The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Selling Anything

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Selling Anything

I’ve never read a book on sales. They seemed corny. Like many people, I always looked down on the concept of “selling.” It seemed like something lower than me.

To some extent, selling appears manipulative. You have a product where you give the perception it has more value than it has in reality. So you need to manipulate people to buy it. This seems sad, as in “Death of a Salesman” sort of sad.

I was a salesman snob.

I was wrong. And for the past 25 years all I have been doing is selling. Selling products, selling services, selling businesses, selling myself.

Sometimes I have been manipulative. And sometimes I’ve sold things I’ve had such passion for I sold it cheap just because I wanted the message out about what I was selling.

And often, it was very much in the middle: I needed to sell something because I had to pay my bills. Maybe I was a little desperate, a little hopeful, a little scared, and I wanted to make sure my family got fed.

We live in a hard world where our basic needs cost money, and as we get older we become responsible for the basic needs of others. We become adults.

Adults sell for today. Professionals sell for life.

So here are the rules of this cheat sheet: None of this comes from a book. All of this is from my own experience. Which means it might not work for you. Which means it might go counter to the basic rules of salesmanship. I have no idea.

I downloaded a book by Og Mandino and by Zig Ziglar but I didn’t read them. Maybe I should.

But I can say that over the past 25 years I’ve sold hundreds of millions of dollars of stuff. That stuff being everything in Pandora’s box that I had to sell just to stay alive. When I think what worked for me, here’s what I come up with:

A) Friendship

Nobody is going to buy from someone they hate. The buyer has to like you and want to be your friend. People pay for friendship.

This sounds sort of whoreish, and it is. The times when I’ve hated myself the most were the times when I’ve prostituted myself to make money (this isn’t as sexual as it sounds but it might as well be).

One time when I was raising money for something, the buyer was going through a business catastrophe and was worried he would go out of business. I didn’t like him but I called him every day for three months at the same time to see if he “wanted to talk” and to offer my advice on how he should deal with his situation.

I eventually raised a lot of money from him even though the first time I met him he was honest with me and said, “it seems like you don’t know your industry very well.”

Which just goes to show: friendship outweighs almost every other factor in selling. One time I wanted to do a website for How did I do it? The main decision maker was involved with a school in Harlem for charity. I went up there for four weeks in a row and played 20 kids simultaneously in chess. Everyone had fun. I got the website job. My competitors were all bigger, better financed, and probably better.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like either of those people personally. And eventually, I lost the business.

The only good outcomes come when both sides like each other.

At one point I was so sick of my new “friendships” I went to see a therapist with the clichéd line, “I don’t even know who I am anymore because I hate all my friends and all my friends are customers so I’m their slave friend.”

Now I only do business with people I like. The fastest way to lose all your money, mutilate your heart, and then kill yourself is to work with people you don’t like. I will never do that again.

Nor do you have to, despite what you might think.

B) Saying No

If someone wants to do a big deal with you it’s hard to say “no.” But No is valuable for many reasons:

Opportunity cost. Instead of pursuing something you really don’t want to do, you could free up time and energy to find something more lucrative or something you would enjoy more. Opportunity cost is the one BIGGEST cost in all of our lives. We spend it like there’s no tomorrow.

And guess what? Eventually there’s no tomorrow.

Supply and demand. If you reduce the supply of you (through “No”) then the demand for you goes up and you make more money (and have more fun).

You’ll hate yourself. I see this every day, particularly in my own life. The reason I can write about this is not because I’m an expert. We don’t write about the things we KNOW. We right about the things that are deep down CHALLENGES for us right now. When I say “yes” to something I don’t want to do, I end up hating myself, hating the person I said “yes” to, doing a bad job, and disappointing everyone. I try try try not to do it anymore.

From Palookaville, By Seth

(from Palookaville, by Seth)

C) Over-Deliver

If someone pays $100 and you give them just $100 in value then you just failed. F.A.I.L.E.D.

You’ll never sell to that person again. That’s fine in some situations, but in most situations it’s no good. If someone pays $100, you need to give them $110 worth of value.

