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OneNote for Sales Rep Note Taking: An Interview

Customer Engagement, Dynamics 365 / CRM

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This week I had the pleasure of riding along with one of our client’s top sales reps. We’ve been working with this client for a while now and have learned that the average opportunity closes anywhere between 3 and 18 months. Not only is the timeline extended, opportunities typically require a lot of prospect interaction and follow ups. As a result, the sales reps must keep track of a lot of information, conduct a lot of research and work through multiple iterations of proposals. I noticed as we rode together that day, that this rep not only used Dynamics 365, but he also made heavy use of OneNote. So, I thought I’d share some of our Q&A about his most interesting practices via our blog.

Q: You make heavy use of OneNote. Why not keep your notes in CRM?

A: Oftentimes, when I’m face-to-face with a client, I prefer to use my tablet and stylus to take notes. This approach allows me to be more engaged with the people in the meeting. I’ve also heard that handwriting notes improves retention of the information. And handwritten notes aren’t an option with the CRM notes field. I also tend to take a lot of notes and some of them are very long and detailed – the notes fields in CRM don’t seem to lend themselves to that much data very well. Especially since it takes a couple of extra clicks to bring them up. The natural outlining capability of OneNote, the ability to do some formatting, and the ability to have an agenda in one column with notes in another are all things that the CRM notes field can’t handle.  There are other reasons, but those are the three big ones.

Q: Dynamics 365 includes integration with OneNote – does your organization use that?

A: We experimented with it a few years ago. I can’t remember all of the reasons why, but in general we found it confusing and limited so we decided not to put it into production. But we do link to each client’s OneNote in the Documents area of Dynamics 365. Each client has their own site and their own OneNote file in SharePoint. I’d really like to see the integration improve, it has the potential to be enormously helpful. For now at least everyone that has access to the SharePoint site can access the OneNote, so we’re at least all sharing our notes in the same place.

Q: I see another OneNote notebook called “Prospects” with many different account names in it. Tell me about that.

A: Ah yes, the prospects OneNote! As I mentioned, for each of our clients we create a SharePoint site and dedicated OneNote. However, we didn’t want to do that for companies that we weren’t sure we would actually be doing business with. So, we created this Prospects OneNote as a place for our sales reps to keep early notes with leads and/or prospects. Once we are underway with a real opportunity, we create the SharePoint site and dedicated OneNote and just move the appropriate notes pages out of the Prospects OneNote over to the dedicated one. It saves us from having all of these SharePoint sites that don’t end up getting used because we disqualified the lead or the prospect didn’t move forward with us.

Q: You were quite focused when I first hopped in with you this morning. What do you do with OneNote and CRM at the beginning of each day?

A: I usually have a number of scheduled calls and meetings each day. I start my day by looking at my Outlook calendar, and creating a OneNote page for each of those meetings with a few clicks. On the OneNote pages, I’ll jot down an agenda, questions I want to ask, and outcomes I’m shooting for. Using the Outlook to Dynamics integration, I take a look at the profiles of the contacts in the meetings so I’ll know who I’m talking to at both a professional and personal level. This helps me to be more engaged during the meeting.

Q: I noticed that, after setting up each of these meeting note pages, you click around those notebooks sometimes. Why do you do that?

A: This is one of the unexpected benefits I’ve discovered when using OneNote. Since my prospects are arranged alphabetically, I look at other prospects that are in the same OneNote tab. I do a couple of things with them. Sometimes I realize that they’ve become disqualified for some reason – or the notes are for projects that are outdated and will no longer be useful. In those cases I delete the pages to keep my OneNote clean. Other times I stumble upon a prospect that we had a great connection with but, for whatever reason, I’ve fallen out of touch with. As a general rule, this shouldn’t happen when I’m using CRM correctly, but it still does. This is a great way to remember to reach out to some of those individuals to see if I can rekindle the relationship.

Q: Do you do anything special with how you take notes during a meeting?

