We can all benefit from reading inspiring books that help us to challenge our assumptions and to take on a fresh perspective. The most valuable ones are usually dog-eared and bulging with post-it notes, highlighter pen swipes and their online equivalents. If you’re keen to learn more about the art and science of B2B Sales and Marketing and are sometimes prepared to take your inspiration from a lateral direction, I’d like to share my 10 must-read book suggestions…
In no particular order, here are my recommendations. Where possible, I’ve included links to the Amazon.co.uk site, but other booksellers are, of course, available. Here goes…
Not, I admit, a conventional B2B text. But Sinek persuasively argues that the people and organisations that most powerfully influence us are those that start with why. As he points out, any organisation can explain what they do, some can explain how they do it, but only a select and highly influential few can clearly and compellingly articulate why they have set off down their chosen path - and have the power to take a growing band of followers with them. This is a must read for anyone that needs to communicate, influence and persuade - whether with communities, markets, crowds or 1:1.
Actually, this isn’t just about marketers, nor does it claim that they are all, in fact, liars. In truth, the best marketers are ones that tell authentic stories - stories that resonate with us. Seth Godin (I urge you to subscribe to his blog) highlights the power of the authentic story - a story that fits our worldview, that we can intuitively embrace, and that we’re happy and keen to share with friends. And in a world where sharing information through social media has become so pervasive, it’s the authentic, compelling stories that attract our attention and drive our actions. By the way, a new edition is due early next year, so you might need to search out a pre-owned version if you want to read it now (or borrow my copy).
Crossing the Chasm is probably the seminal B2B marketing guidebook of the past two decades. Subtitled “Marketing and Selling Technology Products to Mainstream Buyers”, Moore was the first to identify the dramatic behavioural differences between early adopters and mainstream buyers - and was not only able to explain why so many apparently promising products and services fell down the chasm that separates these two phases of market development, but also to prescribe a series of simple tools to help ambitious organisations to bridge the gap.
Hugh’s book was one of the first to focus our attention not on our own sales cycle, but on our prospect’s buying decision process. This has become such a fashionable topic nowadays that it’s hard to remember that Hugh’s point of view represented a real challenge to conventional thinking. The “leaky funnel” turned out to be a great guide to not just understanding the prospect’s buying journey, but also how sales and marketing must align themselves in support of the buying process.
This may also appear to be something of a lateral choice - but Osterwalder and Pigneur’s book introduced a completely new paradigm for capturing the essence of any organisation’s business model. Simple, straightforward, highly visual and easy to communicate, the Business Model Generation methodology helps to capture the core of any business on a single page, and provides a platform for both revitalising existing businesses and creating a framework for developing new ones.
Khalsa and Illig highlight many of the dysfunctional effects of classic confrontational sales tactics (even if they aren’t intended that way) and offer a constrictive alternative that seems much more in tune with today’s buying climate. They focus instead on equipping sales people to help their customers succeed in a way that everybody feels good about. In summary, win-win or walk away. But it’s not just aspirational theory: the authors provide a range of simple, actionable tools and techniques that can help to transform the buyer/seller relationship.
No matter how much money you invest in marketing, in high-value complex sales environments, your organisation’s brand values are more powerfully established through the conversations your sales people have with their customers and prospects than through any other mechanism. Your top performers do this instinctively - but what about the rest of your sales team? Peterson and Riesterer offer a powerful framework that enables every sales person to harness the power of storytelling to advance the buying decision process.
Geoffrey Moore has continued to think deeply about the B2B sales and marketing challenge in the two decades since “Crossing the Chasm” was first published, and in his latest work, Escape Velocity, he turns his attention to helping established companies break free from the chains of their past and reinvent themselves by driving a new wave of growth from new lines of business. He manages a clever synthesis of Chasm Crossing principles with the challenge of the Innovator’s Dilemma first articulated by Clayton Christensen.
What do winners of major sales do differently than the sellers who almost won, but ultimately came in second place? Mike Schultz and John Doerr, bestselling authors and world–renowned sales experts, set out to find the answer. They studied more than 700 business–to–business purchases made by buyers who represented a total of $3.1 billion in annual purchasing power. When they compared the winners to the second–place finishers, they found surprising results: Not only do sales winners sell differently, they sell radically differently, than the second–place finishers.
I’ve known Eddie for ages, and his “New Rules for the New World” are as thought provoking as they are inspirational. He cleverly explains why so many well-intentioned corporate change initiatives end in failure - and offers 12 New Rules for the New World. In a radical and entertaining style, Eddie illustrates how and why - for example - we need to say “and” not “or” when evaluating alternatives, why we must work on the basis that fair=different rather than fair=equal, and why we need to exchange dependence for interdependence. The book is a little hard to track down, but well worth it. If you ask nicely, I might even lend you my copy.
So there we have it - 10 of the books that have most affected how I think about B2B sales and marketing. You’ll notice that many of them are best described as rather lateral choices and - from my perspective - they are all the better for that. I hope that if you aren’t yet familiar with them that you’ll be inspired to seek them out.
I’m sure I’ve missed more than a few great books out. Please share your recommendations with your fellow readers below.