Notes And Ideas From The Last 7 Books I’ve Read

by Scott - 6 Comments

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Over the past few months, I’ve re-invigorated the habit of reading regularly. For a while I wasn’t reading because I already had enough to do.

I felt like didn’t need to consume any new information unless it was immediately actionable.

While the amount of stuff to accomplish hasn’t diminished, I felt like I was in a less creative period than in the past so I wanted to get in the flow of reading again.

For the past few months I’ve been doing non-fiction for 10 minutes every morning and then fiction or biographies before bed and it’s been great.

Here are the last 7 books I’ve read. Below the titles you’ll find my notes.

  1. The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation  by Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson
  2. Open by Andre Agassi
  3. Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson
  4. His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Jr. Harley
  5. The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (J-B Lencioni Series) by Patrick M. Lencioni
  6. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
  7. Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry by Marc Benioff, Carlye Adler

Book Notes

The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson (Reread)

This is a classic and the 2nd time I read this book. I consider it a must read for anyone selling software.

Things I want to remember:

  • Challenger reps win by bringing customers new ideas and ways to think about their business that help them compete in their market. This requires knowing your customer’s business better than anyone – tell them what their needs should be in conjunction with discovery. Your teaching should map to your solution and can start from “here’s what we’ve seen in working with other companies”, preferably backed up by data. You can even pick a few paths and ask the customer to select, each leading to examples at other companies to do mini discovery before teaching.
  • The defining attributes of the Challenger—the ability to teach, to tailor, and to take control. Aim for “wow, I never knew that”, not confirmation bias of problems they know they already have.
  • There is a massive opportunity to help customers by educating on everything they need to understand and consider in the buying process as it pertains to your product. A memorable example is how one company helped a company construct their considerations for an RFP they were competing in.
  • In pricing objections, drive the conversation towards agreement on value and don’t be afraid to challenge on HOW customers are making decisions – both from a time and process standpoint. Pre-emptively having customers rank priorities is a good mechanism to understand this and control the pricing conversation.
  • Always be able to answer this question – “Why should our customers buy from us over anyone else?”
  • Great pricing pre-empt – “I understand that price is something we need to address, but before we do, I’d like to take a moment to make sure I completely understand your needs — so we can make sure we’re doing everything we can to make this deal as valuable as possible for you. Is that alright?”

Open – Andre Agassi’s biography

Though I’m not a huge tennis guy, I’d heard this was a compelling read from multiple people. I’m always a fan of reading about people who many considered irreverent which also made this an intriguing choice for me.

Things I want to remember:

  • When Andre found a more compelling why, playing for his family, school, and foundation, he became much more motivated to crush it even though he didn’t love tennis.
  • Interesting approach to getting in the head of competitors vs. exploitation:
    • “When you know that you just took the other guy’s best punch, and you’re still standing, and the other guy knows it, you will rip the heart right out of him. In tennis, he says, same rule. Attack the other man’s strength. If the man is a server, take away his serve. If he’s a power player, overpower him. If he has a big forehand, takes pride in his forehand, go after his forehand until he hates his forehand.”
  • Half-hearted efforts in preparation for competing can always be rectified and are worth it.
    • “Just before the tournament starts, during a final practice with Brad, I give a halfhearted effort. Perry drives me back to the hotel. I stare out the window, silent. Pull over, I say. Why? Just pull over. He steers onto the shoulder. Drive two miles ahead and wait for me. This run, even if it brings on heatstroke, will give me peace of mind tonight in that all-important ten minutes before I fall asleep. I now live for that ten minutes. I’m all about that ten minutes. I’ve been cheered by thousands, booed by thousands, but nothing feels as bad as the booing inside your own head during those ten minutes before you fall asleep. That’s how we do it, he says, handing me a towel as he pulls away.”
  • Don’t settle after a first No. Keep pushing for what you want in your gut. I love his persistence in getting the coach he wanted after getting an initial rejection.
    • “I call him back in half an hour. I ask him, What the hell is there to think about? You can’t coach Safin. He’s a loose cannon. You’ve got to work with me. It feels right. I promise you, Darren, I have game left. I’m not done. I’m focused — I just need someone to help me keep the focus.”
  • Reflection on his rivalry with Sampras is a wonderful outlook on process and  self-development. Struggle builds long term fortitude.
    • “Losing to Pete has caused me enormous pain, but in the long run it’s also made me more resilient. If I’d beaten Pete more often, or if he’d come along in a different generation, I’d have a better record, and I might go down as a better player, but I’d be less.”

