Stamp Out Selling Superstition with Buying Process Exit Criteria

Stamp Out Selling Superstition with Buying Process Exit Criteria

Always be closing… That doesn’t mean you’re always closing the deal, but it does mean that you need to be always closing on the next step in the process.
Shane Gibson

This is probably obvious, but before you panic from thinking that I’ve suddenly become an ABC fan and am sitting in a Cadillac with a set of steak knives watching a DVD of Alec Baldwin, Shane is just referring to professionally gaining commitment to move forward to the next step (and possibly the next stage) of the buying/sales process.

In essence, boiled down to it’s core, selling is simply gaining a series of commitments that lead to a purchase. Buyers, like all of us who shop for things, have a process they go through to make a decision.  Likewise, sellers (should) have a process they follow to sell their products/services/solutions (which hopefully maps to what their buyers are doing).

Suddenly, Process is Popular

With that said, we’re hearing more and more about sales process these days, aren’t we?

Multiple sources have published studies indicating that companies with a defined sales process perform better:

Many others in the sales and marketing community have been blogging about sales process:

My esteemed industry colleague, Michael Webb of Sales Performance Consultants, Inc., has recently published a $75.00 tome on the topic (it’s worth every penny and his work has received due recognition):

And finally, the importance of aligning with the buying journey is getting far more press:

These are only a smattering of posts and resources, are all worth reading, and are simply meant as examples of the growing body of work on sales process.

This is all great news, right?

For those nodding, “Yes,” I agree. Yet, while there is a lot more attention being paid to the need for sales process work, much of what I read is very high level (i.e., “you should follow a sales process,” “companies that use a sales process perform better,” and “here’s what a sales process looks like”).  I’m not a fan of generalizations and don’t mean to paint everyone with that brush, but I think those who haven’t done much with process work need more detail and better examples. It’s tough in a short (or even long) blog post to do this, though, so I acknowledge the challenges and face them myself.

For that reason, I’d like to focus in this post on one small yet powerful piece of the buying process, and how we as sales professionals can use it, to reduce what I call “Selling by Superstition” and improve our sales effectiveness.  That gold nugget is… Buying Process Exit Criteria.

Buying Process Exit Criteria

So what are exit criteria, in this context?  They are the measures used to determine if the tasks within the process stage have been completed and whether the objectives of that stage have been met, so the buyer can move forward.

Here’s a quick example of what I mean:


Imagine a buyer has encountered an issue that is preventing them from executing the tactical plans that support their strategy. Naming conventions vary, but they’e in a stage I call “Encounter and Assess Problems.”  What do you think the tasks and exit criteria for this stage might include? Perhaps they would be:


  1. Assess Situation: They have assessed the issue and at least to their satisfaction, have clearly identified and documented the root cause problem that is holding them back. They realize, to some degree, what is it costing them to not solve the issue.
  2. Explore Problem-Solving: They have some idea of what the solution(s) may be.
  3. Realize Limitations: They  recognize additional expertise is required or have assessed that it isn’t something they can address quickly enough internally… they need outside expertise and help.
  4. Decide to Explore Options: They’re ready to explore options and define an initiative that will help them address the issue.


  • The issue, possible causes, and business requirements are defined and documented.
  • A decision has been made to seek external assistance in resolving the issue.

Make sense?

If this is old news, I apologize for hanging here for a minute, but for those for whom this is a new thought, especially for reps who have been solely focused on what they do and their sales process, this could be an important Aha Moment.

And even for those who know this concept well… let me ask you something.

“When was the last time you asked a buyer of yours if their team’s criteria for the current stage had been satisfactorily met, before trying to gain commitment to move forward?”

Or, how many times did you absolutely know those criteria in advance, as you were moving into the stage you’re in now?  Reality being what it is, I don’t expect to hear many “100 percent of the time, Mike!” answers, because not everyone is as transparent as we’d all hope. But it ought to be pretty high. For the bulk of the pipeline-stalled deals that are actually real opportunities, I’d contend that this is one of the primary culprits.

