Archives for March 2011

The Start of My Book on Sales Performance Levers

I Was Born a Poor Training Child

When I was new to the sales training field, I was fortunate to have some great mentors. They were business professionals, not training experts, and they helped instill in me a laser-focus on improving performance and proving value of my training and other performance initiatives. I’m grateful to this day for those roots and their influence.

Having said that, these leaders were clear about goals, desired outcomes and how they wanted results evaluated (what success would look like), but what they didn’t have (and knew it, to their credit), was the right formula for training and aligning performance levers. That’s where I came in.

In the early days, of course, I was still learning, too, so while I had some early success and was what I now call “directionally correct,” I still hadn’t quite figured out the magic sauce (and hadn’t coined the term “performance lever” or completely delineated my process for determining what they were and how to align them).

Is That a Learning Curve in Your Pocket?

Given that, as you would imagine, I was in a steep learning curve, experimenting, evaluating, and learning constantly. (Doesn’t sound much different than today, except I do thankfully have a larger base of experience and success, and have formulated a system that works consistently, if implemented well.)

What did I do?

Well, I read a lot. Constantly. Magazines, books, text books, journals, white papers, research and whatever else I could get my hands on. I tried to track down and call or email authors and eventually talk to them. I attended conferences, events, and local meetings. I talked with people internally and externally and took people to lunch to discuss ideas with them.

Yeah, I was one of those people who actually contacted the authors of articles and books. Sometimes people loved hearing from me and I learned a ton. Sometimes, I think because I asked a lot of direct and hard questions, they weren’t so fond of me. (I like to think I was always curious but kind, and hope I was, but I also know how I can get when I’m “digging in.”) And, of course, sometimes, the blowhard marketing and chest-puffing from an article just fell apart under the scrutiny. I tried to part gracefully and quickly from those interactions without deflating anyone. It was sad how often I found Swiss cheese holes, though.

Excuse Me, Please Pass That Magic Sauce

I learned a lot and had a blast during those early years, but I did have one frustration.

The people who seemed to be the real experts, never really quite shared all the ingredients in the magic sauce.

Oh sure, they shared stuff. They told stories and talked at some level about their work and processes. Many had pretty slides and some shared data, but it was always hard to get real step-action details or a template to follow to replicate their work.

It wasn’t that I was incapable of taking concepts and ideas and shaping them and implementing them on my own – in fact, that’s exactly what I did. But more detail, or some tools, or spreadsheets, or clearer process steps, or something concrete, would have been more helpful to me.

The Internet and World Wide Web weren’t so worldly or wide in 1986 when I first became a sales manager (or at least I didn’t know about it), nor was I “plugged in” in 1991 when I officially entered the training profession by title. Eventually, though, I found the WWW around 1995-ish and in 1997 participated in various listserv discussion groups, most notably the TRDEV-L group that was run by Bill Rothwell and his grad students from Penn State. I had a blast on TRDEV-L and made a lot of great connections. It was like a super-charged LinkedIn discussion group, with so many power players from the training world.

Internet content exploded soon after and eventually social media was born. But now, while I’m still learning daily and enjoying all of the content and expertise that is so readily available, I’m probably sharing as much or more than I absorb. Although it hasn’t been until recently that I decided to blog, and right now, I’m only doing that casually, flirting with an occasional post (or flirting with disaster – not sure which).

Hmm. Guess I’m Not Incorrigible After All

Eventually, through these experiences, I figured some things out.

  • For one, some people couldn’t share their system because they didn’t really have one. They did a bunch of things, got lucky, and something worked. Then they started talking about it, without bothering to analyze why it worked (or whether their actions were actually responsible for the results) and if it was replicable. 
  • Others, like the folks I ran into through ISPI (International Society for Performance Improvement), seemed to have a much more scientific, replicable approach (although sometimes I felt like I needed a Ph.D. to interpret their writings or have a conversation with [some of] them). 
  • I also learned a lot from ASTD (American Society for Training and Development). It took them longer to get into the real performance world content, but now they offer some great stuff that is more easily absorbed and used, in my opinion. 
  • I also figured out that the reason details were often missing from speakers’ content and authors’ work, was that many of the practical experts were consultants, and they never shared their full methodology for obvious business reasons. 
  • Lastly, I also figured out that the work is similar wherever you do it, but the real magic is in how you do it – how you apply the work – the little things… which are so difficult to talk about in excrutiating detail, where one company’s pertinent example may not apply at all to another company, industry, or target market (for example, what applies at a B2B company may not always apply at a B2C one).

Yes, I Actually Have a Point

So why am I telling you all this? Well, I’ve now been a (long-term) practitioner and (short-term) consultant for over 20 years. (I really didn’t enjoy the lone-wolf consulting life, or selling, tracking expenses, buying office supplies, traveling, and taking out the trash more often than doing the performance work I love to do). And I continue to do performance work… in fact, I believe I am conducting a solid sales performance analysis right now, for my new employer.

There are others who have figured out the magic sauce, too, and I’ve been fortunate to connect with many through social media and share more detailed ideas. But now, I feel like I have something to say, or at least, the need to say it. Hopefully, someone will want to hear it, because that’s always reaffirming and hey, I’m human. But regardless of whether that’s true, I still have this urge to say it, so I have finally committed to do it.

Are You Sitting Down?

This is the start of my new book on Sales Performance Levers.

  • With details (probably too many).
  • With examples (they won’t fit every business).
  • With tools (maybe the wrong ones for your situation).
  • Maybe with a spreadsheet (with my favorite colors).
  • And with a touch of personality (perhaps known in some circles as “smart-@$$” or by the more cultured as “flair”).

The Ginsu Knife

One more thing.

