The Power of Summaries

Last week, I wrote about the beginning of a good sales interaction, namely the importance of having a good agenda. This week, I’ll take it from the other end. What makes the conclusion of a meeting a good experience or a poor one? The answer is of course the summary.

This topic is another one covered in the new online offering, the Viddler Sales Gym, but it applies to any meeting—sales-related or not. (I heartily recommend the free trial, by the way.) Here’s why:

We’re in the midst of an attention economy, a phrase popularized by the likes of IT scholar Tom Davenport. With the rapid expansion of information (both data and delivery), we’ve “discovered” that there are only a fixed number of hours available in a day to actually consume and process it. Humans have always had to prioritize information (what a beautiful view… I’m feeling hungry… hey, is that a sabre-tooth tiger?) Now the need to economize is especially acute.

For a half-hour call (at least 5% of your work day) you need to squeeze the most meaning possible—to understand the basics, what comes next, and what decisions you and others need to make. Making the meeting longer is obviously not the answer. What everyone needs is a shorthand version of the time spent in the meeting—a summary.

In sales situations, the cost of not having a good summary is enormous. If prospects can’t recall what was said (or, worse, take over the meeting out of impatience), you can kiss that deal goodbye.

Summaries are not a magical formula, but there are some rules of thumb. Brevity is obvious, but so is clarity. Keep the language simple and direct, and make sure the “who does what” parts are ironclad. Since you’re trying to focus limited attention on important points, present the conclusions, not the arguments. There’s nothing worse than a “summary” that’s just a rehash of the whole PowerPoint.

Unfortunately, the ability to summarize well does not come naturally, especially to salespeople and others who talk for a living. The only way reliably to develop that skill is by consciously practicing it. Viddler Sales Gym is one way to do just that.

Good summaries can be verbal or written—or both—but above all they must be a way to conserve everyone’s limited attention, not spend it.