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3+ Great Books for Sales and Marketing

Three books I find useful in launching into new markets  (updated since first posted in 2009)

3 Great Books

3 Great Books

I am not a big reader of sales, marketing and business books.  However, whenever I am working with someone who is interested in further developing their ability to sell and market, I find myself recommending the same three books.

The first is Rob Jolles book, Customer Centered Selling.  It is unlikely that you have heard of this book as Rob is a relatively minor author in the field of spin/consultitive/complex selling, but I find his presentation is by far the best.  He is a veteran salesman and sales trainer from Xerox.  For me, there were two world class Silicon Valley companies in the Eighties: the great engineers came from HP and the great salesmen came from Xerox.  While both have lost their shine in recent years, they were in their time factories for their respective talents.  Rob concisely communicates sales as a science and a process for large complex consultative sales.  Rob also does a great job of explaining why salesmen (real salesmen, not order takers) are a good thing for society.

Rob describes the basics of complex buying decision-making in three steps:  1) Agree on the problem with the customer.  2) Agree on how big the need to fix the problem is.  3) Agree on what the world would look like after a solution was in place.  His technique is to ask questions that help the customer understand what they really need.  When both you and the customer know that, then proposing a solution and closing are the easy parts.  If you get his book, treat it as a school assignment.  Do each and every practice excercise exactly as prescribed. The assignments seem easy, but of those that read this book on my recommendation, only those that used paper and pencil to write full answers to his questions recognized the full value of the insights.

My next book is Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore.  In this now classic book, Moore looked at the spreading of new ideas in the form of disruptive technology and used research on the adoption of new hybrid seed more than 100 years ago in the USA as a source for finding patterns.  What he found is that new ideas have five distinct groups:  The enthusiasts just likes to play with technology (so long as they can get it cheap).  Next, visionaries pick up the technology but imagine some huge advantage they can achieve (they are not price sensitive, but usually have unrealistic expectations that will not be met).  Both these groups are extremely small and will not keep a new product alive.  To succeed, the technology must struggle to “cross the chasm” and reach the next three kinds of customers: early adopters want to see clear proof  and references, late adopters have an even higher threshold of  “show me the reality”.  Finally, laggarts just want low cost, simple to use value.  As I write this, Bluray players are reaching the early adopters, while DVD is clearly a laggard technology — cheap and simple.  If you have a new product or service that the market is not already aware of, then you must work your way through the groups and focus on the “the real, proven value” customers.

My final book is another classic: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  Malcolm has become famous as a prolific writer, but this was the one that made him a star, and for good reason.  Malcom takes research in seemingly unrelated areas and links it together into a unified understanding of what is happening in social settings.  One thing to learn from this book is how trendy-ideas spread like real viruses and that they need an intense hard core group to create the initial conditions followed by connectors to disburse the virus.  Understanding this allows you to focus your marketing and sales on a single, core group and then start to look at expansions, thereby avoiding “Chinese Marketing“.  He also does a great job of defining key customer groups such as mavens, connectors and salesmen and explains why producing and selling to your “average” customer′s knowledge is not always effective.

There are other books on similar subjects that I find particularly applicable to the sales process such as The Art of War by Sun Tsu, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and Influence by Robert Cialdini.  But for starters I suggest the books by Jolles, Moore, and Gladwell.

Update February 2014:  a few more books for product launch and startup people:

Lean Startup, Eric Ries (Actually, you can watch youtube videos and perhaps learn more faster)

Four Steps of the Epiphany, Steven Blank (free pdf is here: http://www.stanford.edu/group/e145/cgi-bin/winter/drupal/upload/handouts/Four_Steps.pdf)

Update February 2015:  This is the logical follow-on to Jolles’ book and addresses the solution to customers who are unwilling to spend time with salespeople answering their questions.  Also, like Blank’s book, it has real data not just anecdotes to support its sometime radical concepts.

The Challenger Sale, Matthew Dixon


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