I’m a voracious reader and glean a ton of useful knowledge from books. From this foundation, I often apply the knowledge I’ve gained from reading case studies, research, blogs, experiments, and books to my work and can connect disparate ideas that address unique situations effectively.
One of my favorite things about business school was learning through case studies. Each one offered a new insight into how to digest and respond to unique business challenges and this has sharpened my ability to apply business frameworks I’ve learned over the years.
Below I’ve listed a selection of business books that pertain to marketing, SaaS, lean/agile processes and strategy that I’ve read cover to cover along with a blurb about what I took away from them. Enjoy!
The Lean Startup
Combining much of the Five Steps to Epiphany’s customer development premise and agile software development into a feedback loop, Eric Ries lays out what is essentially the framework for the Lean Startup. Hypothesis testing and putting a premium on learning from your efforts are tenants you should not ignore. Those in larger organizations will also benefit from his methodology for applying Lean Startup principles into more mature companies. Read it and apply what you learn in your work.
Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers
A great companion to lean startup marketing books, Traction walks you through a framework to identify the best marketing channels for your company in a systematic fashion. It cites how many startups often miss out on more effective channels because of experience bias or industry knowledge of where marketing efforts exist, much like the Curse of Knowledge I’ve written about. Best practices and concrete examples of ways to test the traction within a channel are discussed. The nineteen traction channels covered run the gamut from display ads to engineering as marketing and speaking engagements. A really good read for any business seeking… traction.
Crossing the Chasm & Inside the Tornado
Geoffrey Moore writes how you must position and market your product differently depending on its lifecycle on these books. As your customer’s adoption traits change, you need to change your approach to grow your solution into a mass-market success. If you like strategy discussions be sure these two books end up on your bookshelf or in your digital library.
Information Rules – A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy
This timeless book published in 1999 was one of the first books I read about applying strategy to information in an internet-connected world. Much of what now is considered common knowledge, like network effects, was really at the forefront of economics at the time. Most of the main points are still valid today. The book discusses the importance of switching costs and lock-in. Interestingly, when you flip the concept on its head, I believe this is what paved the way for SaaS products to be so successful. Lowering the risk of switching costs and mitigating lock-in has significantly increased the adoption of SaaS.
Four Steps to the Epiphany
This book may be full of typos and grammatical errors but for me, there probably isn’t a more important book in shaping my career. Spawning the Lean Startup methodology, (now recognized by Harvard) Steve Blank walks you through how customer development is the key to creating a successful product. Get outside the building and validate your ideas and prove them in the market. I highly recommend this book or at least following Steve Blank’s blog to learn more. Priceless.
Running Lean & Scaling Lean
Ash Maurya truly practices what he preaches by applying the Lean Startup methodology to his writing of his book. I was able to read along as he self-published his work in progress. He incorporated the feedback from this period to tighten up and go into more depth with his O’Reilly Media published version. His insights are specific and practical to use. I especially appreciate the detail he goes into providing a step-by-step framework to validate market needs. As a side note, try out his
leancanvas.com (now leanstack.com) platform if you’d like an alternative to Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation Canvas. Scaling Lean is an excellent resouce to better understand and implement frameworks to the product solution, product-market fit, and scaling stages of your product development life cycle.
I really enjoyed this look at what types of content are shared and go viral. Applying the STEPPS to content is a great way to juice up exposure to your marketing. Share something that gives you or someone else (S)ocial credibility, possesses frequent (T)riggers to think of it, elicits the right (E)motion, is visible and shared in (P)ublic, possesses (P)ractical value, and brings a (S)tory telling narrative that acts as a vessel for spreading.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
I was fortunate enough to be exposed to this in my Consumer Behavior course while pursuing my MBA at Kenan-Flagler. Robert Cialdini is a PhD. graduate of UNC and world renown for his work on the science of persuasion. This is my favorite book on the subject and really stands out for its thorough assessment and inclusion of pertinent studies in the field. If you are a marketer, you should read this book. I found myself nodding my head up and down and each section is useful in my work.
Copywriting Books – Web Copy That Sells, Ca$hvertising, Kopywriting, Words That Sell, The Boron Letters
When it comes to marketing, copywriting is monumentally important. These four books offer different, but useful approaches to ensure your copywriting and tactical page elements work to communicate and drive action. In addition to these books, I also recommend following CopyHackers and Copy Blogger online.
Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync?
One of many great Seth Godin books, this one is a great primer on the benefit of embracing new trends in marketing. If you need to convince others why a shift of your marketing budget from traditional channels to new channels, this book will give you plenty of examples and trends which should make your argument more convincing.
Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small
Get your creative juices flowing. By using techniques in this book, you can generate ideas upon ideas that could become game-changers. This book is particularly useful for structuring group creativity sessions. I often pull it out for generating ideas and potential solutions to issues I’m currently stuck on and need some inspiration to solve.
