The 10 Keys To Selling Anything

how to sell anything

Someone I don't know at all just wrote me with the worst selling technique of all time. He wrote, "I really need to talk to you. Can I have 20-30 minutes of your time?"

The answer is, "no". Not that I think I'm so great. Or my time is so valuable. But his message sort of suggests that my time is worth zero.

He is offering me nothing, even less of nothing since there's opportunity cost to 20 to 30 minutes of time. I could be watching half an episode of "Mad Men," for instance.

There are some variants on this horrible technique. Like, "I have a great idea I'll give you equity in if you give me 20-30 minutes of your time." I don't know if his equity is worth anything yet so it's the same problem as above.

Another sign of a bad salesman is a good negotiator. This might not always be true but its true for me. I am horrible at negotiation. If I say "This car is for sale for 10,000" and they say, "8,000" I shrug my shoulders and say "OK".

When you're negotiating you have to say "no" a lot. When you are selling, you are always trying to find the "yes".

Everyone has a "yes" buried inside of them and a good salesman knows how to find where that "yes" is buried and then how to tease it out. Great salesmen know it instinctively.

When you’re a negotiator you have to be willing to say “no”, regardless of what the other side says.

So although they aren’t total opposites, the goals are completely different.

But big picture:

Negotiation is worthless. Sales is everything.

Why? Because when someone says “yes” to you, you are in the door. Eventually then, you’ll get the girl in bed. (or guy, whatever).

If you negotiate right at the door, then you might have to walk away and try the next house. That takes time, energy, and still might not work out. In fact, often "bad negotiation" will result in great sales. (I'd rather be in the bed then walking door to door).

Some examples of my bad “negotiation” that have worked out for me.

A)     I sold my first business for much less than other Internet businesses were going for at the same time. But it was 1998, the Internet was about to go bust, but first all the stocks went up, and many businesses in the same category held out for more and ended up going bust.

Even the guys who sold for a lot more, went broke when they didn’t sell their stock.


B)      I gave 50% of Stockpickr to for no money. Blogs were written about how bad my deal was. But when someone owns 50% of your business, they care about what happens. They had to buy my company four months later rather than risk someone else owning 50% of it.

For companies they only owned 10% , they gave up on them. I was able to sell about four months before the market peaked. After that, it never would’ve happened. My one employee quit on me because he was so disgusted with the deal I did. [See, How I Sold Stockpickr, Osama Bin Laden, and the Art of Negotiation]


C)      I sold my wife's car for $1000 less than she wanted to. But now the car was gone. We didn’t have to worry about it. That was worth $1000 to me.


D)     I got my old company to do websites for New Line Cinema for $1000 a movie. That was 1/200 what we got for doing “The Matrix” even though some of the sites were the same size.

Why did I do that?

The best designers wanted to be hired by us to work on those movies. Meanwhile, they stayed late on Saturday night to work on Con Edison sites that paid a lot better. I didn’t negotiate at all.


E)      I'm selling my last book on Kindle for almost nothing instead of a higher price. But this got my ideas out more and 20,000+ people have downloaded the book.


F)      I get offers every day to advertise on my blog. I say “no” to every one of them. Not my big picture.

The key is, only negotiate with people you really want to sell to. Else it boils down to money.

You don’t want to be stupid. Only sell something you love to someone you love.  Always think “what is the bigger picture here?”  In many cases in the bigger picture, the negotiation is not as important as the “sale”. Hence, the rise of models like “freemium."


Ten Keys to selling:

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A) Ask what’s the lifetime value of the customer?

When I give away a book for free. It gets my name out there. That has lifelong value for me that goes way beyond the few dollars I could maybe charge.


B) Ask, what are the ancillary benefits of having this customer?

When we did for $1000, we became the GUYS THAT DID MIRAMAX.COM! That helped get 20 other customers that were worth a lot more.  I would’ve paid them money to do that site.


