Books We’d Read Again & Again

It’s no secret, Spark Marketer is made up of a bunch of nerds — so, naturally, we love reading. But life-changing, enjoyable books aren’t limited to the business section.

Here are some of our all-time favorite books and top book recommendations (fiction and non-fiction). Check ‘em out! (Get it? Because at the library, you can check out books…)thumbs-up-book-shelf-filled-with-books

Is Everyone On Your Team Equipped To Sell?

Want to know a secret? Sales is not a position within your company — it’s every position within your company. The person answering the phones and serving as the initial contact point for your customers and the techs out in the field doing the work are just as responsible for selling the company as your designated sales person is. The question is: have you empowered and equipped your entire team to effectively sell?Sales-Tags-Hanging-From-A-Rope

Many business owners send their designated sales person to training and invest in their selling skills, but they leave the rest of the team high and dry. Here’s why that’s a big mistake:

The sell coming from your techs and office staff feels more organic and authentic. I’m sure your designated sales person can talk all day long about how great your company is and why your customers would be stupid to choose anyone else for the job, but they have a disadvantage that your office staff and techs in the field don’t: it feels like a sale. The interaction your office saff and field staff have with customers feels more organic and authentic, and gives your customers a better idea of what your company is really all about and how they can expect to be treated when they work with you.

Your sales person is not the one who will leave a lasting impression. Most of the interactions and experiences your customers will have will be with the women and men doing the work, scheduling appointments, and answering any questions the customer has. These are the touch points your customers will remember and the touch points that will determine what kind of lasting impression they have of your business. Two bad experiences here and they’ve already forgotten about how friendly and convincing your sales person was.

Your office staff and techs have more opportunities to sell. Being in front of the customer more also means more opportunities to sell. After all, the employees most frequently interacting with your customers have a direct pipeline to your customers; they likely hear the customers’ wants, needs, and complaints first and have the opportunity to swoop in and meet those wants and needs and solve problems for your customers. But if your team is unsure of how to do that or feels insecure in their selling abilities, they won’t have the confidence to take advantage of each opportunity. Instead, opportunities to upsell, identify needs, and solve customer problems will likely be wasted.

Seeing the direct correlation between one’s efforts and company revenue can be a boost to morale. Here’s the thing, everyone in every company wants to feel important and see the fruit of labor. But when you completely disconnect your office staff and techs from the selling process, you minimize their importance, limit their power, and obscure the direct impact they have on company success and customer satisfaction. By making it clear that everyone on your team has an equal responsibility and role in the selling process, you’re emphasizing the importance of each individual to the success of the whole.

So how can you make sure everyone on your team is equipped and empowered to sell?

  • Start by letting them know that it’s everyone’s responsibility and privilege to sell the company and to be that point person who conveys the mission, values, purpose, and culture of the company to the customer being served. If you don’t verbalize this, your employees may not think it’s their place to sell, because they’ll likely falsely think of sales as a position within the company.
  • Next, provide your employees with scripts and practice scenarios, and ask them to identify a couple of missed opportunities in the last month or so. Give them examples and practice this often so they begin to see sales opportunities easily when on the job.
  • Emphasize that selling is not just beneficial to the company, but to the customer. Many people are uncomfortable with selling because they associate it with being pushy or deceptive. Clear the discomfort your team has by assuring them you only want them to sell when they feel it provides value to the customer or meets a customer need, and by showing them how selling can directly benefit the customer. For example, if a team member goes to provide an estimate for a carpet install and, while the estimate is being performed, the employee notices that the customer’s dog is aging and there are a great deal of pet urine stains on the existing carpet, he or she could use this opportunity to educate the customer on a pet stain resistant carpet. Sure, it’s an upsell, but it’s something that will very clearly benefit the customer and her enjoyment of her home. There’s nothing greasy or deceptive about that!

Sales training and webinars are also worth thinking about. But no matter how you choose to empower your employees to sell, encourage them through any discomfort and insecurity as they learn new skills. Selling is not something that comes naturally to everyone, so be patient and supportive. It will be well worth it for you, your customers, and your employees!

