Stop being sleazy: Ethical sales techniques to earn a $5,000 raise

Ramit Sethi

For some reason, many of us have the invisible script that “selling = sleazy.”

Maybe it’s that we remember pushy, slimy salespeople trying to convince us to buy something we don’t really need — so we assume that all salespeople act like that.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I was recently shopping for some clothes and not finding anything. Just then, the sales guy walked in and offered to help. He went around the store — the same store in which I’d found nothing to wear — and brought back a bunch of clothes, suggesting different outfits I hadn’t considered. Result: I bought thousands of dollars that day.

Did I feel cheated? Of course not — he provided a value and he got his commission.

There’s also the famous study cited by Cialdini in his terrific book, Influence, where he writes about waiters who dissuaded diners from ordering the most expensive item — only to see their tips skyrocket.

As I learned from luminaries like Jay Abraham, that’s why you put your clients first…even if it means taking a short-term hit to your wallet. That’s why I forbid people with credit card debt from joining my flagship courses, even though it costs me over $1m/year. In the long run, it’s the right thing to do.

Today I’ll tell you the story of Cesar, a 45-year-old salesman working on 100% commission in a competitive industry.

He is not some Silicon Valley engineer. He doesn’t work on Wall Street. Yet he used my material with powerful results.

This is how he got inside his customers’ heads, put them first, cut out the competition, and put himself on track to earn $5,000.

$2,000+ a week in commission

Cesar was putting in 60 hour weeks as a salesman for a food distribution company. He was earning $2,000+ a week in commission but couldn’t grow his business. He lacked confidence, and was getting tired of his company always trying to push products.

“It was always about me being desperate”, he said, “trying to sell those products and reach the goals for my company. I was frustrated, customers could see I was trying to push products, and I felt like every other sales person in my industry.”

“I needed to get ahead. I’m heavily invested and when the economy went down I took a couple hits. I’m still in debt.”

Cesar decided something needed to change.

“I’m always trying to improve myself. I bought Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week on Amazon, and they suggested if I like that book I might like I Will Teach You To Be Rich as well.”

From there he started following my blog and signed up for the free Earn1K newsletter.

“When I saw Earn1K, I knew the value was there, it was just a matter of making the decision and coming up with the money.” Just before I closed registration, Cesar signed up. “I read a lot of the free material and saw the videos and said to myself, ‘if I learn so much from the free stuff, going through the paid program I can learn so much more.’”

You’re going to have to give me an extra $1,000…

Before Earn1K, Cesar was taking sales lessons from his company. “Our company is always teaching us we need to sell this chicken, we need to sell this beef, you just go out there and try and push the items. It doesn’t work. I felt desperate in front of the customers, and they could tell.”

The Earn1K lesson that changed everything was the five-minute straightjacket technique. “I just put everything down and walked away to brainstorm. It was huge. Before, when I was in front of my customer, it was always about me trying to sell him something. Now I put myself in his mind, give him what he wants first.”

Cesar realized that his customers had problems he could solve – and doing so would put them in a better position to buy from him. “If I was going to see X at his restaurant, I knew he was suffering because business was low, so I offered to help him with social media. Or if I listened to him and found out he was having trouble with a specific product, I’d solve that problem.”

Instead of charging an hourly rate, Cesar leveraged this extra work to improve his sales and commissions. “I told them I usually charge $500 to setup a Facebook page, but I’d do it for them for free if they gave me an extra $1000 a week in business.” Social media work also differentiates him from the competition. “I tell them, ‘the other salesperson doesn’t do that. Didn’t I help you with that when you had those problems?’ They kind of feel obligated to give me more business.”

After helping a couple customers with their social media, Cesar is selling an additional $2,500 each week – that’s another $100 in commission. Just over $5,000 a year.

“I’m in the process of up selling them”, he added.

I’m more confident at work

“After I did the whole program with Ramit”, Cesar said, “I’m kind of a different person. I’m more confident at work. I can value myself more because I give more to my customers. I can say ‘of course, you’re going to pay more to me because I do this and that for you.”

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  1. Desi Doll

    I like this story of Ceasar. He seems like a regular guy – not an engineer, doesn’t work on Wall St. Ceasar’s story addresses the issue of, “Well, can I use Ramit’s stuff? What if I didn’t go to Stanford?” Actually, I’m just assuming Ceasar didn’t go Stanford…did he?? 🙂

  2. Alexander Boland

    If he’s reading the comments here–this guy is the man. No excuses, just business.

    What makes this case study useful is that it’s so simple. It’s a very clear formula: put yourself in your customer’s shoes, relieve their particular pain, upsell. Good for people like me who overthink everything.

  3. Susan

    This is a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it, Ramit.

