The People You Know: Harvey Mackay

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: September 30, 2009
The People You Know: Harvey Mackay

When speaker, author and
CEO Harvey Mackay walks
onto a stage to deliver one
of his trademark talks, people sit up
and pay attention. His good-humored
interest in the topics at hand—and, more
important, in the audience—comes
across loud and clear. Within the first
five minutes, everyone in the room is
buying whatever Harvey Mackay is
selling because he demonstrates one of
his own most fundamental sales maxims:
“People buy from other people because of
likeability.” It’s no wonder Toastmasters
International has named him one of the
top fi ve speakers in the world.

Never mind that Mackay isn’t really selling his audience
anything. Instead, he gives them a lifetime of organized, practical
business wisdom, targeted to the group’s specifi c needs. And his
wisdom has resonated with readers, too, with fi ve best sellers
and more than 10 million books sold. Two of his books, Swim
with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and Beware the Naked
Man Who Offers You His Shirt, were New York Times No. 1 Best-
Sellers and listed by the Times among the top-15 inspirational
business books of all time.

Preparing to Win

Harvey Mackay was born and raised in Minnesota’s Twin
Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where he still makes his
home with wife Carol Ann. His father was head of the Associated
Press in the Twin Cities for 35 years and was partial to aphorisms
related to happiness and success, which he posted on
the refrigerator. Mackay continues that tradition in his weekly
syndicated column, which runs in 52 newspapers nationwide.
Each motivational article ends with Mackay’s Moral, a compact,
thought-provoking statement about some aspect of success.

Mackay attended the University of Minnesota, with no inkling
that he would one day head up a multimillion-dollar company
or write best-selling business books. “At the time, I thought I
was going to be Ben Hogan,” he tells SUCCESS. When he found
himself up against the nation’s best young golfers at an NCAA
golf championship his sophomore year, Mackay realized that
he was in way over his head. The competitors from warm states
like Florida, for example, had been playing golf year-round for
much of their lives, while Mackay could only play golf for about
four months out of the year in Minnesota’s colder climate. So
even though he’d been playing golf for as many years as some of
the other players, they had about three-times more cumulative
experience. Those players were simply better prepared. “So
I gave up that dream and became an entrepreneur,” Mackay
says. In his 1997 book, Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, he
wrote that preparation is “a way of life for anyone who wants to
succeed in any activity.” The lesson he learned as a 19-year-old
golfer about the importance of extensive preparation and
practice was one he never forgot.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Mackay
had a slow start as an envelope salesman for Quality Park. But
he was still an excellent golfer—good enough to convince the
Oak Ridge Country Club in Minneapolis to admit him without
the steep initiation fee (after a protracted sales pitch). In return,
he would help the club get out of last place in the Minneapolis
City Golf League. Mackay made so many business contacts
playing golf at the club that he would later write in Dig Your
Well Before You’re Thirsty, “There’s no question that this was the
one single act that most helped me launch my career.”

don’t care how much you know, once they know how much you care.”

Over the next few years, Mackay’s fledgling network
became the lever that lifted him to the No. 1 sales position
at Quality Park. In 1959, at the age of 26, he felt ready to
strike out on his own, so he bought a small, fl oundering
envelope company and went into business for himself.
Today, MackayMitchell Envelope Company (formerly
Mackay Envelope Company for 46 years) does $100
million in sales annually and has the capacity to produce
25 million envelopes a day.

Humanize Your Selling Strategy

The power of a robust network was evident to Mackay from the
beginning of his career. He built his foundation as a salesman by
playing golf and developing relationships with people. To implement
this vital practice of networking at an organizational level,
Mackay developed a 66-question customer profi le, known by his
employees and devoted readers as “The Mackay 66.” Salespeople
at MackayMitchell (and plenty of professionals who have read his
books) fi ll out this 66-question dossier on every customer, prospective
customer and supplier.