C) Learn the entire history of your client.

You need to love your client. Love all of their products. Infuse yourself with knowledge of their product. I wanted to work at HBO because I loved all of their shows and I studied their history back to the 70s before I applied for a job there in the 90s.


D) Give extra features.

Do the first project cheap. And whatever was in the spec, add at least two new cool features. This BLOWS AWAY the client. Don’t forget the client is a human, not a company. That human has a boss. And they want to look good in front of their boss.

If you give them a way to get promoted, then they will love you and always hire you back. THE EASIEST SALE is worth a current customer. ALWAYS.

E) Give away the kitchen sink.

One of my biggest investors in my fund of hedge funds had just been ripped off in Ponzi scheme. They almost went out of business. I introduced them to reporters at every newspaper to help them get the word out about the Ponzi scheme.

They were infinitely grateful and even put more money in my fund. Whenever the main guy was depressed about what had happened I would talk to him for an hour trying to cheer him up.

I wasn’t just an investment for him but a PR person and therapist. Go the extra mile.


F) Recommend your competition.

Think about it this way: what are two of the most popular sites on the Internet: Yahoo and Google. What do they do? They just link to their competition: other websites.

If you become a reliable source then everyone comes back to you then your knowledge has value and they can only get that by having access to you.

They get access by buying your product or services. [See, 10 Unusual Things I Didn't Know About Google, Plus my Worst VC Experience Ever]


G) Idea machine.

There’s that phrase “always be closing”. The way that’s true is if you are always putting yourself in the shoes of your client and thinking of ways that can help them. When I sold to the superficial reason was that they wanted the traffic, community, and ads my site generated.

The real reason was that they needed help coming up with ideas for their company. I was always generating new ideas and talking to them about it. Often the real reason someone buys from you is not for your product but for you.


H) Show up.

When I wanted to manage some of Victor Niederhoffer’s money I read all his favorite books. I wrote articles for him.  At the drop of a dime I would show up for dinner wherever and whenever he asked me to. If he needed a study done that required some programming beyond what he or his staff was capable of doing, I would offer to do it and would do it fast.

Nobody was paying me, but ultimately he put money with me (at ridiculously low fees but I did not negotiate), which I was able to leverage into raising money from others. Plus, I really liked him. I thought he was an amazing person.


I) Knowledge.

When I was building a trading business I must’ve read over 200 books on trading and talked to another 200 traders. No style of trading was off limits. This helped me in not only building a trading business, but building a fund of hedge funds, and ultimately building I knew more about trading and the top investors out there than anyone else in the world, I felt.

Creating value was almost an afterthought. When I was building websites I knew everything about programming for the web. There was nothing I couldn’t do.

And the competition, usually run by businessmen and not programmers knew that about me. And knew that I would always come in cheaper than them.


J) Love it.

You can only make money doing what you love. If you work a nine to five job that you hate then you’re on a leash and you’ll only make enough to get by and you won’t be happy. If you love something, you’ll get the knowledge, you’ll get the contacts, you’ll build the site with the features nobody else has, you’ll scare the competition, you’ll wow the customers.

I didn’t enjoy writing finance articles. I’d write a finance article for some random finance site and then repost this on I had zero traffic.

Then I decided to write articles I enjoyed. To get back to my true roots where I loved writing and reading.  I also wanted to really explore all of my failures, my miseries, my pain. In public. I love being honest and intimate with people. I love building community. I love emailing with readers.

That was about a little over a year ago I decided to make the shift where I was just going to open the kimono at and say everything I wanted to say, and at the same time indulge in my love of writing, art, creativity, and reading.  4mm+ “customers” later I’m enjoying more than ever doing what I love.

Ideas for a world out of balance… sent straight to your inbox!

My goal is to deliver to you a fresh perspective…

Something to help you make sense of the chaos.

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  • I think this article touches on a great point. If you do what you really love possibilities and opportunities open up. Not just professionally. Call it in the law of attraction or karma but it seems to be a universal truth.

