I hate starting posts with an apology. Particularly to a group of outstanding people, many of whom are friends–authors of sales books. There are a lot of awesome ideas out there by experienced and thoughtful people. At this moment, I’m writing “blurbs” for several soon to be published books, by friends, on selling and sales management. Soon, I hope to join the ranks of those people with my own first book, tentatively titled, “The Sales Manager’s Survival Guide.”
Lest everyone get a little puffed up, there is a huge amount of crap out there. I think the crap outweighs the good stuff by at least 5 to 1.
Now let me get to the point of this post. Recently, I was asked to name my top 3 sales books. While many from great friends came to mind, the more I started thinking, the more I realized the best sales books, at least for me, aren’t sales books at all. Perhaps, it’s because I’ve read so much about selling, that I’m looking for something “out of the envelope.” Perhaps, I’m just tired of reading valuable, but only slightly nuanced ideas that I’ve read time and time again.
But, let me provide a few of my “very best non sales, sales books.” Some are applicable to sales, some to sales management, some to improving our overall effectiveness with our customers, companies, families and communities.
One that should be on every sales professional’s book shelf is Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs And Ham. (Actually, most of his books have great lessons for selling.)
Now, I know all of you are thinking, “We’ve got proof, Dave is a complete wacko!”
I like it, it’s 56 pages short, lots of pictures, and there are only 50 distinct words. But in it are all the secrets you need to know about the basics of selling–prospecting, objection handling, value propositions, consultative selling, getting past “No,” persistence, questioning—-fundamentally everything. The cool thing about the book is that it doesn’t tell you that. It doesn’t tell you, “Here’s how you handle an objection…” You have to recognize it and figure it out—and that’s where the learning comes in.
Try it, read it from the perspective about learning about selling. It won’t tell you, but it will enable you to discover. It may take a bunch of reads. I’ve read it hundreds of times, I discover something new each time.
I’d encourage everyone to read anything ever written by John Gardner. A great starter is Excellence (Part of the inspiration for the name of our company). Mr. Gardner writes of principles, values, critical thinking. He doesn’t dance around a lot of issues but goes straight to the core of what makes people, organizations, societies great. His books are dense with learning, so while they are short, every few pages, you have to put it down and think. Read his books, thinking about, “How do I apply this to what I do in my job and in my life, how can I improve, how can I contribute?” It will make you a better sales/business professional, a better leader, a better human being.
Read some books by C. West Churchman. Dr. Churchman is one of the “fathers of systems thinking.” I had the privilege of taking some courses from him. Two books I particularly liked are a Challenge To Reason, and The Systems Approach. Practically everything that happens is business is a result of very complex interlocking systems. Understanding how these systems are constructed, understanding how they link, understanding where they break down, understanding how changes to one subsystem ripples through, impacting others is critical to problem solving and critical to effectiveness and results. Read these and think about how you apply the lessons better understanding how your customer’s organization (and yours) work. Learn to think about how you identify and solve problems. The impact of change and how you might help your customers understand these and better manage change. Dr. Churchman’s work is great for sales people wanting to help customers understand and solve problems–not symptoms. It’s great for managers who want to get the highest performance out of their organizations.
Read some books by/about Dr. Richard Feynman, my favorites are Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care About What Other People Think? (Also, his Feynman’s Lectures On Physics are brilliant–anyone can understand and see the beauty in physics). Learn about creativity, seeing things differently, engaging with and learning from others, critical thinking, experimentation, problem solving and having fun–all at the same time.
Read, Neils Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge. It’s actually a collection of speeches by Dr. Bohr looking at how atomic physics impacts everything we do in life. It’s a great exploration on creativity, imagination, and critical thinking.
You’ll have to forgive all the physics references. I originally trained as a physicist. While I’ve never practiced as a physicist (and that world is rejoicing), so much of what I learned is applicable to what we as business and sales professionals do every day. And the books I’ve referenced are very readable by people with no understanding of physics.
Read anything by Peter Drucker. Dr. Drucker probably is the father of modern business thinking–yet most of his core writing was done in the 1950-70’s. The roots of many of today’s best business and sales books come from one or two of the hundreds of ideas he talked about. I think, why read other’s interpretations/variations of his work, why not read the original and apply it myself?
Read the books of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. He’s known for his work around quality and six sigma. But when you read the books, they are really about critical thinking, analysis, diagnosis, problem solving, and people. Without a disciplined approach to identifying, analyzing, implementing, executing and improving, we and our customers can’t learn, improve, or perform to full potential.
Some more current things, some I’ve recently discovered include Steve Pressfield’s work. Start with The War Of Art. Read Patricia Madson’s Improv Wisdom, Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up. As I research/prep freak, I was worried about the title, but now I get it! Try Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. Any of Atul Gawande’s books, but start with the Checklist Manifesto. Any and all of Malcolm Gladwell’s and Seth Godin’s books. I also like many of the books of Michael Lewis and Tracy Kidder.
Read biographies of leaders or people who have faced huge challenges or problems to learn how they thought, what they went through, how they overcame adversity or impossible odds. ( I tend not to like modern business biographies because they are mostly vanity press.) Read histories or social sciences and related books about specific issues, problems, periods, how they impact people, societies, cultures. I like reading books of great competitors, particularly those who have overcome great adversity, so there are sports and related books that are interesting.
None of these books will tell you anything about how to sell. But if you read them from the point of view of, “What lessons can I learn and apply to my job, working with my customers, working with my people, and improving my ability to perform and contribute.”
And I think that’s where the real value is. It’s not in being told how to do something. Frankly, how to do something is deeply personal and situationally dependent. What works for me in this situation may not work for me in another situation, or for you in your situation.
My favorite sales books are not about sales at all. They are books that help me learn and discover. I read them to expand my thinking, consider things I may have never considered before and broaden my perspectives. I apply these things to what I do every day–and it makes me a better sales professional, a better leader, and a better human being.
Finally add some diversity, some of my favorites, Dave Barry, Carl Hiassen, Robert Ludlum, Vince Flynn, Lee Child and others. We have to lighten up and have fun 😉
In case you’re curious, the books I’m reading right now: Heidegger’s “What Is Called Thinking,” Steven King’s, “On Writing,” David Brooks’ “The Road To Character,” David Baldacci’s “Memory Man,” “Girl On A Train,” and Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”………….Hmmmmm??
What are some of your favorite Non-Sales, Sales Books?