Thanksgiving is time to praise Harvey Mackay


A discussion of the unique and prescient value of the ideas of sales guru Harvey Mackay.

Harvey Mackay

Harvey Mackay

Note: I first published this article in 2009 and am reissuing it in time for the holidays four years later. In 2011, even though still unable to find Thanksgiving cards, I finally executed Harvey’s strategy by sending personal e-mails to more than 100 people I’ve known in business. It was great. In addition to reconnecting with many good people, three business opportunities emerged from the effort. I’ve updated parts of the article.

No one who has sold 10 million books is an unsung hero, but Harvey Mackay goes largely unnoticed today. I always think about Harvey Mackay a month or two before Thanksgiving but never get around to following his advice, which demands discipline and courage. That might explain why the latest generation of sales professionals prefers gurus like Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Joe Girard, Barry Maher and others.

Today’s top-level sales consultants (In 2009, Ziglar, Tracy, Girard and Maher ranked highest on lists for The World’s Top 30 Sales Professionals. I could not find a similar list in 2012.) deliver excellent advice to companies and people looking to improve sales performance. But, their methods are less rigorous than Harvey Mackay’s. Mackay, who makes few top-guru lists, purchased a nearly bankrupt manufacturer in 1956 when he was 26 years. He built Mackay-Mitchell Envelope Company into a $100 million company by making his sales people practice strict and unusual tactics that he revealed to the world in his 1988 best seller How to Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.

Although Mackay is mainly a sales guy and his company almost 100% sales driven, that book has guided my views on integrating sales and marketing, as well as sales technology, since first reading it in 1991.

If I could only find a Thanksgiving card

Thanksgiving always reminds me why. Mackay’s employees have never been allowed to send Christmas cards to customers. They get ahead of their competitors by sending Thanksgiving cards. The advantage seems obvious.  The genius was in taking the most worn out sales routine and turning it into a stunt worthy of the most cutting-edge marketing or PR campaign.  The problem is that no one sells Thanksgiving cards. So, every year I want follow Mackay’s advice but fail to put in the required effort. Probably, I am like millions of other Swim with the Sharks fans.

The Mackay 66 Customer Profile is the primal guidepost for successful customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA), and it has nothing to do with software, Web 2.0, drip functionality or other gadgets. Mackay’s sales people are required to answer in writing 66 questions about every one of their customers. I’ve done it, even created the template in my first DOS version of ACT!  It takes time and effort. But, Mackay wrote that:

“When you know your customers, some of their special interests or characteristics, you always have a basis for contacting and talking with them.”

Ideally, CRM and SFA should improve processing and managingthe personal information sales people gather, therefore enabling stronger, more productive relationships. Unfortunately, these technologies fail because their sponsors see them as shortcuts. (or similar) will never come with all 66 questions filled in and unless sales leaders demand those answers, the technologies are being wasted. That’s why Mackay disciples can chew and spit out competitors who use easy-to-find, inaccurate, and impersonal information about customers, with or without technology.

Mackay has not fallen out of favor because he is 80 years old and out of touch. He has a great website and blog. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Brian Tracy has a nice blog and you can follow him on Twitter. Zig Ziglar has ceded his social media activities to his son, Tom.

He’s out of favor, not out of touch

Then, why does Mackay only have 29,000 Twitter followers, while Tom Ziglar has 73,000 and Tracy 103,000? When I entered a Linked In discussion about the top sales gurus, I was the only one who mentioned Mackay. More than 50 people participated.

Mackay’s practices are not for people seeking easy answers to complex problems. But, promises of instant success dominate the Internet and social media. Today, people expect automation to make things easier, not enable them to get more done in less time.  That may explain why too few of today’s sales professionals listen to Harvey Mackay and his inconvenient truths.   But, according to Harvey Mackay, it is easy and fun:

“I really don’t know why I’m here, I’ve only worked half days my entire life. I guess my advice to you is to do the same. Work half days every day. And it doesn’t matter which half … the first twelve hours or the second twelve hours.”

Happy Thanksgiving Harvey.

Leave a Comment

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Mac Strong November 21, 2012, 3:34 pm

Great article. Customer diligence can never be substituted for clever technology.

Incidentally my mousepad is Tracey’s Platinum Mentoring Series! Always great to find another mentor at—or above—his level.

Thanks John.

John Ribbler November 21, 2012, 5:23 pm

Thanks Mac.

Judy Colbert November 21, 2012, 9:32 am

Although I’ve sent cards in late December, my intent was always to send them in November.
I’ve started working on a movie script and it’s been years since I’ve tackled one. Your column reminded me that I have to implement the 66 things I know about each of my characters before I can start describing them and have them spewing dialog.
Most timely reminder. Thank you, John.
Happy holidays.

John Ribbler November 21, 2012, 5:28 pm

WOW!! Using the Mackay 66 to develop characters for fiction? That is sublime, and shall be logged as a prime exhibit in the case to prove that business is an art, not a science.

Neil Wood November 24, 2009, 2:37 pm

I’ve read several of Harvey’s books and incorporated dozens of his ideas into my business. He is a master!

Why he’s not as popular as Mr. Ziglar and Tracy – I’m not sure. I’ve seen both of them speak but never have seen Mr. Mackay.
John, thank you for sharing this article.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!
Neil Wood – Hingham, Mass.

Kinshuk November 24, 2009, 10:04 am

Thanks for introducing me to the Mackay66, and Happy Thanksgiving to all.

This is the special relationship between the seller and the buyer which technology of today is just not geared up for. I have created softwares for loyalty programs, intelligence extraction, CRMs etc, and I have come to the conclusion that unless one creates programs in the language of the marketing folks and the customers, much of it is just some glorified book keeping, and they ought to be evaluated as calculating machines in any real market.



Kim Lillie November 23, 2009, 12:40 pm

Thanks for the post, as an old school sales professioanl I can appreciate Harvey Mackay. I feel that the true art of selling is being lost in the internet/social media age. The bottom line is that you have to truly care about what you do and want to work hard!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Meredith Bell November 22, 2009, 6:45 pm

Excellent points about Harvey Mackay. I hope he reads this post! He has great business acumen and your post is a reminder to me to re-read his books that are in my library. I admire his requirements. He knows few other businesses will have the same rigor so he will be miles ahead of his competitors. And we can be too, if we implement his advice. Thank you for this tribute to one of my favorite business leaders.


Helen Riggs November 21, 2009, 3:11 pm

I must agree with you. I have had Mackay’s “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty” in my library for years, and refer to it often. It is certainly an early precursor to the “networking” that is now taking place — especially LinkedIn. The value of professional and personal networking outlined in Mackay’s book has guided my efforts for many years.

Jos Essers November 21, 2009, 1:53 pm

I am thinking of Harvey nearly everyday. Reading his blogpost and trying to fill out the Mackay66 list. His warning at item 66, that you will still loose out if your competitor has better answers on the previous 65? I take that very serious!

Here in this area in Holland, I will do everything to promote him!