October 21, 2015
Staff Picks: The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea
“When you sell on price, you are a commodity. When you sell on value, you are a resource.”
When the opportunity came for me to join 800-CEO-READ, I had not yet read The Go-Giver. I was also not particularly interested in taking the job that was on offer. 800-CEO-READ was looking for someone to help fill in a kind of hybrid position that pivoted on sales. I had no interest in sales. But my interest was piqued by the description of this company by my friend and then General Manager, Jon Mueller. At the end of my first interview with Jon and Jack Covert, our company’s founder, I walked away with a copy of The Go-Giver. I read the book that same afternoon, and changed my perspective on not just sales, but work in general.
The idea of selling anything, even books, was for me at one time beyond stomaching. I had a very idealized vision of how business and work existed—creativity was saved for those of us in a remote corner of Marketing (such as my corner in the job I was coming from, in which I created web content for our largely B2B company). Something like sales was reserved for the heartless, uninventive, the unscrupulous salespeople who will do anything to lock down that sale and extract a commission. Thinking about sales made me envision (sorry in advance for the cliche) David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, particularly of Blake (Alec Baldwin) yelling at Shelley (Jack Lemmon) to “put that coffee down” because “coffee’s for closers only”—the worst and most frightening kind of person to have as either boss or colleague.
In The Go-Giver, Bob Burg and John David Mann tell a very different story from the likes of Mamet. Theirs is a brief parable about an ambitious salesman named Joe. It is maybe the simplicity of this book’s “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success” that makes it so perfect for the parable format. How better a way to communicate these principles than with a narrative that shows us how incredibly satisfying good business—work that is motivated first by an interest in providing value—can be. Joe’s story takes him from one success story to the next, each with its own lesson. Each of these lessons points back to one of the five laws.
The advice that Burg & Mann offer in The Go-Giver, at first glance, appears to flip every bit of conventional wisdom known to the world of business on its head. Contrast the notion of giving away your secrets (and thanking the interested parties) with the world of patent trolls and trademarks. Contrast the idea of providing value beyond your customer’s monetary payment with the thousands of companies unwilling to let you talk to a real human being when you call their customer service line. Or consider how unusual the notion of truly putting the interests of others first can seem in contrast with just about any experience you might have had with filing an insurance claim. (If you don’t have an experience of your own, there are plenty you can read about online).
Reading The Go-Giver helped me identify why I loved the companies (and people) to which I myself have been most loyal. Especially because we have been somewhat programmed to expect different things from businesses than we do from individual humans, it can be a bit of a surprise (a pleasant one) when we are swept off our feet by companies. I’m not naive enough to say that Costco or Chipotle have changed my life (well, Costco maybe has), but when I think about what it is I love about companies like these and why I go back time and again, I realize that somewhere near the tops of these organizations people are espousing Go-Giver values and applying the five laws, and those values are cascading through to their people and their businesses—the people, stores, and restaurants I can’t help but patronize.
This book introduced me to ideas that in retrospect seems like common sense—be helpful, be receptive, and put other people first. The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success is a bit of a hyperbolic name for such simple ideas, but at the same time those ideas really are huge in practice—they can and should be at the core of what drives all companies, governments, and people. The five laws should dwarf questions of big profits or notoriety. Making money is fine, as Burg and Mann concede in The Go-Giver, but it should not be the motivation for pursuing a career or an opportunity.
Even though I thought I probably wasn’t interested in coming to work at 800-CEO-READ, I was curious because this company bore signs of being unusual. Taking home and reading The Go-Giver helped me to realize what it was that made these people and this place so attractive. 800-CEO-READ is a company focused on providing value. Yes, there is money involved and yes, we have to deal with those details every now and again. But the conversations that drive our day-to-day operations are always ones around how we can help the people we work with and for. So despite having zero interest in selling anything ever, I realized that I could sell books for 800-CEO-READ because selling is only a detail in the larger world of helping people.
The Go-Giver is by no means the only book that can change your perception of work and business, but it was the first one I read that really changed my mind about selling. Even considering the entirety of the broad and sometimes ambiguous category we call “business books”, The Go-Giver is one of the best-written and most readable among its many peers. The fact that it’s being published in this new edition only underscores for me the success of not just the book and its authors, but the powerful ideas that they share with readers.
Michael Jantz oversees “special projects,” a task that corrals any number of imaginable alterations and re-imaginings of the umpteen books 800-CEO-READ so gracefully sells day after day. But never content with the appellations of the common workplace, Michael also now enjoys exploring other avenues of 800-CEO-READ’s enterprise, including reading, writing, design, and lively conversations with those writers whose books the company sells. It is a happy time for Michael, whose love of books and good company has found 800-CEO-READ's office and philosophy to be like nutrient-rich compost to his hungry, burrowing roots.