The Punch-drunk bipolar existence of Sales

Tony Hughes

I've lived the bipolar existence that is professional selling, and I've stared into the abyss of what seemed an impossible revenue target. Most companies operate with insanity as they thrash around demanding relentless hyper-growth. In this pursuit, they hire like crazy, reduce the size of territories, increase the targets, fire up the team with a punchy sales kickoff, and then unleash the flamethrower to blast sellers. They exhort salespeople to step up or face the wrath of blowtorch pressure from stack ranking and performance improvement programs (PIPs) to manage out those who fail. The irony is that many good sellers are chewed up and spat out because of management's inability to analyze the data and provide viable territories and positive reference clients; or its failure to deliver the right tools, such as coaching and support, to enable sales; or its lack of intrinsic value without the right product-to-market fit.

In contrast, the best companies know that nothing good happens unless someone sells something, and they respect and value those on the front line who provide this service. Selling can make a person soar, and I've watched sellers excel as they helped their customers achieve success. Intent is important, and so is work ethic. To succeed, you can't be a snoozer, and you can't be hung up about how others perceive you. Selling is a blue-collar trade dressed up in Wall Street clothing. You must put in an honest day's work, day in and day out, and be able to look yourself in the eye and know that you actually deserve success. No matter how well sales are currently going, no matter how much you feel like it or not, no matter if there is time pressure and others are screaming at you to do non-selling activity, you must prospect every day. You must know that the only thing that creates a consistent sales funnel is consistent prospecting activity.

Just as I've seen the best, I've also seen the worst in people, as they tried to manipulate, lie, cheat, or steal their way to the top. Don't do it-your integrity is everything. Selling is not something you do to someone; it's something you do for someone. Your brand and reputation is your most precious asset. We live in an age where any client or employer can peel back the facade. You must be the real deal and be able to look at yourself in the mirror. Take social media seriously, and invest in creating a strong and authentic personal brand.

Selling, like boxing or MMA, is both scientific and mystical, both art and brutality. Real selling demands that you give yourself completely to what you pursue. You can't make it unless you are actually the person worthy of the success you seek. You must step into the ring and face your fears, passionately speaking up for what you believe. You must be willing to be pummeled and fall to the canvas with everyone watching. Then to get back up, knowing you'll be pounded again.

I've shared a little about the dark times in my own life to let you know that, regardless of the deep hole you may be in, you too can pick yourself up and rise to the top. The best salespeople are heroic, passionate, curious, and driven by positive intent for their customers. But it's never been more difficult to make it in sales, and the majority quietly fail behind their polished online image. Dangerous lies about passive selling and social media distractions are luring people into sales career oblivion. Real success, the kind that makes you a legend in your field, demands masterful skills and the right levels of activity-but you also need to be the hottest one in your business who can win the hottest one in your market.

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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 on 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


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