summer reading

Summer’s here!

The kids are home from school (well – still home from school, I suppose). The pool is open (it was $34 at Target). And vacations are underway (by ourselves, in our own backyards, drinking grocery store piña coladas out of frozen pouches).

OK, the summer ahead might be looking a little bit weird.

But your summer reading doesn’t have to be.

If you’re planning to add any business books to the mix, I’ve got 12 great ones for you. Each has significantly influenced my own thinking in some way – both as a business owner and marketing/sales consultant.

These 12 books span the following four topics:

  • Positioning
  • Prospecting and selling
  • Content marketing
  • Building customer relationships

I went back to my notes from all 12 and pulled the quotes that best represent my most powerful takeaways. Hopefully a few of these will inspire you too.

Regardless of what the summer ahead looks like in your world, happy reading!

New Sales Simplified by Mike Weinberg

new sales simplifiedLet’s kick it off with one of my all-time favorites.

Although New Sales. Simplified. is a sales book by name and by nature, Chapter 8 provides the best framework I’ve seen for putting your brand positioning down in writing. We even used it to write our own Who We Help and How page.

Though he may not have intended it this way, Mike’s book is about a lot more than sales. It’s about how to differentiate your business in front of the right people from the right companies by focusing on what they care about instead of what you do.

Most influential quote:

“Prospective customers are not interested in what you do; they are only interested in what you can do for them. Said another way, no one cares how smart you are or how great you think your company is. They want to know what’s in it for them.”

Here’s New Sales. Simplified. on Amazon.

Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller

building a storybrandIn Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller applies hero-guide stories we all know (Frodo-Gandalf, Luke Skywalker-Yoda, Katniss-Haymitch) to the business world. Side note: Yes, I read the Hunger Games trilogy, but Lebron James was reading it at the same time as me so I’m OK saying that out loud 😉.

In a nutshell, this new classic is about making your prospect the hero – rather than assuming that role for yourself. They’re Luke. You’re Yoda. Guide them to the solution with your lightsaber.

Most influential quote:

“If heroes in a story could solve their own problems, they would never get into trouble in the first place. That’s why storytellers, through the centuries, have created another character to help the hero win. Depending on the scholar you talk to, there are many names for this character, but the term we use at StoryBrand is the guide.”

Here’s Building a StoryBrand on Amazon.

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

the win without pitching manifestoLet’s do one more about positioning before we move on to other topics.

Blair Enns is an advisor to creative marketers (not manufacturers). But his principles in The Win Without Pitching Manifesto transcend my industry.

The most powerful common thread that I’ve seen throughout the advice Blair publishes on his blog, his podcast and in his book is this:

We tend to assume in business relationships that the “power” lies in the hands of the buyer. After all, they hold the money. But the less interchangeable you become to the buyer (the more valuable your expertise is perceived to be), the more power you hold in the relationship.

Since Blair says it much better than I do, he’ll take it from here…

Most influential quote:

“When we drastically reduce the real alternatives to hiring our firm, we shift the power balance away from the client and toward us. This power shift allows us to affect the buying process and increase our ability to protect ourselves from having to part with our thinking for free, from having to respond to wasteful and inefficient tenders or requests for proposals (RFP), and to otherwise devalue our own offering or increase our cost of sale.”

Here’s The Win Without Pitching Manifesto on Amazon.

Same Side Selling by Ian Altman and Jack Quarles

same side sellingTime to talk sales strategy.

It’s been a good five or six years since I read this one, but some key concepts remain with me – a testament to the lasting insight this book delivers.

When a new prospect is ready to cut you a check, the easy thing to do is smile, cash it and start grinding away on the work.

But the smart thing to do is take a step back, think about who your best customers are and what differentiated value you deliver to them. Then – go and proactively seek out others who resemble these customers rather than taking whatever falls into your lap.

When you don’t exercise this discipline, you wind up on a spinning hampster wheel – spending your most valuable resources serving customers who aren’t even profitable.

We’ve all been there before. But no more.

Same Side Selling is a book about first identifying the fit. And once you do, finding the most impactful solution with your prospect. Coauthored by Ian Altman (a sales expert) and Jack Quarles (a buying expert), this book brings a fresh dual perspective to the sales front.

Most influential quote:

“The puzzle pieces you have are your resources. They are relevant, but only because they lead to results. Your pieces are valuable only if they fit the holes in the client’s puzzle. If you and the client have trouble seeing why her company needs your products or services, then perhaps your pieces are not a fit for their puzzle.