A Framework for Guiding the Purchase/Sale

Buying Process Exit Criteria Map(click to enlarge graphic)

Here’s a simple framework that will help you with this. You may agree or disagree with the processes (stages and names) as they’re mapped here in this example — that’s not the point. While there are commonalities, buying and sales processes vary. In my opinion, there are elements of the sales process that map directly to the buying process, but not all stages align exactly or occur linearly – especially in the early stages or “Top of the Funnel” in Lead Generation.

So, rather than derailing on possible differences between my example and your reality, hone in on these things, instead:

  • There are Processes and Process Stages for both buying and selling
  • At a minimum, the Opportunity Management process for sellers aligns with the Purchase Pursuit process for buyers
  • Each process stage has Objectives, Tasks to be completed, and Exit Criteria (outcomes) that designate that the stage is complete

If you document your buyer’s journey and processes, objectives, tasks and exit criteria, it’s very illuminating. As you do that, ask yourself:

  • Process:  For my typical customers, how to they do go about making a purchase?  What stages do they go through?
  • Objectives: What do buyers need to accomplish in each stage? What are their goals?
  • Tasks: What steps will they take to accomplish those objectives?
  • Exit Criteria: How will they know when they’re done and ready to move forward?  What needs to be completed in each stage? Beyond task achievement, there is another critical element to exit criteria in a buying process… it’s also decision criteria. These are the things that each buyer must see, hear, feel, understand and believe, in each stage, to feel comfortable moving forward to the next stage, with you. Make no mistake — these criteria can vary for each buyer in your opportunity. This is what makes “the complex sale” complex.

Knowing these Exit Criteria (generally, at the persona level) and confirming them with your real buyers (specifically, at the person level), gives you a clear road map, around which you can build your plan and approach. That clarity, and your close sync with your buyers, can’t help but increase your effectiveness, as a seller.

Note: I’d recommend doing this along with Buyer Persona work that includes the various roles who are involved in the decision, along with the factors these buyers consider during a purchase (including emotional factors and other pressures, like politics). Some of this can be difficult to map generically, so if you can’t do that, remember these elements when you’re working with a real opportunity and a real set of decision makers. (And, if possible, hire a persona expert, to help you get it all right.)

A Chance to Always Be Helping, Too

Let’s be honest.  Are all your buyers this organized? Do organizations always have a well-defined buying process with defined stages, objectives, and tasks, with outcomes or exit criteria defined?  One can hope, but I can almost hear you laughing from here.  I know this varies based on many factors, including the size of the organization, the maturity of the company, and/or the competence of the buyers. While it’s troubling that not everyone will have things this defined, make no mistake that there is some way that things get done in their culture, even if employees absorb it through osmosis. When there is a lack of organized buying process, this gap also provides you with a real opportunity to introduce a logical thought process, ask great questions, and provide some structure for your buyers — not only to help them work through the process, but perhaps also to help them look good inside their own organization.

For example, in my Four Pillars of Sales Value Creation work, I talk about Operational Acumen, which I’ve seen top sales producers exhibit for years. This is an understanding of how things get done in organizations, not only their own, but in others. It’s not only which roles do what, but the players, their influence, politics, culture, and how things “really get done around here.”  Top reps assess this quickly and respond appropriately. Thinking through the recommendations in this post can help you improve your Operational Acumen, and perhaps help your buyers as well.


Well, that’s it for this post on Buying Process Exit Criteria.  As usual, this is what I think.  More importantly, what do YOU think?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the comments. I’ve also included some related reading below, that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means — let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

Transforming Sales Results

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Sales Enablers: Have you OD’d yet? You Should!

Sales Enablers: Have you Od'd Yet? You should!

The War on… Sales Productivity?

Based on the sales research results I see (much of which are based on survey results from folks like you), I know it must seem that our efforts to increase sales productivity (defined as “revenue per rep”) are as challenging as our nation’s initial War on Drugs or Prohibition.

So, with apologies for the play on words, if you want better odds, Sales Leaders, perhaps it’s time that you OD.

