- We don't often take advantage of our experiences and our insights.
- Writing down your observations and experiences allows you to make them actionable in the future.
- Documenting your insights is a key to better sales conversations.
"The punishment of every disordered mind is its own disorder." - St. Augustine of Hippo
I use an unusual software for notetaking. It isn't something that I recommend to others, only because the learning curve can be steep and setting it up tends to consume many hours. I use this software because it begins with a daily note, then automatically attaches everything I write to that note. It also lets me put a word or phrase in brackets and locate every other thing I’ve written that includes that search term.
This approach works perfectly for me because I keep several different journals:
- A traditional journal recounting my thoughts and ideas, along with memorable events of the day.
- A business journal documenting my thoughts, ideas, experiences, challenges, and future initiatives.
- A decision journal, where I capture big decisions and document my thinking at the time. Sometimes I use it as a pre-mortem, where I try to write down what might go wrong and how I might prevent any adverse outcomes.
- A prediction journal, where I attempt to predict the future.
When it comes to generating insights, one area we often overlook is our own experience selling and working with our clients. Both success and failure can teach you an endless variety, helping you improve as a salesperson and create greater value for your clients. Most people don't improve their results because they treat their work like a job instead of a craft. They see selling as something they have to do to survive, not as a skill that allows them to create something special, often where there was nothing before.
Learning by Writing
There is a tremendous value in writing down and organizing your observations: it helps you understand your experiences better, recognize patterns, potentially see a bigger picture, and discover insights that will allow you to improve your work in sales and/or leadership.
One topic that often shows up in my business journal is false assumptions, both mine and my clients'. Over the last few months I have been writing about discovery, recognizing how ill-suited the traditional approach is to today's environment. Yet, outside of my framework, I have found no discovery process that focuses on identifying the false assumptions that explain clients’ hidden immunities to change—even though that resistance will persist until the assumptions are illuminated, corrected, and replaced.
Recently, a client shared with me that she needed a sales methodology. When I asked which methodology she believed she needed, she suggested a general method to qualify, discover, present, and negotiate. In short, she needed a sales process. I explained that every step of the process requires different competencies and methodologies, and that I juggle about twenty primary methodologies in my own work. The experience found its way into my business journal as something that I need to do a better job providing and explaining. What I observed will serve me in the future by sharing something of value with others.
How to Order Your Experience
By structuring your experience, you take things you have learned at the subconscious level and make them available to your conscious mind. One way to do this is to write, which takes a subjective experience and looks at it more objectively. If nothing else, taking the time to write down what you observed makes it available in the future. Here are a few categories I’ve found helpful in ordering my own experience.
The Source of Problems: One way approach discovery is to work from the presenting problem to the source or root cause of that problem. As you identify the root causes of your clients' challenges, you are almost sure to find common beliefs and behaviors that will allow you to recognize future root causes much faster. Write down your observations and the language your client used to describe their presenting problem.
The Sources of Concern: Your clients sometimes hide their concerns from you. Many salespeople believe that eliciting concerns will only cause the client to adopt that concern and decide not to buy from them. The reality is exactly backward, as allowing a client’s fears to go unresolved is almost certainly a death sentence for your opportunity. Taking note of the problems that prevent clients from moving forward and addressing their challenges will help you better identify and resolve genuine concerns. Some salespeople insist that "time kills deals," but nothing can compete with uncertainty when it comes to the decision that is "no decision."
Organizing Your “Why Change” Insights: Creating value for your clients means helping them understand why they need to change, how to make sense of their world, how they can enable good decisions, and ultimately how they can improve their results. Tracking the trends and forces that are already harming your clients (or soon will) allows you to organize and present a compelling case for change. Monitoring and documenting the trends, the forces, and the data creates order where there is complexity. It’s also great practice for clearly sharing those insights with prospective clients.
Testing Your Decisions: We take our decisions too lightly, often deciding to act without exploring any options. Simply writing them down forces us to slow down and think. Start with the facts: "I am going to go over my main contact's head because I believe that unless I have a conversation with someone with greater authority, the deal is dead. I have considered asking my manager to make the call, but I have decided that my best chance is going directly to the leader because I have already met her." Then think through (and perhaps write down) your options, risks, benefits, and conclusions.
The more you organize your experience, the greater value you can create for your clients, and the greater your effectiveness.
Do Good Work:
- How do you currently organize and document what you observe and learn?
- In what area would you benefit from organizing your experience?
- What have you learned that will help you in future conversations?