Two random things I loved about this book was Andre’s unabashed love for his wife Steffi Graf, especially while courting her and his admitted self-consciousness about his hair-loss. It was a nice reminder that we are all human, that we shouldn’t settle and that the ones with balls win.

Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way – Branson’s Biography

I find Richard Branson charming and the dude seems to have it all. Naturally, this was an interesting book to check out.

Things I want to remember:

  • Wealth creation takes a long time and is a journey. Expecting things to happen overnight will create unwarranted suffering, especially for those who want to take charge and do it on their own terms. Branson at age 43:
    • “Against the odds, I had survived for forty-three years, I had money at my disposal for the first time in my life, we had lots of dreams that we wanted to fulfill, and I was free to see what we could create at Virgin.”
  • Branson is incredible at not giving up and creative problem solving to get what he wants. Never stop at a first obstacle and if you’re creative enough there is always a way around the system. Examples:
    • Finding a way to rent a houseboat outside of traditional permit process.
    • Buying Neckar Island for a 180k by going directly to distressed owner in UK after being laughed out of buying process on site.
    • “Whenever I’m told I’ve got no option, I try to prove people wrong.”
  • If you have a unique asset or expertise, there is always ways to leverage that based on relativity. Many people will assign value to something because of the personal novelty it contains even though society might value something differently.
    • “I had once taken King Hussein and Queen Noor up in a hot-air balloon and that I owned a tiny airline that operated four Boeing 747s. Although nobody else had taken King Hussein hot-air ballooning, many businessmen own large aircraft. These two bizarre qualifications had propelled me into a unique situation: I was one of the only Westerners in whom King Hussein was prepared to confide, and I had therefore virtually direct access to Saddam Hussein. I drafted a letter to Saddam Hussein.”
  • Again, the ones with balls win.
    • “Nervously I picked up the telephone, called Boeing, and asked to speak to the CEO, Phil Conduit. I asked him whether he would throw in the individual seat-back videos in economy if we bought ten new Boeing 747-400s. Amazed that anyone was thinking of buying planes during that recession, Phil readily agreed. After further inquiries, we discovered that it was easier to get $4 billion credit to buy eighteen new aircraft than it was to get $10 million credit for the seat-back video sets. As a result, Virgin Atlantic suddenly had a brand-new fleet of planes, the youngest and most modern fleet in the industry, at the cheapest price for which we’ve ever been able to acquire planes either before or since.”
  • Between constant reinvestment back into Virgin and his proclivity to start new businesses, Branson is a heat seeking opportunity missile – even in situations he is unfamiliar with. I want to be more of this in everyday life and as inflection points occur that open new windows of opportunity in my core focus, i.e. using leverage of Troops’ growth as an investor.
    • “Whenever I’m on a flight or a train or in a record store, I walk around and ask the people I meet for their ideas on how to improve the service. I write them down, and when I get home, I look through all the comments. If there’s a good idea, I pick up the phone and implement it. My staff are maddened.”

I love Branson’s persistence, curiosity, and commitment to enjoying the journey.  

His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Jr. Harley

For better or worse, a focal point of conversation with a lot of my closest bros is our dating/romantic lives. My best friend recommended this book over a New Year’s trip. Though the title focuses on marriage, it’s more about understanding yourself and the person you’re with or looking for in the context of a relationship.

Things I want to remember:

  • Lasting relationships are more than just about being in love. Men and women have a hierarchy of needs and if those become unmet, those relationships become vulnerable to failure.
  • Men’s needs: Sexual fulfillment, Recreational Companionship, Physical Attraction, Domestic Support, Admiration.
  • Women’s need: Affection, Conversation, Honesty and Openness, Financial Support, Family Commitment.
  • One way to think about satiating needs of your partner, especially when engaging in something doesn’t come naturally is putting a deposit in the needs bank. If you’re not putting in deposits, you’re going to go broke.

The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (J-B Lencioni Series) by Patrick M. Lencioni

My friend Kyle Porter, CEO of Salesloft recommended me this book. I was intrigued because he said it was highly influential to the success and turnaround he had at Salesloft, which is a company I really admire.