Web Analytics: An Hour a Day
Avinash Kaushik, a.k.a Occam’s Razor, wrote this excellent book that dives deep into best practices of capturing and using web analytics. Truly an expert in the field he was quickly plucked up by Google to evangelize and help guide Google Analytics. While this book is a bit wordy at times, it hasn’t stopped me from recommending and loaning it to colleagues because it goes beyond analytics and metrics and helps practitioners discover business insights.
The Lean Entreprenuer
Simply one of the best books on what the Lean Startup is and how to implement it as well. I highly recommend this book! The book does a good job of bringing in lots of different lean startup philosophies. If you are at a startup or thinking about starting one get this book.
Decisive – How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
Another great book from Chip and Dan Heath, this book uncovers common pitfalls to decision making and how to overcome them. The WRAP model presents how we can (W)iden our options, (R)eality test our assumptions, (A)ttain distance before deciding, and (P)repare ourselves to be wrong to make better decisions. Each section details research to back their model and offers language to describe how to approach decisions. I particularly like the word “ooch.” I’m a huge practitioner of ooching in my approach to lean marketing and testing new marketing channels within the Traction framework. To ooch is to conduct small experiments to test a hypothesis.
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors
Michael Porter introduces his famous five forces framework, the primary competitive strategies (cost leadership, differentiation, niche focus), strategies geared to specific market or industry types. He also discusses key considerations for market entry and operational choices. While this book is more than 30 years old and can be wordy at times, it is the best book on the market for strategy. It gives you insights into where opportunities exist in markets and is a must-read for anyone struggling with developing their revenue model.
Peter Block may have written the first version of this book three decades ago, but it still is one of the most useful books on how to approach consulting available. Understanding how important the “soft stuff” can be and setting expectations for a client engagement upfront really helps ensure the consulting engagement is successful. And while this is aimed at consultants, the guts are really applicable to all knowledge workers who engage in projects.
Who Moved My Cheese?
Adapting to change is increasingly important in the rapidly changing work environment. This fable is an extremely quick read and well worth the time to add persuasive ammunition to explaining the importance of innovation in organizations.
Five Dysfunctions of a Team
A fun read in fable format, Patrick Lencioni has written a winner with this work. If you are in a larger organization or coming into a dysfunctional team environment this book will help turn your team around. My key takeaway was that encouraging constructive conflict can really benefit teams if done in a productive way. If you are in a leadership position I recommend this book.
Don’t Make Me Think!
The title of this book says it all. Don’t Make Me Think is simple to digest and apply to your marketing and user interface (UI) designs. It simply boils down to testing for actions you want target customers to carry out. The ultimate test is if a key action you want someone to make isn’t obvious to them, then you need to iterate so this action becomes frictionless. I really like the user testing session and how it applies lean startup principles before the lean startup was even a thing. Get in front of customers and make sure your message and actions you want them to take are immediately recognized. I recommend this book and its follow-up It Isn’t Rocket Surgery highly! Add this to your UI treasure chest.
Built to Last & Good to Great
Written on the questions raised from Built to Last, Jim Collins and his team of researchers tried to make the acclaimed Good to Great more actionable than Built to Last. Understanding how some larger companies stay relevant and others decline, even in the same industry is a tough nut to crack. Jim was able to pry that shell open and lay out how larger companies can stay successful for years to come. My key takeaway is developing a corporate culture and aligning your hiring with employees who fit well within your culture. If you are trying to ensure the relevance of your company in a decade from now, read these books.
Small is the New Big
Essentially a collection of Seth Godin blog posts this one will get you thinking. What I took from this book is how important focus can be in growing your business. By focus, I mean positioning and selling a narrow product to a big market or a more robust product to a niche market. As all his books do this one will get you thinking about ways to apply concepts to your work and I recommend it for this very reason.
The World is Flat & The Lexus and the Olive Tree
Fans of Thomas Friedman will really enjoy these books. The Lexus and the Olive Tree narrative is a fascinating look into how global connectivity and corporate interests around the world grease the scales in favor of a safer, more prosperous world. It makes a lot of sense from a macro-level perspective and is worth a skim. The World is Flat delves deeper into globalization and the impact this has on culture and the impact on the hyperinnovation we are experiencing in the 21st century.
The Managers Guide to the Distribution Channel & Channel Advantage
If you need to learn more about the distribution channels, these two books will give you insights into the key elements of managing distribution channels and strategies you can employ to more get a higher return on your investment. If you’re selling a product through a distributor/reseller these books are a good primer on what you’ll need to know.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
My first foray into Malcolm Gladwell’s work and the first of many of his books I’ve read. This book attempts to explain what causes a message to go from little known to mainstream. Marketers would be wise to read this book when crafting a word-of-mouth campaign that identifies the type of people to focus your efforts on. Hint, these folks are likely in your target audience and will carry and spread your message to them.
