“Read 500 pages every day. That is how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee few of you will do it.” Warren Buffett
Top business leaders such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, and Oprah Winfrey make reading a major part of their daily lifestyle. But they are also highly selective about what to read, opting for education over entertainment by choosing educational books and publications over novels, tabloids, and magazines.
I understand that not all of you want to read 30+ books per year to figure out how to become better in B2B sales to e.g. speed up market traction for your startup. Therefore, I curated my favourite 7 best B2B sales books in this article so you do not have to.
Now, I strongly believe in the power of storytelling. Yes, there is a strong neurobiological argument why our parents raised us with fairy tales and not business plans. Therefore, any great educational book should also tell compelling, emotional stories to help us better keep gained knowledge. Let us therefore start with what the Ex-CEO of Sony Entertainment has to say about sales.
Tell to Win by Peter Guber
“I have an amazing product and the business case makes sense, but the prospect does not have enough money and/or time to work with me.” That is an argument I hear on a weekly basis from clients. But it is — no offense — Bullshit. People do not prefer Solution A to Solution B because it is 4.9% less expensive. People are predictably irrational creatures who take buying decisions emotionally. They therefore need to like you, trust you, or ideally both. But they also want to get a compelling story. Guber does a fantastic job in “Tell to Win” to enrich his knowledge with his own tales, but also stories from Nelson Mandela, David Copperfield, Steven Spielberg and many more legends of great storytelling.
- Customer centricity: Please stop the “Me, Me, Me” pitch. Nobody cares who you are, but only what you can do for them. I know that sounds harsh, but active listening gets you much further than blurting on how many features your product has.
- Be yourself: This is not about bragging, exaggerating or inventing. Storytelling only works or at least works best if you tell your own, true stories.
- Hone your craft: Storytelling is a skill like walking, reading and writing. You need to practice it to master it. Do it.
The Brain Audit by Sean d’Souza
D’Souza tells a similar story but provides a more thorough audit on how our brains take decisions. Sean is a master at reducing information to the max and explaining complex concepts with simple illustrations and continuous practical examples. The book is also a role model that <200 pages can say everything necessary if the author is smart enough and takes the time to focus on the essence.
- Sales is learnable: “Sales is an art. I can never learn that.” Bullshit. To apply rigor in qualification, process, strategy and structure about e.g. your buying center and what objections are preventing the sale is always the right move. And has 0 to do with talent.
- Focus on the customer problem: Solutions need to solve problems. They are of no use otherwise. Make sure you fully understand the customer problem before you even think about talking about how great your solution is.
- It is all people: Buyers, references, roles and processes. These are covered and run by fellow human beings. You do not sell to UBS, not even sell to the CEO. You sell to a homo sapiens with very own prejudices, experiences, value drivers and objections.
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
Say less. Ask more. Some say you can cluster sales people into “Lions” and “Elephants”. “Lions” have a huge mouth and an even bigger ego so they can constantly tell prospects how great they, their company and their products are. “Elephants” have huge ears and no need to prove themselves in a sales meeting so they spend most of their time listening. Long story short: Please be(come) an “Elephant” as “Lions” are messing up the image of salespeople.
But to become a great active listener, you need to know and ask the right questions — which is where Michael does an amazing job at structuring any discovery call along 7 questions. If I would need to pick one also to transform seemingly endless meetings that go nowhere, it would be “How specifically can I best help you right now?”
- Stop Selling, Let Buy: Prospects need to “own” their stories and therefore tell them themselves. Coaching them to get there is way better than telling them what to do — and yes, even you are both saying the functionally same things.
- Patience: Coaching takes patience. Sometimes a lot. But it is worth it to guide a client to a solution if you already know what will work best in the first minute of an interaction.
The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon & Brent Adamson
I am still amazed about the “Sales State of the Nation” at least in Switzerland. Negatively unfortunately as a lot of salespeople are constantly in transactional selling mode. If I do not know that I have a problem, I will not buy something from you. Never. Ever. Even if it is 90% off. And this is even more true in for the sales of innovative B2B solutions as switching costs, risks and gaps of understandings are higher than in B2C.