Things I want to remember:

  • Organizations should have collective goals that are interconnected vs. just silo’d, i.e. if the goal is to increase sales, it shouldn’t just be the Head of Sales’ jobs – Product, marketing, operations should all be aligned and contributing.
  • Leads should strive to create cultures that contain vulnerability based trust where people are willing to practice radical transparency in an effort to move the business forward. As a leader, you need to set the tone by behaving how you want others to behave by showing vulnerability.
  • Always achieving consensus is impossible and also ineffective. It’s important to hear everyone’s opinions, but have stakeholders and a comfort with “disagree + commit”.
  • Happy and healthy organizations rely on core values to create clarity around how people behave and define a company’s personality. This is an important mechanism for attracting and filtering future employees.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

This is a great book that I wanted to read again while we were making key product iterations early on in Troops. There is immense value in limiting directional reading to exactly what is in alignment with the stage of your business.

Things I want to remember:

  • In the early days, it’s about optimizing for learning — the fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate that feedback loop.
  • It’s important to create quantifiable hard deadlines for experiments, i.e. 30 customers using our product in 180 days, etc.
  • Customers often can’t effectively communicate what they want. This is why it’s important in product development to measure both qualitative product usage feedback as well as quantitative user research.
  • The notion of a growth hypothesis is just as important to define and test as a product hypothesis. If you can’t unblock the top of the funnel, then building an amazing product doesn’t mean you’ll be successful.
  • On MVPs – any additional work beyond what is required to learn what you want is unnecessary. Early adopters usually provide enough signal on whether you have something with a product that is 80% of the way there. You should aim to test your riskiest assumptions first.
  • A product video that demonstrates functionality that doesn’t exist is a great way to gauge interest vaporware – the story of Dropbox.
  • Pivots aren’t limited to product features. A customer segment pivot is also viable. The true measure of runway is how many pivots a startup has left; the number of opportunities it has to make a fundamental change to its business strategy.
  • Experiments should be huge instead of optimizing around the margins.

Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry by Marc Benioff, Carlye Adler

Benioff is a G. Period. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time and picked it up after we decided we were going to orient the business around Salesforce users.

Things I want to remember:

  • “In chaos, here is opportunity.” – I love this quote.
  • There is immense benefit to leaders being idealistic, both in terms of their personal focus, marketing, and inspiring employees. Gretzky – “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”
  • Build relationships with journalists and communication should not be limited to when you have a story. Make sure to forward articles to share your point of view.
  • There is something to be said for branding customers. Beta customers can be called “design partners.” Users can be “customer heroes.”
  • Everyone talks about how SFDC started a cloud movement, but what’s fascinating is they were really pioneers of the land and expanded strategy. They gave their product away for free for a long time and were trying to get individuals to swipe their cards which they did. LAND AND EXPAND.
  • Happy customers are great ways to sell your product. Look for opportunities to introduce your prospects to existing customers in a way that creates value beyond having you in the equation.
  • Own, cherish and show your irreverence and quirkiness publicly: Hawaiian shirts, crazy marketing tactics (i.e. kill software posters), create life-size posters of employees – this builds strong tribes.   

I found this exercise of summarizing in mostly my own words the things I want to remember fun and useful. I like the idea of sharing rich learnings with others as well.

I’m going to try and do a little book report on the reg instead of every 8 books moving forward. The book I’m reading write now is The Greatest Salesman in the World so expect that one at some point soon : )

Which books have you found most intriguing recently and what is your strategy for getting the most out of them?

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6 comments, add to the conversation.

  1. ET

    Love the summaries, bro! Would love to know which fiction books you’re reading too and any ideas that spring forth from reading them.

    A book I highly recommend right now is Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. It would be a good follow-up to the dating one you just read if you haven’t already.


    1. Post Author Scott

      Most recent Fiction books are The Greatest Salesman in the world. I really like The Peaceful Warrior too. Modern Romance is very high on my list : )


  2. Kyle

    Awesome post Scott, Inspired. My favorite summaries were yours on His Needs, Her Needs & The Lean Start Up. Two books that I’m going to pick up now. Thanks man. I’ve also read the book your reading now and you’re going to like it. Sales is everything!


  3. Daniel F Lopes

    Awesome Scott. This inspires me to maybe start doing this kind of posts too.

    For sales, I really recommend “To Sell is Human” from Daniel Pink. He has some pretty good points about the “New” Salesman.
    If you want to read about how to build a sales team (hiring, processes, compensation, etc) I recommend “The Sales Acceleration Formula” from Mark Roberge (Hubspot).


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