What is “OD” and How Can It Improve Sales Productivity?

As you’ve surmised by now, in this context, “OD” does not mean overdose. OD is an acronym for Organization Development.

According the Organization Development Network:

“OD is an effort that is:

  • Planned
  • Organization-wide
  • Managed from the top
  • Increases organization effectiveness and health
  • Through planned interventions in the organization’s processes, using behavioral-science knowledge.

 It is not a surprise that the unit of analysis for OD practitioners is organization, which means that in OD we focus on developing organization capability through alignment of strategy, structure, management processes, people, and rewards and metrics.”

More Alphabet Soup

Another similar approach to improving workplace performance is Human Performance Technology (HPT), espoused primarily by the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). It’s also known as Human Performance Improvement (HPI), as explained in this 90-second video.  The Association for Talent Development (ATD) also supports a Performance Consulting approach.

Human Performance Technology (HPT)
If you step out of the daily whirlwind of business life long enough and suspend judgment about how different these ideas are than what normally happens in sales management, you might be surprised to find valuable approaches that can help you significantly improve organizational sales performance. When you consider the tenants of OD, HPT, and Performance Consulting, there is a gold mine of opportunity here. Words and phrases I’d use to describe these disciplines include:

  • Organization-wide
  • Top-down
  • Systemic
  • Gap analysis
  • Root-cause analysis
  • Data-driven
  • Evidence-based
  • Problem-solving
  • Business case
  • Intervention (solution) development
  • Change management
  • Evaluation

I’d also use the word “effective.” This is the stuff that top consulting firms do (and performance consultants). This is the stuff that performance improvement is made of. And, this is what we need more of, in Sales.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

So, why are OD, HPT and Performance Consulting not recognized by more sales leaders and used by more sales performance improvement professionals (training, enablement, operations, effectiveness, etc.)?

“We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.”

~ Walt Kelly, cartoonist, via “Pogo”

Speaking in generalities (with a wide margin for error but also a grain of truth):

  • People that gravitate toward performance consulting roles tend to be highly analytical, measured, and detailed.
  • People that gravitate toward top sales leadership roles tend to be Type-A extroverts with a bias for action and bullet points.
  • Putting the two groups together is sometimes more like mixing oil and water than peanut butter and chocolate.

For anyone who has been around for a while in the sales profession, I’m sure you can see similarities between this and the common misalignments between Sales and Marketing. While that problem still exists in many organizations, the need for alignment gets airplay, at least, and we see progress. Improvements in technology, the blogging of experts in sales and marketing alignment, demand generation practices with better handoffs, and especially Account-Based Marketing and Selling principles have all helped, as have a focus on revenue generation and the advent of a Chief Revenue Officer role.

In contrast, the ineffectiveness of sales training (or more appropriately, the ineffectiveness of the implementations and lack of reinforcement, transfer planning and coaching) gets airplay now, but OD, HPT and Performance Consulting go all but unrecognized in the sales profession (speaking broadly, that is – there certainly are pockets of excellence).

In the long term, enhanced education in business school curricula and an increase in corporate programs on managing performance improvement could help. In the short term, though, we need to find a way to engage and educate sales leaders and sales performance professionals on these methods, and better educate performance consultants on the rigors and stresses of a sales organization and how to more effectively work with sales leaders.

It’s Worth the Effort

No matter which side of the fence you’re sitting on, I encourage you to start thinking about how we can do this as a profession. The results are worth it.
As an example, I’ve been writing recently about a Systems Approach to Sales Transformation, and highlighting what I call “The Four Sales Systems:”

Here are some results that companies have achieved by implementing one or more of the systems:

  • Achieved a $398MM accretive revenue increase in one year from final project completion.
  • Increased sales 600% annually while decreasing operating expenses by 21%.
  • Increased sales results 28.7% over previous year.
  • Increased performance of new hires, so that sales reps with 120 days on the job outperformed a control group of reps with 5 years with the company.
  • Increased sales per rep by 47% in 9 months.
  • Improved average profitability per rep by 11% in only 4 months.

