I recently answered a question on LinkedIn that asked for book recommendations for business development. The question gave me a chance to reflect on several significant and memorable sales and marketing books that I’ve valued throughout my career. Though several of the books chosen were written many years ago, the foundational principles discussed are still relevant today. I would recommend that anyone who is responsible for business development to read (or at least skim) these books, regardless of their business development role or experience level.
Rain Making: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field by Ford Harding
A must-read for all “non-salesy” delivery consultants regardless of level. Ford writes from the heart and with personal experience attempting to help more analytic professionals be better marketers of their services. Ford updated the book and it was re-released in 2008. If you find sales calls and networking intimidating, this is the book for you. Ford explains hundreds of techniques, tools, and exercises that can be used to build and expand your professional network. Members of large professional services firms with many service offerings, should pay particular attention to Chapter 13 where Ford describes his BEST (buyers, events, signals and techniques) cross-selling model. It's the best I've seen--adding science to the art of successful cross-selling. If you have any questions on what marketing tasks you should be doing to help you build your personal brand, they will be answered by Ford.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steve Covey
This book was published in 1989 and thought to be “old fashioned” when published. The book is not so much about sales and marketing but it gives timeless advice for life in general. Contrary to contemporary how-to business books that stress appearance and style, Covey re-surfaced the argument that personal character, purpose, and self-discipline were the keys to business success. He was also one of the first to stress the need for work-life balance. Perhaps his Mormon beliefs and learnings contributed to his simple, common sense life recommendations. He died recently while writing several books including one on how to reduce crime.
How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything by Dov Seidman
I would make this required reading in every university’s business ethics +/or self-awareness curriculum. It would do wonders improving the image of the sales profession. In my opinion, it is one of the best customer relationship books ever written. As the title states, the book stresses the importance of how you do things, not what you do. There are no templates, process charts, complex models or activity lists, but it is full of wisdom and good advice. Seidman believes that the flood of information, the transparency of a company’s products, services and performance, our increasing interconnectedness, and our global interdependence have changed the rules of the game. He believes the qualities that many once thought of as soft, immeasurable values-trust, integrity and reputation- are now the primary drivers of business growth and success. How we behave is now more important than our products or services. Take a read, I think you’ll find his insights particularly relevant in today’s social media culture.
SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
“Situation - Problem - Implication - Need” leads to the buyer and seller’s mutual payoff. Get past the name and read about one of the earliest and most thorough research studies on sales effectiveness - how goods and services are really bought and sold. Based on the work of Michael Huthwaite and his research team, including author Neil Rackham, the book analyzes and documents twelve years of sales performance in twenty of the world's leading sales organizations, including 35,000 transactions, involving 10,000 salespeople and 100 sales managers in twenty-three countries. Huthwaite’s extensive sales research (at the time, the first in 50+ years) and recommended sales model, created the foundation for most of the sales how-to books written in the last 20+ years. Read it first and you’ll recognize the research findings embedded somewhere in each of my other book recommendations. The book successfully proved that more complex sales required a new seller skill set (and model) than previously thought. In fact, the commonly taught and used “feature-function-benefit” sales approach actually reduced the probability of winning modern consultative sales.
Either of the Solution Selling books:
Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets by Michael Bosworth
The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell by Keith Eades
Review them both, I suspect you will get valuable ideas you can use immediately from each. If you're like me (and most of my clients) you’ll have several “That’s happened to me!” or “Oh, that’s why that happened.” moments as you read. Like the Rackham SPIN Selling book, the business development tools, techniques, and templates provided are timeless. I tell people who doubt the value in some of the concepts, try each three times and if it doesn’t work discard the notion. For immediate return on your money and time investment, pay particular attention to the concepts of:
● The three phases of shifting buyer concerns
● Reengineering the prospect’s vision of a solution and
● The sales opportunity evaluation plan: project managing the buying decision steps
Even the most experienced business developers and marketers will learn new ideas or be reminded of concepts they had utilized in the past but perhaps have gotten away from. Also, recent sales research is stressing the need for "new insight-based" selling techniques [I would argue that this is really not "new" at all and has been in practice for years]. The solution selling architecture provides the ideal framework to integrate these approaches into the buying/selling process. I would also recommend that you spend the extra money and purchase the accompanying Solution Selling Fieldbook by Eades, Touchstone and Sullivan which includes a software CD that provides countless sales aids, templates, and examples.
So, that is my recommended business development reading list. Give these books a try and let me know what you think. What other books have you read that stand out in your mind and why? I’m always looking for a good instructional read.
Mike Peters is the managing director of the Whitespace Consulting Group, a global business development strategy firm. The Whitespace Consulting Group has been helping multi-cultural clients optimize their business development strategy since 2005. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.