I’m obsessed with content and growth hacking, and am always on the lookout for a good book with actionable advice and insights. Here’s my latest list of top sales and marketing books with a focus on how they can help rapidly grow and scale your business. I’ve also added a few takeaways on why I recommend them and how they’ve helped me in my own business.
Have you ever wondered what prompts some people to buy and why others drag their feet on taking action? Social psychologist Robert Cialdini looks at effective persuasion in the book Pre-Suasion. Ultimately, the secret isn’t in the message itself, but in the moment just before the message is delivered.
You can use the tactics you learn in Pre-Suasion to craft killer cold emails and email drip campaigns that help motivate people to buy. For example, if you’re writing a cold email to a potential lead, it takes some nurturing to convert into a sale. You need to work up to the big ask and thoroughly warm them up to get the answer you’re looking for.
It’s easy to let analysis paralysis take hold and prevent you from moving forward. Challenge your own assumptions if you believe your business can’t be like the Amazon of your industry without being a corporate juggernaut. Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It challenges your mentality and explores how your brand isn’t what you say it is, but what your customers say it is.
Image: Be Like Amazon
In my experience in my own businesses, persistence is part of the equation of believing you can do it. Instead of waiting around for business and success to happen to you, it’s imperative to keep focused and move forward in some way, whether you’re regularly posting on your blog, attending conferences, or setting up regular networking dinners and coffee dates to rapidly expand your network.
Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends author Martin Lindstrom spends 300 nights a year in strangers’ homes to figure out their hidden desires and find clues to develop multi-million dollar products for the brands that hire him. You’ll get fascinating insights including how a worn-out sneaker found in the home of an 11-year-old German boy led to LEGO’s turnaround.
Image: Amazon – Small Data
Get out from behind your computer or safety net and connect with people face-to-face. Cold email and online networking are powerful tools, but nothing takes the place of that one-on-one interaction in business building. I meet with hundreds of entrepreneurs and business owners at conferences and events, and I cold email them to get that coffee meeting to see how I can help them. But the trick is in not expecting anything in return. When you genuinely help others and connect on a human level, it’s only natural they’ll become part of your loyal network.
Business growth isn’t something that just happens by accident or goes viral and puts customers in your pocket. Growth Hackers founders Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown take you behind the scenes of rapidly-growing companies, from Facebook to Airbnb, in their book Hacking Growth. The book takes a look at the step-by-step growth hacking process that break-out industries are using, and how to test and analyze the results to see what’s working and what’s not.
Image: Amazon – Hacking Growth
Although it’s hard work, I’ve seen amazing results in my companies with some of the growth hacking process techniques from this book. For the last 13 years, I’ve led growth and digital marketing strategies for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Zillow, LinkedIn and other Fortune 500s. I’ve also driven 8.2 million unique visitors to my clients’ sites. It’s not hard. It’s just a steady and persistent process that requires the right steps in the right order coupled with intense focus.
If you feel like your business is stuck in neutral, you’re not alone. The problem behind startup failures isn’t the product, it’s about getting enough traction to soar. Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth outlines 19 channels to build a customer base and how to pick the right ones for your business.
Image: Amazon – Traction
What I love about this book is how actionable it is and how it cuts the fluff you find in many similar marketing books. Just like in Hacking Growth, I use many of the techniques in Traction to help my clients figure out how to get out of neutral and push forward. You can do this in your own company, whether you’re selling digital products or physical inventory.
Ever wonder how to get your business or products in front of more people? The answer lies in finding hidden influencers. The authors of the bestselling book The Challenger Sale introduce the idea that being a challenger seller isn’t actually enough. Their new research in The Challenger Customer shows that your success or failure also depends on who you challenge.
Image: Amazon – Challenger Customer
This recommendation isn’t just another read on using influencer marketing. Instead, it takes a look at how to present ideas and tools to influencers and mobilizers who can motivate buyers and make changes in your market. I apply this tactic in my business when helping clients figure out how to get more sales. For example, creating the right content to promote a business is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s also about refining the message for the right audience and finding an outlet that meets those goals.
There are plenty of books that talk about how to influence and close sales, but fewer that provide a framework for staying top of mind with your audience. The aptly-named book Top of Mind looks at what successful businesses have in common. The author, John Hall, built Influence & Co. into one of “America’s Most Promising Companies,” according to Forbes.
Image: Amazon – Top of Mind
This is why I believe content marketing is so important. Not only can it help influence and close the sale, but it keeps your business at the forefront of people’s minds. Consistently producing valuable content for my audience, and being seen where they hang out online, is how I keep my business top of mind.
Here’s an audio book for the list. From Impossible to Inevitable: How Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue breaks down the process of setting impossible goals but achieving inevitable success. It’s a must-listen-to book if you’re having a hard time growing and scaling your business when it feels like your competitors are killing it. You’ll hear case studies of how hyper-growth companies like Zenefits and Salesforce rapidly grew and scaled to hit impossible revenue.
There are some great takeaways in this book that I’ve applied to my own life, including why you’re not ready to grow if you haven’t nailed your niche. But another insightful takeaway is how people are just renting their jobs instead of really owning them. You need to take consistent initiative and action. It’s how I went from college dropout to making over $200,000 a year as head of SEO at Oversee.net. I later launched several other companies and wrote an ebook on growth hacking, 100 Days of Growth, which has sold over 35,000 copies so far. I don’t tell you all this to brag, but to show that taking initiative is what unlocks success, not absorbing best practices and waiting around for success to happen to you.
I’ve been talking a lot about the value of hard work and consistency, but it’s true that certain products and ideas become popular and others fall flat. It’s all about finding the right type of product or idea and then partnering with the right influencers to help grab hold of it. Traditional advertising can raise awareness about products and put your business in front of people, but it’s not really a tool for virality. Contagious: Why Things Catch On explores why some content and ideas go viral, and how it happens.
Image: Amazon – Contagious
I’m a fan of how this book breaks down the six principles that drive things to become contagious, whether it’s a consumer product or even a workplace rumor. You can apply them to your own company, whether you’re just trying to raise more awareness or get one of your blog posts or videos to go viral. I personally apply the principles to creating content that people will actually share, whether I’m working on my promoting my businesses or a client’s.
No matter which side of politics you’re on right now, it only takes watching the news to get the concept behind “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.” The book dissects how in today’s culture blogs like Gawker, Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post seem to drive the media agenda and how bloggers have become slaves to money, technology and deadlines. Author Ryan Holiday, a self-proclaimed media manipulator, says he wrote the book because he’s tired of people getting blindsided by these hidden agendas.
Image: Amazon – Trust Me, I’m Lying
There are a few reasons why I recommend this book. For starters, it can help shape how you react and consume news by showing you how the media really works. But it can also give clues on how people are influenced and make decisions. While I’m definitely not advocating for manipulating audiences, I do encourage figuring out what motivates them and delivering a high-quality product or content they actually want. Another reason I recommend this book is because you can ultimately stand out from your competition by using the tactics in it that motivate people, while holding onto your ethics at the same time.