Next Steps

I’d encourage you to research OD, HPT and Performance Consulting, if these disciplines are new to you.

If we want to elevate the sales profession, and the supporting professions involved in sales performance improvement, it’s time we step out of the dark ages and tap into the large body of work that exists to support us, and help us transform our sales results.


As always, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I’d sincerely enjoy hearing your thoughts, experiences, questions, suggestions, or even disagreements or rants in the Comments section. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with others. I appreciate it.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means — let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

Transforming Sales Results




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How to Build a Blended Sales Training Curriculum That Gets Results

How to Develop a Blended Sales Training Curriuclum That Gets Results

Sales training can be part of a well-designed solution set that radically improves sales performance. It can also be a tremendous waste of time, energy, and money. To get results, you need to implement sales training within the framework of an Sales Learning System, which I’ve written about previously. In this post, I’ll offer ideas about how to use blended learning strategies supported by a learning system.

The Learning Blender

Let’s start by defining “blended learning.”

The smart folks at Mindflash say that blended learning is “a term increasingly used to describe the way elearning is being combined with traditional classroom methods and independent study to create a new, hybrid teaching methodology,”and the bright folks at Knewton have created this cool infographic that you might enjoy.

In many cases when you’re discussing blended learning, the concept of the flipped classroom comes up. If you’re familiar with the Khan Academy, that’s a flipped model. ATD published a post called Flipped Learning: Maximizing Face Time and Knewton has another cool infographic on the flipped classroom, too. I was doing flipped classrooms as far back as 2003 and am a strong advocate of the model, as you’ll see in this post.

At this point, we can also start tossing around terms like synchronous, asynchronous, social learning, informal learning, and mentioning education management tools and web collaboration and virtual training environments, or we can stop worrrying about concepts and tools, and start talking about practical methods to develop a blended learning strategy that can improve sales results.

I’m going for the latter.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define blended learning this way:

“Blended learning is a mix of online, classroom, self-directed, and instructor-guided learning methods, interwoven purposefully, with the ultimate goal of achieving pre-determined learning and performance objectives.”

A Few More Words about Sales Learning Systems

It’s impossible (for me, at least) to talk about designing effective blended learning curricula in a vacuum, without a systems approach, or in this case, a Sales Learning System.

The Sales Learning System Framework

Sales Learning System

I’ve written about this concept and my framework multiple times. Most recently here, and you can see more here and here. Most of the design of effective blended learning curricula falls into the Design bucket of the Sales Learning System Framework.

Overview of Effective Blended Learning Principles

There are some key principles and practices that I’ve used over the years that you might find helpful. I’ll list them here and then share some detail about each.

Blended Learning Principles & Practices (mapped to the SLS)

Blended Learning meets the Sales Learning System

  • Ensure the Content in the blended curriculum matters (in the SLS: maps to Content)
  • Have a sound Curriculum Design strategy (maps to SLS: Design)
  • Use Self-Directed Learning (elearning) effectively (maps to SLS: Design)
  • Use Virtual Instructor-Led Training (vILT) effectively (maps to SLS: Design)
  • Use classroom-based, Instructor-Led Training (ILT) effectively (maps to SLS: Design)
  • Track Progress (maps to SLS: Design and Measures)
  • Assess learning (maps to SLS: Design and Measures)
  • Sustain learning (maps to SLS: Managers, Transfer, Coaching, Performance Management)
  • Build in accountability for Learning Transfer (maps to SLS: Design, Transfer, Coaching)

This is how you can make the connection between the blended learning design and the Sales Learning System (SLS). In reality, the content, sustainment and transfer pieces, are really SLS elements, more so than blended curriculum principles. In my mind, though, they’re not mutually exclusive, and even though a blended curriculum lives inside an SLS in Design, the curriculum needs to include and reinforce the SLS elements. The dots are interconnected.

Now, let’s look at each blended curriculum element and how it maps to the learning system in more detail.