Think of that extra $10 as going into some sort of karmic bank account that pays interest (as opposed to a U.S. bank account). That money grows and compounds. Eventually, there’s real wealth there. And that wealth translates into wealth in the real world.

People are three-year-olds. They like to get presents.

People want to do business with people who give them presents. Over-delivering is a present. And it makes you feel good. Give and you will receive.

D) Never Take “No” For An Answer

This statement, which everyone knows, is usually applied incorrectly.

People think it means, keep pushing and trying new things until you get a “yes.” That’s not what it means. If you do that, you end up in the spam box. Then you end up in the coffin box. In other words, you end up dead to the person you are trying to sell to.

Instead, remember point A. Be a friend. However flimsy that connection of friendship is. Follow on Twitter, follow on Facebook. Say nice things about the person to other people. Never gossip.

Do the art of the “check in.”

Send updates after the “No” on how you are doing, on how the product or service or business or whatever is doing. Not every day. Maybe once a month. Maybe once a year. Who knows. Eventually you will find the “yes” with that person. It could be, and often is, up to 20 years later.

Who knows? You plant a seed and eventually the garden blooms.

E) Under-price (when it’s your passion so it’s easier to over-deliver)

I once wanted to do the website for Fine Line Films. I loved their movies. I met the guy running their site. He kept saying over and over again, “we can’t afford a lot” and I kept saying, “don’t worry about it” and would show him more and more of our work.

Eventually we did the websites for every one of their movies. $1,000 per website. We made amazing websites for $1,000. Then, when Con Edison wanted to hire us, Nevin at Fine Line was a reference. Price for (a basic four-page website): $250,000. And that was the first of five websites we did for them plus monthly maintenance.

I write for a lot of places right now for free. Any medium I love, I am willing to write for. It’s like a dream come true for me. The benefits from doing that have been incalculable. Not always financial, but always real.

We are a combination of many constituencies inside of our bodies and minds. Financial is just one. But all of our constituencies need to work together to make us well-balanced and peaceful.

The art of selling, for me, is to have everything inside of me working together.

F) Be The Source

One time I wanted to buy a company. The details of how I would do that are sort of obscure and not important. The company is well-known in the financial media space.

At the critical moment, the owner called me and said, “what should I do? I have this other offer and I have your offer.” He described the other offer to me. I told him to take it.

I missed out on what could have been a lot of money to me. But there was a slight chance we would have all gone bust. Now he is thriving and eight years later he is a friend.

Will we ever do business together? I can’t predict the future. But I know I delivered value to another human being. That value is real and I can put it to use whenever I want.

Often the best way to make friends and customers for life is to direct them to a better service or product than yours.

Be the source of valuable information rather than the source of your “product-of-the-day.” Then they will know forever that you are a trusted source.

Trust is worth more than next month’s rent being paid. Trust builds a bridge that will never wear out. At some point in the distant future, when you are on the run in every other way, you may need to cross that bridge.

G) Sell Everything

Your offering is not your product. Your offering is product, services, your employees, your experiences, your ideas, your other customers, and even (as mentioned above) your competitors. Sell them all.

When you are good at what you do, the product or service you offer is just the way people build the first link to you. It’s the top of a huge pyramid.

But the base of the pyramid, the real service, is when they have access to you and you can provide advice and the full power of your network and experience. This is when you are over-delivering on steroids and how real wealth is built and not just a one-time fee for a service or product.

Many people say, “no! My product is high margin and I want to make money when I sleep.”

Stop going to BS entrepreneur, get-rich conferences. In the long run nobody cares about your product. In the long run, it is the entire holistic view of your offering, your service, you, that you are selling. Without that, you will build a mediocre business that may or may not pay the bills. With that, you will create wealth.

H) Sell The Dream

People can see what your product is right now. What they want to know is…the future. Will your product make them more money? Will it get them a promotion? Maybe even: will YOU hire them if they buy your product.