A: I always have an agenda in the left column. It includes the agenda shared in a meeting invitation, but also other outcomes and insights I may want to reference during the meeting. I always take my notes in a right-hand column – this way I can more easily keep my agenda visible while I’m taking notes. If it’s a phone call, I take notes by typing – it’s just faster for me that way. But as I mentioned earlier, if it’s a face-to-face meeting I’ll handwrite notes. On some occasions I’ll even record the meeting so that I can take very brief notes, and then refer back to the details by clicking the note to play back the audio that went along with it.

Q: What about when the meeting is over?

A: Typically, I’ll find the follow-up action items in my notes after a meeting and I’ll use the Outlook Tasks menu in OneNote to be sure that they get added to my task list so that I don’t miss anything. Here’s a typical set – he pointed out the following:

Ideally, I do this immediately after the meeting. But sometimes I have back-to-back meetings and I have to wait until a break to get through this. 

Q: It seems like those action items should be in CRM – do you put them in there?

A: Usually. I’ll still see them when I look at the record in Outlook, and I can just click the “track” link if I want them to be added into CRM so that everyone can see them. Sometimes the task isn’t necessarily important for people to see, so in those cases I try not to clutter CRM up with unnecessary information. When I take care of those items by sending an email to the prospect, I almost always track the emails because that might be important information that others need to know about.

EDITORS NOTE: At the time of this writing, this type of integration between Outlook Tasks and Dynamics 365 only works when using the Outlook Client (not the more modernized Outlook App).  Click here to read about the Outlook Client and Outlook App.

Q: What do you do when you complete those tasks?

A: This is one of those areas where if I don’t remember to schedule another follow-up, then the prospect could slip through the cracks and I might miss an opportunity. So when I send an email, I always use the Outlook integration to pull up the contact, and I add a task or a phone call to follow-up. Sometimes that’s in just a few days, and sometimes it can be a few months out. But if it is someone I want to stay in touch with, then there should always be an item in my activity list.

Q: Can you think of a time when your notes made a big difference in an engagement?

A: It happens all the time. So frequently, in fact, that I probably don’t even realize it anymore. I can tell you that my proposals require fewer versions than most of my peers – and I credit my note taking for this. Not only does it help me to listen and respond better, but it gives me notes to share with the Sales Support Engineers who often have to put the proposals together. It can also help as we review and refine proposals together. A few months ago I was speaking with the COO who was pushing back on a few items on a proposal. I was able to search my notes for those items – it came up as a handwritten note, I played the audio, and could tell the COO exactly who added the requirement to the proposal request and what their reasoning was. As a result, we didn’t have to update the proposal and we didn’t end up disappointing one of our contacts by missing their requirements.

Q: Does everybody in your organization use OneNote like this?

A: Very few actually. I’m a bit of an early adopter of things and am surprised at how many reps still prefer their paper notepads and ink pens versus electronic notes. To me, being a modern sales rep is like being a skilled craftsman – I have to keep up with the latest tools of my trade if I’m going to improve my numbers. I think this is one of the reasons why I’m the top performing rep in the company. And I think that a lot of sales reps are increasingly on the wrong side of the digital divide and might be left behind.

Q: We recently upgraded you to the latest version of Dynamics 365 for Sales. Will this change how you track notes?

A: It’s too early to say, but since I’m a power user, our administrator has given me access to the new screens (Unified Interface) to check it out. Now the lists of notes, activities, and the social feed is all integrated into what is called the Timeline view. This means my notes are fewer clicks away and are more readily visible to everyone without having to navigate to OneNote. I’m going to experiment with that and see if it changes where I take notes.

Q: If you were to answer the question “Why OneNote?” – what would you say?

A: That’s easy! Less rework. Fewer missed opportunities. Happier clients.

Are you (or your sales team) using OneNote to capture information during the sales process?  If your sales process involves listening to the prospect, capturing a lot of information, and using that information with your team – then you should at least give this a try.

Contact C5 Insight for planning, implementing and training on using OneNote or Dynamics 365 for Sales.

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