Ensuring the Content Matters

I won’t belabor this much more, because it’s not the point of this post, but in any Effective Learning System, especially for sales, you must start with the right content that matters and will close gaps between average and top performance. This isn’t specific to a blended learning approach but is important enough to mention. It’s a fairly universal challenge, but can attest that it’s especially true for sales training, and a reason that some sales training doesn’t produce results, no matter how well it’s taught or reinforced. Get the content right, or don’t bother training.

Additional reading:

Having a Sound Curriculum Strategy

I favor using the simple, logical, and powerful instructional design concept of chunking, sequencing, and layering content to arrange and teach content effectively.

  • Chunking is putting like content together and doing it in bite-sized chunks that people can absorb and learn.
  • Sequencing is teaching it in an order than makes logical sense.
  • Layering is doing the same again, on top of something that was well-learned, to continue the learning journey.

You can apply these principles to the design of one course or the design of a curriculum. This is not specific to blended learning. This is a foundation of well-designed training in general. Obviously I’m over-simplifying, but to me, this is one of those 20 percent things, that can produce 80 percent of your results. Build training based on great learning objectives and content that close identified performance gaps, and chunk, sequence and layer your content appropriately, and you will far more effective than most.

There are notable exceptions, of course, but by and large, I’ve been disappointed by the curricula planning I’ve seen in corporate training endeavors. We can do better. We all seem to know about analysis (needs, task and gap analysis), defining competencies, creating learning objectives, and designing training effectively… but for various reasons (time, budget, resources, shifting priorities, short-term focus, and unrealistic expectations), we often find ourselves doing things differently than we know will produce results. If you want value from a sales curriculum or a blended learning strategy, you simply can’t slam it together or ignore basic principles, and expect great results.

I share some principles you might find helpful in this SlideShare presentation on basic instructional design principles, and in this deck on effective sales onboarding.

Additional reading:

Using Self-directed elearning Effectively

Elearning works very well for transferring knowledge such as terms, concepts, frameworks, and models, for providing scenarios and simulations where learners can use judgment to select the correct responses (the precursor to developing skills), and for teaching what, why, when, where (knowledge and judgment) as well as the knowledge of how to do something.

Through video and other demonstration methods, elearning can be used to provide good and poor examples of skills. It’s also an excellent means for teaching some skills, such as using a computer or software.

The great elearning skill debate: This may cause a stir with some of my elearning-advocate friends, but I do not personally believe elearning is the best selection for honing interpersonal skills such as selling or communication skills. This is my opinion based on my experiences, and there are those who disagree with me. If you’re one of them, I’d enjoy the debate.

With the use of scenarios, simulations, videos, and by providing feedback, it’s close and getting better all the time. But in my experience, without live practice in a very real-world, simulated environment with human observation, feedback/coaching, and reapplication of skills with a chance to apply the feedback and receive additional coaching, I don’t think self-directed elearning offers enough horsepower to develop interpersonal skills, especially complex selling skills mastery.

It can, however, allow you to significantly shorten expensive classroom or vILT times, better prepare learners, radically reduce lecture, and flip your classrooms into true application sessions with coaching, feedback and more practice than ever. THIS, to me, is the real power of elearning in the blended curriculum.

By the way, for those who aren’t in the learning and development field, there may be more options here than you’re aware of. Self-directed elearning can include:

  • Very professional and slick-looking, full-featured, internally- or vendor-developed elearning courses, with audio, slides, video, graphics, branching (“if this, then that” course sequencing), quizzes and assessments (if upfront, test results will determine which modules are necessary and which you’ve tested out of) and more.
  • Basic elearning courses that are like an automated PowerPoint presentation, with or without audio, likely with the “Next” buttons you’ve seen or DVR-like controls, and possibly with quizzes and assessments.
  • Watching brief recorded presentations or best practice videos.
  • Online reading, watching other videos, listening to audio recordings or podcasts, taking online assessments.
  • Online explorations (such as research assignments, scavenger hunts, site reviews).
  • Participating in an online discussion, commenting on a wiki, posting on social community, answering questions posted by others of an instructor, or more.