    It can work in other ways, too:
    I used to work for a large corporation, moving to the dreaded “collection agency” group. The second month rolled around, and it turned out my collections beat out all the experienced folks. Why? I put myself in my customer’s shoes.

    BTW Ramit, I have a colorblind husband. He can’t find an outfit in any store that would flatter him. I used to go pick out his outfits, but since he takes about 30 minutes per shirt to try on, I ended up bored and cranky waiting. I came up with the following solution. It may work for anyone (male or female) who has trouble finding clothes that flatter. Take someone whose taste you like with you when you go to shop. Have that person assess the way the salespeople are dressed. They can then take you up to that person and ask the salesperson to help you buy whatever it is you need. This has resulted in 100% flattering clothes for my husband, no crankiness for me, and a nice commission for the salesperson–win/win/win.

    I never used the script given me for collections. Instead, I’d call, at a reasonable hour of the day, and ask, “What have we done that makes it difficult to pay our invoices?” It turns out that half the time, the corporation actually did mess up the invoicing, so I was able to fix that myself, drive to the customer’s office, and immediately collect a check based on the correct invoicing. The other half of the time, I’d listen to why the customer couldn’t pay the bill for other reasons. Then we’d work out a payment plan most of the time. Of course, there were times when customers just refused to pay, and I’d have to repossess equipment or (when faced by a shotgun, for example), I’d write-off the invoice. But walking a mile in the customer’s shoes paid off for me, the corporation, and the customer, even in the most awful occupation.

  4. steve

    Nice article!

    I like Cesar’s story, and I can identify with it, as a fellow food salesman. He took a different approach to his customers’ pain points (social media, etc.), but the results are very similar.

    I try to match the right items to the right customer; and, I am not afraid to forego sales if the product is not high enough quality, for example. Like Cesar, I would like to become my customer’s trusted adviser, if possible.

    Some people shop on price; and so, I try to meet that ‘pain point’ with good prices. Some customers want me to suggest products that their customers might like. When they invite me into their thought process, that is when I know I have a customer for life!

  5. Anshu

    I liked Susan’s experience in comments even better than the original story. Thanks for sharing Susan!

  6. John

    If only we could learn to find our customers problems, come up with a solution, figure out a way to monetize the solution, and explain to them how our product or service will solve their problem. This is the essence of business, and sometimes I think business people start with the question, “How can I make the most money possible.” I say, don’t focus on the money, focus on problems and solve them – the money will come as a byproduct.

  7. TJ Nelson

    Does anyone have experience with selling cars?

    I’m considering getting my sales license and working at a local dealership to learn the sales process. However, I don’t want to become one of “those” salesman either.

    I’ve searched the internet and couldn’t find anything that looked credible.

  8. Hungry Hippo

    Great job, Cesar!

  9. Shiryl


    This sounds like REALLY doable. Nothing totally out of reach which is awesome.

    Great Job.

    Now I am trying to think of what I can do.

  10. Bryan

    Its interesting that Cesar mentions how he got into his customers head and figured out his problem, then offered to solve it. Because I’ve noticed thats EXACTLY WHAT RAMIT DOES WITH US (sorry for the caps but I think its merited). Ramit’s products are the best example of what he’s been talking about for years! He gets into his customers heads (our heads), figures out what we think about on a daily basis, and gives us exact solutions. And I mean exact, none of this generic finance crap you see everywhere else. The fact that he’s sold so much is the best proof that his stuff is legitimate.

  11. Stacy

    I love this because it shows things that he can do at his already existing job to make more money and progress. I work a 40 hours a week at a state job, so salarys are pretty set. I love articles that show how to progress in your current job situation rather than how to get your side business up and going. (My job restricts me from what I can do on the side.)

  12. Barbara Friedberg

    Empathy is one of the most powerful tools ever. We are all looking for someone to understand us and care about us. Show empathy for others, and you personally prosper. Great story.

  13. Alan | Life's Too Good

    Hey Ramit,

    pure and simple, it always pays to help people, it always pays to put the customer first and it always pays to be honest and operate with integrity.

    Do these three things and you’re already streets ahead of most of your competition.

    though perhaps with more and more startups and education freely available these days perhaps people are starting to wake up and smell the coffee… in any case you should be doing these things.

    take care & best wishes,

  14. William @ Drop Dead Money

    Great story! You know, all the text books teach us that solving the customer’s problem should be number one, but so many companies (like Cesar’s) ignore that. Using Ramit’s approach immediately sets anyone apart from the competition. It’s proven, and it simply works!


  15. Bill

    Great example of giving the customer what they want and reaping the rewards! In a way it’s a good thing salesmen are thought to be sleazy – this way, a little sincerity goes a LONG way in the field.