I "discovered" Mike Kunkle a while back through his contributions to the sales effectiveness discussion groups, his tweets, and his comments on various sales experts' blogs. Whatever he's written has been to-the-point, clearly articulated, and has oozed experience and knowledge.
ES Research worked with Mike on a special project for his last company, so we got to know him a bit better.
Recently, I've spent a little more time with Mike as he transitions to his next role in the sales performance improvement discipline. More about that down the page...
I really wanted you to get a sense of how Mike thinks so I cajoled him into doing an interview with me. Here it is:
Dave Stein: You've got a lot of metrics and impressive results listed on your LinkedIn profile, compared to some training professionals. Our research indicates that 85% of sales training doesn't impact performance for long. What's been your approach to get those results?
Mike Kunkle: I'd love to tell you that I got those results with training alone, but we both know that's not true. Training plays a major role in my methodology, though, so it is a big part of my success. In my experience, there are some key things that make a difference... that must be done really well.
- First, the content must absolutely produce results in the real world. The phrase "best practices" has gotten a bad rap in some circles, because it's been done so poorly in so many places, and not produced results. But done well, it can have a major impact. For me, training needs to be based on the best practices of the top 20% of sales reps, in that company. With all the nuances of sales... B2B vs. B2C, tangible, intangible, consultative, transactional, long-cycle, short-cycle, product vs. service, and so on... using generic training just doesn't cut it.
- Secondly, that training must be designed really well, using the best instructional design methods, so you can maximize the learning in the time you have. Blended approaches tend to work best, but at some point, you need to teach skills, demo them, get people using them, provide feedback, and give them a chance to apply that feedback before they finish the training. That's where the real learning occurs, and it's so often missed.
- Next, and this is big, Dave, managers have to be involved. And involved is actually a weak word. They need to know what's being taught and buy-into the content, because they know it will produce results. But even more important, and so rarely done, these managers must be taught how to diagnose how well their reps are using what is taught - or how well their reps are firing on all cylinders - whether by reviewing reports, discussion or observation - and then to coach appropriately to close knowledge and skill gaps, and manage performance afterward to hold reps accountable.
If you want training to transfer from the learning environment to the real world, this stuff isn't optional. It's the only way it will happen for most people. We have to stop having training events, and start building learning systems, that teach, coach and hone the real performance levers that get results.
DS: You use the phrase "performance levers" in your work, and just mentioned it here. What does that really mean?
MK: Well, geek that I am, I define performance lever as any knowledge, skill, behavior or condition that must exist, for ethical, sustained, high performance to occur. But in English, that just means it's the stuff that the reps need to do to sell effectively, and that the company and managers must do to support them and their clients' buying processes. Levers occur at the position level, for both reps and sales managers, and occur at the department and company levels as well. The position levers are usually knowledge and skills. Effective hiring, supportive policies, smart sales compensation, and a sales process that supports the buying process are often levers, and are examples of things that departments and companies do to support sales. When people ask what I do, I usually tell them that I analyze performance levers, build training based on best practices, and implement other systems and processes to support the levers, employees and clients. Even by itself, this work, done well, can radically improve sales results and move the needle on the metrics that matter. To ensure that occurs, I also build the training, tools and resources needed by managers and other leaders to reinforce, sustain, and grow that performance. That's how you get real breakthrough results - something that is geometric or exponential - not just a 5% incremental increase.
DS: Do you think that any company can truly get exponential sales growth, or what you call "radical growth" or "breakthrough results?"
MK: Well, I do think it's possible in most companies, but it's not probable. Counter-intuitive as it may be, I find that a lot of companies, meaning the executives and their teams, just aren't ready to lead the sort of change that's necessary to execute these projects successfully and stay the course. We seem to have become an attention-deficit society and I see the impact of that in many companies. But if the company strategy is basically sound, if the product or service is viable, and the senior executive team and top sales leader are ready to lead change, prioritize, focus, and stay the course, you can absolutely blow the doors off the place in 9 to 18 months.
DS: What are you working on now? What's next for Mike Kunkle?
MK: Good question. I'm currently in transition, Dave, looking for the right place to do my work again. I'll either join a corporate team that wants to radically grow their sales results and is willing to make the changes to do it, or maybe this time around, a consulting or professional services group that helps its clients grow sales. In the end, an authentic, transparent culture of continuous improvement, with the ability to prioritize, focus on strategic objectives and execute with discipline - or wanting to get there - is far more important to me than anything else. And, of course, a chance to blow the doors off the place, which is what makes it fun and worthwhile. Maybe I can come back and give you an update before long and have some new stories to tell. In the meantime, I'd enjoy talking to your readers with an interest in sales transformation work and what we've talked about here, especially to trade ideas and make new connections.
Mike Kunkle is a training and organization effectiveness leader with special expertise in sales force transformation. After his initial years on the frontline in sales and sales management, he's spent the past 16 years as a corporate director or consultant, leading departments and projects with one purpose - improve sales results. And through sales training, organization effectiveness practices, leadership development, aligning performance levers and leading change efforts - he's done just that. At one company, as a result of six projects, he and his team delivered an accretive $398MM in revenue, year-over-year. At another, within 9 months, newly-hired sales reps with 120 days on the job were outperforming incumbent reps with 5 years with the company. Mike freely shares his sales transformation methodology at conferences and online and can be reached through his blog, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and at this email address: