How to build rocket ships and other good books

by | May 2, 2022

Some describe Sales as an art or a science, while others view it as mostly winging it with a fair amount of luck and charm. Whatever your view, there are enough books written about selling to fill, well, a library.

Some of them must be half decent, as they continue to stand the test of time, beloved by sales folks around the world. Others appear and seem to capitalise on a zeitgeist style moment whipping everyone into a frenzy, challenging existing ways of doing things and inviting readers to turn what they know on their head.

Then there are the ‘gurus’ (although many seem to hate that title) and influencers, the writers, speakers, and teachers, that write the books and blogs and columns and plethora of online collateral on the topic of Sales.  Some are well established, revered industry experts, others may be Gen Z or Alpha with an entirely fresh take on 21st century selling.

Whether you are exploring methodologies such as SPIN, Conceptual or Challenger, or seeking something more around the sales process (which is different), or looking at the bridge between sales and marketing, a good book on how to do more, better, is like a tantalising special sauce to an ambitious salesperson.

Whenever anyone asks Elon Musk how he learned to build rockets, he says, “I read books”.


We do share our recommendations with a word of caution.

Leaning on the Sales Engine manifesto of no BS and as experienced, been-round-the-block on the frontline type of crew that we are, we are all reluctant to hold up any text to say “this is the one, THE book that we all must read”. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, there is never one, right or definitive way to successfully or prescriptively manage sales across People, Processes and Tools in a business that you can learn in a book. Secondly, there can be a lot of ego in sales books and advice which can skew reality and authenticity. Thirdly, such books can be based on quite a lot of theory vs real life situations, which only gets you so far.



Being human

Fundamentally though, it’s always good to broaden our knowledge and such manuscripts are designed to teach us something about human relationships. They usually feature a specific way of thinking, a central belief, alongside models and practical tools to remind us of how and more importantly, why, we need to use a thoughtful, informed approach with the people we are interested in talking to, about our service or product.

Ultimately, the material you choose or feel drawn to, will depend on your own personality, values, and style of working. The way in which you like to take on board information is key to knowing which approach and therefore, book, advice or guidance will appeal to you. I need to feel inspired. Others prefer a step by step guide on how to create a process.

Once understanding this about yourself, it is clear to see that the skill in recognising and understanding how your audience like to receive and process information is a crucial one for the most successful customer-led salesperson. Never truer perhaps, in the wake of a global pandemic where genuine human connection and the sense of feeling heard feels pretty darn important.

“Seek first to understand, then be understood”
Stephen Covey, Author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I’m pretty sure there is always an opportunity for learning, but as we all seem so time poor, I was curious to cut to the chase and find out more from my esteemed colleagues as to what was on their reading list. So, I posed the question to the Sales Engine team to see which books and authors and influencers have had the most impact on them from a professional perspective.

Here’s what they said.

Rob Gill, Senior Bid Consultant

Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson It just flips out everything you ever learned. Definitely one for the mavericks.”



With essay/chapter titles such as ‘Interruption is the enemy of productivity’, ‘Meetings are toxic’, ‘Your estimates suck’, ‘Nobody likes plastic flowers’ and ‘Drug dealers get it right’ you can imagine why many people were quick to hit their Amazon ‘Buy Now’ button to buy this book, even if only from pure curiosity.

This is one of those zeitgeist moments I referred to where a cultural shift is reflected in an approach to something we’ve tended to think about in a certain way. Released in the latter part of 2020, this book uses simple language and a refreshing, inspiring approach to ‘entrepreneurship’ claiming the opportunity to start and run a business can be open to anyone if they throw out the more traditional ‘rules’ on how that should work.

“You need to redefine the rules, not just build something slightly better.” “Even if you wind up losing, it’s better to go down fighting for what you believe in instead of just imitating others.” Jason Fried


In The One Thing” by Gary Keller, he argues that the key to extraordinary success is focusing daily on, guess what? One thing. Or more specifically, “the one thing that’s most important for achieving your goal”, while avoiding efficiency ‘myths’ such as multitasking, misunderstanding willpower and discipline, and neglecting your personal life.

The author is the founder of Keller Williams one of the largest real estate companies in the world.

“Passion for something leads to disproportionate time practicing or working at it. That time spent eventually translates to skill, and when skill improves, results improve. Better results generally lead to more enjoyment, and more passion and more time is invested. It can be a virtuous cycle all the way to extraordinary results.” Gary Keller

Steve Robinson, CEO & Co-Founder

“If we’re getting geeky, I find Guardian Style by David Marsh and Amelia Hodson a really useful book for clearing up any doubts around my grammar and the good writing that I sometimes need to do.”

Sharing sales collateral that features bad grammar, jargon and typos is a good way to lose the respect of an existing or potential client, especially if you are pitching for new business.

Guardian Style is designed to help you distinguish between so-called rules of grammar that are an aid to good writing and those that you can ignore. It’s a great source of information, from the essential to the useful, to the arcane. The latest edition has been updated throughout to reflect political change and the importance of online readers, with a section devoted to digital editing and blogging.

David Marsh was the production editor of the Guardian, which he joined in 1996 and left in 2016. Amelia Hodson joined the paper in 2003 and is production editor of MediaGuardian.

“The staple book that is The Challenger Sale is a go to for me.”

In what feels like another moment of let’s turn what we know on its head, the description for The Challenger Sale: How To Take Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson states: “If you’re like most business leaders, you’d say sales is fundamentally about relationships – you’d be wrong. Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, and their colleagues at Corporate Executive Board (CEB) have studied the performance of thousands of sales reps worldwide. Their conclusion? The best salespeople don’t just build relationships with customers. They challenge them.”

Their thinking is based on the concept that the most effective salespeople take control of the sale by challenging customers’ thinking with new insights and pushing back, instead of giving in to customer demands. It’s born out of a massive study of thousands of sales reps worldwide, revealing five distinct types of salespeople and the Challenger being universally acknowledged as the most successful. In this book the authors uncover the skills and behaviours that drive this type of performance and explain how to replicate them.

“A Challenger is defined by the ability to do three things: teach, tailor, and take control.” Brent Adamson
 “Humanocracy by Gary Hamel & Michele Zanini”

Apparently, less than 15 percent of employees around the world are fully engaged in their work. While everyone may show up, most leave much of their enthusiasm and ingenuity at home. According to this book, this is because organisations are stuck in a bureaucratic system designed on the back of the industrial revolution, to make workers quietly comply with the top down, change resistant way of working and building businesses. Humans are not really built to function like this and certainly they don’t offer their best when treated in this way, which stifles the adaptable, creative nature of so many. This thought-provoking text suggests a comprehensive blueprint for creating a new style of organisation that are “fully human”.

“We wrote Humanocracy because we believe—as societies, as individuals—that we can no longer afford organizations that waste more human capacity than they use. Given the challenges we face as a species, we cannot afford organizations where only 15 percent of employees are truly engaged in their work. We cannot afford organiza­tions where an enormous amount of effort goes into fighting bureaucratic battles. We cannot afford organizations where less than 30 percent of the people are really called on to bring their initiative and their originality to work.”

Gary Hamel


Greg Lee, Senior Consultant

“I tend to rotate between sources that have their origins more in marketing than sales, in part, because they tend to focus on the power and importance of simplicity of messaging, amongst other things. Here’s who I am currently following.”

David Sable in an author, entrepreneur, social activist, storyteller, motivational speaker, coach, speaker, and former Global CEO of Y&R one of the world’s leading global marketing communications companies, where he started his creative journey in the 70’s. He believes that the core of our business is about striking a balance between creativity and innovation, using storytelling to drive the story through the right channels to create new consumer experiences, bridging the detail with people’s physical worlds. He was an early digital adopter and believes that “while digital is everything, not everything is digital. “

“Do it big or stay in bed” David Sable

Mark Ritson is the thought provoking, oft irreverent Marketing Week columnist. He has a PhD in Marketing, a quarter of century experience working as a marketing professor, as well as many years as a global brand consultant for high-end clients, including 10 years as the in-house brand consultant for LVMH – the world’s largest luxury group. He’s won a lot of awards for everything he’s done, his Mini MBA in Marketing being no exception.

“Strategy must always come first. Tactics are the buttons you press to implement the strategy, they are subservient to the strategy and their success or failure comes down not to how well the buttons were pressed, but how smart (or stupid) the strategy which required those buttons to be pressed was.”
“I currently live in Tasmania with one and a half Tasmanians plus two idiot dogs. I drink a lot of wine in my underpants. “ Mark Ritson

Sounds like someone we would hang out with. Perhaps in a little more clothing.

David Ogilvy’s brain. ‘Nuff said. Known as the “Father of Advertising” the Founder of Ogilvy & Mather trained at the Gallup research organisation and attributed the success of his campaigns to meticulous research into consumer habits.

“Tell your prospective client what your weak points are, before he notices them. This will make you more credible when you boast about your strong points.” David Ogilvy

Ogilvy’s philosophy followed these four basic principles: Creative brilliance, Research, Actual results for clients and Professional discipline:  Stating “I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance.” He codified knowledge into slide and film presentations he called Magic Lanterns.

The well-known community that is Hubspot Blog  positions itself as an ecosystem that “unites software, education, and community to help businesses grow better every day”. Its founders could be described as pioneers of the “inbound” movement which “continues to empower businesses around the world to stop interrupting, start helping, and return their focus to the customer.”

A great source of up-to-date information and tools in the world of Marketing and Sales.

“Success is making those who believed in you look brilliant.” Dharmesh Shah, CTO & Founder of Hubspot

A sought-after writer, keynote speaker, consultant and the #1 Voice in Markering on LinkedIn, Tom Goodwin has built a 20-year career spanning advertising/creative, digital, and media agencies, and currently advises a range of Fortune 500 companies on disruptive business transformation for the post-digital age. He sees his role to understand new technology, behaviours, and platforms. To generate ideas and implement solutions for clients that take advantage of these new opportunities.

He talks about this in his book Digital Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in the Age of Business Disruption where he explains why only the bravest businesses make the right moves and thrive in a super-fast, global digital economy.

“The most successful companies today are the ones with the courage to challenge rules, who build themselves on different assumptions, who challenge the status quo, but do so based on the next paradigm, not the last. It is companies who hope to survive by making small incremental changes that now lose out to the ones that bet big on radical innovation and change.” Tom Goodwin


John Toal, Consultant

“I still love Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People It is over 100 years old and the observations of human behaviour and how to influence in a charming fashion are just as relevant today. “

Growing up in poverty as the son of a farmer, Dale recognised the average American’s desire to have more self-confidence honed his approach accordingly.

6 ways to make people like you

  1. Be genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.


“The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it. If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own. “ Dale Carnegie
The E Myth,Michael Gerber is great for helping the entrepreneurs and scale ups make the leap to being a high performing team.”

This book explains why 80% of small businesses fail and how to avoid becoming part of that statistic by choosing to build a company that’s based on systems, not on the work of a single individual. The thinking here includes ways to working on your business, not in it and motivating people based on their personalities and a more human approach to work.

“Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more.” Michael Gerber

Simon Morton, MD, Eyeful Presentations, Co-Founder, Sales Engine

Principles by Ray Dalio is one of those books that is chock-a-block with sound advice, from people management including  “be crystal clear on what the deal is“  through to running a business “build the organisation around the goals rather than the tasks.” Granted, many of the ideas are not particularly ground-breaking, but the book acts as a valuable reference when inspiration runs dry, and you’re hungry for some down-to-earth advice. My copy is (very) well-thumbed.”

Listed as Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world, Dalio’s emotionally intelligent approach to understanding yourself and others in the way you approach not just business, but life, is eye opening to say the least and his 5 principles offer value to everyone.

“Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.” Ray Dalio

Marie Despringhere, Senior Consultant

“I echo John on the Carnegie book; it is still very relevant today and a great honest view of relationship building.” “I really like Start with Why by Simon Sinek because we never ask ourselves nearly enough.”


With more than 28 million views Sinek’s TED Talk based on Start With Why is the third most popular TED video of all time. It has led to a movement to help people become more inspired at work, and in turn inspire their colleagues and customers. With the intention of providing a framework within which to work, it references the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world and the way they all think, act, and communicate in a similar way, often the opposite of what you would expect something Sinek calls ‘The Golden Circle’.

