“Swim with the Sharks” author and syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay built a multimillion dollar envelope company in Minnesota by learning people’s names and humanizing his selling strategy, the entrepreneur said Feb. 17 at Thunderbird School of Global Management.
“People buy from other people because of chemistry — because of people skills,” Mackay told an audience of about 150 students, faculty and staff at the graduate business school in Glendale, Ariz. “When you not only remember a person’s name, but some of the individual characteristics about that person, you’re going to get the order and the reorder.”
Mackay has written five books, including his New York Times No. 1 bestsellers, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” and “Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt.” His syndicated columns for United Feature Syndicate appear weekly in 52 U.S. newspapers.
He said the sweetest sounding word in any language is a person’s name on someone else’s lips. Mackay makes sure his account managers at MackayMitchell Envelope Company in Minneapolis understand this concept. He sends his employees into the field with a 66-question customer profile that they complete over time.
“You wouldn’t believe how much we know about our customers,” Mackay said. “I’m not talking about their taste in envelopes, either. We know — based on routine conversations and observations — what our customers are like as human beings.”
The profile includes birthdates, hometowns, marital status, hobbies, colleges attended and anything else the client cares about. Question No. 66 requires a simple yes or no answer: “Does your competitor know more or have better answers to the above questions than you do?”
The personalized approach to sales has led to 3,000 accounts in nearly 20 countries. “You still have to perform,” Mackay said. “If you perform and build relationships, you’re not going to lose the business.”
The same approach works when negotiating supplier contracts or when preparing for job interviews, mergers and acquisitions.
“Anyone who has walked through our doors during the past 48 years, we have developed a long-term relationship,” Mackay said.
He gave the example of a $10 million customer who has become his second biggest account.
Mackay said the account previously belonged to his arch competitor in Minneapolis, but he continued to visit the chief executive and build a relationship. After 10 to 15 “pit stops” at the company, Mackay had accumulated an extensive profile on the man.
One day he stopped for a visit and found out the man’s 11-year-old had been hit by a car while riding his bike. Mackay knew the boy played goalie on a club hockey team, and his father was the coach.
Mackay used his connections with the Minnesota North Stars, an NHL franchise that played in Minneapolis until 1993, to collect 18 player autographs on goalie stick. He sent the gift to the hospital where the boy was staying, along with a get-well card. Before long, he had the elusive account.
“Little things mean a lot — that’s not true,” Mackay said. “Little things mean everything.”
Video: Harvey Mackay on the “Economic Tsunami” (3:05)