Community Spotlight: Mike Kunkle
Vice President of Sales Effectiveness Services for SPARXiQ
How do you define enablement?
As we wind down 2020 and head toward 2021, sales enablement still seems to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis (further explained here, which I originally wrote at the end of 2019). I think of sales enablement as the act of preparing the sales force to go-to-market as effectively and as efficiently as possible. Beyond that, the specifics involved are very contextual. For that reason, I think that creating a widespread definition of sales enablement for the profession, or for all companies, is overrated. The most important thing we can do, in my opinion, is to ensure we have an aligned charter within our own companies, of what sales enablement means to us. I have a framework that I call The Building Blocks of Sales Enablement, which I use as a starting point for helping clients think through the various elements of enablement to reach sales effectiveness. It’s been very effective for me, over the years. I’m hopeful that systems thinking and performance consulting both continue to garner attention in the sales enablement community.
Describe your current role.
I’m the VP of Sales Effectiveness Services for SPARXiQ. I advise clients, publish thought leadership (frameworks, models, methods), speak at conferences, lead webinars, design sales training courses, deliver workshops, and design sales enablement systems that get results. I collaborated with my colleague, Doug Wyatt, to develop SPARXiQ’s Modern Sales Foundations™ curriculum and also authored SPARXiQ’s Sales Coaching Excellence™ course.
Briefly describe your career path.
I started working in inbound inside sales in 1984, after realizing that music wasn’t going to be the right long-term career choice for me. I applied what I had learned in my music education – I practiced, drilled, and rehearsed (often audio and videotaping myself) and eventually got good. I graduated to inside outbound sales, then field sales, and led two sales teams as a front line sales manager.
In 1991, I got into sales training and stayed there, in various related roles such as sales effectiveness, sales performance development, sales management development, and sales enablement. Along my 35+ year journey, I worked for multiple Fortune 50 corporations, a start-up software company, a top 20 sales training company, and a leading sales enablement software provider. I’ve run my own sales consulting firm (twice) and started two client-facing sales transformation/sales effectiveness business units for other companies, one of which is my current employer, SPARXiQ.
I was fortunate to get a great start in sales training at a company with leaders who gave me a ton of latitude to experiment and try things, but who also expected results and ROI. I learned early that sales training, by itself, rarely moves the needle. That lead to learning about organizational performance improvement methods and systems thinking, which has made all the difference in my career.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
That’s a tough question over a long career. One foundational accomplishment was the impact that my team and I delivered for an employer who was struggling to hire, train, develop, and support new reps, while they were trying to capitalize on a tremendous window of opportunity for growth. New-hire turnover was exceptionally high, and 91% of the results were delivered by only 9% of the sales force. Over six months, we redesigned hiring, onboarding/training (much of which was virtual), sales methodology, sales process, sales coaching, and sales performance management. A year later, turnover was low, we cut new-hire ramp-up in half, and we delivered a $330MM YOY increase in revenue, which the CEO and CFO attributed to our efforts. A lot of what eventually became my Building Blocks of Sales Enablement was started there.
What’s your advice to someone getting started in enablement?
Become a student of performance improvement. You have an opportunity to learn from and build on an incredibly rich history. Far too many enablers throw spaghetti at walls or recreate the wheel. Read books. Join associations like the Association for Talent Development, the International Society for Performance Improvement, the OD Network, and the Sales Enablement Society. Get certified in sales enablement, performance consulting, or performance improvement. Immerse yourself for a few years, and your investment in yourself will pay big dividends. I’d also suggest picking your employer carefully. It is almost impossible to be successful and deliver impact in an environment where:
leaders are frequently distracted by bright shiny objects
a “Master of Disaster” consistently overreacts to the last thing that went wrong and pulls focus from your well-designed strategic and tactical plans.
In the short-term, start with a charter of what sales enablement will mean at your company and get aligned with all the stakeholders with whom you will collaborate, cross-functionally, to ensure your sales force is as effective and as efficient as possible. And, if your company isn’t already taking a modern, buyer-centric approach toward selling, you need to start there, or you’ll spend a lot of time doing things that won’t move the needle (or won’t move it as much as you could).
What are you doing to develop yourself?
I’m always scanning the horizon or conducting searches for things I want to learn more about. I frequently look for data and research that either better inform my position on something or challenge my thinking and add a new perspective. I read a lot fewer books these days, but I do read a lot more book summaries and dig in deeper when something seems interesting. I read a lot of blog posts and articles from sources I respect, and I follow and download a lot of analyst research, academic research, and industry magazines/ publications. I also tend to re-read books (or chapters in books) that I consider the classics in sales effectiveness or performance improvement. When I have time, I like to network and talk with other consultants or frontline practitioners. Lately, I’ve been trying to hone my writing skills and my presentation skills to be able to purposefully pull out the exact right style for the situation, to best engage the reader or listener. I’m definitely a work in progress.
Connect with Mike on LinkedIn!