Thursday, January 21, 2021

Build Your Own List of Top Sales Books and Authors

An entrepreneur I know asked for a list of some useful B-to-B sales resources - which in my view means books. No one can ever read enough books and articles on sales, so after firing off my list to my entrepreneur friend, I re-edited the note to turn it into a blogpost. Read on for more:

Now that your company has figured out its place in the market and developed its value proposition, here are some suggestions for sales books to read. I'm not an expert on sales, but I have read widely if not prodigiously in this area. I've also attended seminars, and met many of the authors on this list. 

I'll admit some of these sources are a bit old-school. But while the sales tools may change, the principles of business-to-business selling are pretty much eternal.

Essentially, your role in selling to other businesses is to assume the characteristics of a trusted business advisor, not a salesperson. You're not trying to get your prospects to buy a product -- you are trying to build a long-term relationship. If all you sell to a client only once, you have wasted a lot of energy, and almost immediately you have to go out into the field again to replace that one-time client. You have to think of yourself as being in the long-term relationship business. That means you have to create more value for your prospect than you get from them in terms of dollars.

This doesn't mean you lose money on every sale. But it does means your proposal has to surround the client in value. You have to create so much value – a real solution, ongoing efficiencies, improved market in intelligence, so many new opportunities – that buying your service becomes a no-brainer.

So, sales isn't about tricking someone into buying your product. It's about building relationships with them, understanding their needs, then using your knowledge and creativity to meet those needs, and building a long-term partnership. It's all about relationships, communication, collaboration. 

Selling B2B takes lots of research, creativity, preparation and practice. The good news is that. if you do it right, you build these strong long-term relationships. So when it comes time for the client to buy again, you’ll have created so much value that most of your partners will gladly renew. Partly because they love you lots, and partly because they don't want to give away an advantage to their competitors.

The most important book for you to read is Selling to VITO, by Anthony Parinello (@SellingtoVITO). VITO means Very Important Top Officer, so it's a must-read for anyone trying to connect with high-level decision-makers at major organizations. The author lays out a step-by-step approach for developing relationships with these top officers. Personally, I think there's too many steps, and most readers will probably take a few shortcuts. But I is an essential read to understand your prospects’ attitude and worldview before you go to see them. The book is a little dated now, because it was written before the Internet. But it's still a fundamental textbook.

 Some other books that I've read and found useful:

Are You Ready to Sell?, by Mike Whitney;

Ziglar on Selling, by Zig Ziglar;

Close the Deal: 120 checklists for Sales Success;

High-Performance Selling, by Terry Beck;

The Accidental Salesperson, by Chris Lytle;

The Trusted Advisor, and similar books by David Maister;

and anything by Jeffrey Gitomer, who has written a whole library of sales books. He's an aggressive loudmouth, but his writings, presentations and podcasts will supercharge your knowledge, energy and confidence.

For more consumer-oriented selling, I recommend Stop, Ask and Listen, by Kelley Robertson (a Canadian!).

And for retailers, a classic is The Retailer’s Roadmap to Success, by New Brunswick entrepreneur Andy Buyting.

There’s no shortage of sales gurus, and I don't know them all. Other experts you should read include Nido Qubein, Brian Tracy (another Canadian!), Jill Konrath and Grant Cardone.

As mentioned, most of my sources and I go back a few decades. So I urge you to look around for other, more contemporary experts who may be a better fit for your industry, your experience, your skills and your ambitions.

There is strength in numbers, so do ask other entrepreneurs, friends, employees, and advisors for their recommended sales and marketing resources. I’ve always felt that entrepreneurship should be played as a team sport.

To get started, take some time to Google-News some of the books and authors on my list. Look for articles about them that summarize their best advice. That way you can identify which ones speak most directly to you, your market and your stage of business. Then follow up and buy the books, audio books or courses to make sure your business has the sales horsepower it deserves.

I know you have way too many things to do. You may think that browsing through books and courses is a pretty marginal way to invest your time. But Stephen Covey, who wrote the book on personal growth, (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), talks about how every entrepreneur must take time to sharpen their saw. Because when you try to cut down a tree with a rusty saw, you end up working much harder and taking much longer than if you'd just spent a half-hour sharpening your tools in the first place. 

This is still the best metaphor for the importance of continuously upgrading your marketing, sales and question-asking skills.

Please share your own favorite books and resources in the comments below. Team sport, right?

Monday, January 18, 2021

Tesla: What makes a great entrepreneur?

I'm reading a 500-page book on Nikola Tesla grandly titled, TESLA: Inventor of the Electrical Age, by history and engineering prof W. Bernard Carlson.

It's a fascinating but tough read, with more science in one book than I've seen since Grade 12 Physics (which I only survived because I had a smart mentor, my friend Jeff who is now a professor of astronomy at LSU).

Of course, I'm reading this book for the entrepreneurship bits, which is where the story comes alive. I was especially taken by Tesla's encounter with Westinghouse, the fledgling manufacturing company that went on (thanks to him) to become a powerhouse in, well, electrical power.

Tesla sold a number of patents to Westinghouse, which made him a partner of the company and its founder, the inimitable George Westinghouse. He was pretty accomplished himself, filing his first patent at age 19, for a rotary steam engine. At 22 Westinghouse invented the first air-braking systems for trains, variations of which are still used today on trains and heavy trucks.

Where Tesla was a brilliant, conflicted scientist, Westinghouse was the complete entrepreneur, a focused founder and disciplined business leader. The company he founded still exists (it's now called CBS, named for the broadcasting firm acquired by Westinghouse in 1995), and the brand name lives on through licensing deals with other companies

What characteristics produce a great entrepreneur? You'll see most of them in this description by the legendary Nikola Tesla:

"I like to think of George Westinghouse, as he appeared to me in 1888.... A powerful frame, well proportioned with every joint in working order, an eye as clear as a crystal, a quick and springy step – he presented a rare example of health and strength. Like a lion in a forest he breathed deep and with delight the smoky air of his factories. Though just forty then he still had the enthusiasm of youth. Always smiling, affable and polite, he stood in marked contrast to the rough and ready men I met. Not one word which would have been objectionable, not a gesture which might have offended.... 

"And yet no fiercer adversary than Westinghouse could have been found when he was crossed. An athlete in ordinary life, he was transformed into a giant when confronted with difficulties which seemed insurmountable. He enjoyed the struggle and never lost confidence. When others would give up in despair, he triumphed. Had he been transferred to another planet with everything against him, he would have worked out his salvation."

Tesla's assessment of Westinghouse's physical attributes wouldn't pass muster today. But his colorful depictions of the man's passion, energy, strength and resilience go a long way in describing what it takes to win at business in the 21st century.