Best Marketing books for Founders

Do you want to improve your marketing acumen? Read at least one of these – a compilation of the best books on sales and marketing. Each book has been read and recommended by one of India’s top marketers. 

As a business owner, you must have noticed that some people find it easier to close more deals with little effort, while others struggle but can hardly close a deal. What separates the two? Show me a founder who reads a great sales and marketing book and puts it to use, and I will show you a great closer. It’s as simple as that!

Each book lists the author, reason why the book is recommended, and the recommender’s name. So let’s get started.


What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School.

By Mark McCormack

“It has a brilliant street view of running a business with practical tips on team management, deal-making, elevator pitches and more!”

Recommended by: Vinod Harith, Marketing Leader & Entrepreneur

Exponential Organizations

Author: Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone, Yuri van Geest

Why recommended: I think this is a mind-blowing, neuron-firing book by Singularity University Founder Salim Ismail for startup founders on how to build exponential organizations. It (Singularity University) is the open University built by ex-Google, ex Nasa, Ex Yahoo and Ex Microsoft teams.

Recommended by: Meenu Bagla, CMO, Cyient 

Top of Mind

Author: John Hall

Why recommended: This is a fantastic book for anyone to understand how to build a strong digital brand by focusing more on core fundamentals and quality rather than burning loads of money in media. It teaches you a lot about what the consumer today thinks and how you can encash on it. It is especially applicable in the ever-evolving digital , where there’s so much one can do; it continues to be essential to prioritize what to do rather than getting lost in the digital ocean.

Recommended by: Atul Mathur, Head of Marketing, Consumer Business – 3M

Shoe Dog 

Author: Phil Knight

Why recommended: My all-time favourite is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. 

It’s a fantastic read about building a brand like Nike. No complex marketing framework but more of a practitioner’s guide.

Recommended by: Tuhina Anand, Founder – Koda Integrated Marketing Sciences

Marketing Without Money: An Essential Guide

Author: Jessie Paul

Why recommended: Simple and easy to understand with many real-life examples of brand stories making it easy to relate. Practical frameworks and guides which will equip any marketer to create a powerful marketing strategy with limited budgets

Recommended by: Suma Nair, VP & Group Head Marketing – NSEIT Ltd

Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense

Author: Rory Sutherland

Why recommended: I would highly recommend Alchemy by Rory Sutherland. It stresses irrationality and the importance of behavioral economics. A must-read!

Recommended by: Promit Sanyal, CMO, Moonraft Innovation Labs

That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix by the first CEO

Author: Marc Randolph

Why recommended: This book showcases the difference between starting & scaling from people’s perspectives. How the vision evolves, how you need different teams at different times, the difference in day-to-day struggles, and how differences creep in.

Recommended by: Shalini Umrao, Senior Marketing Manager, Stader Labs

The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers. Boost your Sales. (4th Edition)

Author: Dan S Kennedy

Why recommended: This book covers the principles of writing good sales copy. Though the concepts are for letters, they work equally well for emailers or any other communication.

Recommended by: Garima Mamgain, Integrated Marketing Manager, 3M

No Rules Rules (Illustrated)

Author: Reed Hastings

Why recommended: The book isn’t strictly limited to only marketing (probably more on culture and early hiring even) but gives a great insight on how products influenced marketing in the early years of Netflix.

Recommended by: Siddhesh Joglekar, VP Marketing, Byju’s

Buy The Two-Minute Revolution: The Art of Growing Businesses

Author: Sangeeta Talwar

Why recommended: Revealed how founders should know how a category gets built (like 0 to 1 type) and building a business from scratch

Recommended by: Satish Kumar

Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success

Author: Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown

Why recommended: Practical examples of brands which have taken disruptive ideas beyond examples of Airbnb. It has a practical toolkit for marketers to relook at their processes & optimize them for incremental growth.

Recommended by: Malhar Barai, Sr Director Marketing – Affle

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Author: Nir Eyal

Why recommended: The book dissects the hidden hints that form habits and get us hooked on social media, big tech, and brands. It helped me in two ways:

  • It helped add a feature to the digital CRM platform we built. The clients loved it as it enabled them to engage with their customers and track campaigns through a single window.
  • It is also helping me design a rewards program for a retail brand – where the more the customer engages – the greater the reward, thereby helping increase retention rates by 20%

And as a marketer, it did make me go back to studying and observing customer behavior, a trait that is getting missed in a rapidly digitized world.