It is natural for buyers to ask questions about vendor costs, personnel, and process. These factors can all affect the quality and delivery of the end product. But an emphasis on the seller’s costs, rather than on the buyer’s value, can derail a possibly great deal. Ultimately what matters is the puzzle piece. The people and process behind it matter to the extent that they determine its shape.

Are you looking at each other or looking at the pieces?”

Here’s Same Side Selling on Amazon.

ABM is B2B by Sangram Vajre

abm is b2bThe first four books I covered will help you create focus – both in terms of identifying the right people from the right companies and crafting a message that will resonate with them. This book’s about how to go get ’em.

Sangram Vajre is the co-founder of the account-based marketing software company Terminus and a pioneer in that arena. His FlipMyFunnel podcast (614 episodes as of the date I’m writing this!) has over 430 five-star ratings.

The premise of ABM is B2B is that the future of marketing lies in a joint, account-based approach where sales, marketing and customer success teams are working hand in hand to drive growth.

And at the center of an account-based marketing approach is your ideal customer profile. Understanding what that customer looks like – both at a company and human level lets you target and pursue the right types of future customers.

Most influential quote:

“Not all accounts are equal in value, so why are you creating equal experiences for them? It’s okay to play favorites – in fact, it’s necessary! Assigning tiers is the fairest way to make sure you design experiences that reflect what each account is worth. Your top tier gets wined and dined; your bottom tier gets Sprite and takeout.”

Here’s ABM is B2B on Amazon.

The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson

the challenger saleSales professionals come in all shapes and sizes. But after surveying over 6,000 of them, authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson categorized them into five profiles: 1) The Relationship Builder; 2) The Problem Solver; 3) The Hard Worker; 4) The Lone Wolf; 5) The Challenger.

What they ultimately discovered (as I’m sure you’ve guessed from the book’s title) is that the top performers overwhelmingly fit The Challenger profile.

Challengers don’t say “yes” by default.

They push their prospects by bringing unique insights to table and by helping them see potential solutions in a different light. And by doing so, they take charge of the sale – positioning themselves as expert advisors rather than undifferentiated vendors.

If that’s the type of company you’re striving to be, this book’s gold.

Most influential quote:

“Customers will repay you with loyalty when you teach them something they value, not just sell them something they need. Remember, it’s not just the products and services you sell, it’s the insight you deliver as part of the sales interaction itself.”

Here’s The Challenger Sale on Amazon.

Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose

killing marketingLet’s start our transition into books about content marketing with one coauthored by the guy who dubbed the term itself. As founder of Content Marketing Institute, proprietor of Content Marketing World and author of seven books on the topic, Joe Pulizzi is the O.G. (as the cool kids would say) of content marketing.

Here’s the common thread I’ve latched onto across everything I’ve read by Joe:

We need to stop thinking about marketing and sales as a short-term transactional game and instead as a process of building an engaged audience of people who genuinely like you, trust you and value your expertise.

When you do that, the sale will follow.

Most influential quote:

“The key is looking to the investment we are making as one that is not focused on the immediate return of transactional clicks, visits, paths, time on site, or even purchases, but rather the accumulation of attention and access to an audience we can monetize over time.

This is not just a marketing tactics transformation — this is a business transformation. This is looking at marketing as a business model — a profitable investment that is meant to provide access, and accumulation of attention and loyalty from a true investment: an audience.”

Here’s Killing Marketing on Amazon.

They Ask You Answer by Marcus Sheridan

they ask you answerWhen planning the structure of this article, I arranged these 12 books to create a natural flow by topic.

Had I instead chosen to order them by their level of influence on my thinking, They Ask You Answer would unquestionably sit alone at the top.

If you’re a marketing or sales professional and aren’t familiar with Marcus Sheridan, do yourself a favor and go follow him on LinkedIn right now. Then buy this book and start reading.

The success story that drove Marcus (the owner a of local Virginia-based fiberglass pool company on the verge of bankruptcy in the late 2000s) is the greatest testament to the power of content marketing that I’ve ever seen. Here’s a New York Times interview with him from 2013 if you’d like to hear it.

Today, Marcus is one of the biggest names in marketing. He’s also one of the most charismatic, genuine business people you’ll ever encounter. (Back in 2017, he even joined live via Zoom when we did They Ask You Answer for our company book club!).

What I love the most is the raw simplicity of his platform:

They ask.

