In all my years as a ProSales columnist, I’ve never written about the subject of note-taking for salespeople. That’s an oversight, because it is one of the most common questions I get in my seminars: “Should the salesperson take notes during a sales call?” My answer is: yes! But don’t take my word for it; let’s weigh the pros and cons.

Goofus, the clumsy salesman some readers might recall as the featured child in Highlights magazine, sees note-taking as a sign of weakness. He says it looks unprofessional to take notes and believes buyers are offended by distracted salespeople writing words while the buyer is speaking. Goofus believes he’ll remember the things that were said in a meeting. He is willing to risk his reputation on memory alone.

Gallant, the thoughtful salesperson, believes it looks unprofessional if he does not take notes. He thinks it is more unprofessional if he must call his client back for details after a meeting—it’s even more unprofessional if he doesn’t call and later gets the details wrong. He has experienced, like so many other veteran salespeople, the panic of searching for lost information during a workday and the accompanying stress that impedes productivity for other tasks during the day.

You decide, but I’m with Gallant.  I’ve lost important notes and panicked. I’ve ignored the opportunity to take notes during (or just after) a meeting only to later realize I forgot important information. I’ve also enjoyed the confidence of having great notes and being able to calmly sweat the details for clients and earn their unmitigated confidence as a trusted supplier. 

  1. Have a pen and pad in hand. If you still don’t believe in taking notes, at a minimum enter a sales call with the capability to write. I traveled with a young man once who disdained note taking. During our call, the buyer bluntly said, “I’m the wrong guy. Let me give you the phone number and email of the decision-maker.”  It was a joyous moment for me because I had my pen, wrote down the valuable information, and enjoyed the divine intervention of a great coaching opportunity.
  2. Ask when in doubt. It’s OK to ask a client if you may take notes, but really an unnecessary formality in my opinion. If it makes you feel more comfortable, ask permission.
  3. Write down critical information. You can go too far by taking too many notes, so take the essential notes. For example, a commitment to follow up, a unique concern of your buyer, or a stated expectation from you is a critical note.  There is a point of rudeness that can occur when you write too much. The idea is to write key points and reminders.
  4. Finish up after the meeting. You don’t have to write everything down in the meeting. Write notes afterwards too.
  5. Write legibly. If you’re like me, you’ve probably read some past notes and wondered what in the world you wrote.
  6. Stick to a system. For me, everything goes onto my computer, where I keep a folder for every client and prospect with whom I speak. I also use Outlook folders abundantly to store email communications. And I’m still on a Franklin planner system; old-fashioned, yes, but effective. Create a system that works for you.

Now print out this article for your entire sales staff, particularly the younger ones.  Let’s end the debate. The unprofessional thing is do is forget details. The professional thing to do is take notes.