A few weeks ago I wrote about my 20th anniversary of this column.  This year, I also celebrate another important anniversary – 25 years since I published my first book, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.”

“Sharks” is still selling briskly around the world after all this time because the concepts haven’t changed.  This is why “Swim With the Sharks” became the success it did, especially coming from a then unknown author from the flyover state of Minnesota.

image002Books from first-time authors typically have print runs of only 7,500 to 10,000 copies, which is only a couple books per store.  This makes it much easier for publishers to recoup their losses if books don’t sell well.  But I knew that to really give “Sharks” a chance, I needed a first printing of 100,000 copies.  We were on the 28th floor of a New York skyscraper when I asked for that size print run.  They practically told me to jump.

Fortunately I brought in two huge briefcases with two large Rolodex files (remember, this was 1988) – containing more than 6,500 names from all over the world, including my connections with major companies, organizations and associations.  That helped convince the publisher, William Morrow, to print 100,000 copies.  “Sharks” became a #1 New York Times bestseller for 54 weeks.

As much as I love the title “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” unfortunately a lot of people thought I was advocating becoming a shark.  Rather, my message then and now is to give people the tools to get along and work with sharks.

I’m often asked to name the #1 piece of advice in the book.  No contest:  The Mackay 66 Customer Profile, which is available for free on my website www.harveymackay.com, which helps readers humanize their selling strategy and take business relationships to a personal level.  You can’t talk about business all the time, so it’s important to learn about education, family, hobbies and interests, favorite sports teams, vacation habits, previous employment, professional and trade associations, clubs, and so on.  In other words, know what turns that person on.

The Mackay 66 is a concept, philosophy and tool.  Perform and build a good relationship and you not only get the order, you get all the reorders.

And remember … this is not just for customers.  It’s also for suppliers.  Use the Mackay 66 for employees and competitors – anyone whom you can benefit from knowing more about.  Each time you encounter those persons, you learn a little bit more about them and keep building your list.

“Swim With the Sharks” is divided into sections on salesmanship, negotiation and management.  That’s why the subtitle is so appropriate – “Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate and Outnegotiate Your Competition.”

Sales lessons include:  

  • It’s not how much it’s worth, it’s how much people think it’s worth.
  • The sale begins when the customer says yes (customer service).
  • Writing personal notes yields positive results.
  • If you don’t have a destination, you’ll never get there until you set, develop and track your goals.
  • Fantasizing and projecting yourself into successful situations is one of the most powerful means there is to achieve personal goals.

Essential to successful negotiations are these ideas:   

  • The most important thing in any negotiation is the ability to say no.
  • Everything is negotiable.
  • Agreements prevent disagreements.
  • The most important term in any contract isn’t in the contract – it’s dealing with people who are honest.
  • Make decisions with your heart and you’ll end up with heart disease.
  • If you burn bridges, you better be a damn good swimmer.

Top management lessons include:  

  • It’s not the people you fire who make your life miserable; it’s the people you don’t fire who make your life miserable.
  • You’ll always get the good news; it’s how quickly you get the bad news that counts.
  • Little things don’t mean a lot; they mean everything.
  • Practice makes perfect, not true.  You have to add one word:  Perfect practice makes perfect.
  • The single biggest mistake a manager can make is a bad hire.
  • You can’t solve a problem unless you first admit you have one.

Sharing what I have learned in my decades of business has been pure delight.  When I revised and updated “Sharks” in 2005, I challenged myself to see how much of my own advice I was still following.  I can honestly report that my formula still keeps me safe in shark-infested waters.


Mackay’s Moral:  People’s lives change in two ways:  The people we meet and the books we read.


About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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