    Thanks James for reinforcing a positive way of thinking.

  • Great Article! For some reason it reminds me of an answering machine message I once came across years ago when working in a call center.

    The man spoke in gentle, friendly tones.

    This is Mr. Johnson speaking.
    You’ve reached my machine.
    If you’re sellin’ somethin’ – I’m not buyin’…
    If you need to borrow somethin’ – I ain’t lendin’…
    If you need my help (he prounounced it “hep”) … I don’t have time

    May the Lord Bless You and Have a Wonderful Day!

  • It seems more and more there is a realization that putting people over profits leads to more profit anyway. We’re all just humans being human.
    Good post James!

  • Andrew_Ferri

    There’s a frat within sales I like to call “high-performance sales people.”  When I was walking around real sales floors at fortune 50 companies, and humping the streets of Broad St.& Wall St. liked I owned them, I learned that you can’t tell the high performance guys apart from the rest by the way they look, only by the stacks of cash and numbers they produce and continue to produce consistently, though a nice ironed shirt and penny loafers can’t hurt.  The three biggest takeaways I got from these types were; 1) The sale doesn’t start, until the customer says ‘no.’  2) Over coming objections is paramount. 3) The beatings don’t stop, until morale improves.  Basically what this means is you need to put yourself through the effort ringer, until you start making sales.  Like James, you have your practice for personal health and happiness, business is the same way.  Look at Charlie Sheen in “Wall St.” the guy worked on a nasty sales floor, busting his hump, until he got his one break – Gordon Gecko joined his sphere of influence.  Now he’s having sex with mermaids. Big morale boost.  

    • Anthony

      1) The sale doesn’t start, until the customer says ‘no.’  

      This is an old school phrase that I used to believe but in fact is bollocks. The best sales people I have ever worked with get a yes from the very outset usually by knowing fully the wants of the client before the conversation has started. The people who turn around nos and work hard are good salesmen, the people who get a yes from the start and work smart are great salesmen.

      2) Over coming objections is paramount.

      I agree with this but also refer back to the first point. If you are truely a great salesman you are clarifying points. The ‘turn around a no salesman’ is handling objections, the person buying off the great salesman doesnt feel like they are being pitched.

      3) The beatings don’t stop, until morale improves.

      True. I find that if this doesnt work you can always hand out an 8 ball of coke to each salesman.

      • Andrew_Ferri

        Good points, minus the 8 ball comment. If you want to destroy your credibility use coke, in a competitive world that’s the last stigma you want to defend yourself against. In a account management position I might agree with you on your first point, but the customer might not know what’s best for them in which case you need to educate and overcome the objection, that is real sales.

        • Anthony

          I was only joking about the coke Andrew!

  • Derek_hurst

    Good morning read.  A great way to start off a morning of selling.

  • That straight “no” is worth a thousand times more than a thousand sugarcoating yes. Love it when people go to the point.

  • Posts like this one are what turned me into a regular reader of this sometimes odd yet amazingly inspiring site. Thank you for this, James. Keep doing what you love.

  • Always a pleasure to read your stuff. A funny thing happened. After reading this article, I checked Facebook and at the top of my newsfeed was a post from a page asking me to take 22mins out of my day to watch an “important” video. What did they offer as a reward? Nothing. Not even to tell me how good I’d feel after watching. ;)

  • Interesting POV James – definitely some sound advice.  You know, Mad Men is chocked full of great sales demonstrations, like this one: which may be counter intuitive to many readers.  It’s a beautiful example of “push pull”

  • Davidsonhep

    I appreciate this post because the opener reminds me how people devalue themselves just to be liked. For example, one view of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is that in order to win friends you must never speak about yourself and only focus on the other person. While I find some truth in this advice (and I actually like that book), I think people are better served promoting themselves in this age of social media and ease of access. I guess the balance is how to do that without being a shameless self-promoter…I think you’ve figured out a good way to do that with your honest approach. Thanks and keep writing!

