Skip the Conference and Pick Up These Books - TheStreet

Practically all business leaders take off in August. It's the slowest time for sales and a time that many companies are regrouping as they make a push to have a strong end-of-year close.

If you are a company leader, you're probably thinking about three components to success. First, how are you going to build sales? Second, how are you going to differentiate your business from your competitors' to attract and retain customers? Third, how are you going to attract and retain the right employees to help you succeed?

There are lots of actions you can take now to prepare you and your company for 2008. You can develop a business plan, read business magazines and make a list of ideas gleaned from the articles, go to conferences and see what other companies are doing, and speak to other business leaders to pick their brains.

Those are all good options, but I think good business books can provide more substantive insights than magazines and conferences. Here are some of the books I think you should pick up to improve your competitive position.

Conversation on Networking

, by Kay Keenan and Steven Smolinksy. This book was written by two authors from near me in southeast Pennsylvania who are national experts in developing relationships that lead to new business.

This book provides tremendous insights into the best ways to break into conversations, the top organizations to meet the best contacts, and a process and methodology for following up with new contacts. I think this book is a terrific gift for graduating college students and for professionals looking for their next opportunity.

The Art of Client Service

, by Robert Solomon. I don't know if it is me, but I think the quality of service across the board is slipping. What people are forgetting is that the Internet has shrunk the world and that competition comes from all over the globe. There are Web site developers in Russia and India doing work for American companies.

This book provides steps and examples in how to keep clients that companies work so hard to capture. It's a quick read, but it's very useful.

Business by Referral

, by Dr. Ivan Misner and Robert Davis. Ivan Misner is the global king of relationship development. He is the founder and president/CEO of Business Network International, which has more than 70,000 members around the world who meet and network all year.

This book provides a process and methodology on how to leverage relationships to obtain business referrals. I can tell you from tracking where I got my clients from over the last 10 years -- 67% of my new business came from referrals.

Leverage

, by Roger Volkema. One of the most important skills you can learn is how to negotiate. It is something most of us are not very good at, because we tend to sell ourselves short. Even when we do push ourselves to negotiate for new salaries or contracts, or when we're purchasing houses or cars, we don't have a strategy. We are just winging it.

Volkema's book shows you how to develop a strategy to enhance your chances of getting what you want. Good negotiators make sure they get what they want at a price they can afford.

You Want Me to Work with Who?

, by Julie Jansen. According to the Society of Human Resource Professionals, more than half of us are unhappy with our jobs. Yet, we spend more time at work than we do with our spouses, families, friends or anyone important to us. The stress of going to a place and working with people we aren't comfortable with turns our stomachs, but sometimes we can't move because of various circumstances.

This book teaches you how to handle difficult people and survive the work jungle and feel that you have some control over your life.

PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds and Business of Boomer Big Spenders

, by Marti Barletta. This is Marti's second book on marketing to one of the most powerful categories -- women. Her first book,

Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach, and Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market Segment

, provided great insights into what women buy, why they buy it and what tactics to use to get their attention. Probably no one in the country knows more about marketing to women than Ms. Barletta.

This book focuses on women 50 to 70, who probably have the most disposable income. It is a very sophisticated audience, so her insights into market positioning and tactics are invaluable.

I have always been a big book reader, because books give you practical, focused, fully formed ideas with examples of how to apply the concepts espoused by the author. Every successful business leader, from Jack Welch to Bill Gates to Warren Buffett, will tell you the power that books have on their decision-making process. Without the ideas these books bring, their organizations would not have reached their full potential.

Kramer is the author of five business books on topics related to venture capital, management and consulting. He is a faculty member at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and the veteran of over 20 startups and four turnarounds.

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