Read Any Good Business Books Lately?

People who read business books earn more money – a lot more! – even in tough economic times.  According to a number of studies, business people who read at least seven business books a year earn over 2.3 times more than those who read only one per year.


One reason is they have a constant flow of new ideas and strategies they can use to help their careers, their teams and their companies.  Given the uncertainty of layoffs and other challenges as the economy slowly recovers, you should do everything you can to help your team and your company.  That is the best way to not only safeguard your career, but also to help it grow.

You can find a stream of new and practical ideas to drive your success from the world’s business experts.  Many of them have written books offering their proven strategies and winning ideas.  One winning idea, and the book is worth its weight in gold.  It’s a terrific investment.

So many good books – so little time.  A study by Bersin & Associates found that while 75% of all managers understand the correlation between reading and competitive advantage, they simply don’t have the time to read more books.
Regular readers of this column know how often I mention good books I’ve read.  I understand the tug between time constraints and the ongoing need for up-to-the-minute information, and I try to steer readers toward the most useful books I come across.

One resource that I have found extremely helpful is from Sales & Marketing Executives International, which has teamed up with The Business Source to offer the Business Book Summary Program – concise summaries of books you need to read.  Each month, learn best practices and get powerful insights from leading-edge thinkers, industry experts and renowned business gurus.  The summaries take just 15 minutes to read or listen to and you get two summaries monthly, so your total time investment is only 30 minutes a month!  Check out their website for more info:

As a lifelong salesman, I’ve clocked a tremendous amount of drive time.  My car becomes a mobile library every time I get behind the wheel.  I listen to CDs and podcasts.  I feel so strongly about this that I make sure all the books I’ve written are available in audio.  And I get a terrific response from fans who appreciate the service.

In the Kindle/Nook age, you don’t even have to find a bookstore and hope the books are available.  I love the mobility and accessibility of e-readers.  I can even read in a dark room (and not disturb my sleeping wife) or on a plane.

National Library week is April 8-14, so it’s a great time to take advantage of free access to books and computers or even assistance with resumes and job searches.  And don’t forget CDs, DVDs, newspapers and magazines.  Librarians are everyday heroes, in my book.  Get acquainted with this fabulous resource.

I’ve recommended my favorite book, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill (and Dennis Kimbro) in my books, columns and speeches repeatedly.  If you haven’t read it, read it at least three times.  Do not waste another minute.  Here’s a nugget from this goldmine of business wisdom:
“Assume for a moment that you have in your possession a million dollars in gold.  Would you protect it?  Would you safeguard this treasure?  Would you respect its value?  Of course you would.  You might even hire bodyguards or install security devices to ensure its safety.
“In comparison, your mind and self-image are worth far more than one million dollars.  They’re priceless!  Your mind is the exclusive source of all you will create spiritually, financially, or materially in your life.  Your level of joy, happiness, and peace of mind originates from one place – your mind.  Now ask yourself, do you protect your mind as carefully as you protect your physical assets?”

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, as we’ve heard for years on a popular television commercial.  When something as simple and inexpensive as a good book can make such a difference in your chances for success, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity?


Mackay’s Moral:  Open a book … open your mind.

The Power Of ‘Why’

Whether you’re managing a team of employees or you’re on your own, remember that although what you do and how you do it are important, it’s the “why” that provides real motivation to succeed.

An experiment conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business demonstrates the power of “why.”  At a university call center where employees phone alumni to solicit contributions to scholarship funds, the staff was randomly divided into three groups:  The first group read stories written by former call center employees about the benefits of the job (such as improved communication and sales skills).  The second group shared accounts from former students about how their scholarships helped them with their education, careers and lives.  The third, a control group, read nothing, just explained the purpose of the call and asked for a contribution.

After a month, the researchers found that the first group and the third group raised roughly the same amount of money from alumni after the experiment began as before.  But callers in the second group, who had related the stories about the impact of the scholarships students received from the fund-raising campaign, raised twice as much money from twice as many alumni as they had before.

Understanding the importance of their work – the “why” – apparently motivated them to get better results.  Put another way, as I like to say:  A salesperson tells, a good salesperson explains and a great salesperson demonstrates.

I’ll go so far as to proclaim that the most important question you can train your employees to ask is “why?”  Does that send shivers up your spine?  Let me explain.