  • So true. 
    I sold my car less than $1000 than I needed in phoenix 1/3, as we would flying to New York 1/5, but I feel it is worthy than $1000 if I had worried about it.  
    I also sold some of old books linking to my website to amazon, find out it is not worthy to sell it if it is under $5.99.  I only got $2 if I need to buy packaging and amazon charge me $3.24, the life value is terrible plus the time you spent even though Amazon is less time consumed to put your good on the e-rack.

  • 30 seconds before I clicked on this, I received an email from some random sales guy at Angie’s List, asking me “Are
    you still interested in featuring the company with us to get in front of more
    of our members all the time?” This oddly wordsmithed quote was directly copied from his email. I wrote back to him stating that I never expressed such interest.
    It’s unbelievable that in this market, with truly talented sales and marketing people looking for job, Angie’s List has hired typing monkey as their sales rep.   

    I’m now going to send this article to that typing monkey, and hope he learns a little bit about selling to a professional market.

    • Freedom Calls

      He opened a dialogue with you. I’d say that’s a score!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this post. You have a knack for writing the right thing at the right time for me. Today I needed motivation to keep working at it, bit by bit, and here it was.
    Thanks again.

  • Seb Latapie

    It seems like it all boils down to finding the right customer and then showing that you really value your customer.

  • Good psot very cool!

  • Al Pickett

    Great post my man! Inspired!

  • I was expecting you to write about Mad Men soon enough. It is all about composure, and being confident in what your selling. 

    You should do a post on bootstrapping your business in-depth, such as this one here:

  • Great stuff – all tips are based on being customer focused.
    I find some comfort that I am working aligned with your 10 tips!!

  • Awesome article James, and right on time for me.
    I appreciate your honesty about the sacrifices 
    you were willing to make in order to obtain
    a better deal down the road.

    When I read the part about you offering 50% of your business for zero dollars,
    I thought about the tv show Shark Tank.

    But you had a smart strategy for that deal,
    even though others may have laughed at it
    or quit on you because of it.

    You have provided great insight that has
    been helpful to my business,
    and I thank you for that.

    • Can you tell me how it reminded you of Shark Tank? I havent watched the show. Should I?

      • It’s a crash course in negotiation do’s and don’ts. 

  • Wow, bull’s eye post again :)

  • Hey James- “When I wanted to manage some of Victor Niederhoffer’s money I read all his favorite books.” What where those books?

    • Murali

      You can find that by visiting his site:  

  • Dspidero

    James I swear sometimes you read my mind.  My boyfriend Jack and I were discussing a recent  and extended (2 weeks!!!) visit by an old friend of his who is very down on his luck.  Jack was trying to convince me that “back in the day” this fellow had been the best at what he did.  He could sell ice to an eskimo, Jack told me, because back then he read every sales technique book on the market.

    Hmmmm I thought.  I sell for a living.  I used to have a fancy professional career that I gave up a lifetime ago.  But now I have a small niche business that has been succeeding for ten years despite every economic indicator that it is going to be dead next month.  It succeeds because as it turns out I have a tremendous knack for selling.  I know this.  But for a split second I wondered, should I read some of those sales technique books?  And then I heard myself tell Jack that anything worth reading about sales I had already read in Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross.  I know my product; I read about it all the time because I love it and it’s interesting to me.  But what I really do is sell and I don’t think you can teach that.


    • I agree. But note in the above article I never give any of the traditional sales techniques. 

      Everything can be summed up by: 
       – care for the betterment of your customer’s life. 
       – love your product

      Then you can sell ice to eskimos (although they dont need it so why sell it?) 

  • Between college qand graduate school I sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door in The Bronx.

    I was a successful salesperson, but hated the negotiation process and never got involved with it. Despite people wanting to wring out every bit of commission from me, I always resisted self-cannibalism.