Rekindling The Service Flame When You’re Burnt Out

Being in the service industry is hard. You’re not allowed to have bad days; you have to be on all the time and hold a smile when asked not-so-smart questions; and many days pass without so much as a thank you. When you’ve been in the industry for a long time, it’s even easier to forget why you started doing it in the first place, what you love about your job, and just how big of an impact your daily work really has. It’s easy to get burnt out and to lose perspective. Strip-of-matches-one-burnt-out

If you’re starting each day with a pessimistic, “why bother?” attitude, here are some tips to help you recharge and refresh.

Stop & Reflect.

First things first, when you’re burnt out and you’ve lost perspective, it’s easy to forget the good times — the moments when you felt truly satisfied in your work. STOP. Take a few moments, or maybe even an afternoon, to reflect on your time of service and remember the moments when you were thanked, when you felt fulfilled, and when you saw just how much your work mattered to your community. Reflecting on these moments can help recharge your service battery and keep you focused on the positive aspects of your job. In fact, to prevent future burn out, we highly recommend making reflection a regular thing. Make it a priority and put it on your calendar, just as you would an important meeting.

Ask Others.

Many people in the service industry don’t think much of the little things they do or little ways they go above and beyond, which is why it can be beneficial to ask others. Your friends, family, employees, coworkers, and customers may be able to shed some light on the ways your heart for service really made a difference and you went above and beyond what you were called to do. Plus, hearing others say positive things about you is always good for the spirit.

Connect.

Perhaps the most fulfilling part of life is the relationships we form. Are you taking the time to connect with your customers and form a bond? On each and every service call, make it a point to find some way to relate to your customer. Empathize with them. Care about them. It will make all the difference in the way your customer perceives you and in the way you perceive the customer and the service you bring. This may be easier to do with some customers than others, but even if it’s a stretch, find a way to do it with each and every one.

Recognize Your Value.

You have a heart for service, and not everyone does. But if you want to take care of others, you have to also take care of yourself. When you’re burnt out, take the time to refuel and reflect, even if you only have a few minutes in the truck on the way to the next job. Remind yourself of your worth and the value you bring to those you serve. Although it’s nice, what matters is not that each and every customer acknowledges the worth and value you bring — what matters is that you do.

Taylor & Carter’s Recommended Reads

One of the things you will hear from most leaders is, if you want to lead and win, you must read, or listen to, books. When you see their reading lists, they’re chock full of book titles, but we wanted to focus on just a few of the books we’d highly recommend. With this in mind, here is our list, with a short explanation of why we recommend each book.stack-of-books

Taylor’s Three

The one book that we’ve both read multiple times is Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth. It’s best to read this when you first start out, because most of us are moving from a technician type of job (actually doing all the work) and into a leadership role (where we lead others to do the work). While both of these positions are important, they are very different, and there are many steps that need to be mastered in the transition. Reading The E-Myth every few years gives you different perspectives along the spectrum as you go and grow from technician to leader, so be sure to revisit it.

Another book I recommend you read every two to four years is Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends & Influence People. This is just a very practical and telling guide on winning people over and influencing their lives and decisions for the better. It’s a must-read for anyone in a sales or customer-facing position.

My third recommendation is a combo: Failing Forward and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell are both good reads to return to over time. Failing Forward is a good reminder that failure is a part of the process that moves you forward to success. It’s a book that reminds you to make sure you’re learning from your failures and not just failing. I don’t think any of us will ever reach perfection when it comes to The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, however, we can continuously get better and better. This book is a great one to revisit to gauge your progress and see how you are doing, where you currently are, and how far you’ve come as a leader. It’s also a great tool for identifying the laws and determining which ones you already do well with and which ones you need to work on. Since becoming a better leader is an ongoing process, the book is an ongoing read you should return to again and again.

