I Read 27 Best-Selling Books on Sales So You Don’t Have To
As a salesperson and perennial student of selling, I’ve long wondered why someone hasn’t taken the top tips from the countless best-selling books on sales and turned them into a single book with only practical, accessible advice. Then, one day, I stopped scratching my head and started doing it myself.
Over several months, I read 27 of the all-time best-selling books on sales, from Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human to Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling. Then I curated and ranked what I considered the 100 most critical skills to succeed. The end result is my new book—a simple countdown-style guide called 100 Skills of the Successful Sales Professional.
Designed to be uniquely easy to use and return to, it provides sales pros digestible, bite-size tips on strategizing, influencing, persuading, negotiating, relationship-building, and more.
Here are the top five tips. Each one is primed to strengthen sales skills easily and practically.
- Lead with an emotional appeal.
In sales, emotion trumps logic. Before seeing the objective benefits of a product or service, clients first seek out something with which they can emotionally connect. There are many reasons why this occurs, but the root cause relates to how the human brain functions.
Evolutionarily speaking, our “Spidey-sense”—the limbic system in our brains—is designed to protect us by flagging distrust or danger. Consequently, we instinctively respond to sales or sales-y people with our guard up. In this way, we look to our life experiences to instantaneously categorize things as trustworthy or not.
Put simply, then, always start sales discussions with an emotional appeal that fosters a client’s sense of success, belonging, or human connection. Only then can you work your way toward the utmost point on the barometer of sales relationships: trust.
- Mitigate your disruptive emotions.
In his recent article “7 Disruptive Emotions That Sabotage Your Selling,” renowned sales trainer and author Jeb Blount discusses troublesome emotions, such as fear, desperation, insecurity, and worry. And he warns salespeople that without recognizing and managing disruptive emotions, they can manifest in destructive behaviors that hurt focus, situational awareness, and decision making.
A corollary of Blount’s thesis is how it involves letting go of the all-encompassing desire to win the deal. “Rejection hurts,” Blount says. “In fact, it’s one of the most painful of all human experiences. And when you choose a career in sales, you are actually signing up to seek out rejection.”
David Maister, a former Harvard Business School professor and author of The Trusted Advisor, teaches this indispensable tenet: “Success comes to those who choose not to make success their primary goal.”
Moreover, Maister isn’t alone. Scores of sales experts discuss the great paradox of selling: the more you want something, the less likely it will happen. The simplest answer is to strike a balance between your hunger for results and the happiness you can find in the work itself.
- Focus on others first.
“To be interesting, be interested.” This oft-quoted Dale Carnegie paradigm aptly applies to sales, particularly when it comes to the importance of focusing on others first. And this starts by solving clients’ problems.
Anthony Iannarino, author of Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, talks about taking a “them-centric” approach. He encourages salespeople to “enter from the right”—that is, the place that offers clients the greatest value.
So how well are you doing at entering from the right? One way to know is to ask yourself four questions about a specific client over the course of the past year.
- How much revenue did I generate for their business?
- To whom did I introduce them in the way of key prospects, clients, partners, or job candidates?
- What did I do to genuinely “spread the word” on their behalf?
- How have I served as their champion and helped in advancing their career?
4. Stir up a “sinking ship” sense of urgency.
Let’s face it, a salesperson’s sense of urgency is light-years apart from that of any client’s. But other than sheer self-interest, why is this?
For starters, chances are your clients are drowning in multiple, competing priorities and can’t afford just any old disruption. Michael Bosworth, an expert in the intersection of sales and storytelling, explains that it’s not enough for clients to just see the ship sinking. They have to feel their feet getting wet before they’ll take action.
The best way to stir up this kind of urgency is to ask clients compelling questions (sales expert Deb Calvert, author of Discover Questions, specifically addresses this) and then listen intently to their answers.
Is your current situation tenable? What’s at stake if you don’t take action? And what are the likely opportunities if you do? These are the types of questions that can help clients feel their feet getting wet and finally take action.
- Tune in to your clients early and often and without blinders.
It is easier and more important to read your clients than you think. Yet odds are that you either don’t consistently track your level of client engagement or that you consciously turn a blind eye to what Mahan Khalsa, author of Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, calls “yellow flags.”
One way to tune in to your clients is to look at their workspaces to see what they most care about. When celebrated businessman and author Harvey Mackay was a young salesman, he created the now-famous “Mackay 66” to actively focus on the person who does the buying. As Mackay says: “What are they like as human beings? What are they proud of accomplishing? What’s their life like outside the office? How do they want to be seen by others? In other words, what makes them tick?”
Also, acclaimed author Daniel Pink, who writes about business and human behavior, suggests creating attunement maps—emotional or mood maps that can help you figure out how to approach a client or situation to achieve maximum advantage.
Additionally, listen carefully for your clients’ use of inclusive or forward-looking language—e.g., when versus if, we versus you, or how versus why. This signifies that you’re gaining ground.
Finally, carefully monitor the issues to which your clients keep returning in meetings and negotiations. By and large, these are their top priorities or concerns. And regardless of how they align with yours, by making certain clients get what they want, you can get what you want. At the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, they call this avoiding vividness bias.
I hope these five tips spotlight areas of opportunity for you. Plus, here’s a parting bonus tip: Go first. If you want your clients to open up to you, don’t hesitate to be vulnerable with them first. Vulnerability creates empathy. Empathy creates connectivity. And connectivity creates opportunities.
Alex Dripchak is a sales and career readiness adviser based in New York. A relationship manager at Mercer, a global HR consulting leader, he previously worked at Oracle. He is cofounder of Commence, a college-to-career academy, and the author of “100 Skills of the Successful Sales Professional” (Business Expert Press, June 2021).