The club Oprah would run, if she were a B2B marketer

A while back at a social gathering, a fellow partygoer asked me an innocent question.

“What’s on your Kindle these days?”

What a happy question for an insatiable reader! Not to mention one who travels a lot and always takes the precious time after the boarding door closes and before laptops come out to squeeze in another chapter…

My Kindle is loaded with best-sellers and Top 100 list makers, page-turners that I read over and over again to feed my intellectual appetite; all highlighted and dog-eared to spark my personal motivation. So this was a passionate topic of conversation.

But as I rattled off my latest Kindle conquests it didn’t take long to acknowledge that my favorite reading material would never appear on Oprah’s Book Club.

Turns out business books aren’t really nightstand staples in the literary circles.

But as a B2B marketer, my collection of volumes in sales, leadership and writing has, over the years, formed the crux of a powerful messaging approach that’s based on clear communication and laser-sharp focus on the recipient of that communication.

As time goes by, there are several I keep returning to—either to re-read in their entirety or to quote an inspirational reminder from—that are too timeless and valuable to retire.

Here’s a list of five great examples.

Roadmap to Revenue: How to sell the way your customers want to buy – Bristol & Shipley Press, 2011 – by Kristin Zhivago
Highlight: “[In buyer interviews] you want to hear the person. You want to get to know the person. That person is one of the most important people in your life, because that person holds the keys to your financial future. The best way to get to know someone is to have a conversation with them.”
Conversations that Win the Complex Sale – The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2011
by Erik Peterson & Tim Riesterer
Highlight: “You need to earn the right to ask questions by sharing insights. So, you’d better be prepared with insights, big ideas, or a unique perspective—whatever you call it, you’d better get some.”
Accidental Genius: Using writing to Generate your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content – Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010 – by Mark Levy
Highlight: Asking meaningful questions: “Some meaningful questions accompanying ‘Process X should be done faster’ would be provocations like, ‘Faster? How much faster? What would faster look like to you? Why does it need to go faster? Would going faster be something our customers would notice?’”
Word Hero: A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines That Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever – Random House, Inc., 2011
by Jay Heinrichs
Highlight: “‘Wordplay’ is a perfect word. The Puritan strains of our culture make us suspect words that refuse to put their noses to the grindstone, that fail to straighten up and fly right. But scientists will tell you that play is an essential part of mammalian development. Wordplay makes us better at making our words work.”
Bossypants – Little, Brown and Company, 2011
by Tina Fey
Highlight: ““Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag.”

Any of these will help business writers hone the intent, structure, ideation, and precision of their message, no matter in what format or medium they deliver it.

Oh — and one other thing. Even though the list above makes it appear that 2011 was a watershed year for communicating value in a customer-focused climate, the momentum of excellent business, sales and marketing books to sharpen our skills didn’t stop there — and it never will. These made it to the top of a very competitive list.

And by the way, though I happen to have an obsession to make customers successful, I don’t engage exclusively in left-brain pursuits. Reading good writing makes anyone a better writer. (And reading Neal Stephenson makes anyone smarter, too!)

So for anyone who can’t wait until the next cocktail party we attend together, here’s a screenshot of my library showing the top five above, plus what I’ve read recently — and what’s coming next.