Carter’s Three

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman provides a brilliant and revealing look at the two systems at work in our brains that take in information and process it to make judgements and decisions. It’s not a traditional business book, but it highlights the number one job of any entrepreneur or leader, and sheds light on why we think what we think and do what we do. Part psychology and neurology, part university course on logic and statistics, what emerges is a holistic look at the way the grey matter in our brains has evolved to ensure our survival, but at the same time severely handicaps us in an ever-increasingly fast-paced world — a world where life and death decisions get made based on larger and larger sets of complex, interrelated data. Does the lowly human brain, the same basic technology we’ve used for millennia, stand a chance at navigating this new world successfully?

You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney is a humbling read, and has turned into a sort of “gut check” reference book for me. Like most people, I like to think of myself as intelligent, able to think rationally and believe things based on a diligent survey of all the facts. Turns out, none of us are nearly as good at that kind of thinking as we’d like to think, and the fact that we think we are anyway, well, that’s kind of the whole point of this book. It’s a well-organized encyclopedia of logical fallacies and neuro-benders that will probably make you want to call up someone you know and apologize to them for acting so sure of yourself so often. As with Kahneman’s book, it’s not straight-ahead business, but I guarantee it will help you get where you’re going by giving you a useful toolkit for challenging what you think and believe in any given circumstance.

The Dip, by Seth Godin is something I pull out now and then, when I’m needing to walk to the edge of the cliff and peer over the side. It’s all about knowing when to quit and when to keep going in business. I think Seth wrote it to help people feel okay with a decision to walk away from something in order to do something else. Sometimes we have a false sense of loyalty to our big ideas, when we should really be willing to move away from unprofitable ones much more quickly than we do. But just as important is to recognize “the dip,” or period of uncertainty that often comes right before the breakthrough moment arrives.

Well, that’s it for this list. What are some of your book recommendations? Let us know in the comments section below!

Are Personal & Professional Growth Separate?

You probably know we’re big on both personal and professional growth — but is there a connection? Can you develop and grow personally while remaining stagnant professionally, and vice versa? Or will growing in one area inevitably lead to growth in the other? Our two cents:

Wherever you focus your time, effort, and energy is where you’ll experience growth. But in our experience, when you care enough to put in the time and work to develop yourself— whether personally or professionally — it’s likely to bleed over into other areas of your life. Why do we say that?Hand drawn watercolor trees

When we start reflecting on ourselves, we’re inclined to take a comprehensive approach to growth to some degree, even if our initial intention to grow was personal OR professional. Inevitably, the two affect and influence each other, for better or for worse. Think about it: if you’re missing sleep or having troubles at home, your productivity and focus at work is likely to suffer. When you hate your job and you spend your day answering stupid questions or dealing with incompetency, you’re more likely go home unhappy and extend less patience and grace to your family than you would otherwise.

The truth is, we don’t have a “work self” and a “home self.” Most of us can’t completely separate our personal and professional lives, as much as we’d like to. So when we work on improving one, we’ll likely see some of that good and some of that effort showing up in the other.

In a way, this should be comforting. Many of the character traits and skills that are beneficial in the professional workplace are also beneficial in the personal realm, and vice versa. Working on developing one area and reaping the benefits in both worlds is a bonus.

Let’s look at some traits and skills you might work on and how they might be beneficial, both personally and professionally:

Leadership

We all want to be better leaders. Working on leadership skills can make you more effective when leading your team at work, but it can also benefit you personally. At the very least, when you’re in a group of Indecisives and no one can decide where to go for dinner, you’ll be ready to take the lead, without looking like a bossy control-freak.

Listening

If you asked a room full of people whose listening skills could be improved upon, everyone (if they’re listening) would raise their hand. Being a better listener helps improve communication and reduces miscommunication, misunderstanding, friction, and time waste. Sounds like a useful tool at work, at home, and just about everywhere else, doesn’t it?

Communication

Would you consider yourself an effective communicator? Better question, would others consider you an effective communicator? Communication is something that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we could all be better at. By working on achieving clarity and purpose with every written and verbal engagement, listening to others and anticipating their needs and questions, and reiterating to ensure understanding, we can avoid a whole host of problems, both professionally and personally.