Everything is possible. When you get in the door, do not sell your product. People make a decision on your product in five seconds. Sell the dream. The dream has up to infinity in value. Build up images of the dream. Give a taste of what the dream is like. Let it linger. Let it weave itself. Let the imagination of the buyer take hold and run with it.

But then, you might ask, do I risk under-delivering.

Answer: Yes. Don’t do that. Be as good as the dream.

I) Fire Customers

This is similar to point B with the one difference that you have already made a sale.

If it’s not going well or if it’s leaving a bad taste somewhere inside of you, or if they have gone from friend to enemy for whatever reason and it seems like there is no repair, then fire your customer. The sooner the better.

This applies to not just customers but everyone in your life. EVERYONE.

If someone no longer has your best interest at heart, then in your own self-interest you need to back off. NOW.

A bad customer (a bad person) spreads like a disease inside you, your employees, your other customers, your competitors, your future customers, your family, etc.

“But what if it’s my biggest customer? How do I pay the bills?”

I don’t know. Figure it out. You have to or you will die.

When I tell people to build their “idea muscle” (by writing down 10 ideas, good or bad, every day) it’s not so they can come up with great business ideas (although they might).

It’s so they can come up with ideas in situations like this. This is where being an idea machine saves your life and saves everything around you.

But remember: bad customers will kill you and your family and your friends.

J) Welcome To The Pleasure Dome

Your best new customers are your old customers. If you need to make more money or build new business then go to your customers (who are now your friends) and ask them, “I need advice. What other service can I provide you or anyone you know.”

It might be something totally unrelated to your business. No problem. Do it. It might be your customer is looking for a new job. That’s great. Make it your business to find him a new job. Now you have a new customer.

It might be your customer needs a boyfriend. Ok, introduce her to all of your friends who might be good for her. If you’ve been following this approach to sales then your customers are now your friends, are now your family, are now the lifeblood of how you wake up in the morning.

We spend years building a garden. We plant the seeds. We tend the soil. We water the plants.

But we are also the sun. The sun shines no matter what. It doesn’t care which flower blossoms. The sun is always there providing value every second of the day.

Be the sun and you will become abundance.

I don’t know the buzzwords to make a sale. I’m not very good at shaking hands. I don’t take people out to baseball games or do any of the things I see other people do.

But I’ve been selling for 25 years. And whenever I’ve been dead broke, depressed, and suicidal, I’ve picked myself up and sold again and again.

I am a salesman.

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  • jasmine griffin

    I love this, it makes so much sense! thank you for sharing your thoughts x

  • Smithy

    Great great advice. Thanks.

    • dennisp

      everything is good stuff, only my second article with you. Just one typo : You said ” We don’t write about the things we KNOW. We right about the things that are deep down CHALLENGES for us right now.” should be “We write about the things that are deep down CHALLENGES for us right now.”

  • Excellent piece as always James.

  • Great insight. Better to take sales advice from real life experience rather than a book (sometimes they’ve sold, sometimes they’ve just written a nice book)….

  • Gurpreet Kang

    James, you are a magician. Whenever I feel a bit down, I read/re-read your posts and it rejuvenates me. Thanks a lot for sharing your wonderful thoughts with all of us.

  • Osaghae Napoleon Irianan

    I particulary like ‘H’ – Sell the Dream! Well written, well Read.
    Thanks James

  • Ryan London

    Great advice. I’ve been a top salesperson in my industry for 10 years now and agree with just about all of it. The one thing I would add and it kind of goes along with point “A”, is first impressions are EVERYTHING! I always translate sales to dating. They say a woman knows if she will sleep with a guy in the first 2 minutes of meeting. I believe the same thing in sales, the client makes their decision on what you’re selling in the first 2 minutes. Most of my customers are men that would like to meet out for a beer and watch a game or woman who might be interested in a date. That initial contact is critical to making the sale. Now, you might not get that sale that day, but keep checking in and over time, they’ll buy from you.

    • Very good point about first impressions.