When an employee asks why we do things a certain way, and the manager can explain the logical reason, then we know what we are doing is valid.  But if that manager can’t begin to hazard a guess beyond the “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” reply, we must reconsider our motivation.   If the boss doesn’t really know why we’re doing what we’re doing, it’s time to thank the employee who gave us the wake-up call.

Same goes for training.  When I listen to a mentor describe the most effective way to sell an envelope, or the best approach for a hot prospect, or even our preferred method of answering the phone, I’m expecting to hear not only the “how” but also the “why.”

There’s an old story about a group of monkeys which was placed in a cage with a bunch of bananas hanging overhead.  Every time a monkey tried to climb up and grab a banana, it got drenched with cold water.  Eventually the monkeys caught on, and they quit climbing up after the fruit.

But then, the monkeys were replaced one by one.  As the new monkeys tried to climb up after the bananas, the older monkeys would prevent them from climbing.  In time, all the original monkeys were replaced.  And amazingly, none of the newer group ever tried to climb up to the bananas, even though none of them had ever been splashed with the cold water.

I know that monkeys can’t ask why the way humans can, but the story illustrates how easily followers can fall into the trap of doing things the same way without any real justification. The Marine Corps is said to use this story to teach new officers the value of learning the reason behind policies and decisions.  By asking “why are we doing this?” they can help prevent people from blindly performing tasks repeatedly when the reason behind them has long since vanished.

The conventional wisdom has been that bosses manage and employees do what they’re told.  We’ve learned that thinking is upside down.  The people who are “doing” are often bringing better ideas forward because they challenged traditional practices.

Innovation is not the exclusive domain of corporate leadership.  Pay attention to those employees who respectfully ask why – they are demonstrating an interest in their jobs and exhibiting a curiosity that could eventually translate into leadership ability.  Encourage them to offer their suggestions and give their ideas serious consideration.  They may be the brave ones who reach for the bananas!

Consider the wisdom of author and educator Diane Ravitch:  “The person who knows ‘how’ will always have a job.  The person who knows ‘why’ will always be his boss.”


Mackay’s Moral:  It’s not enough to know how to do things – you must know why you do them. 

Giving Thanks For Your Customers

Today’s mail included the first holiday greeting of the season – for Thanksgiving.  One of our vendors sends us an eye-catching Thanksgiving card every year, thanking us for our business.  This is an approach I started my first year in business.

What I love about this custom is that our greeting never gets lost in the shuffle.  We get relatively few cards in November.  They are memorable.

Beyond that, the sentiment is really important.  As a customer, I think:  “They want us to know they are thankful that we are their customers.  They want to keep our business.  They’ve offered to go the extra mile.  They think we’re important!”

Have you thanked your customers lately?  I mean, besides when you get the order?  Do they know how much they mean to you?

Customer appreciation is not a wise area in which to economize.  Your sales force and customer service staff need support that starts at the top.  The boss should set the tone for customer appreciation because without customers, the boss doesn’t have any reason to come to work.

Customers who feel appreciated are more likely to be loyal to their vendors.  Price is rarely the most important consideration when making a buying decision.  In fact, service and quality consistently rank above price in purchasing choices.  Customers understand that they get what they pay for.  They deserve to believe that they are your most important customer!

So customer appreciation means every day is Thanksgiving Day.  Never pass up an opportunity to let your customers know what their business means to you.

It isn’t necessary to go to extremes.  In addition to the memorable Thanksgiving card that we received, let me share some great ideas that folks have shared with me:

  • Treats!  Send – or drop off – a great fruit basket, cookies or a sandwich tray.  Can you add a little fun?  One sales rep perks things up during the hot summer months with root beer float parties.  She arranges a date with the manager, and then shows up with root beer (regular and diet), ice cream, cups, straws and long spoons.  Double bonus:  it is not only a great reminder of her gratitude for the business, but it gives the office staff a morale booster too.
  • Drawings.  Once a week, once a month, or once a year, offer a prize that can be used at your customer’s business.  Could be some of your products, a plant, a restaurant certificate, a television – use your imagination.  Make a big deal when you present it.  A giant “thank you for your business” note with your name prominently featured should be attached.
  • Extra attention.  Make sure you are aware of delivery dates and follow up promptly with the customer.  Was the order complete and on time?  Any other service that they need?  Finally, “thanks again, it was a pleasure doing business with you.  And I’ll check back with you in a few weeks/months/specified time.”
  • Celebrate the customer’s big days.  Keep track of corporate anniversaries, product launches, promotions, office moves and awards.  Make sure your handwritten card gets mailed or delivered ASAP.  Wish them well and don’t pass up the opportunity to say thanks again for their very valuable business.
  • And above all, deliver more than you promise, every single day.  While most customers are satisfied just getting their orders correct, they are delighted when the product, service, quality and value exceed their expectations.  Nothing says I value your business like going the extra mile.

