How (and why) I started a book club for our sales team

The real ROI of reading together

We try to avoid this image

Far removed from the image of frat boys and sorority girls running a revenue engine, you might be surprised that for the last two and a half months I ran a book club with six young and developing sales leaders.

This book club gave my team the opportunity to immerse in the cultivation of exploration and collaboration. It was motivational for the sales reps to learn something new and enlightening for them to see the management team’s perspective.

It was also eye opening for myself to see the challenges and expectations they had for themselves and for the company. Hearing from those who report up to you allows you to see the holes in your sales process and challenges the team to think of solutions.

Now, if you’re open to the idea of starting your own book club— I have some recommendations.

You could give someone a book and hope that they read it (tried this and failed as many didn’t give the first chapter a chance) but it really takes a program to make this work. I’ve developed something I call the ECHO Program:

1. Environment
2. Content
3. Hands-On
4. Operationalize

These are the steps I took and suggest you follow to get going:

1. Environment

Get buy-in from those above and below you to foster the environment that encourages learning and development.

Revenue is the most important metric to a sales team and you need executive buy-in that a book club is something that will have a strong ROI. As a middle-manager, it was my job to sell the leaders on the benefits of a smarter team with the looming potential risk of loss revenue. I did this by tying the investment to our company values of “Passion”, “Change” and “Strive”.

This was the easier step for me. I did something very similar with my leadership team before so requesting resources and devotion away from day-to-day duties was a breeze. (Caveat: It also helps that we are a high quota achieving team). They bought in on investing in their employees and I was approved.

Getting buy-in from my direct reports was simple as well because I had the benefit of building my team from scratch. When it came to hiring, I interviewed for upwardly motivated, intelligent and coachable individuals. This transferred over to having workers who were driven and malleable and saw the bigger picture.

I had people who wanted to leave their sales footprint on the company and the world.

This was the perfect environment to start a book club.

If you don’t have an executive team or coworkers like this:

FreshBooks is hiring salespeople!

2. Content

The first book has to have the right content.

There’s a million business books out there and I do suggest finding one that fills the holes in the knowledge gap of your team.

If you still don’t know where to start, ask yourself these questions:

a) What are the goals of your leaders?
b) What are the goals of your team?
c) How are you going to tie these two together?

Answering these questions my findings were:

a) My leadership team was building and scaling a sales team so we can be the market leaders in small business cloud accounting.

b) My team wanted to learn how to grow and develop a sales team like I did

c) If I was going to satisfy both my leaders and my team, I needed my team to understand the concepts of how to accelerate a channel’s growth by being metric driven and also needed them to see another company’s success and model after that.

I chose the Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge (of HubsSpot fame). It did a great job of teaching me foundational principles that I still use today. Books have an incredible way of introducing concepts and verbiage that teams can share to move forward.

It also helped that the Sales Acceleration Formula was written in a book club friendly format. It followed a logical flow for a simple assignment-like reading format (which brings us to the next point).

Other great recommended books:
 — The Challenger Sale by Neil Rackham
 — Good to Great by James Collins
 — Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
 — So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

3. Hands-On

Put the responsibility of training in the hands of your team.

Initially I was very worried about keeping the team engaged. The average person can only focus for a finite amount of time and I did not want them dreading the next “boring book club session”.

To combat this I set our book club for every 2 weeks and assigned chapters to two people per session. This promoted active listening because it was their peers and active learning due to the activities that were involved.

While it was everyone’s responsibility for reading the assigned chapters ahead of the meeting to make the session worthwhile; these two individuals were responsible for collaborating and preparing a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation.

I supplied them with a template (that they could use if they wanted) and a prior-feedback session (to ensure content was in line) and let them run.

My team loved the challenge and excelled. I found every week they were trying to one-up each other and continued to impress me every time. After each session, I gave them feedback on their presentation skills.

One thing to look out for is that people will generally rehash the chapters. As a feedback provider and manager, it’s recommended you remind them that you’re reading this book to apply it to your job. This also helps in keeping the team engaged and thinking of solutions.

4. Operationalize

Apply what you learned, rinse and repeat

By the end of the book club sessions my team was begging for the next book and wanted to do more. While it seems natural to want to appease an eager student, it’s better to make the student a master.

What you need to do now is operationalize what you just learned. For example, if it was a self-help book that you decided for your team, you could have 1:1s and talk about how they’re applying it to their everyday approach to work.

In our case, we were rich with ideas on how to improve our sales processes and increase our funnel. To operationalize them, I put the next challenge of running the company’s first Sales HackOff event (More details of this will come in a future medium post)

When you feel your team has proven and retained what the book taught, you then can rinse and repeat and do your next book club.

This coming year we’re going to be the best sales team ever. Not because we’ll be the biggest but because we’ll be the smartest.

I hate to quote myself as if I’m someone important but this is something I emailed to my team when I told them we’ll be doing a book club. What transpired since then and over the five sessions is now paying huge dividends for the company. Everyone is bought in on being able to make a difference and are doing so.

As we scale and grow past the small (now eight person) team we are now, it will be moments like these that we’ll look back and realize how important it was that seven bright minds got together to read a book and ask the tough questions we needed to ask from each other.