Mackay: Swim with the sharks without being eaten alive

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the 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.

Books from first-time authors typically have print runs of 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 the 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 meeting on the 28th floor of a New York skyscraper when I asked my publishers for a print run that size. 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” was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for 54 weeks.

As much as I love the title “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” a lot of people mistakenly 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 No. 1 piece of advice in the book. No contest: It’s using the Mackay 66 Customer Profile, which is available for free on my website, The Mackay 66 is a tool that helps humanize your 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 your customer’s 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. If you build a good relationship, you will not only get the order, you’ll get all the reorders.

And this is not just for customers. It’s also for suppliers. Use the Mackay 66 for employees and competitors — anyone you can benefit from knowing more about.

“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.”

Its 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.

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.

Top management lessons include:

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