Recommended by: Jitendranath Patri, Growth Consultant, Xeno

ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever 

Author: Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

Why recommended: It’s about giving confidence to founders in building a business from an idea. I found it simple, relevant and applicable.

Recommended by: Samar Kagalwalla, Head Marketing & Growth, Onsurity

The High-Performance Entrepreneur: Golden Rules for Success in Today’s World

Author: Subroto Bagchi

Why recommended: I recommend this for startup founders.

Recommended by: Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO – Mirum India

The Curious Marketer: Expeditions in Branding and Consumer Behaviour

Author: Harish Bhat

Why recommended: Talks about everything from understanding consumer behavior, promotions, and packaging to moment marketing. It is an anecdotal journey through various brands.

Recommended by: Malhar Barai

Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Author: Jonah Berger

Why recommended: This is a fantastic book that discusses why things catch on and what ingredients should be there in the messaging and campaigns to resonate well and spread further.

Recommended by: Subhendu Pattnaik, Principal Analyst, Forrester

Subscribed: Why the Subscription Model Will Be Your Company’s Future—and What to Do About It

Author: Tien Tzuo

Why recommended: Excellent book on setting up a subscription business

Recommended by: Ajit Kumar Nair, AVP – Business Head, FreshtoHome Foods

Free: The Future of a Radical Price

Author: Chris Anderson

Why recommended: It talks about why companies default to zero pricing and how to compete when pricing expectations keep dropping.

Recommended by: Roshni Das, GM & Sr Marketing Manager, APJ Regional Marketing, Intel

So what makes a great sales and marketing book?

There is no easy way to identify the best marketing books.  There is also no single description of a great marketing book. Choosing the right book depends on your current skill set, and where your company is in terms of growth, team size, strategy, and focus. Before we look at the best sales and marketing books, let’s list some key indicators to look for in a book – to understand if it’s a good fit for you.

Tactics versus Strategy

When it comes to books, I generally prefer to buy and read those that focus on marketing strategy rather than actionable how-to guides. The justification is quite straightforward. In the present online marketing environment, conditions shift too quickly for a how-to book to keep up with the latest reality. 

High-level strategies in marketing books could provide pointers and introduce you to ways of thinking or ways to approach a problem. Some books are evergreen, while others have an expiration date. As you will notice, the selection of the best marketing books listed here fall into the evergreen category. And they all focus on key marketing strategies. Apart from books, another great place to find the most recent strategies are blogs and communities. 

Target Market/audience

Who is the book for? In many cases, authors clearly define who the book is written for. But not always. Even if a book isn’t specifically about marketing, it could be written by someone with constructive marketing insights. Some books may be ideal for founders who need to make significant organizational changes. Other books are written clearly with marketers in mind – who can then implement the marketing strategy.

Stage and industry of the company

Marketing professionals can get excited easily. I have seen business owners in early-stage startups run off the rails more than once because they tried to implement ideas from a book that was obviously written for later-stage businesses with more resources, budget, firepower, and team size. Rarely do sales and marketing books focus on a particular business industry or stage. Therefore, it is up to you to decide whether a book is a good fit for you and your business.

The author’s biography

Has the author held positions in large corporations? Did they focus more of their career on B2C or B2B? Of course, this is not a dealbreaker. 

For a book to be good, it usually needs to be written by someone who has first-hand knowledge of the subject matter they are writing about. Otherwise, it’s usually a synthesis of many other marketing books and blog postings. Of course, having a thorough understanding of a subject does not guarantee that you can explain it in a book in an understandable manner.

You will probably not find a marketing book describing the exact marketing tactics for your industry and stage of development. It does not, however, imply that the book is not good or worthwhile. It is up to you to contextualize what you’re reading and then only prioritize the sections that can significantly affect your company. As a founder or business owner, it is your responsibility to identify and prioritize what has the most potential for effect.

Red Flags

The list of red flags could be quite long. Reviews are one of those on the list. While Amazon reviews might be great, there is a problem with how easily they can be manipulated. The author’s biography may also be another place to look for red flags. I try to steer clear of books written by authors with no real-world track record or little prior experience.

Now that we have looked at some  key indicators and potential red flags, it is time to check out the best marketing books. Sorry for the long introduction. I understand you are here to get inspiration about the next digital marketing books and not to read a guide on picking a book, but I thought this would set the context. 

Final thoughts

These books are contemporary in approach and intellectually define the tactics and strategy of marketing needed by founders.

Time to get reading, founders


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