Sales is always a driving factor in business. Sometimes you understand instinctually what’s needed to keep the graph moving in an upward trajectory, other times you need help.
But while there’s an abundance of business how-to books out there, unfortunately, most aren't very good.
Identifying the useful ones is time-consuming (not to mention laborious and boring).
And because sales is an evolving medium, the task is that much trickier. Today’s best practice is tomorrow's old news.
Add to that the fact that we only have a certain number of work hours available to us on any given day. Even when we’re not under pressure to increase turnover or profit margins, sifting through piles of potentially outdated sales books is not the best use of our time.
When I started TopLine, generating sales for the business was my highest priority. It sat there at the top of my to-do list, day in and day out, taunting me. I quickly realized that setting an all-encompassing goal like "increase sales" wasn’t going to cut it.
I came to the conclusion that, rather than simply focusing on the end result, I needed to figure out what I needed to do and/or learn in order to reach my goal of achieving the kind of sales figures that make you want to rush out and create a graph.
It took a lot of research. I read voraciously, asked for suggestions (as in, I harassed everyone I knew and a quite a few I didn’t) and I Googled incessantly. In the end, I read about 20 books. These were the ones that made a difference.
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"The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business With Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies" - by Chet Holmes
Though relatively old, this book is still very relevant. Chet Holmes offers on incredible overview of sales techniques. His 12 key strategies focus on all aspects of the business, which together, are what will determine its success or failure.
From time management and productivity hacks to creating killer strategies, hiring the right staff and honing your client bonding skills, Chet’s book will have you streets ahead of the competition in no time. For me, his best tip by far is to focus. Don’t try to learn everything all at once. Choose a few essential areas and master them well.
Like most people with access to a laptop and the Internet, I was an information hoarder. I was always finding something else I had to know more about, some new process to try, or technique to learn. My learning has improved dramatically since implementing this strategy.
"Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" - by Greg McKeown
This book has nothing to do with sales, but it did teach me a valuable lesson about focusing on what’s most important and saying no to everything else. This approach freed up my time dramatically; suddenly focusing on sales and strategy was something I did, not something I wanted to do.
One profound result that came from having the time to strategize is that we stopped pitching for the cheaper jobs. Not only because they were less profitable, but because it sent the message that we were playing in a lower league. Changing our thinking saw an immediate upturn in our average sale value. We now attract bigger clients with bigger budgets and higher standards. Our work is also of a consistently higher caliber.
If you’ve ever found yourself stretched too thin, feel simultaneously overworked and underutilized, or, and this one was a biggie for me, feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas, then Essentialism is the game changer you’ve been looking for.
"AdWords Secrets Revealed: The Complete Guide to Google AdWords Pay per Click and PPC Marketing" - by Chris Douthit
Now in its fourth edition, Google AdWords expert, Chris Douthit’s AdWords Secrets Revealed offers a really smart, easy-to-action overview of a tool that for many (ourselves included) is overwhelming. At least, initially.
Reading and applying the techniques outlined in it helped us build campaigns that drove our lead generation from four to five leads a month to 15 to 20 leads. It also helped to really understand the pay-per-click medium on a granular level, which has added to our overall success rate.
It’s written in plain English and packed with more juiciness than a ripe mango, so newbies and veterans alike will find value in this book. If you want your ads at the top of the search list this book will do exactly what the blurb on Amazon claims and "almost instantly propel you to the top of the AdWords Totem pole".
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"Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win More Customers, Clients, and Contracts" - by Tom Sant
Before I read this book we were really just winging it with our proposals. A very hippie-esque approach that I like to put down to youthful ignorance. Fortunately, for TopLine, I came across Persuasive Business Proposals. The book gave me a much-needed structure to follow along with some key principles that we implemented immediately. Not surprisingly, our close rate went up immediately as well.
If you’re all about going with the flow and doing business organically then do not read this book (it’ll have you reaching for your, um, peace pipe faster than, well, anything really). However, if things like close rates, new business and paying the bills are what get you up in the morning, by all means, grab yourself a copy and prepare to be astounded.
"Neuromarketing" - by Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin
Some people are naturally persuasive. I’m no Tony Robbins, but I can hold my own in a sales meeting. Neuromarketing, however, takes the art of getting people to come around to your way of thinking to a whole other level. Think kindergarten sports day versus The Olympics.
Using the latest brain research, the authors have come up with revolutionary marketing practices to help you increase your sales. I can attest to this. The book provides a really good overview of how to be persuasive and I immediately incorporated bits of it into our whole pitch process.
It teaches highly effective techniques to help you deliver the kind of presentations that yield results. I won’t say numbers went through the roof, but up they certainly went. This is not a once-off read-and-apply kind of book, though, rather it’s one you read and re-read and over time, will sit dog-eared and underlined on your desk, ready to grab at a moment’s notice.
"Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations" - by Nancy Duarte
The days of ugly, underwhelming PowerPoint presentations are over. Or they can be if you’ll take the time to immerse yourself in slide:ology. Seriously, if you’re pitching a new client, persuading an existing one or bragging about your recent trip to Goa, your chances of keeping your audience engaged are far higher when you have decent slides.
I cannot emphasize this enough: slide:ology is an incredible book on the science and art of making beautiful, impactful presentations. One that will have everyone wide awake and leaning forward on their seats. Nancy’s TED talk, The Secret Structure of Great Talks, is full of helpful tips and tricks and useful add-ons to the book.
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Each of these books really spoke to me. They addressed specific sales challenges that we were dealing with at the time, such as poor lead generation; unsatisfactory conversion rate; not feeling confident in pitches, etc. You know, the usual stuff when your startup is starting up.
It’s important to note here, that I didn’t just read them and then digitally shelve them. I read them, highlighted important points, made notes, bookmarked relevant pages, which in some cases amounted to more than half the book, and then immediately incorporated my learnings into our processes and systems.
As Stephen Covey says in "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", “...to learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.”