Additional reading:

Using Virtual Instructor-led Training Effectively

Virtual instructor-led training (vILT) works well for the same things as self-directed elearning (but is overkill for some things than can be learned without an instructor). It also excels for validating knowledge transfer, teaching knowledge and concepts that are more complex and require dialogue or facilitated discussion, for preparation for classroom-based instructor-led training (ILT) learning activities, and in some virtual learning environments with video, webcam, recording or break-out room capabilities, for skill practice and feedback.

The limits here are set only by the limits of the tools available or that you use and your creativity. Yes, most people do boring vILT, and rarely maximize the tool features that they do have, but that doesn’t need to be you. Explore the market, explore the features, and even if you can’t have the latest, brightest, shiniest new toy, do your best to maximize the features you have and keep things engaging and active.

Having said that, in one of my most effective blended curricula, we used just the most basic features of vILT (circa 2003 with WebEx) to help learners use the knowledge they gained from self-directed elearning to prepare for activities, exercises, and role plays/simulations that they would perform in their upcoming ILT class. When we didn’t need visuals, the whiteboard, polling or chat features, we also had some regular conference calls, to answer questions and review and coach on the exercise prep. It was very effective.

In one case where we were training new sales reps, they were distributed across the country and our daily (or twice-daily) virtual sessions allowed us to touch base personally, build a sense of community, keep new remote employees from feeling disconnected or overwhelmed, and offer support as needed. We often followed up one-on-one, as needed, but the group sessions helped for a positive and fun group dynamic, as well, which carried through to the ILT, where it always felt as if we all already knew each other.

Additional reading:

Using Classroom-based, Instructor-led Training Effectively

Often, in my work, this is the culmination or the apex of the learning events, where the learners really put what they learned to use, in a safe yet challenging environment that is focused on developing as much mastery as possible in the time available. As a very common form of training today, this probably requires less detail than the others, but the blended approach and flipped classroom methods do offer an advantage to radically change how classroom learning is conducted.

Often, even without the blended methods, classroom learning can be conducted much differently than it usually is, with more activity, facilitation, debriefing, and engagement. When you factor in the blended curriculum concepts we’re discussing here, the classroom experience can truly be transformed.

In my best examples, there was no real lecture required. Content had been taught and learned, assessed, validated, reinforced, and exercises prepared. Plus, people already knew each other. While there was always some level of deeper intros and ice breakers with agenda setting and housekeeping, things moved into action quickly. There was an introduction to an activity, which people had already prepped for, and then there was an active learning experience, most often with observation, feedback, coaching, and a chance to apply the feedback – using the skills again and getting more feedback.

Additional reading:

Tracking Progress

If you’re in the learning profession, this is old news but for others, if you have a learning management system (LMS), you can use it your to track and validate course completions. If you use assessments (discussed below), the validation of knowledge if more important than course completion, but your LMS does track courses started and completed, as well as assessment data, and there is value in having the data. It’s also easy to produce from an LMS. The learning, however, is the most important measurement.

If you’re moving toward using social learning, creating learning, support or knowledge-sharing communities, and informal learning, you’ll want to look into TinCan API (the Experience API or xAPI), if you haven’t already.

Additional reading:

Assessing Learning

Use assessments (well-designed knowledge tests) to validate learning occurred and ensure learners are ready for the next sequence of chunked content, which can now be layered on top of what was already learned (chuck, sequence, and layer). If you’ve gone to the trouble of properly chunking, sequencing and layering the learning experience, there is little sense in moving forward with linked content that builds, if the foundation isn’t understood. From a developmental and coaching perspective, it’s helpful in pointing out to what degree various learners understand the content, who needs additional private support, and who may be able to help or mentor others (community and peer support can be very powerful and is generally helpful for both mentors and mentees).

In many of the curricula I’ve designed, I’ve tested the same content multiple times… during learning, right after learning (post-course), and later, sometimes in subsequent courses, to ensure content stuck and that you can layer on top of it. I use review in the same way. If you sequence courses properly, you can do brief reviews of previous and prerequisite content in the follow-up courses, as well. This can create scalability and edit/revision challenges in a curriculum, so I’d only do it for the most critical foundation content where the information needs to remain in memory, be used frequently, and is important to performance, but it is effective. Providing various types of memory aids, and performance support can also be helpful.