Business books are dangerous.

I’ve said this before and my attitude toward my own work does not differ. Some people have success in one venture, turn it into a book, and provide a lot of advice. As mentioned above, it isn’t always very detailed (the magic sauce and execution details) but they offer their pearls before you, usually as absolutes, telling you what to do. If you implement a consumer products marketing model in the fleet automotive marketing world, you’re probably asking for trouble. I trust that you realize this, so I won’t belabor the point further now.

Your Mission, Mr. Phelps, Should You Decide to Accept It…

But I can promise you this… while you may have to customize for your company and consider your business, target market, product or culture…

What I share does work across companies and industries.

It will produce results.

And if well executed, those results will be significant.


I can say that with confidence because I have done it in multiple industries (and both B2C & B2B) and know the concepts and processes are company- and industry-agnostic.

The details of execution, however, are not.

I’ll do my level best to provide guidance on that, but figuring out the local execution, will be your role.

Look Both Ways Before… <Screeeeech!>

This may not be quick, and it may not be published here in chapter order, but it’s coming. This is the start.

If you decide to come along for the ride, I hope you enjoy it, poke holes, share ideas, and comment freely. I’m not selling anything here (well, for full disclosure, I may eventually sell the book or an e-book, we’ll see what happens)…  but I’m employed and plan to stay that way. (Which also means I will not be sharing anything I learn from my current analysis which could be considered “competitive differentiation” or intellectual property of my employer, without clearance from them first.)

Hopefully we can have some great and open discussions, and hopefully, we can help each other learn and grow.

As always, thanks for reading and be safe out there.

Mike
____________________________________
Mike Kunkle

Contact me:
mike_kunkle at mindspring dot-com
214.494.9950 Google Voice

Connect with me:
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikekunkle 
http://twitter.com/mike_kunkle

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If One More Person Says Sales Training Does Not Work – I’ll Scream

This started in a LinkedIn group today, when I read a headline that screamed “Sales Training Doesn’t Work.” I responded there, but was compelled to migrate my thoughts here to share the issue more broadly. Lucky you.

It’s Shock Value (Nothing to See Here, Folks. Move Along Now.)

Of course, after a few taunting words, the author popped in a link to his own blog, in an effort to drive traffic. And yes, it was a business that sold sales consulting services (where they can help you make sales training work ;-). I understand that tactic and kind of respect it as a veiled way to drive traffic, or if one is selling services, to lead people to their website. I get it. Internet marketing.

But really? Sales training doesn’t work? Sheesh. I must admit, and you can probably tell, that I am more than a bit weary of hearing how “sales training doesn’t work.”

If You Live in a Country, Learn the Language

My response? Baloney. As one of my elementary school teachers used to say, “To be terrific, be specific.” (Thank you, Mrs. Deitz.)

Saying “sales training doesn’t work” is a great headline to get attention or often to drive blog traffic, but in reality, whether or not it “works” for you depends on what you expect it to do. Done well (I guess that’s one caveat), sales training works just fine ***for what it is intended to do.***

Look folks, as a friend of mine says, this ain’t rocket surgery. Training is simply a way to let people know what, why and how to do something (and sometimes, when and where). It’s the passage of knowledge, skills, and sometimes attitudes, from one to another. If at the end of the training, students can pass tests on what was taught and demonstrate the skills taught, the training itself has been highly successful!  (For better definitions and more background on training and instructional design, see: http://www.scribd.com/doc/46526471/Basic-Instructional-Design-Principles)

But Wait, There’s More…

BUT… Will the training change performance? Well, maybe, and maybe not. It depends on a few other factors. (And I guess this is why people say that sales training doesn’t work, even if the training did exactly what training is supposed to do.)

Perhaps the real problem is that we keep looking for sales training to be a solution to a problem it can’t solve. Simply implementing a training program, even a well-designed one, and expecting it to improve workplace performance is like cracking eggs into a cold skillet and expecting scrambled eggs to form. Or like taking Ibuprofen for high blood pressure. Good luck with either of those.

As Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps remind us in their books of the same titles, “Telling Ain’t Training” and “Training Ain’t Performance.” (True dat.)

So, How DO We Improve Performance?

If we expect to drive change in sales organizations, we need to develop entire learning and performance systems that ensure the right people are in place, the right things are being trained, and that management knows what is being trained so they can support, reinforce, coach and help the sales reps transfer the learning to the workplace, and then coach and manage the performers to higher levels of performance.

Where Do We Go Wrong?

So, training is just one (critical, but one) element of an overall performance system. The three most common reasons I’ve seen that that keep sales training from producing a lift in sales performance, are:

  1. It was the wrong sales training content for that company, industry, product, or culture
  2. The training was an “event” with no overall performance system and coaching to ensure transfer and performance improvement
  3. Other performance levers were so far out of alignment (things like hiring/selection, compensation, sales process, policies, performance management practices, product quality, or service delivery, to offer a few examples) that they prevented the training (or really, the reps) from having a larger impact.

Use the Right Tool for the Job

To see more about this, you can review another of my uploaded presentations on Scribd.com at http://scr.bi/PerfLevers. The presentation wasn’t designed for non-verbal delivery (and when run live, has a lot of building elements that you won’t see in these static slides), but you’ll get the picture.

Stop the Insanity

So, when you hear someone say that training doesn’t work or that sales training doesn’t produce results, question them into being specific about what they mean. And to preserve what’s left of my precious sanity, don’t let them blame training for not solving a problem that it wasn’t designed to solve.

Be safe out there.

Mike

____________________________________

Mike Kunkle

Contact me:

  • mike_kunkle at mindspring dot-com
  • 214.494.9950 Google Voice

Connect with me:

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