If you like Malcolm Gladwell then this book won’t disappoint. This book is an interesting look at how seemingly unimportant characteristics of your environment can shape your path in life. Example after example demonstrate how success stories often point to an important environmental factor that opens the door to related success. My favorite example is about hockey players in the NHL from Canada and the ridiculously high probability of them being born in the first three months of the year. Who knew?
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
This book is less business-focused than some other Gladwell books on this list but there are some good nuggets in here. One takeaway is employing structured interviews when hiring because hiring on “gut” feel is much less reliable. However, he also suggests relying on intuition to make decisions, which has some merit but I try to avoid as discussed in my curse of knowledge post.
Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Great book about how and why we remember things. Marketers will find this book very helpful in communicating ideas that stick. things go viral. Brothers Chip and Dan Heath lay out concepts you intuitively know will work, but when combined with one another spark inspiration and clarity that will make your marketing messages memorable. At the high-level messages that are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories are stickier. Practice applying some of these concepts to your messages and see how the recall of them improves.
Product marketers unite! Newbies and experts would be wise to pick up this practical guide to nail product poisitioning from April Dunford. The book illustrates how assessing foundational components of your product and the looking at the market landscape it (will?) play in can make your product stand out as, well, obviously awesome. My favorite takeaway is centered around the market categorization assessment and how you can use inherent beliefs and expectations of the market category you choose to play in to achive better results.
Despite it’s age, Postitioning still remains relevant to product marketers today. With great insight and anecdotes around product positioning flops and and success, this book really shines in its delivery of how to approach product line extensions and considerations for comparing your product to competitors.
Now, Discover Your Strengths
A great idea for helping you understand your team’s strengths and how to structure the type of role they will excel in and enjoy. Personally, I learned that I’m a futurist at heart with analytical and people management skills.
Excel Hacks – 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
Since I’m often analyzing data, this book came in very handy. It has some really neat hacks for formatting, cleaning up data, and interaction with information outside of the Microsoft world, not to mention some tips I’ve employed to better organize my spreadsheet models in all my analytic software tools.
A succinct but powerful read that supports the school of simplicity. Simply put, by simplifying how you build and sell your product you can transform your business. Since one of my mantras is “when in doubt, simplify,” I’m a fan of the 37Signals perspective on business.
I was fortunate enough to take Dan Ariely’s course on Irrationality on Coursera. It’s essentially an interactive blown-out version of his awesome book. There are so many potential uses for ways that business can employ the knowledge imparted from his book, you’d be irrational not to pick it up. One of my favorite anecdotes from the course is regarding purchasing habits when faced with choices. My takeaway from this lesson is to make sure you don’t paralyze customers with too many options unless you want more dissatisfied customers and fewer sales.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
As with other Clayton Christensen books, this book really opens your mind to the important considerations about your product’s lifecycle. The takeaway from this book for more established companies is to invest a portion of your sustaining revenues and time into disruptive opportunities because some of these will likely become sustaining and keep your company afloat.
Think Outside the Inbox: A B2B Guide to Marketing Automation
I’ve been a marketing automation evangelist since 2007. So when my friend David Cummings gifted me his book back in 2010 when he was
growing killing it with his marketing automation company Pardot (since acquired by Salesforce) I read it in one sitting. While a lot has changed in the marketing automation space since this was published, the concepts shared around how to profile, grade, and score leads so your marketing engine is feeding sales with the most qualified leads that are sales-ready is still useful today.
Ready, Fire, Aim
Heavy on attitude and encouragement this book is more art than science. It can help pump you up and there are a few nuggets worth mentioning. Always be selling and stay market-oriented. If you can get that right then you’ve already won half the battle. I agree, though unless you are starving for some encouragement, skip this book.
Rethinking the Salesforce: Redefining Selling to Capture and Create Customer Value & Spin Selling
Neil Rackham’s books take you through his methodologies to sell. In Spin Selling you are introduced to Rackham’s (Situation, Problem, Identification, Need-payoff strategy of selling. If you are trying to sell to large companies, the techniques in these books can help you land these types of accounts.
Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
Robert Caldini has done it again. His most recent book covers more recent research on influence in the context of unconscious, indirect, environmental tactics you can use to influence outcomes. Subtle, simple, and surprisingly effective tweaks can be employed and tested to improve outcomes. One of my favorites concepts in the book is setting the stage for an ultimate ask by first asking a more innocuous question. I’ve experienced this tactic first-hand with a panhandler. In this case, he asked ‘Are you a helper?’ to establish the principle of consistency before asking if I could ‘Spare any change?.’