The Mackay 66 starts with the basics: name, age, hometown,
etc. Then the profi le gets more detailed, with questions about the
customer’s favorite restaurants, preferred topics of conversation,
professional goals, attitudes and concerns. The 66 questions provide
a highly detailed portrait of the customer as a human being, which
gives anyone at MackayMitchell a serious advantage when it comes
to approaching that person. As Mackay puts it in Swim with the
Sharks: “The sweetest sound in the world to you, and to your
customer, is the sound of your own name on someone else’s
lips.” Each profi le is constantly updated, with every contact
recorded and the next contact scheduled. If a salesperson takes
the customer to lunch for his or her birthday or sends a link to
an interesting article about the customer’s university, it goes in
the profi le.

So why all this research? Because, quite simply, it works.
“Every time I talk to someone, I’m scanning them, finding out
what’s important to them. I’m demonstrating that I understand that
person as a human being,” Mackay says. No one would argue that
successful salespeople should know as much as possible about their
company’s products and services. But Mackay would tell you it’s far
more important to know about the people involved. “People don’t
care how much you know once they know how much you care. So
fi nd a creative way to stay in touch.”

An easy way to begin networking is to focus on the other person.
Mackay’s best advice for developing your network is simple, and it
calls to mind his customer-centered 66 questions. “When you meet
an interesting new person you want to stay in touch with, always
ask yourself fi rst, ‘What can I do for this person?’ And don’t expect
anything in return.”

Believe in Yourself, Because Your Network Does

In 1988, Mackay completed his fi rst book, the business classic
Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. He was an unknown,
fi rst-time author. In general, new authors’ books are published in
small print runs of 10,000 copies. This makes it much easier for
publishers to recoup their losses if books don’t sell well. But Mackay
knew these customarily small print runs are part of the reason so
many new authors never get the chance to prove themselves and
publish more books.

Mackay made a bold move when he met with his publisher—he
requested a print run of 100,000 copies. When the executives in the
room responded incredulously, he pulled out his Rolodex, which
at that time had more than 6,000 contacts. Some of these contacts
were from enormous corporations where, Mackay reasoned, the
book would surely be recommended to his contacts’ co-workers.
In an unprecedented leap of faith, the publisher agreed to 100,000
copies, and Swim with the Sharks was a New York Times No. 1 Best-
Seller for 54 weeks. Mackay went on to write several more books
and will release yet another book next year.

Don’t Be Boring

Mackay cites enthusiasm and creativity as major cornerstones
of his success. “There is no substitute for passion. I’m looking for
three qualities in a salesperson: a hungry fi ghter, a hungry fi ghter
and a hungry fi ghter. Once I’ve established that I can trust someone,
the main thing I’m looking for is a deep-down burning desire
to succeed.”

Mackay tells the story of a New York City cab driver to illustrate
creativity in meeting a customer’s needs. When he got into a taxi
one day, the driver presented Mackay with a printed mission statement
that said he intended to get his passengers to their destinations
“safely, courteously and on time.” He offered Mackay an array of CDs
to choose from and the use of a cell phone. When the cab came to
a stop, the driver presented Mackay with a brown-bagged snack.
The taxi driver’s innovative approach and pride in his business
garnered him thousands of extra dollars in tips every year. That cab
driver, in effect, had the same motto as MackayMitchell Envelope
Company: “Do what you love, love what you do, and deliver more
than you promise.”

The idea behind Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,
and at the very heart of Mackay’s philosophy, is that in order to
stay competitive and successful you don’t have to become a shark
yourself. In fact, the opposite is true: If you demonstrate that you
care about others, they’ll want to do business with you. You don’t
have to be cutthroat to survive in a cutthroat marketplace. Mackay’s
lifetime of achievement is proof that if you combine genuine caring
about your network of people with a genuine love for what you do,
success is inevitable.

Mackay’s Moral: People don’t care how much you know about
them, once they realize how much you care about them.

Click here for a free download of The Mackay
66 Customer Profile.

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