Patience

Life doesn’t always go the way we planned. Obstacles arise and problems pop up, but if we want to maintain our sanity, we have to learn to be patient through those times and maintain some sense of calm. Why do you think “Keep Calm & Carry On” went viral? Because we could all use a daily reminder and we all stand to improve in this area. Whether we’re waiting on a coworker to get us the information we need, standing in line at the DMV, or answering the 65th question in a row from our toddler, patience is something we could all use more of.

Problem-Solving

Good leaders, good parents, and good friends are able to creatively solve problems and find ways around or through obstacles. Developing your creative problem solving skills will help you achieve your own personal and professional goals and will make you a great asset to others on their journeys as well.

Empathy

Are you good at relating to and empathizing with others? Empathy is one of the greatest traits you can have, across the board, and working on your empathy will benefit you in a million little ways. When you have the ability to see where others are coming from and feel for their circumstances, you’ll be better at communicating with them, no matter what the situation may be. Whether you’re trying to connect with and understand the woman at the checkout, console a crying child, or resolve an inter-office conflict, empathy goes a long way.

Time-Management

Time is not a renewable resource and each of us only has so much of it. Whether we’re at work or play, in order to get everything done and maintain our sanity, we need to work on our time-management skills. As a culture, we’ve meddled heavily with multi-tasking, but the reality is, multi-tasking is not a good time-management tool. You need to plan according to your own peak periods and focus on the task (and only the task) at hand. We could all use more time, but since that’s out of the question, why not learn to maximize what you’ve got?

Are there any traits or skills that you developed personally that ended up being surprisingly beneficial to you professionally (or the other way around)? Share with us in the comments below — we’d love to hear from you!

Our Favorite Podcasts: What We’re Listening To On Those Long Holiday Car Rides

Heading out of town for the holidays? Don’t spend the drive bored out of your gourd. Check out some of our favorite podcasts — they’re sure to keep you entertained and make the time pass. Scenic-Winter-Drive

Blue Collar Proud Show— Obviously we’re a little biased about this one, but if you’re looking for great insight, advice, and stories tailored to you as a service business owner, we think you’ll like the BCP Show.

This American Life — This podcast is hosted by Ira Glass and is a great podcast for getting unbiased stories, expanding your horizons, adding to your knowledge, and seeing real journalism at work.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History — For history with a twist, this is the podcast. Dan Carlin explores historical moments, asking questions and making interpretations that you won’t find in a history book.

The Splendid Table — We’re all food lovers here at Spark Marketer, which is why we love this podcast. Host Francis Lam and his guests explore all-things-culinary and passionately discuss the culture and power of food.

Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People —  In this podcast, comedian Chris Gethard gives callers one hour to share whatever they want. The only rule: he can’t hang up first.

The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe — In this podcast, our guy crush, Mike Rowe explores tales with a twist and provides an unfamiliar look at things and people you thought you knew.

Revisionist History — Take a second look at things past with Malcolm Gladwell, author of several books, including Blink, The Tipping Point, What The Dog Saw, and David & Goliath, to name a few.

RV Family Travel Atlas — If you like to get the family together and see the world from your RV or car, this podcast is a must listen. You’ll hear reviews of campgrounds, gear reviews, kid-friendly travel tricks, tips on what to do when your trip doesn’t go as planned, and more.

You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes — In this podcast, comedian Pete Holmes hangs out with comedians and musicians and gets them to share their secret weirdness. It’s kind of like getting your favorite comedians drunk, setting up a tape recorder, and putting them in a room with their best friend.

Us & Them — You know all those topics that are taboo because they’re so divisive? This podcast touches on them all.

The Unpodcast — Husband and wife, Scott and Alison Stratten share stories and discuss all the things wrong in the worlds of customer service and marketing. And since poor service is the norm, there’s always something to talk aboot (they’re Canadian and they’re lovely).

The Joe Rogan Experience — In this podcast, comedian Joe Rogan talks with musicians, comedians, actors, film producers — you name it.