    • Ryan

      I think it depends A LOT on what you’re selling too. We sell services, it seems to come down to trust and the belief that we can help solve their problem. Building trust in 2 minutes is hard, but you can certainly crush trust in 2 minutes. I think the point goes deeper, in that if you’re a scumbag, people will get that vibe quickly, so I think can you easily lose the opportunity in the first 2 minutes because the person you are talking to “shuts down” and glazes over, no matter how good the rest of the conversation goes. It all comes down to presenting and being something positive, useful, and valuable, which seems to be the crux of Jame’s post.

  • Vinnie

    The man is back. This is the type of writing that made me devour every JA word!

    • KABLAMO!

    • michael deathless


    • Guest

      Is that a picture of Mitt Romney?

  • Joe S

    Good stuff, though I think you should read some of those “sales” books, you just might enjoy them…

    • You are right, Joe. I know I will. I don’t mean to put them down in any way. It’s just that I haven’t read them. What would be the first you suggest?

      • AJDubNC

        James, let me make a few suggestions. I’ve began selling at age 17 in 1972, and have been at it ever since. Here are a few of my favorites:
        1. The Psychology of Selling, by Brian Tracy. I bought the cassette series in the mid 80s, and read the book when it first came out. I have given the book to my son, who is now in sales.
        2. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Norman Vincent Peale. This was the first book I ever read dealing with self improvement and personal development. It’s been around since 1937, and is still valid today. A lot has changed since them, but people are still people, and respond accordingly. (Your section A)
        3. Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini. I have recommended this to many sales pros. Cialdini describes the psychology of why people say “yes”. A modern classic.

        • Forget-Me-Not Social

          #2 is written by Dale Carnegie. Do you mean “The Power of Positive Thinking”?

          • AJDubNC

            OOPS, my mistake. I screwed up cutting and pasting the list. I ended up leaving Power of Positive Thinking out, but pasting the wrong author.

      • kamaronn

        It is not a salesbook but it’s about culture and to understand why people buy as they do.

        The Culture Code, by Clotaire Rapaille.

        Example: Jeep increased their Wrangler truck sales just by rounding the headlights (they used to be squared) because the cultural code for Jeep in America is HORSE (because of the freedom it conveys).

      • Bob Canner

        Easy; “How to Win Friends and Influence people” by Dale Carnegie.
        This is the mother of all sales classics.
        Bob Canner

      • Mark Steinman

        James, Read “Sales EQ –
        How Ultra High Performers Leverage Sales-Specific Emotional Intelligence to Close the Complex Deal” by Jeb Blount. Best Sales book I have read in the last 20 years.

  • Diana

    Your ‘sun’ tweet caught my attention – I’m an astrologer/investor/former sales diva. How do we be the Sun? –

    Smile, focus, and listen intently.

    Recently read: Love – is the gift of our time.

    The undivided attention we give is a quickie love-shot on the fly. We may be a person’s most intimate, only judgment-free relationship.

    It’s an honor to serve the needs of others.

    “Serve or suffer, the choice is yours”
    Isabel Hickey

  • Hey James, I bet you don’t know that you have some followers, even from Turkey! You should consider a trip to Istanbul. Thank you for helping me become a better and happier person in hard times. May the force be with you! :)

  • James, I am buying that you are a salesman! We all are salespeople; sometimes whores too. : o

    • AJDubNC

      Paul, I hope you are joking about being whores, too. Unfortunately, many non-sales people view all those in sales as whores. I commend James for his cheat sheet. No one who follows these steps will ever be accused of whoring.

      • AJDubNC,

        I could not agree more. I have been in sales all of my life. Often, my peers would be ‘whores’ that failed horribly at selling. The only way to sell anything is by helping people buy (summation of James’ post).

        • AJDubNC

          Exactly. It’s amazing how it works. The more people I helped buy what they wanted and needed, the more money I made.

          • teknozen

            You bozos are such pathetic hypocrites. What is your problem with whores? or rather “sex workers” as some in that profession prefer these days? I’d far prefer to be a very good sex worker (i.e., only work with friends, deliver at least 110%, etc.), than be merely one more dittohead sales bot. Please go back and re-read the 1st and 2nd grafs under letter A) above. Or not.