You answer.

It’s that simple. Listen to your customers. Pay attention to the things they’re trying to learn during the buying process. Then answer their questions as thoroughly and resourcefully as you can on your website.

Most influential quote:

“If I was on a sales appointment, as soon as the prospect would ask me a question my immediate thought was, Have I answered that on our website yet?

“And remember, I’m not talking here about one- or two-sentence answers to questions. I’m talking about really answering the question, including deep explanations while approaching each with a “teacher’s” mentality — without bias and trying only to educate the reader.”

Here’s They Ask You Answer on Amazon.

Leveraged Learning by Danny Iny

leveraged learningIf They Ask You Answer is about teaching by answering common questions on your website, Leveraged Learning by Danny Iny is about taking that teaching mentality to the next level.

In the first half of his book, Iny looks at the inefficiencies and unsustainable rising costs of higher education and puts a spotlight on the opportunity this presents for professionals and subject matter experts to fill that gap.

And in the second half of the book, he shows you what to do about it.

Most influential quote:

“If not colleges, who will provide the lifelong learning of the future? From the only place that it can come from: the experts and professionals on the cutting edge and front lines of their respective fields. They’re the only ones whose knowledge and skills will be sufficiently up to date to provide what learners will need. While their skill level and opportunity cost will command a premium, the transformation that they will deliver will justify paying it.”

Here’s Leveraged Learning on Amazon.

Top of Mind by John Hall

top of mindThe last three on my list I’ll classify as books about building authentic relationships with your customers (and future customers).

Earlier this year I wrote an article titled “Give” – a look into my (and Gorilla’s) philosophy that when you put helping ahead of selling, the selling will naturally follow.

John Hall’s Top of Mind embodies this idea. It’s a book about building genuine relationships in your business life – just like those you strive to build in your personal life.

When you’re authentic and helpful, it all comes back around to you.

Most influential quote:

“As a philosophy, You Marketing revolves around a singular question: How can I make life better for you? Notice that the question is neither “How can I make life better for you so that you’ll buy whatever I’m selling?” nor “How can I trick you into believing that I care?”

Here’s Top of Mind on Amazon.

Content Based Networking by James Carbary

content based networkingIf you’re a podcast listener (like 32% of Americans), stop and think about the business podcasts you regularly consume. Most take the form of interviews, right?

The host facilitates a conversation with an expert, shining a spotlight on them and drawing out their expertise in a way that benefits the listeners.

James Carbary is the founder of Sweet Fish Media – a company that produces podcasts for other B2B companies and co-host of the wildly successful B2B Growth podcast.

James’ experience in the podcasting world has taught him that starting relationships with both industry influencers and future customers is simpler than we all might think.

His big secret?

Interview them.

As James writes, “Content-Based Networking is figuring out the relationships you need to build to achieve your goals, going directly to those people, and creating content with them.”

Most influential quote:

“We all agree that a relationship with the right “someone” could be our ticket to starring in the movies, our “in” with the hiring manager of our dream job, or the monetary investment we need to take our business to the next level.

The problem is that most of us don’t know how to create those relationships. We chalk them up to, “Being in the right place at the right time.” We sit back, wait for serendipity to run its course, and hope that great opportunities somehow fall into our laps….

“But, should we really live our lives waiting for that chance encounter to change our course?”

Here’s Content Based Networking on Amazon.

Never Lose a Customer Again by Joey Coleman

never lose a customer againAs I mentioned earlier, over the last few years, our team at Gorilla has done a quarterly book club.

And no book has driven more tangible changes to the way we operate than this one.

Never Lose a Customer Again was born out of Joey Coleman’s “First 100 Days” concept – his philosophy that a lasting customer relationship is rooted in the interactions and experiences they have with you during the first 100 days after the sale.

Joey defines eight very distinct phases that the customer goes through during those 100 days and how you can respond to them in a way that eliminates buyer’s remorse and builds a sustainable, rewarding and fruitful relationship.

We’re all in the business of customer service. And this book is a must read on the topic.

Most influential quote:

“The lifetime value of a loyal customer can be greater than ten times the value of their first purchase. Like money left in the bank account, investments in customer loyalty compound over time.”

Here’s Never Lose a Customer Again on Amazon.

What did I miss?

Boiling down my list to 12 was challenging. What else would you add? Please comment below because I could use some fresh summer reads too!

In the meantime, I’ll go set up the inflatable pool.