Behind every great sales person is a surprised CEO

Tony Hughes


In my first sales job, at age 25, I was crap... for a little while until I became good, then great, then the most successful person the industry had ever seen. I sold to IBM at prices 70% higher than the incumbent competition and IBM remains a customer for my old employer 25 years later. My run-rate success took 120 days and two years to win the biggest deal the company had ever done. When you consider my starting point, it is staggering. I had much working against me inside my head (just lost my business, mother just died, car stolen, dog run over, relationship breakdown and family imploding, combined with a negative attitude about my new career).

A colleague once joked to someone as I walked into the pub after work: "Here's Tony; you run a warm bath and I'll get the razor blades." So how did I set sales records that were never broken and make President's Club for BellSouth globally? The answer is that a small group of people believed in me and were willing to take a chance on me. They invested their credibility, time and emotional energy. Especially my first sales manager, Keith Sutton, who invested a whole day with me on the road every week without fail. He didn't rescue me or do my job by jumping in to make the sale. He let me fail, then he debriefed me, asking great questions, coaching and mentoring me. He also sat with us at one of the workstations rather than in an office. He did this so he could hear us on the phone and he would often walk over and offer to buy me a coffee where he would chat about my technique or choice of words and questions with a prospect. My sales manager was the biggest reason for my success.

The best CEOs understand that the value of a sales manager is defined by how many hours they invest with their people in the field and the time poured into coaching on opportunities, instilling strategy and disciplined execution. But sales management is typically the weak link in the revenue chain because they become bureaucrats, administrators and CRM jockeys who spend most of their time managing-up to bosses who destroy their productivity by endlessly asking about the forecast. Who contributed most to your success?... track them down and say 'thank you'.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at

Main image photo by Flickr: Flazingo Photos


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