  • Gary

    James, a suggestion on the over-deliver: try to make the extra 10% scalable and generalizable. For example, in my research/analyst job I’m often asked for a new aggregation of data that I haven’t done before. When I develop the process and the program to produce it, I try to do it in a way that will work for somebody else too. Now I have something that I can offer to the next requester that costs me only a few computer seconds but still is an extra 10% to the recipient.

    • MariaBergArt

      Wow, I’m impressed. Any idea how I could apply this myself?

  • Great article James!.. I think Selling the dream is underrated and something i need to work on. Thanks.

  • trisketpc

    Dear James,
    I always like your articles even when they don’t make any sense…
    Happy New Year.

  • Pete

    Thanks James, great advice. One thing I have noticed about successful sales people and that they are constantly focused on GIVING. Not getting. They have something that helps people and they just spread it around. Gary Vaynerchuck is a good example of this. He just provides so much value. Same with Tim Ferriss. I think I can add you with these guys too!

    • MariaBergArt

      Yes you can :)

  • Ted Scarborough

    Try: Acres of Diamonds–Russell Conwell. More of a speech, actually. Also, The Little Red Book of Sales Answers–Jeffery Gitomer. A misleading title.

  • Sooz

    Thanks , J.A..

  • Jonny Hung

    It’s almost as if you’re running your own Godfather-esqe kingdom. Keep the family tight, give favors with nothing immediate in return, cut loose the bad ties, and above all, be the don.

    It’s much harder to miss when you paint the target around the arrow rather than trying to aim for things that you dont truly want

  • Hooty

    That was a Great POST! But, I have found that through business the true character of individuals always surfaces! Freinds until … it cost/is about someone’s money/merchandise/business/loss?? Often in those cases NO ONE makes any money/profit! But I have found that the best you can do is BE HONEST! Sometimes, “breaking even (or even both sides losing something) is still a winning trade”! (The best salesmen know how to to develope a character capable of withstanding that roller coaster ride!:) (Not as a Whore but by really understanding their business its potential risks and rewards!)

  • Hi James,

    I hear ya on bad customers. Took anything and everything when I first started my business way back when … still recovering from some of those experiences.

    About sales: When I tried all of the things a saw other people do I failed miserably … that’s because I was watching the typical ex-jock, super salesmen … you know, the guy who tries to squeeze your hand off during a hand shake? Life of the party guy. Well, I was never, ever that guy … I have already used some of the suggestions here, but read “J) Welcome To The Pleasure Dome” three times. That’s my favorite ;)

  • Yogesh A. Mujumdar

    Read each and every word, awesome!!

  • Suleman Ahmed

    WOW! That’s called think outside the box.

  • Stimpy

    Great post as always. I have a dread of anything resembling sales. Is it because I am an introvert or is it because my father forced me into door to door sales of personalized Christmas cards when I was 7 years old? I will acknowledge that almost all success involves the ability to sell.

  • John Gibson

    hold up a sign with your company’s web address at espn’s gameday or some other highly publicized media event

  • This was… inspirational!

    I remember starting reading the post in my feed reader and next thing I know, I am at the end.

    This whole idea of keeping customers like family is something that I have been doing on a very very small scale. And I did not know it. Now I have quite a few ideas about how to proceed though, thanks to this post.

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Stellar post James. One of your best. Many valid points I try to use daily.

  • Ross Jaklik

    All very good points. I especially agree with your position on conferences and books. Educational reading is great, but trying to apply that to relationship building…. I think it ends up turning people into something they are not. The best way I can describe talented influencers is by their propensity to do, rather than act.

  • Create Some Value

    I have been a long term reader of your posts. This one inspired me to stop being lazy and start my own brand. Thank you for the inspiration –

  • Roger

    Please reference the Claudia post you mention. I can’t find it.

  • Wow brilliant. When I started my business 7 years ago, there was a lot of talk about what niche you would serve, the entire conversation annoyed me and made me feel boxed in. After working at global law firms for 25 years I just wanted to work with people I liked. I decided right from the beginning that my niche market was people I liked, I did not care what they did. Sometimes this worked out well… sometimes not. But 7 years later, I am still in business and working with people I like with no end in sight.

