Recommended Reading – Best Business Books of all time
Every year we see loads of new books published, some of which get rave reviews, but some books also stand the test of time. So, in no particular order, here is a list of my favourites. They are possibly a bit “Sales and productivity focused” because nothing happens in business until somebody sells something to someone else. And I welcome your suggestions, as I curate this article. Regardless of which books you like, I do recommend you read all of these or read a summary of each one. Some books have one simple idea wrapped with a few hundred pages of filler text, many of these ones are like manuals, so they need some focus. My copies are well worn as I revisit some of them, when I can. Audio is good, but reading is better, summaries are good, but reading the full text is better. Your personal key takeaway from any book could be different to mine. Top Tip: Read the book whilst listening to the audiobook at the same time. This helps you understand and retain more.
Top 30+ Business Books – non technical, but sales and productivity focused
1. The e-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber – an easy read that always gets you thinking. Nothing heavy, a simple story with easy takeaways. Denial is common place when reading this one, as if it does not apply to me – think again. Are you a Technician, Entrepreneur or Manager ? Where do you need help – with the hard, the soft or the Information systems. Working on the business is more important than working in it. What is the difference? Do you own a business or own a job? Easy fast read with one simple point.
2. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, slow, steady, nice pace, good content well delivered. “If you are committed to a cause that evokes your passion, you will keep learning from your experiences, and if you stay the course to the end, you will eventually create your desired outcome.”- The Success Principles, page 147 “Most entrepreneurs spend less than 30% of their time focusing on their core genius and unique abilities. In fact, by the time they have launched a business, it often seems entrepreneurs are doing everything, but the one thing they went into business to do. Don’t let this be your fate.”
– The Success Principles, page 280 Learn how to build a business that does not depend on you to succeed. A good follow up read to the previous book.
3. Good to Great by Jim Collins – Maybe a big picture book and the idea of having a level 5 leader and a culture of discipline in a company seems great, but is perhaps more for a big company rather than a small one, but then every big one starts off small. They are the ones that Collins found over 5 years that succeeded by focussing on two things 1. Defining goals that they fundamentally believed in, and 2. Working consistently towards those goals, while disregarding all opportunities that were not in line with the beliefs that led them to those goals in the first place. Find and embrace your “Hedgehog Concept”. Have a “Stop Doing” List.
4. Getting Things Done by David Allen or GTD as it has become affectionately known. We all started the new year with resolutions – are we getting them done ? How about a plan to help do just that – get it done. focus on it, make it your “one thing“. This workbook helps you focus on doing To Do Lists and getting through them in an orderly fashion, focussing on what is important for you to do – WIN What’s Important Now. A productivity or time management book of sorts.
5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey another in the family of books by a family of writers on a subject they write well on. An exercise Covey shares in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is to imagine your own funeral at the end of our lives. Who is there? What are they saying about you? What kind of life did you lead? What did you stand for? Who were you as an individual? What is at your centre ? The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Simple advice, which seems to be hard to apply.
1. Be Proactive – rather than float with the current
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put First Things First – focus on what is important now
4. Think Win Win – for everyone
5. Seek first to understand then to be understood – listen
6. Synergise – learn to work with others
7. Sharpen the Saw – Renewal and continual improvement
6. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – an old chestnut from 1936, maybe, but a lot of common sense, even if the format is old and tired in some ways. ‘How you deal with people is probably the biggest challenge you face.’This is the foundation of How to Win Friends & Influence People and it is still true in 2016.”
“Begin with the right foundation or send the wrong message, to offend” “Always leave people a little better and you might be surprised how big it makes you and how far it takes you.”
“It takes creativity and a bit more time to replicate the effect of a warm smile and a firm handshake, but it can be done.” This can be a difficult read because of its age, but the guiding principles are fresh. Read the principles, believe the principles, implement all or some of the principles, pass the principles on to others and you will become a person others look to for opinions, advice and leadership. Loads of common sense and consideration for others.
7. Tribes by Seth Godin – This guy wrote a blog post every day for 10 years, before anyone else did it and people keep signing up to hear Seth talk. More common sense, more reminding us of the simple truths, but he writes well and is likeable. He loves the Heretic with attitude. Things to do: Publish a manifesto. Make it easy for your followers to connect with you. Make it easy for your followers to connect with one another. Realise that money is not the point of a movement. Track your progress. (pp. 103-104). Seths newer book ‘This is Marketing‘ was released in late 2017. And his earlier book from the late ’90s Permission Marketing is well worth a read too. Learn how to avoid ‘Interruption Marketing’ totally.
8. The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes, a bit American? So many of these books can be salesy and it is a style, of an age, but from the greatest sales arena on the planet. We mimic so many things ‘American’, but we shy away from some of the hard sell techniques. Try Chet, who focuses on the fundamentals: (1) make the best use of your limited time; (2) instigate high standards and individual employee training; (3) hold regular company meetings to inform and train your employees as a group; (4) develop your core story and educate your customer; (5) attract and hire superstars; (6) target your very best prospects; (7) perfect your marketing tactics; (8) perfect your presentation; (9) perfect your company’s sales process; (10) perfect your personal selling skills; (11) bond with your client via follow-through and follow-up; and (12) set aggressive goals and systematically measure your performance over time. Damn good advice in one paragraph.
