I have been interested in understanding sales better for some time. In accounting and finance contexts, sales are often assumed to occur by “the sales force.” I think that understates the key role of sales in any organization (getting a donation for a non-profit is just as much a sale as selling a mortgage loan or selling a computer). Why did I pick Brian Tracy‘s book? Josh Kaufman, of Personal MBA fame, recommends the book on his list of top 100 best business books of all time. Even if the word “sales” is not in your job title, stay tuned – we can all benefit from learning ways to sell our ideas better.
True to the title of the book, Tracy opens with a motivational chapter on the mindset, attitude and “inner game” of sales. While certainly motivational to read, Tracy has a habit of citing statistics without providing a source (e.g. “Some years ago, Harvard University did a study of sixteen thousand salespeople and found that the basic qualities that determine success or failure in selling were all mental.” – pg 8). If you are looking for motivation to develop your sales skills (or really, any professional skills), this chapter is a good read.
The strongest chapter of the book for me was “Why People Buy.” Delving into buyer motivation is complex and the subject of more than a few books (e.g. “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” by Paco Underhill). However, Tracy does well to provide a fast introduction to the topic that can be applied. For example, one of the Action Exercises from this chapter is: “conduct regular market research among satisfied customers; find out what benefit your product offered that caused them to buy from you rather than someone else.” Tracy also makes another point in this chapter about positioning a good or service as an improvement rather than something entirely new. Aside from a minority of people who are early adopters, novelty is often perceived as risky in the minds of many people.
Some of the book’s most practical and direct recommendations concern appearance and making a good impression on prospects. Tracy tells a story of one business that significantly improved its sales simply by upgrading its office furniture and furnishings – an improved environment conveyed an image of success.Tracy also makes a similar argument about the importance of haircuts: “I told him [a student at one of Tracy's sales training seminars] that if he wanted to be more successful in selling to businesspeople, he would have to cut his hair.” (pg 140). As soon as I read that, I was reminded of a Swiss bank that directed its male staff to get a monthly haircut. This is part of Tracy’s more general argument that everything counts in sales – appearance, environment, delivery of the sales message and so forth.
If you’re looking for a highly readable introduction to sales and ways to improve sales techniques, The Psychology of Selling is a good read. I have not tested all of the recommendations but many of them struck me as plausible and worthy of consideration. Tracy has a whole sales and business training suite of products so there is much more to consider if you particularly enjoy his writing style and approach to business.