“There are only two ways to influence human behaviour: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it. Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause, or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?” Simon Sinek
“To this day I think Proactive Selling, Skip Miller is the best and most straight forward sales methodology in my opinion. It’s comprehensive, no bullshit approach just sticks. “

Proactive Selling™ is Skips ‘signature selling’ approach using a high-definition focus on the tactics of selling and proactive sales cycle control. Essentially, this book gives you a series of tools designed to better understand the customer’s perspective, so you know how a customer will buy and as a result, how to remove ‘maybe’ from the pipeline.

“Companies are so busy teaching their salespeople about features and benefits, the product and the competition, they are not having them sit in the “buyer’s chair” and think like a buyer. It would be refreshing and helpful if they did.” Skip Miller
Fastscaling by Patrick Flesner offers great advice and methodology to ask the right  questions when scaling a business.”

Patrick’ growth expertise and knowledge comes from more than 15 years in Private Equity and Venture Capital. A respected writer with a Ph.D. in Law and MBA in Business Administration.

When researching the book, he looked at hundreds of tech companies that want to raise capital to accelerate growth and identified patterns in companies that fail and companies that succeed. Described as a practical book for those who want to scale their business in a fast, smart, and systematic way.

“The key message is if you first build a solid foundation and then scale your business, you will be better off. It will take a bit longer, but the probability that you succeed is way higher. Unless market dynamics really require you to only focus on revenues, revenue, revenues, focus on the customer instead. Make the customer happy, the rest will follow magically. Patrick Flesner
“I also enjoyed To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink.”


This explores the belief that selling is part of everyone’s lives. Whether it is pitching an idea to a teacher, a negotiation with a parent, a way of working to an employer and of course, a product or service to a customer. We want to move people to make a decision. The original ABC of ‘Always be Closing’ is dead here as Pink lays down a new ABC of ‘how to be’ when selling:  ‘Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity’.

Pink describes the six successors to the elevator pitch, the three rules for understanding another’s perspective, the five frames that can make your message clearer and more persuasive, and much more. The result is a perceptive and practical book–one that will change how you see the world and transform what you do at work, at school, and at home.

“Anytime you’re tempted to upsell someone else, stop what you’re doing and upserve instead. This is what it means to serve: improving another’s life and, in turn, improving the world.” Daniel H. Pink


Tim Misson, Director

Persuasive Business Proposals by Tom Sant – sounds thrilling, right?! It’s basically all the best practice we preach on the topic and definitely worth a read if you’re in our world. That and The Shipley Guide that Steve once lent me. It was so big I didn’t know whether to read it or prop a door open with it.”

Founded in 1972, Shipley Associates is recognised as a leader in proposal development, particularly for large companies. The Shipley Guide was first published in and is an alphabetical reference tome featuring over 200 pages across 50 topics and dozens of sample documents showing how to apply best practices when preparing proposals. The Shipley Process, from the same firm, is the full cycle marketing and sales lifecycle.

Topics in the guide include Strategy, Customer Focus, Storyboards and Mock-ups, Active/Passive Voice and much more.  This is one for those who like their guidance presented in a comprehensive structured, some may say, more traditional format and style of learning.

“Organisations implementing these principles, supported by the guidelines in this Proposal guide, will capture more business at lower cost.” Larry Newman, Editor, The Shipley Guide to Proposals
Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur is a good one – loads of visual stuff.”

Alexander Osterwalder is an entrepreneur, speaker, and business model innovator. Together with Professor Yves Pigneur he invented the Business Model Canvas, a practical tool to visualise, challenge and invent business models.


Described as a “practical, inspiring handbook for anyone striving to improve a business model or craft a new one” Business Model Generation features the most common Business Model patterns, based on concepts from leading business thinkers and helps you reinterpret them for your own context. It was co-authored by nearly 500 Business Model Canvas practitioners from 45 countries and offers its wisdom via a colourful visual design.

It is designed to embrace innovative thinking and techniques used by consultants and companies such as 3M, Ericsson, Capgemini, and Deloitte and looks at customers, distribution channels, partners, revenue streams, costs, and core value proposition.

“Companies should focus on one of three value disciplines: operational excellence, product leadership, or customer intimacy.” Alexander Osterwalder



So that should keep you busy for a while! Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Do you have any book recommendations for us? Did they help you build rocket ships?

Grammatically correct, inspirational answers on a postcard please.