What happens when you don’t follow these rules?  Consider the story of the butcher who laid an egg.  A man ran into the butcher shop just before closing on the day before Thanksgiving.  “You’ve got to help me,” he said. “I told my wife I’d bring home a turkey for tomorrow’s dinner, and I forgot!  Do you have any turkeys left?”

“Well, I’ll see,” the butcher said, and he went into the cooler.  He found only one thin, scrawny turkey, which he brought for the customer to look over.

The man shook his head.  “Haven’t you got anything else?”

Hiding his irritation, the butcher headed back to the cooler, taking the turkey with him.  There were no others, so after a few minutes he brought the same turkey out again.  “Took me a while, but I found this one.”

The customer sighed.  “All right. I’ll take ’em both.”


Mackay’s Moral:  If you want your customers to give thanks for you, make every day Thanksgiving for them.

Every Business Plays ‘Moneyball’

Art imitates life.  That statement is so true in what I consider to be one of the best movies of the year, “Moneyball,” based on the true story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane.  You don’t have to be a baseball fan to learn monumental lessons from this film.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) meets a nerdy Ivy League economics graduate, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who rates players through analytics and statistical probabilities.  Do they get on base?  Yes.  Then it doesn’t matter if they can’t hit.  Brand’s charts and graphs confuse and confound the team’s scouts and coaches, but Beane buys into the system.

He’s frustrated by always losing his best players to clubs with big payrolls, knowing he can’t compete with big contracts.  He takes a giant leap of faith and follows Brand’s formula, making hiring decisions in a totally unorthodox manner.  Rather than follow the scouts’ assessments, he approaches the players’ potential in a more statistical and objective fashion.  That allows him to look at players who the scouts deemed washed up or headed to the minor leagues.

When the team of no-names and has-beens has a rough start, the coaches and scouts feel vindicated.  But then the team goes on a record-breaking 20-game winning streak.  Who’s laughing now?

Billy Beane and Peter Brand demonstrated remarkably creative thinking in solving a problem that seemed not to have any likely positive outcome.

Which strategy usually wins:  “We’ve always done it this way” or “Think outside the box”?

Gerhard Gschwandter, publisher of “Selling Power” magazine, wrote:  “I can easily see Brad Pitt in the role of a sales manager who has lost three of his top producers to the competition.  It is not a big stretch to imagine Peter Brand as the new sales operations manager who teaches his boss how to match salespeople’s talents to their specific job requirements.  The sales operations manager is the science nerd who knows which tools can fix the sales manager’s problems.

“Once the sales manager shifts the focus from chasing superstars to creating [an] organization that aligns people, process and technology, the outcome can be as spectacular as the Oakland A’s record-breaking winning streak.”

When an organization has spectacular challenges, like an inadequate budget, creative thinking and bold actions are frightening and daunting to the most unflappable managers.  But you can’t afford to do things the ways you’ve always done them.  If that had worked, you wouldn’t have all those challenges, would you?

Great ideas don’t always arrive like a bolt of lightning.  Creative thinking thrives in the proper environment.  When you think you are out of ideas, you have to find a way to manufacture creativity.  It’s not as difficult as it sounds.  Ask yourself – or your committee – these questions:

  • What would happen if we tried (fill in the blank)?  Would the company fall apart?  Or would that open new paths?
  • Is there another way to do what we’ve always done?  Are our competitors/friends/other businesses doing something that we could adapt to our needs?
  • Why have we always done it this way?  Has anyone tried anything else?
  • What’s the craziest way we could proceed?  Might that be worth considering?
  • What’s the worst way we could proceed?  Are we sure it wouldn’t work?
  • If solving this problem were a matter of life and death, what would we do?
  • What three changes would make this idea better?  Or worse?
  • Can we re-examine all our brainstorming notions and find a reasonable yet novel way to move forward?

Bear in mind that idea people are not always execution pros.  Let everyone have a chance to contribute.  Use every resource you have available.