    I took that distaste into the real world. Whenever I was in a position to hire someone, I always offered the maximum salary that was in my budget, as I lived in a world with an annual budgetary process.

    I would tell the candidates that the offer was as high as I could go and that my rational for telling them so was that if our relationship started on the basis of trying to get the best of them,  why in the world would they have reason to trust me in the future?

    By the same token, when applying for a job or a consulting assignment, I would tell the prospective employer that I wasn’t a salary negotiator. I would either take their first offer, or wouldn’t and made clear that I wouldn’t consider a second offer.

    Maybe I undervalued my worth, but that always worked for me. Best of all, every person I offered a job to accepted and stayed for a while, which definitely reduced re-training costs and costs involved with decreased productivity.

  • Onebornfree

    I hate salespersons- all of them- unconditionally. For me, when I am interested in buying something, the absolute biggest turn off is some sales a$$hole trying to “sell” it to me. In fact, no matter how badly I might want something, if a sales a$$hole shows up to “sell” it to me, I will deliberately _not_ purchase the very thing that I was, up to that point, seriously considering buying. And if they won’t leave me alone, if of suitable size , I will attempt to cram the offending article up that previously referred to orifice of theirs! .

    • Hmmm, I guess I don’t know what experiences you have with salesman but it sounds pretty bad. I’m sorry you went through that. 

      I like to broaden the definition of sales. The Beatles were salespeople. They believed in their music and they sold it like it was a product and due to those efforts it hit the billions of masses. 

      Because they loved their art. And now we do also. 

    • I think you are referring to a “Pitch Man”, not a salesman.  Everyone, including you, is selling something.  Even the 9-5 workaday employee who deplores salesmen.  For is he not selling his talents to his supervisor/employer each and every day?  Or maybe someone like you on a comment site making the claim that all salesmen are a$$holes.  Pure, if not poor persuasion. So welcome to the selling club.

  • BrianBalk

    So how does a person who has an idea for a product or a service or a business model, but maybe has no idea how to develop or execute or fund or market it (etc.), go about soliciting both evaluation and assistance and yet hold onto some shred of hope that others with the know-how or the $ won’t just rip them off and move ahead with it (assuming it has any value)?  And is there any reason to criticize such action, anyway?  People share Ideas all the time.  Unless patented or copywrited or otherwise protected, should the person sharing an idea have any expectation of inclusion or profit from it?

    For instance, I (being such an ignoramus as described above) have been playing with the idea of a social networking site to bring together those with ideas and others who have various expertise and $, as a sort of business incubator.  To brainstorm and group-edit and possibly form the beginnings of business partnerships.  What could or should I do next with that embryo of an idea?  Having shared that much, if someone reading this grabs it and runs with it, where does that leave me?

    • Brian, can you build it on top of facebook first? Sort of like how BranchOut does?

      • BrianBalk

        Thanks for the responses.  I will check out StartupSquare, BranchOut, Tristan Kromer, give it some thought, and get back to you.

        Meanwhile, James, how about my question that you didn’t answer?!  Very appropos of any ideas I might share.  I suppose that’s why we need a legal system.  But I’d still like to hear your thoughts about it.

    • Steven Moody

      Brian – this already happened.

      They shut down, which is a form of feedback, but you may have a better angle on it.  I encourage you to contact the founder, Tristan Kromer, and understand the story there.  

  • nice post!

  • cowboylogic

    Head um up and move um out!

  • Frankwilliams454

    Nice comment on negotiation and sales.  I have always been of the opinion that, if you have to be sold something, you probably don’t need it or you don’t need it for the price they’re asking.  “Good” salesmen usually are pushy, have a good line of BS and are somewhat conscience-challenged.  “Great” salesmen know that really good products or services sell themselves to a great extent and they don’t “sell” the customer, they facilitate the buying process.  Big difference.