The Dinner Party Download — No one wants to be the bore or the uncultured one at a dinner party, and this podcast is designed to help you avoid being that guy. Each episode is themed and includes a joke, a strange snapshot from history, a cocktail recipe, an artist, an etiquette rule of thumb, a trending food, and a song. If you’re a theme-loving host/hostess or you dream of being one, this is a great podcast for you.

Read To Lead Podcast — There are a lot of leadership and business books out there and you could never read them all. Get the Cliff’s Notes in this podcast, where you’ll hear some of today’s greatest non-fiction writers discuss leadership, business, personal development, marketing, and more.

The Pen Addict — If you’re a stationery and pen nerd like the Jessica’s, this podcast is for you. That’s literally all they talk about and it’s WONDERFUL.

The Minimalists Podcast— Looking to declutter and cut out things in your life that you just don’t need? Check out this podcast — it’s all about living better with less.

WTF with Marc Maron — In this podcast, comedian Marc Maron and his guests get philosophical, without losing their humor.

Lead With A Story Podcast — In this podcast, you’ll hear some of the most successful executives and leaders out there share their insight on creativity, sales, customer service, leadership, and more.

Off Camera with Sam Jones — This podcast was created to offer an intimate and inside look at what makes some of the greatest artists so great. This isn’t your TMZ snapshot of a celebrity, it’s real conversation with the real humans we often forget they are.

Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield — Online marketing strategist, Amy Porterfield, and her guests offer insight into what makes an online business thrive and provide tips and strategies to help you build an audience and sell more of your product or service.

Stuff You Should Know — For the curious minded, this podcast is a must. Whether you’re wondering if a head transplant is really a thing or you want to understand the science behind empathy, it’s all here.

Serial — Sarah Koenig goes in depth and follows a single story from start to finish over a series of episodes. Season one is a favorite here in the office.

The Brainfluence Podcast with Roger Dooley — If you’re looking for science based life and growth hacking tips and insight into neuromarketing, persuasion, and consumer behavior, this podcast is for you.

S-Town — From Serial and This American Life comes a podcast about a murder in an Alabama town. Follow host Brian Reed as he investigates…

Building A StoryBrand with Donald Miller — Since Donald Miller is a local, some of us have had the privilege of attending a StoryBrand workshop. But thanks to this podcast, now you can get tips on clarifying your brand message and growing your company without heading to TN (although the workshop is definitely worth it).

Lore — Where do our superstitions come from? This bi-weekly podcast aims to find out.

The Command Zone — Unless you’re a mega-nerd like Chris, you won’t get the podcast or even the description of the podcast. I think it has something to do with the game Magic, the Gathering?

My Favorite Murder — Avid true crime story fans Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark talk about murder, crime stories, and death. Just a little light listening…

The EntreLeadership Podcast — Listen in as great minds discuss everything leadership and business related, from hiring practices to procrastination.

Hollywood Babble-On — Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman catch up on Hollywood and celebrity news, do some great impressions, talk movies, and babble on about a variety of things.

How To Do Everything — Wondering how to do something? Whether it’s dating, leaving a good voicemail, finding water in the desert, or quietly opening a Velcro bag, this podcast will help. What will callers ask next?

Hello From The Magic Tavern — This fantastical and strange podcast features interviews with wizards, monsters, and more.

Freakonomics Radio — Think like a freak and learn about human nature in this podcast, brought to you by Stephen J. Dubner, the co-author of “Freakonomics.”

Smart Wrestling Fan  — This podcast will make sure you don’t miss a thing in the wrestling world, whether your thing is WWE, NJPW, or Lucha Underground.

Manager Tools — For insight on becoming a better, more effective manager and tips you can implement right away, check out this podcast.

Better Friendship Through Podcasting — Listen to friendship developing and deepening in this podcast with real life friends Adam Ellis and Kristin Rossi. It’s all about two friends getting drunk, asking each other questions, and catching up.

Edumacation — Kevin Smith & Andy McElfresh set out to learn something, sometimes stopping to meow both popular and obscure songs.

Wow. We’re weird. What are some of your favorite podcasts?