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 Kunkle

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

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