9. Secrets of Closing the Sale by Zig Ziglar – if you get through Chet, then try Zig ! He is old school, very Southern ! His motto is, “You can get everything in life you want, if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.” Or “The most important secret of salesmanship is to find out what the other fellow wants, then help him find the best way to get it. . . If you will always remember this one rule, selling will be easy.” Another decent book by Zig if you can listen to more of his down home southerly drawl is See you at the Top by Zig Ziglar. A true sales superstar of his time.
10. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. This old one I have yet to read fully or in detail, so it is on the list, to revisit it. In The Effective Executive, it is promised, you’ll learn that the role of leadership in every organisation is to set clear priorities, focus the strengths of the people on those priorities, and make tough choices about what to do and what not to do in the face of uncertainty.
Ten more sales and productivity books to read
11. The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino, set in ancient times, but the philosophy applicable to modern day entrepreneurs, with its call to believe in yourself and persist until successful. Be happy, laugh out loud, be peaceful, do not fear obstacles, but rather welcome them as signs of progress to be overcome before your next step. Create good habits, laugh at the world, persist and know that your challenges will pass, if you believe in your own abilities. Dream it, believe it, do it. Take action. A small book, with a big message.
12. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh Zappos founder and past CEO, talking about his entrepreneurial life, founding LinkExchange and developing Zappos, with all its innovative staff and customer strategies. This one is on my list, because you have only to read the reviews. Ideal for any retailer or someone with an interest in eCommerce.
13. Influence: The Science of Persuasion by Robert B.Cialdini. How to influence people and their thinking. His theory of “Influence” has 6 main principles explored in this book – 1. Reciprocity 2. Commitment & consistency 3. Social proof 4. Authority 5. Liking and 6. Scarcity. Cialdini spent a few years applying for jobs and positions, to study how to influence people and amend your approach, in order to influence decision making in your own favour. He is a very much respected figure and this book is worth the read. It will scare you to see or recognise instances, where you have been manipulated in to making a particular decision. He explains the psychology of why people say yes and how to apply these findings to others and your own life. In 2017 he published a follow up book called ‘Presuasion’.
14. The One Thing – by Gary W. Keller a book to get you focusing on what is important now. This is not a new topic and was covered in WIN and Essentialism, but it is a simple read and helps you focus on what is important. Based on Paretos 80:20 rule, concentrate on the critical stuff and then dig deeper, focus on the 20% of that 20% too. The big question in the book is “What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” – what is your one thing in life, in business, this year, this month and today? Add some simple disciplines to your day, avoid distractions and concentrate on your one thing. “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” Great quote: “How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves, determines the answers that eventually become our life.”
15. Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown – a bit like The One Thing, all about focus. “The result is that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter the most” Essentialism has four parts: 1. Essence – getting down to what it means to move from “non-essentialist” to essentialism 2. Explore – this is where we assess and experiment with changing our patterns and habits to gain some essentialism magic in our work and lives 3. Eliminate – the ongoing practice of eliminating any and all low-value distractions that take us away from being truly effective 4. Execute – where the rubber hits the road with daily practices and small wins. “If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will.” More productivity and time management advice.
16. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman about 500 pages explaining how we think either at a Fast rate System 1 or a Slow rate System 2. Thinking fast is normal and lazy, sometimes necessary, especially in fight or flight situations. A simple example given, I need groceries, so I am going to the shops, but much of the time we should give some thought to the subject, in this case I can write a shopping list of what I actually require, which will help me get exactly what I need and save me time when shopping, plus I will browse less and therefore do less unnecessary shopping. Typically when tired or emotional, we use System 1 and that could be the exact time when we need to use System 2. Kahnemann lists a number of heuristics and explains them very well. This is a thought provoking book that is worth the time it takes and the dedication necessary in a state of being in System 2 where you give this the consideration it deserves. Check Daniel out in Ted Talks for a brief introduction. Fascinating, if somewhat of a slow read.
17. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill from 1937 after he interviewed over 500 very successful people, courtesy of Andrew Carnegie. Hills writing may seem dated and the content overly familiar, but he writes in a way that encourages you to identify and take the necessary steps you need to take to succeed in your quest for success, money, happiness etc. Some of his ideas may seem far fetched today or even a bit airy fairy, never mind for 1937, but ignore all that brain, subconscious and sixth sense stuff and just read it for the sake of having done it, then see where the journey might take you. It will definitely tweak your thinking to some extent.
18. The GoGiver by Bob Burg. This is a short story and is just to remind us that it is better to give, than to receive and how to apply that in business and yet be successful. How can you give, give, give, if you want to receive, receive, receive. It is simple in theory, but it requires a change in mindset for most people. The cited 5 Laws are Value, Compensation, Influence, Authenticity and Receptivity. Most people will never get this or never practice it.
19. Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi looks like a good study, but a lot of reading, just to appreciate the main point about getting in to a state of flow, that optimal state you experience when you concentrate on doing one single thing, whether it is writing a blog or painting a landscape or writing code. Another productivity guide.
20. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, entertaining behavioural economist, maybe you could listen to his 2008 Ted Talk
Some more of the best books on sales and productivity
21. The Alchemist by Paulo Coleho, a popular easy read.
22. The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss a productivity hack workbook by someone who really does think outside the box, even if you immediately think “Nobody works 4 hours, not even the author”. Tim does have some great tips to offer.
23. Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz what your mind can conceive you can achieve. It all starts in your head, reframe your position or your attitude to change your outcomes. Create or imagine the desired result in your head before you begin to make it happen. Start with your self image which is a cybernetic instrument, something that holds to a fixed objective, like a thermostat. Technical, but a good foundational read, if you are in marketing.
24. Beyond the E-Myth by octogenarian Michael E.Gerber who writes a company of one growing to a company of 1000. He writes about the four personalities of an Entrepreneur, the dreamer, the thinker, the story teller and the the leader. The dreamer has a dream, the thinker has a vision, the story teller has a Purpose, the leader has a Mission. This is a process where the dream leads to the vision, which leads to the purpose, which leads to a mission. As usual, his book is an easy read. This one I give away a lot of copies.
25. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, a simple read and worth giving to the kids, but do read it yourself first, in case they ask you a question about which Dad are you?
26. Pitch Anything a seminal work by Oren Klaff, ideal for the Sales people among us (which is pretty much everyone)
27. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. How to coach in 10 minutes a day. Ideal for Sales Managers. Michael has a nice simple approach, which works so well. The book is backed up with useful supporting videos. This will become a ‘classic’ in a niche. My copy is well worn already.
28. Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa. “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” A reader paraphrased Khalsa’s writing with the line “Intent is more important than technique“. It explains the transition from salesperson to trusted advisor, which all starts in your head. It is a seminal work, but geared towards the Complex or Enterprise sale. However, the main tenet is simply to move the reader from Salesperson to Trusted Advisor. It has many useful phrases and terms, that can be used in response to questions from prospective clients. But, be aware that it is old fashioned. You can get a summary in Google or take the time to read its 200 pages
29. Win without Pitching – Blair Enns and Pricing Creativity for about US$320.00 – Blair Enns a double whammy. And if you can get your head around Value based selling you will do yourself a big favour. If you are in Sales, do Google Blair and read his material or listen to his podcasts, usually with David C Baker in 2 Bobs.
30. Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss and i do want to read his Value Based Fees too. Spot the theme? By all means read Hourly Billing is Nuts by Jonathan Stark.
31. Traction by Gino Wickman – read this after you read his other two books on EOS, What the Heck is EOS and Get a Grip. The ‘Entrepreneurial Operating System’ is his blueprint for a successful business. Another concept, mainly for a business with 10 to 250 people. Gino offers a few tools to help you determine if you are indeed an Entrepreneur in the real sense. Maybe you are destined to be Self Employed rather than be an actual Entrepreneur. Check out the EOS Leader podcast.
32. Duct Tape Marketing Jon Jantsch and Referral Engine another double whammy from an equally smart guy. Love the Duct Tape Marketing podcast too.
On my list to read books for 2023:
How Successful People Think by John C. Maxwell
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman EI or EQ – is topical to say the least
Built to Sell by John Warrillow – start with the end in mind and make it happen.
How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger, he of the quote I like so much “Show me a person of ordinary ability, who will earnestly tell their story to 4 or 5 people a day and I’ll show you a success”.
The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill
The Magic of Self Direction by David J. Schwartz
Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries – Safi Bahcall
Building a StoryBrand – Donald Miller
They Ask, You Answer – Marcus Sheridan
Everybody Writes – Ann Hadley
This Is Marketing – Seth Godin – Read once and want to read again. Short simple read.
How To Write Copy That Sells – Ray Edwards
Profit First – Michael Mikalowicz
The Checklist Manifesto – managing complex processes
Ask – Ryan Levesque The Counterintuitive Online Method to Discover Exactly What Your Customers Want to Buy
Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy. “The headline is worth 80 percent of the ad”. Done properly in the 2020’s Marketing will make Sales much easier using online tools, to deliver pre-qualified prospects
Your Move – Ramit Sethi
The Positioning Manual for Indie Consultants by Philip Morgan. Specialize without fear; increase visibility, momentum, impact, and profit.
For SALES specific books check out this related article here. Loads of books, podcasts and tips on the art and the science of selling.
Try Audible.com and allow yourself listen while you drive or walk and keep the hard copies for notes and reviews. And if you are on a tight budget try shopping at World of Books, especially for the older titles.
If you are short on time, maybe try taste size bites or summaries at http://www.squeezedbooks.com or http://www.actionablebooks.com or https://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/book-summaries/business/ which can help give you a feel for a book – only a feel for it.
Most sales people I meet can read, but many do not do much of it. It is like being illiterate. This skill is one that can help you grow and there is an endless supply of good quality content to consume. Try reading just one such book a month. That would make a big difference to your thinking and your performance. ‘Leaders are readers’.