiment, and you were important enough for them to do so in writing.

I’ve seen professionals taking notes during meetings on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones, and there are few better ways to get a prospect to disengage than by using these “eToys” during initial meetings – especially the damn phone.

Don’t do it.

Using “eToys” seems to be more acceptable in some types of organizations and regions, but do NOT let that be your hall pass.

I would stress that it’s even MORE important to take handwritten notes in these environments because it’s massively differentiating. While your competition is fervently thumbing away on their “smart” phone, you’ll make a lasting impression by memorializing their words through handwritten notes.

In a survey, participants were presented two pictures and asked to select the image of the subject was listening more intently than the other.

And although the subject was taking notes in both pictures, nearly 100% of participants chose the picture of the person using a pen and paper over the person using their phone to take notes.

Further inquiry revealed that the subject on their phone made participants feel like the subject was disengaged, distracted, and disingenuous. Not good.

Let’s take a look at the five fundamental questions that prospects and clients ask themselves subconsciously during each engagement with you. Do:

  1. … I like you?
  2. … you make me feel important?
  3. … you listen to me?
  4. … I trust and believe you?
  5. … you get me and my problems?

Getting an affirmative “yes” to each of these questions is paramount to your success, and each interaction needs to ensure that you’re doing so.

Let’s take a closer look at what happens with these questions within the mind of your prospect when you’re taking handwritten notes.

The best advice that I can give is to be likable. I realize it may not seem profound at first glance, but when you’re challenged continuously to suppress disruptive emotions, it’s often hard to be at your best.

Except you can be! Being likable requires a conscientious and strategic effort, and that’s where guidance comes.

Fake people suck, so don’t be fake.

Nothing matters more than sincerity and authenticity. No one will believe a saccharine approach that doesn’t ring true to you.

Taking handwritten notes in front of someone says that their words are important enough to memorialize in writing.

They feel heard and important, and this makes you more likable. These feelings arise, especially when other sales tactics are used, such as asking relevant and open-ended questions followed by probing and clarifying questions.

When you combine these tactics, you become more likable to the other participant.

When you take notes on your laptop — or worse, your phone—prospects are going to be disrupted by the thought of you doing other things and not paying attention.

At this point in our history and culture, the icon of not paying attention is someone with their head buried in their phone and their thumbs furiously moving with passionate purpose.

Doing that during a sales call or initial meeting is really lazy and stupid. If it’s important to note, then write it down.

“But, Jason, you don’t understand. I always make a point to let them know that I’m taking notes on my phone or computer, so they don’t think that.”

Nope, sorry. It’s still stupid. They’ll still wonder if you’re paying attention because you look like a disengaged teenager.

Don’t do it.

You can’t listen when you’re talking, and that’s one of the biggest problems many salespeople have.

They feign listening by injecting silence, and even more egregious is when injecting silence is nothing more than waiting for their turn to talk.

Getting the prospect to open up through engagement of purposeful and relevant questions is still paramount; this activation of their self-disclosure loop makes them feel important and heard.

Handwriting notes while a prospect is sharing shows that you’re engaged; it shows that you are actively listening.

When you ask probing and clarifying questions stemming from something they’ve said, it verifies that you’re listening, which makes them open up even further.

Writing down the entire transaction makes the prospect feel heard, liked, and important.

Combining the right questions with an active effort to capture their words in writing will help demonstrate that you get their problems, which is the doorway to establishing trust.

“But, Jason!  In a virtual video call, they can’t usually see your notebook, so it just looks like you keep looking down at something.”

Ah, yes. Thank you for bringing that up. To pull this off effectively during virtual environments, you need to manage their experience actively.

Some useful tactics for this are:

  • Frequently look up at the camera and bring your pen into view.
  • Use audible queues while you’re writing, such as an occasional “I see” or “Mmm Hmm” or “Got it.”
  • Use visible queues such as affirmative head nods and direct eye contact.
  • Ask them to repeat something you know is important to them to “ensure you noted it properly.”
  • When asking probing or clarifying questions, read back your relevant note first.  “Ok, Paul.  I’ve noted here that you’d like to get new salespeople productive six months faster than you are currently.  Can you tell me more about your current on-boarding program?”

One final thought for any of you that typically don’t take notes…

Whether it be because you pride yourself for having an amazing memory, or record your virtual meetings so that you can play them back later, the answer is the same.

Personally, I think that I have a great memory, and I also record virtual meetings for playback — but I still take prolific notes.

Why? Because people like to feel important. The most insatiable human need is the need to feel important. Why not make someone feel that way?

Why not get some great notes that will enhance your familiarity with the client’s needs and increase your win probability?

I assure you that if you make this change, you will have a positive impact on the effectiveness of your meetings.


About the author

Jason Eatmon

Jason is a Nebraska native which is where his work ethic and sense of…

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