Will Taking Notes by Hand Make You a Better Salesperson?

The unequivocal answer is “probably. But it’s an awfully strong probably that’s backed up in research and in practice.

In our consultative sales training course and in our coaching, we’ve always advocated taking notes during discovery with prospects or customers. No breakthrough there. Taking notes just seems to be commonsense, right? If only because notes will help you to remember what happened later.

But we go further in our teaching and coaching. We also advocate taking notes by hand. This pronouncement never fails to raise eyebrows among business developers we work with. From our experience, we’ve identified several reasons that make handwritten notes more effective. We’ll go into a few of them in a minute.

But first, we want to say that our approach has recently received scientific support. Just last month, in Can Handwriting Make You Smarter? The Wall Street Journalpresented the research and the rationale. Compared with those who take notes using computers, “People who write [their notes] out in longhand, appear to learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas.”

Sounds pretty definitive, doesn’t it? The WSJ story summarizes research done mainly with college students, but a number of studies reached similar conclusions. Researchers are confident that the rule holds for anyone.

We also believe that our research is pretty definitive, even though it’s not rigorously scientific, and we have no doubt about our rationale. Here’s a taste of our thinking in connection with the sales process.

Taking notes by hand . . .

1. Shows respect for a prospect’s time and the information he’s giving you.

2. Slows down the conversation. Your prospect has time to think about your questions as you write down her answers. If you’ve brought up a problem she didn’t know she had, for example, she’ll be turning over that demonstration of your expertise in her mind as you’re writing down her response.

3. Forces you to identify key points and facts and to organize them more efficiently. The reason is that you actually have to make choices about what to include and what to leave out–and where to put it so it makes sense.

Unless you know the ancient art of shorthand, you can’t possibly write down every word of a discovery session using pen and paper. And that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, keyboarding does make verbatim note-taking possible.

Worse, just because you can, you’re tempted to take down every word. And that’s not a good thing. The formal research backs us up on this point: “Laptop users . . . took notes by rote, taking down what they heard almost word for word,” the Journalreported. In addition, one of the researchers noted that in tests “the longhand note-takers did significantly better than laptop note-takers.” Another pointed out: “The ability to take notes more quickly was what undermined learning.”

So, will handwritten notes make you a better salesperson? We think so–and not just for the three reasons we provided here. Handwritten notes also impact the sales process in other ways. If you want to know more, just call or e-mail me: 847-446-0008 Ext. 3 or spemberton@productivestrategies.com.

Scott Pemberton is a senior consultant at Productive Strategies, a management and marketing consulting firm with expertise in consultative sales training, appointment setting and lead generation, and marketing and marketing communications. He can be reached at 847-446-0008 Ext. 3 or spemberton@productivestrategies.com.


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