Big problems need big solutions.  Big solutions involve big risks.  Remember too, that not addressing big problems involves even bigger risks.  If you’re meeting resistance in taking a risk, rename it:  meeting a challenge, changing course or new strategy.  But find a way to tackle the problem.

Billy Beane understood that his options were not well served by conventional wisdom.  How often have we seen extraordinarily talented athletes perform less extraordinarily than we expected – and then watched the minor leaguers knock it out of the park?


Mackay’s Moral:  If you hit enough singles, sooner or later you are going to win big. 

Your Street-Smart MBA

A buddy of mine dubbed my newest book, The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World, “Harvey Mackay’s economic stimulus plan.”  It’s custom-tooled to boost the take-home pay of sales pros, from novices to veterans.

Right now, war is raging between the old school of pound-the-pavement sellers and new age techno-mavens.  Should you still smile-and-shoeshine your way to prospects?  Or do you poke the traffic of today’s 200-million Tweeters?  Truth is:  You better master both.  And this book lays out the two worlds with 100 percent ease-of-access.

Coaching legend Lou Holtz, who wrote the introduction, calls me a “playing-field psychologist without rival.”  Outdo Lou? Not a chance.  This I can promise:  Every competitive tip I’ve learned from Coach and titans like him are squeezed between the covers. 

When galleys of The Mackay MBA were mailed to lecture-circuit colleagues, I asked these experts this question.  What ten tips do you think readers are going to find most valuable in this book?  They came back with these picks:

  1. Nothing can ever beat a hungry fighter with a positive attitude.  Success is 90 percent mental, and your attitude determines your altitude.  Sir Winston Churchill nailed it:  “I am an optimist.  It does not seem too much use being anything else.”
  2. The difference between failure and success is doing a thing nearly right and doing it exactly right.  Selling is a skill, and you need practice to perfect it.  Practice makes perfect . . . not true.  You have to add one word:  Perfect practice makes perfect.  The Beatles performed together live 1,200 times before their 1964 breakout success!
  3. Confidence can do, well, . . . almost anything!  I will beats IQ nine times out of 10.  Believe in yourself or no one else will.
  4. Do your homework.  “The Mackay 25” checklist zeroes in on how prospects communicate.  Know the channel of choice.  Some cell phone hounds are strictly texters.  If the customer is a company, do you Google for breaking news?  Are you tracking the vast resources of the Invisible Web?
  5. Don’t ignore intelligence.  How many salespeople thumb a magazine in the reception area of a prospect company?  Can you really afford to ignore that video on this firm’s new product launches?  Those softball trophies are statements of company pride.  The speech, pace, and apparel of employee passers-by are a case study in company culture.
  6. Salespeople who choke in the clutch almost always think too much.  Gifted pros closing a hard-fisted negotiation will visualize the effortlessness of a letter-perfect golf swing.  And stay true to yourself at your very best.  You can’t play outside your range.  At the Super Bowl, play the game that got you there.
  7. Older salespeople can’t make 50 their psychological speed limit.  Surf the Net, stream videos, eyeball a lecture on the Web.  When you call on Generation Y execs for your account, don’t be rattled.  Your pitch is bound to compete with endless smartphone interruptions.  Gen Y-ers are being their normal multi-tasking – and not infrequently – multi-millionaire selves.
  8. Person-to-person contacts remain the single most reliable way to build a durable sales base.  If you translate that to simply cranking up the ol’ boy network, oh boy, are you in trouble.  Nearly half of the undergraduate student body at tech bastion MIT is female. Don’t gender-gaffe!
  9. Learn the new one-two punch of sales.  Master the one-on-one, in-person sales closing.  But use giveaways like webinars to woo and pre-qualify prospects.  Precisely designed pre-qualification programs allow you to create a range of pitch-perfect approaches to reach the total market.
  10. Recognize that a stint in sales is essential experience for more-and-more CEOs.  In all businesses and organizations, everyone is a sales person of one sort or another.  Mind the new twist to the old sales stereotype:  Rather than being flamboyantly egocentric, modern sales successes are listening-driven and customer-centric.  And because many products are so much more complex, more sales are the work of well-oiled team approaches.

Sales mastery isn’t just a profitable business skill.  It’s also a great tool for living life well.  Salespeople learn resilience is indispensible.  They know failure is not falling down, but staying down.  The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World is my legacy book . . . with advice you can take all the way to the bank.


Mackay’s Moral:  You can’t direct the wind, but you sure can shift the sails.

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