While we’re on this topic, you can also use course assessments as pre-test tools, either to show pre- and post-course knowledge differences, or allow learners to “test out” of modules or entire courses, if they already know the content.

Additional reading:

Sustaining Learning

I used to do this solely through the above assessment techniques (before, during and after training) and post-training manager involvement (all still valid), but today, there are also tools such as count5’s Q MINDshare, Qstream, Axonify, Mindsetter, Mindmarker, and others that allow you to reinforce and sustain content in more effective ways. There are other sales enablement tools (including CRM) in which you can embed what you teach into workflow. I’d encourage the development of a sustainment strategy for your most critical content, both within a curriculum and afterward. And I would highly encourage embedding your best practices into a workflow support tool, such as Revegy or others.

Additional reading:

Building in Accountability for Transfer

I see big gaps in this practice in many organizations, but you can create accountability for learning application with purposeful transfer activities, whether self-directed (embedded in the design of the elearning courseware) or through other standard post-course transfer activities.

This is probably best shared with an example. I’ll use elearning, since it’s less common and a frequently-cited con of that medium (high drop-out or low course-completions rates).

In one onboarding curriculum, we were teaching the knowledge and prep for appointment setting in an elearning course.

  • The learners went through the content and as part of that, completed a step-by-step exercise where they built a custom script and prepared to respond to common concerns. This was based on the practices of top producers but customized for their personality and desired approach.
  • At that point, the course directed them to print their completed script (generated a PDF) and meet with their manager. Their manager had been through the course and had an accompanying workbook for their guided interactions.
  • The manager reviewed and adjusted or approved the script, provided accounts and leads, and sat down with the rep to observe and coach calls.
  • The rep was guided to track their activity in their CRM, of course, but also on a worksheet. At the end of this activity, the rep returned to the elearning and entered their activities and results (a check box that they had met with their manager and then the number of calls, contacts, presentations, appointments set). Then, the course progressed to the next module.

This pattern repeated several times over the course, each time with reps using what they learned, manager engagement, feedback and coaching, and measurement capture. Since this simple data was in the course (LMS), we in the training department could see not only which managers were participating, but the results for each learner. Today, with interfaces, there are other ways to get the same data, but I would still do this the same way. The accountability factor for learners and managers is significant, and the benefit of the data and analysis that can be done is invaluable for training departments,.

Additional reading:

Bringing It All Together

To avoid writing an ebook (possibly too late), if you haven’t read this post yet, see this interview that Roger Courville did with me. It’s worth a read, but you can also scroll down to his “Tell me what you did” question and read from there. This is just one brief example of how to bring it all together. It worked extremely well and shows how these blended learning principles were used in a Sales Learning System to produce real-world impact and improve sales results, organization-wide. It is possible.

Additional reading:

I hope this post provides some food for thought and can be a helpful reference as you consider how to build better blended learning curricula to improve sales results.


As always, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I’d sincerely enjoy hearing your thoughts, experiences, questions, suggestions, or even disagreements or rants in the Comments section. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with others. I appreciate it.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means — let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

Let’s get connected:

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach – Part 5: Sales Management

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach - Part 5 Sales Management

In Part 1 of this series, I shared my belief that the solution to many of our current sales problems, and a viable vehicle for radically transforming your sales results, is a Systems Approach to Sales. The four systems I recommend as a starting point are:Mike Kunkle's The Four Sales Systems

In Part 2 of the series, I highlighted the Sales Selection System.

In Part 3 of the series, I shared the Sales Support System (previously, just “Selling System” – I’m renaming it).

In Part 4 of the series, I shared the of the Sales Learning System, which is a subset of the Sales Support System but important and detailed enough to call-out separately.

In this 5th post in the series, I will discuss the system that is critical to the execution, sustainment, and success of all the others – the Sales Management System.

