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Should Bankers Use Laptops on Sales Calls?

laptop with woman

What do you think of using a laptop to take notes on a sales call? The new Relationship Manager said that his boss frowned on it.

In a show of geezer solidarity, I confessed that I had a problem with it too. Now it’s not because I think taking notes is inappropriate—if you’re not trying to capture key ideas in a conversation, how are you going to remember anything? Legal pad, yes; iPad, of course; even a (fully disclosed) technological marvel like Livescribe (, OK.

Maybe it was because I suspected that it might be hard to maintain eye contact while typing away—but that’s a potential issue with any form of note-taking. I remembered my Dad complaining about his internist, who spent the first 15 minutes of every exam with his back to my father tapping away on his laptop.

The laptop seemed like an artificial barrier, something that could needlessly irritate a prospect, even if you asked permission.

But even as I gave my definitive answer, I had doubts. Is this a generational bias creeping into my advice? Would customers view this differently? How do other sales professionals outside of banking view this?

So I lobbed the question to the LinkedIn group Fresh Sales Strategies and here are excerpts from what members said:

1.    I see nothing wrong with taking notes on a pad of paper or a laptop. In fact, as a sales professional, I always like to take notes during a call. The older I get the less I remember and I am quick to point that out. I have never had anyone refuse my request. In fact, I think most folks are flattered that I want to record what they are saying.

2.    Professionals in other industries will even be surprised if you don't bring your laptop. To my surprise, some even will not allow you to take notes. From a sales perspective, one should explain to the potential client that these notes will only help you follow-up It should not matter what device is used to take notes.

3.    I love technology, but I hate how it can become a barrier to developing relationships. I think a small pad of paper is appropriate. If someone was using their thumbs on their iPhone typing in notes from our meeting, I would find it annoying. If you're face-to-face with someone, it's all about connecting. If you're going to have your laptop flipped up and your face in it, what's the point of a face-to-face meeting? Now, if it was a collaborative meeting where ideas were being thrown around, or designs discussed.....a laptop totally makes sense because "working together" on a vision/project is a way to close the deal. So, first time meetings.....keep the laptop and the phone put away and turned off. I think it depends on the customer and the detail of the conversation. No doubt the clicking of keys can be distracting and you have to have great listening skills if you're going to use a laptop. iPads are quieter. But, if your business is technology- oriented and there may be some "savvy" to showing that as sales person you leverage new technology/thinking/approaches, then I think it’s fine. It all comes down to the customer and what's best at that time and place.

4.    My personal opinion is that the iPad is better suited than a laptop for most selling situations. It’s compact, light-weight, quiet and viewed as high tech. I have clients that use it at construction sites as well as within hospitals when talking to clinical personnel. What technology to use depends on the customer, the conversation, the details of the conversation, the location and to some extent what is accepted practice within the industry.

5.    I actually find that taking notes on a laptop allows me to look directly at the client while I type, instead of looking up and down to a pad of paper.

6.    My last blog post argued that colleagues who come to a meeting with a paper notebook instead of a digital device are wasting their own time and that of their colleagues. That argument met with a small uproar here and on Twitter, where many readers were outraged by the idea of prescribing or proscribing a particular approach to note-taking, even if there were also those who welcomed my assault on paper. "Why not consider the fact that people process information differently and have respect for the fact that not everyone operates in a single fashion?" asked one not-atypical comment. As Becki True put it, "Let's judge people's effectiveness on their results, and not on their methods." Or as Scott Berkun wrote on his own blog, "It's only after I see what people produce that I'd consider commentary on the means they used." Yet in meeting rooms, committees and workshops across the U.S. and around the world, people have their working styles dictated all the time. Not by colleagues who would prod them into the brave new world of digital notebooks, but by managers and meeting chairs who forbid them from using their core work tools: laptops, smartphones, tablets and even specific kinds of applications (like social media tools).

This last comment is from a fascinating post by Alexandra Samuel ont The Unfair Stigmatization of Digital Note-Taking.

But take a minute and weigh in on this question if you have a strong point of view. Use the space below for your comments.

Looking for more tips on how to improve your calls? Check out Buck Bierly’s comments on:

You might also be interested in our guide to The 5 Steps of an Effective Sales Call.


7 Minutes to Make an Impresssion


I had the opportunity to attend an industry conference recently during which presenters had seven minutes each to get up on stage, present their new technology solution to a crowd of 400 potential clients and investors, and leave a favorable impression.  What impressed me the most during this rapid-fire format wasn’t the content of the presentations but the way in which the presenters who, when faced with a major obstacle including their demo not working, their wireless connection to their laptop petering out mid-demo or their mobile phone demo crashing, managed to either rise to the occasion and save their “message” or…well, die a slow death in front of the audience. 

Yes, folks, seven minutes can be an eternity if you have no back-up plan.  Case in point:  One very well-established provider to financial institutions was about to debut a new feature to their “innovative new banking solution.” The message should have been very clear:  “We help you to onboard your clients flawlessly so you can turn them into profitable relationships more quickly.”  Instead, because their demo wasn’t working, the speaker froze, and chose to deal with the technological malfunction as if it was a curse from God rather than roll with it, perhaps make a joke about it, and continue on with his message.  He had one chance to leave a lasting favorable impression with the audience and instead left them shifting in their seats, wishing his 7 minutes was finally over.   

So, what do the experts do when faced with such adversity? Naomi Price, Director of Global Accounts for Mandel Communications, says, “Always be prepared for technology not working.  Begin your presentation setting the context with what you know about your audience’s pain points and the cost of not resolving them.  Then tell them how you’re going to help them. That way, you have them engaged early in your presentation and it won’t matter if your slides or demo don’t work.”

It’s not about proving how well you can operate a demo, or a WebEx or a set of slides.  It’s about you.  You are the message.  You are what you are selling, not bank products. So, the next time you are in front of a client, expecting your PowerPoint presentation to deliver your message for you, remember this:  technology fails.  What will your client remember—your slide deck or you?

Susan Eick is a consultant specializing in marketing and product innovation who has more than 25 years experience working in the financial services industry. She can be reached at 604-701-9225.

How do your customers and prospects view you? Are you a provider of a commodity product or service? A valued business advisor? For a framework to assess your current position, download this excerpt from a presentation that Buck Bierly gave in a webinar on “Is Adding Value Just About Cutting Price?” by going to Levels of Relationship.

You might also be interested in a podcast on Overcoming Loyalty.

Sales Fitness Test for Bankers


Here's a quick fitness test to start the year. Answer each question honestly.

* What are your strengths in selling? Weaknesses? What things do you need to focus on to improve your sales results this year? 

* What worked well for you in 2009? What do you plan to do differently in 2010?

* How much time are you spending selling-versus things like handling routine customer service inquiries, credit administration and underwriting? Is there anything you can do to allocate more time to business development?

* Do you have a plan in place to retain your most profitable customers?

*  Are you allocating the right amount of time to the customers and prospects with the highest potential?

*  Are you delivering a compelling and relevant value proposition for your targeted prospects? How do you differentiate yourself from your competition?

* Are you using effectively the tools and training you have received? What additional training do you need?

* Do you have a strategy to develop more referrals from line of business partners, satisfied customers and COIs?

One final thought: If you don't like your answers, sit down with your sales manager or a colleague whose opinion you value.  Talk candidly about the challenges you face. Invite suggestions. Listen to what your associate has to say.

Interested in refreshing your sales skills? Visit our website to find out about our archived webinars on acquiring and expanding relationships. For more information go to


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