Mark Twain once said that someone who doesn’t read is no better off than someone who can’t read. Yet, here we are in the third decade of the 21st century and we are post-literate. Most people you learned about in school—due to their accomplishments—were readers. They studied what was written before they were born, including the Greeks, the Romans, and the many great thinkers through time. Today, instead of reading books, people consume Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. It’s a sign of the decline of Western civilization.
Most of what we consume is multimedia—images, video, and audio—, which are not inherently bad, but they pose a problem. They are all passive, requiring no effort from the person acquiring the information. Reading is different because it requires people to engage with ideas on a deeper level, which leads to greater understanding.
Reading requires you to open a book and interact with the words on the page. It is an active form of acquiring information. To gain anything from a book, you must read it. Compare this experience to more passive forms of taking in information. Reading requires your full attention in a way that a short video doesn’t. You can’t read a book while scrolling through Instagram, driving a car, or watching a movie. While reading, you cannot give your attention to anything else. As you read, you must also decide what you believe and what new information clashes with what you already know. Reading leads to a mental conversation or an argument with the author.
It is common for people to buy books and stack them on shelves, with the vague idea that sometime in the future they’ll read them. One of my mentors told me that once someone buys a book, they believe they have solved their problem—even if they never read it.
An Overwhelming Amount of Information
Each day, an overwhelming amount of information is created and disseminated on platforms too large to measure and too numerous to count. You might believe that more information is better, but the truth is that it makes us less informed. While I continue to complain about sales reps and sales leaders not reading and researching, our contacts are often no better.
The rapid rate of change in our environment is also a factor in our becoming overwhelmed. This combination of too much information and the speed of change seems to cause us to struggle to make sense of our world. It is more difficult to understand what you need to know to move forward into a future that is dragging us along. This poses an opportunity for salespeople.
Your Clients’ Filter
One benefit of reading is that you can learn what you need to know, while also learning what your clients need to know. Someone must do the work to create a filter, removing things that are not worth reading or knowing, and highlighting what deserves attention, and possibly, a deep reading.
One way to create value for your clients in the sales conversation is by using information disparity. When you read and filter the content for your clients and prospects, you provide them with an understanding and remove the burden of having to do the work.
To be a trusted advisor, you need two things: trust and advice. It is impossible to be a trusted advisor without reading deeply or continuously. Never be without a book or some other print on paper. Yesterday, I had an appointment with a doctor. Knowing I would sit in a little room for some time, I was prepared to read a chapter and make notes.
Acquiring a Perspective
Because reading is not passive it provides you with a perspective, one that often differs from your own. Almost anything you read can shape your perspective by offering you different points of view, updated research and evidence, or points you hadn’t considered. Whether or not you agree with the author, you can analyze their viewpoint and how it fits with your own.
Recently, I have shared a large and important book with several of my friends. Each of them has found the book to be outstanding for its ability to allow readers to see something others can’t. We have talked about what the book means for us and how we have decided to change as a result of reading it. I have also shared the book with clients.
To develop a perspective, you will need to read several books, magazine articles, and written content on the internet. The writers may agree on some things and disagree on others. These conflicts enable a richer, more nuanced perspective you can share with your clients.
Acquiring and Using Data
Part of our overwhelm comes from being bombarded with too much data and facing the challenges of conflicting data. Reading and research allow you to identify the data that supports the perspective you might share with your clients.
One benefit of reading widely is that you bump into data that you weren’t seeking, in addition to what you hoped to find. When researching, you are looking for reliable sources. By citing your sources, you can support your perspective.
Only once have I had a skeptical contact refuse to believe the information I shared with him in an executive briefing. I cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, and a handful of other data from The Wall Street. Journal and The New York Times. He was incredulous, and I tried my best to help him understand how his business would be harmed. Two months later, he lost his business.
The Legacy Approach and the Modern Sales Approach
In the legacy approaches, you are not responsible for having a perspective beyond the belief that your company and your solution are the best on earth. This approach feels more transactional at a time when buyers need more help making sense of the environment and the changes they need to make.
The modern sales approach requires you to do the reading, conduct the research, find the data, and build a perspective that can provide your clients with an understanding and the certainty to move forward.
Reading and Research is Important in B2B Sales
One reason salespeople fail is that they know too little to help their clients so they cannot create value in the sales conversation. Given the choice of a salesperson who knows too little or who is well-read and keeps up on anything and everything that might help them help their clients, the latter has an extreme advantage in a contest.
Leaving this article, you might list books that could help you build a valuable perspective. To improve your reading, pick up How to Read a Book by Charles Van Doren and Mortimer J. Adler