    Thanks for this article it validates many of the ways I conduct myself personally and professionally, which is not very different.

    Keep selling!

  • I have no aptitude or stomach for selling, having tried it one summer. But I do agree that the disdain that non-business people heap on the profession is unjust and even hypocritical. Everything in their homes got there because somewhere in the supply chain someone made the sale.

  • Giovanni

    James, I took a sabbatic period from the net and I didn’t read any blog for months. Now I am back here (my prefered one) and BHUMMMM!!
    One of the best post I read in the last months.
    Thanks for it and sunny wishes from Italy.

  • Victor Leal

    James , this is pure gold and I am enjoying every piece of content you are producing (especially the podcast).Authenticity is everywhere in your work. Thanks for it and whenever you are in Chile , I ll buy you dinner. Take care

  • Robert Watson

    Yes, you (and alot of other sales types) should read Og Mandino. You can start anywhere and learn alot from him. My favorite collection is “The University of Success”. Thank you for this article and good luck. With your renewed attitude you wont need it. LOL

  • kamaronn

    You say “When I tell people to build their “idea muscle” (by writing down 10 ideas, good or bad, every day) it’s not so they can come up with great business ideas (although they might).”…

    I wonder… what kind of ideas you tell people to write? Can you give me a couple of examples?

    You mean something like: “if you brew tea with soda you have gaseous tea” or..?
    I work on an advertising agency and that would be very helpful.

  • Rod

    Great article…. thank you

  • Great post! Over delivering is very important for long term success.

  • Martin, Sydney Spurs

    I think one of the major keys to selling is to take everything you know, everything you have learned and put it into a sales spiel…but you must be feel comfortable with it. I have almost always sold services that I believe in…they are only courier services but they are the ‘best’.

  • MariaBergArt

    Hi James, it’s been a while now that I have been applying your recommandations. Every single one is pure gold! Thank you so much!
    The one that helped me most was to finish the relationship with one of my biggest customers. The relationship was really toxic and although the money is missing somehow, the peace of mind and the relief I now have are priceless.

    I was wondering, how do your rules apply when you have an online shop?

    Also, I love making friends and I have a natural inclination to over-delivering, but somehow I got lost in the process, ended up by being spread like too little butter on too much bread. Now I don’t feel as confident anymore. What did I do wrong? Better said, what can I improve?

  • Yesterday a well known business listing company called me to sell me a marketing package. I told them I wasn’t interested. So I got the the whole “who doesn’t want to grow?” pitch. I responded with “My phone rings everyday. So I have new business opportunities pretty much every day. And right now I’m firing the clients who don’t value me and replacing them with ones who do. I don’t want to “grow” anymore until all of those bad clients are gone and I still have clients to fire.

    It has been the most peaceful year of my almost twenty year career.

    Also, the secret to making that phone ring every day is “E” on this list. Everything is priced based on the fact that we don’t have sales people. The service sells itself and I charge 30% less than my competitors because I don’t have to pay for business development.

  • Doing a sales man job is quite tough one, It’s not easy to impress people with your product and make them buy your product, heads off to the sales guys.

  • friendly typo alert :)

    “We right about the things…”

  • Hell yeah! This is GOLD!!

  • Daniel

    I’m still pretty bad at sales. But I’ve been much worse. And I think I continue to get better, slowly but surely. Therefore, I’d humbly suggest another bullet for your list, James: “apply the 1%-a-day rule”. Becoming a great sales person fast and from scratch is as unreasonable as trying to drag-race with your grandma’s old Ford Tiempo. To get there, 1%-a-day improvement is crucial — easy but steady will get you to the finish line.

  • Manish Agarwal

    Excellent Stuff! I relate with you on a lot of points, although I haven’t sold hundreds of million worth stuff yet. Thank god for the ending of point A, I initially thought you were advising doing business with people by pretending to be friends with people you don’t like! :D Loved your article

  • Ahamed Yaseen

    Incredible read! Thank you.