    • I agree with what you say about “Great”. Let me add, often a customer doesn’t know he needs something but a great salesman has such a passion for it, and a sense of the future, that he can convince the customer. Example: 1995, every company needed a website but few knew it. 

  • Man. I totally just bought your e-book after reading this blog post. 


    And I’m a corporate sales trainer. Durn you.

  • Anonymous

    Enjoyed this post! I spent years feeling inadequate because of my aversion to selling, and my notoriously poor negotiating skills. Once I instead focused on my strengths and began to develop *those*, I found more confidence and interest in the occasional sales-related activity that I’d have to do. Your list indicates the values that drive you. Thanks!

  • Just found your site by way of Ed Dale… I don’t know who you are or your background James, but based on reading that article it sounds like you have an impressive “resume”

    I can’t help but notice that almost all of those examples (and why I am now interested in what you have to say) is BECAUSE OF YOUR REPUTATION – seems to me that your lack of negotiation up-front puts you in places to have a reputation , i.e. Miramax

    Also, I am a dating coach for men, but was confused about your analogy about getting the girl’s bed by not negotiating, maybe I need to go back and read it again


  • Inspiring. Thanks.

  • Fabulous article.  People so often forget that people want you to get to know them the old-fashioned way – to learn about them and to be genuinely interested in what they care about.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for essentially giving your books away.  I have been carrying around a paper printout of “How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps” to remind me of the practical advice and to share it with others. Now I can point them to your books.  

  • Great post James, thank you.

  • Great article! Thanks for posting.

  • B

    K. Stay out of debt. Expand with Retained Earnings, and the guy in hock can’t compete with you.

  • I want to get my book published in a couple years. Your blog keeps reminding me to not give up.

  • Tiburonsmoke

    Very helpful article. Thanks, James.

    I work in retail, and I’ve found that one of the best way of building sales is to not sell. I send my customers away with helpful information, advice on where to shop around, and little tips that eliminate the need to purchase anything. They leave without spending a penny, but then they come back!

  • Dave

    Life Time Value (LTV) really is key. That is how you build long-term success!

  • I really wonder how you come up with the ideas (some are great ideas) to post a different article everyday ? :)

  • Sales is definitely the most important skill in business

  • Dan

    I am a lawyer and very good at negotiating my cases, but not at selling my services to clients (like most attorneys).  I had never though about the connection, and now it makes some sense.

  • Rick Blythe

    James, I’ve been reading your posts for some time and been inspired by your willingness to speak your truth.  This post hit home because I make a living doing appointment-setting by phone.  You are right on target…when you are looking out for the prospects’ best interests, they will always respond positively and ultimately sell themselves the product/service if it is a good fit…if it’s not, then I don’t want to waste my valuable time with them either!

  • When you come from nothing, any opportunity is valuable, so you should do whatever you can to get yourself in with the right people. If that means giving away 50% of your company, then so be it, it isn’t worth anything without the right people. Assuming you are on your own and do not have the contacts you need.

    – Lee

  • i like !

  • I like your point about “added value.”  give them ideas so that they can bring it to their boss.

  • This wasn’t what I was expecting, it was better. Thanks James. I think Knowledge is #1!

  • Here’s an example what happens in a gallery I where I work.  All the work is there on consignment and if I work there, I get a higher percentage on my items.   The other woman who works there is the manager, so she gets 20% of EVERYTHING sold and 100% on her items.  I outsell  her every time I work because she doesn’t listen to the customers.  She’s so focused on trying to sell her things, that she loses sales left and right.  She would make so much more money if she just listened and tried to meet their needs.  If someone says they are looking for red earrings, don’t show then the green necklace. . .

  • I really like your ideas and the way you put them out there on “paper”…uh, you know what I mean.  Sometimes there are great ideas but to communicate them, well, that’s the challenge and you have mastered it.  I always learn from your writings and laugh as well.  You truly have a gift and thanks for sharing!