Enter The Challenger Sale, challenging the notion that we always need to strive for harmony in sales. If a prospect does not “get it” that an important and urgent problem exists, we often walk away. But we can also become smart enough to challenge their current paradigm, prejudices and positions and set the problem statement, trigger and solution journey for them.
- Target, Tailor, Take Control: “The customer knows exactly what she wants and will call me back in 4 weeks if it is relevant.” Sure, in a fairy tale always, but on Planet Earth rarely. And you want to set up your company for Predictable Revenue. People did not wait for you to approach them; they have busy jobs and a life. Therefore, take the effort to prospect carefully, tailor your offering and take control of the sales process as also proposed by New Sales. Simplified by Mike Weinberg.
- Date In Date Out: If you can select only one sales habit, take this one. Assuming there is a valid opportunity to do business, take the work away from prospects to remember to call you back.
Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa & Randy Illig
Probably the best sales book to provide structure to the often rather unstructured personalities that salespeople often are. I trust that setting key beliefs in a company combination with actionable frameworks can speed up sales education by a factor of magnitude.
One of the main frameworks is “ORDER”: Opportunity, Resources, Decisions, Exact Solution, and Results. Whatever framework you use, use it consistently across the whole organization to achieve consistent results and learn along the way where exactly you lose business.
- No Guessing: We all love to assume that a prospect is ready to buy or even able to buy what we offer. But unless it is the customer specifically saying and taking action on things, these are more wishes than reality. Even if it is uncomfortable, “get real” and shed light on “Yellow Lights” that might kill this or later deals.
- ABC. Not: “ABC — Always be closing” is a traditional sales wisdom and still applied by a lot of salespeople. If a customer does not want to buy something, these salespeople often enter “hard-selling”, pressuring prospects by creating (artificial) urgency, crashing profit margins with discounts and other sales tactics. Let go of a customer that is not ready to buy — but follow-up some months later if not a bad fit.
- Acknowledge, understand, resolve: You can only truly help a client if you acknowledge and understand their situation, objectives and challenges. Wait with providing solutions until you confirmed the former.
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz
I in sales terms grew up with Getting to Yes as “the gold standard” for negotiating anything. And I think it still works in a lot of cases (therefore see Honorable Mentions). But since Chris Voss was the FBI’s lead negotiator, he required to develop new practical ways that saved many lives first before casting them into explicit, teachable knowledge to help salespeople become better negotiators.
One of the main things is that old-school, transactional negotiating does not work in hostage situations. A hostage-taker might demand something like “Give me $10’000’000 or I kill all 4 hostages”. Striving to “getting to yes” might cause answering something like “I understand your position, but can only give you $1’000’000 — if you let 3 out of 4 hostages go”. But paying a terrorist $1’000’000 and risking 1 human being to die is not a great negotiation outcome for itself.
- (Counter-)Intuition: The 9 elaborated negotiation principles are often counter-intuitive, but work well in practice. Be resourceful where to select an intuitive approach and where new and therefore counter-intuitive approaches are more effective.
- Empathize: Sincerely strive to understand the rational situation, but also emotionally take the position of your counterpart. That does not mean you need to agree.
- “Neutralize”: Let us be honest: Any argument goes wrong at the stage it enters the “You said, I did, you think, I do not” mode. Take yourself out of the equation with a formulation such as “It seems that you are doing X to achieve Y, but feel that Challenge Z is preventing you from doing so.”
Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff & Carlye Adler
The story of how Salesforce became the first cloud company to achieve $1bn annual revenue is not a classical sales book. But it is a fantastic assembly of memorable and actionable lessons in the form of 9 “Playbooks” with 111 “Plays”.
- Customers are partners: You finished the sale properly when your customer is successful. Treat customers as partners, and they will pay you back a great return through product feedback, market insights and referrals.
- Sales is a numbers game: Funnel volume. Conversion. Retention. Increase any ratio will make you more successful, but if any of these is low, you might need to close your business.
- Land & expand: Never be a jerk to small businesses. They might grow and become your biggest customers.
This text became a lot longer than just listing my favourite 7 Best B2B Sales Books. But how Paul Jarvis says in The Company of One: “You cannot outspend larger competitors. But you can out-share and out-teach them”. Right?
Thank you for reading and please reach out via LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org to share any feedback or to discuss your B2B sales challenges!