Harvey Mackay on What it Takes to Win (Pt 1)

Harvey Mackay is the author of five bestselling business books, including “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten” and “Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt,” both named to the top 15 most inspirational business books of all time by The New York Times.

Besides selling more than 10 million books worldwide, Mackay is a nationally syndicated columnist for United Features Syndicate and is a top Toastmaster’s International Speaker. He is chairman of the MackayMitchell Envelope Co., a $100 million company he founded at age 26.

Recently he spoke with me about making a business successful today, the value of relationships and how he gets people to say “yes.”

AB: You’ve written a number of successful books over the years, and there are some common themes…

HM:  The theme of everything I write is: “prepare to win.” There are more than 310 million people in the U.S. and for those over age 15 or so – from the moment you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed – you are a sales person. You’re negotiating, communicating, persuading and influencing others. If you don’t realize that, then that’s when you’re going to wind up being the one influenced or persuaded. That’s when you’re going to wind up second, or third or fourth.

AB: Another theme seems to be how to get a “no” turned into a “yes,” whether it’s getting a job or landing a new customer. What’s something you feel people don’t understand about persuading others?

HM:  The best way to do it is by humanizing your selling strategy. The concept doesn’t change if you’re selling insurance or envelopes. People buy from other people because of likeability. I haven’t made a cold call in more than 40 years, and neither does anyone in my company. From 40 to 70 percent of the time, you’re not going to be talking business with a customer. So what do you talk about? You go to what I call the “invisible web” and get information. Just using Google isn’t good enough.

You find out whether the person (you want to do business with) is a Democrat or a Republican, where they play golf, how much money they give to charity and where they went to school. All of this is ethical, and legal. The information is out there.

You’ll get better and better at it. Do you know everything when you go in to talk to the person? No. But you read what’s on the walls and on the desk and gain information. You talk to the guy at the front gate and the secretaries and assistants, and you gain information about the person.

We train our people that from the moment they leave a sales call, they go to their cars and begin dictating everything they learned into their iPhones or write it down.

You do all that so you build a relationship with the person. And that’s how you start to turn the “no” into a “yes.”

AB: You’ve been in business for a long time and are a self-made millionaire. What do you think is different about starting your own business today from when you launched your company at age 26?

HM:  All the skills and ingredients and traits are the same.  You’ve got to have passion and knowledge and be a self-starter. You’ve got to have the No. 1 most important thing – trust – with your customers and employees. But what has changed is how we get information. The acceleration of time is beyond comprehension. It’s urgent you’re knowledgeable about the Internet and social media and technology. So while all the principles of a successful business are the same, today you’ve got to merge it with cutting-edge technology.

AB: What do you think the No. 1 reason is new businesses fail today?

HM: A lot of people would say it’s a lack of capital, but I think that’s the second reason. I think it’s the people you hire. For entrepreneurs,  the single biggest decision they have to make is who they hire. In the first 25 years of my business, I hired every single person, from the truck driver to the switch board operator to the sales person. One person can make all the difference.

AB: Another theme in your books has been the importance of relationships. Can you talk about that?

HM: If you really dive into the DNA of successful people you’ll find that they all have the ability to build and nurture relationships.

My father taught me early that I should always be saying to myself when I meet another person: “What can I do to help you?” It’s about reciprocity without keeping score. The key is to expect nothing in return. You must be a giver, not a taker. If you live your life that way, you can’t wait to get up in the morning.

I’ve figure out what I want on my tombstone: “He couldn’t sleep fast enough.” I don’t want to go to sleep.  I was born excited.

AB: Do you think the kinds of relationships you’re talking about can be built online through sites such as Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn?

HM:  I watch my grandson text so fast, his fingers are just flying. I call it the age of thumbs and forefingers. But I sincerely believe in one-on-one relationships. I’ve made at least 10 to 15 trips of 4,000 miles each just to spend 180 seconds with someone so I could look them in the eye and tell them I’m their 911.

It’s very difficult to be “all in” with teleseminars or emails. You have to be all in. The difference between 100 percent all in and 99 percent all in is 100 percent.

I’ve never met a successful hermit.

In the next installment of this interview, Mackay will talk about building a successful career, self promotion and what lessons we must learn from a bad economy.

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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