Editor’s note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and several-times entrepreneur. His latest book is “Choose Yourself!” (foreword by Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter). Follow James on Twitter @jaltucher.
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:
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 ABC.com. 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.
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 coned.com (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.