November 18, 2015
News & Opinion: Inside the Longlist: Sales
Our founder and former president Jack Covert (now retired) started this company by driving around the Milwaukee area with a trunk full of business books, trying to let companies know what value these books could bring to the the workplace. The internet hadn’t been created. Our employees didn’t have email. Jack, equipped with just a telephone, a rolodex, and a few connections in the publishing world, set out to create a successful business whose goal was to help other businesses by putting the best business books in their hands. Jack didn’t have one product that he was trying to sell to people. What Jack Covert had to sell was Jack Covert, his integrity and expertise, and a small group of people who would become a wonderful resource for businesses around the world.
In 1994, a little company named Amazon entered the bookselling hemisphere, which would forever change not only the book business, but the way that they were able to purchase just about anything in the marketplace. Email and online marketing slowly replaced the catalog and direct mail campaigns, and over the years the technology has shifted to the social media platforms that people have come to use every day, and the mobile devices that they are attached to.
One of the wonderful advantages of working for 800-CEO-READ, and having wonderful relationships with the book publishing industry, is that we get the opportunity to see the books that are written to aid in the ever changing landscape of sales, and the challenges that today’s “salespeople” face in every sector of business. For the past 11 years I’ve been lucky to have stacks of books to turn to when I need a little help remembering what Jack taught me to make this company profitable.
The five finalists for sales book of the year all reminded me of things that I often times forget when getting caught up in talking to people every day.
The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone by Fredrik Eklund with Bruce Littlefield, Avery
I remember the first time I saw Fredrik Eklund on Bravo, I thought after 10 minutes that he could probably sell me anything in the world. It was a nice surprise to see his first book submitted for the the awards, because it had not been on my radar. Being a business of avid readers, most of us read a lot of fiction and non-business books in our free time. What made The Sell such an easy and enjoyable read was the storytelling aspect that Fredrick brought to the book. It was a reminder that salespeople are first and foremost just people, and their stories can add value to the sales conversation. In addition to an entertaining story, along the way Fredrik does a great job of detailing the steps and philosophies that have made him one of the most successful real estate moguls in the world. There is one philosophy in particular, that is so simple and important, that many of us forget or neglect the impact of it in our work lives.
According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, more than one-third of Americans say their sleepiness interferes with their daily life. I take sleep very seriously. I’m obsessive about it, and you should be too. A successful person can’t afford to be sleepy.
You need to be focused on your customer in sales, and you can’t be focused on them if you can’t keep your own eyes open.
Data Driven: How Performance Analytics Delivers Extraordinary Sales Results by Jenny Dearborn, Wiley
No matter how much of Jack’s old school mentality of picking up the phone and talking to people has influenced the way that we do business, we have also adapted and realized the importance of technology as an aid to make our business better. Up until this year we had never had an official marketing director, someone who understands and values the power of data, and Jenny Dearborn really hammers home the fundamental issues related to data and operations in a comprehensive and compelling way. The fictional accounts of a struggling sales force really was a refreshing way to look at how important analytics are to a growing business. One point Jenny makes was a great reminder for a company that has been through some major organizational changes in the past couple years.
Data Analytics is most valuable when it is viewed not simply as a tool to solve problems, but as a mindset to increase overall effectiveness. The mindset needs to be translated into a solid plan supported by adequate resources, staffed by competent personnel, and led by a transformational leader.
The Three Value Conversations: How to Create, Elevate, and Capture Customer Value at Every Stage of the Long-Lead Sale by Erik Peterson, Tim Riesterer, Conrad Smith, and Cheryl Geoffrion, McGraw-Hill Education
I never had any sort of legitimate sales training or education in my lifetime. I’ve always been good at talking to people, but early on in my sales career, I found myself in a few awkward situations with clients who were told about our company. This book reminded me that even though I thought I was good at talking to people, I’d never really had a business discussion with the CEO of a fortune 500 company and didn’t know the appropriate way to converse with that type of prospect. As commerce giants dictate low costs across the globe, this book was valuable in reminding me of why our business is special. We are people who you can talk to, and seek valuable insight from. And it’s books like this that have taught us how to have the right conversations.
The executive values visionary thought leadership, not authoritarian challenge. Be respectful while you are injecting your arguments—help him see things in different ways rather than aiming to prove him wrong. It’s a subtle but important difference. People in power are often surrounded by yes-men and -women and are rarely told that they’re wrong. Step lightly.
The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results by Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, Pat Spenner, and Nick Toman, Portfolio
When I started in my sales position here, Jack would walk out to my desk with a printed report of orders from the prior week, every page highlighted with handwritten notes just saying, “HUGE.” This meant he expected me to call the McKinseys and Boston Consulting Groups of the business world to find that magical person who held the key to purchase decisions, who would buy more books from our small independent book operation. As corporate libraries and book buyers started to die out, books like The Challenger Customer, and the author’s previous book The Challenger Sale have been valuable resources for sales teams. I realized that finding that decision maker was challenging because many groups have a large staff of decision makers who often aren’t even on the same page. This book is a valuable tool for understanding this culture, and the steps you can take to find the right people.
When we put it all together, we find the far bigger challenge for suppliers isn’t improving their own abilities to sell, it’s addressing the customer’s inability to agree.
The Revenue Growth Habit: The Simple Art of Growing Your Business by 15% in 15 Minutes Per Day by Alex Goldfayn, Wiley
One of the biggest problems that myself and many sales professionals and leaders have is, quite simply, time. Sales is a job that never sleeps. There is always a lead to chase, or a person to call, or an email to respond to. We are big proponents that the books that we sell help people, so naturally we try as hard as we can to read the books we see on our shelves to better ourselves. Alex Goldfayn takes the time investment equation off the table with his first book. The chapters are short and immediately actionable, so the reader can digest the points in this book at his or her own leisure, but walk away with valuable information to apply almost immediately. The book is full of important reminders of simple concepts that we often forget in our busy day-to-day lives.
It’s extraordinarily easy to grow business. Just communicate more with people who can buy from you. It’s no more complicated than that.
About Aaron Schleicher
Aaron Schleicher has been the author services specialist at 800-CEO-READ since 2004. You can usually find him hidden under a baseball cap, feet kicked up on his desk, talking with authors, publishers, and businesses. Outside the office you can find him crafting candles, listening to records, and making music with friends and family.