The Sales Management System

Look at the components in this system, compared to the others. Note the larger number of components and the complexity involved. When you look closely, it becomes clear why the frontline sales manager role is one of the most challenging in corporations today.

Entire books have been dedicated to this topic and this could easily become one. Time and space prevent me from getting too detailed in just one post, but I will do my best to explain the system at the high level and provide other reading to fill in the gaps.

Sales Hiring

Sales Selection (hiring) is its own system, detailed in Part 2 of this series. The science and processes behind this system provide potential for great success. That potential will only be realized if the system is executed well, consistently. The Frontline Sales Managers (FSMs or FLSMs, I’ll use the latter) are the enabler or barrier to success for this system, which is why it’s included here, in the Sales Management System.

To be clear, managers are only peripherally involved in the creation of the system. Their feedback can be very helpful when creating job profiles, determining competencies and traits, and creating situations/case studies for testing hypothetical judgment or skill validations and simulations. At the same time, manager opinions and gut-feel should not override the science you are trying to implement or anything that is based on research and data vs. experience.

Where the FLSMs truly come in, is in the execution of the system:

  • Reviewing results of psychometric assessments to prep for interviews
  • Conducting behavioral interviews
  • Leading or participating in other assessments and simulations
  • Possibly making some reference calls (the sales-manager-to-former-sales-manager calls, possibly)
  • Participating in interviewer feedback calibration sessions, to understand each interviewer’s perspective and make a final hiring determination

Get this right, and get your FLSMs engaged, bought-in, and executing effectively.

Remove Barriers to FLSM Engagement

I should probably move this up, given its importance, but wherever it sits in the graphic, this is a major key to success for FLSMs. As such, it’s worth calling out in the system as something that requires thought and focus.

  • I wrote this post on Selling Power about a company that learned why their managers weren’t coaching (they were lumping far too many low-value requirements on their FLSMs). When addressed, the gains were tremendous.
  • I wrote this post for Sales & Marketing Management about getting out of the “sales prevention business,” and while it’s mostly aimed at removing barriers for sales reps, the same thought process applies to your FLSMs.

Take a hard look at the expectations that are set for your FLSMs (or set them, clearly, if you haven’t), what success would look like, and what barriers your leadership team is tossing in their way, that prevent FLSMs from doing high-value activities with their team. Remove as many barriers as possible. Then ensure that your managers focus their new-found time on those high-value activities – most of which are other components in this system.

Management Operating Rhythm

Activities in a sales management operating rhythm (MOR), and the cadence at which they recur, may vary from company to company, based on a variety of factors (sales nuances). I’ve tried to select components here that are universal, or as universal as possible, but as always, use good judgment as to what is right for your business.

In the MOR graphic, think of:

  • The operating rhythm (left) as the cadence for how often things occur.
  • The Sales Process and Sales Methodology (middle) as the foundation for and context in which the activities to the right occur.
  • The activities (right: Lead Management down through Team & Rep Meetings) as the things that managers do to execute the MOR. These may be variable and the ones listed here, while common, are intended to be representations versus mandates.

Sales Process

It seems obvious, perhaps, but managers must be experts with your sales process and the activities that occur within it. (Surprisingly, many sales managers I speak with can’t clearly articulate the difference between process and methodology, so perhaps it isn’t as obvious as it might seem.) Sales Process is the stages an opportunity progresses through to a buying decision.

  • The Sales Process is like any other process documentation. It includes the process stages (in this case, the stages a sale moves through), the objectives of each stage, the tasks performed in each, and the desired outcomes of each (in this case, verifiable outcomes – and when properly aligned to the buying process – the buying process exit criteria).
  • The Sales Process should be a response to the buyer’s journey, not a rigid, inside-out process that reps follow robotically. As discussed in Part 3 of the series on the Sales Support System, your Sales Process should not only be aligned to the buying process but also document the buying process exit criteria. (I’ll discuss that in more detail in Pipeline Management.) This alignment and documentation work isn’t performed by sales managers, but must be well understood and executed by them, through their sales teams.
  • FLSMs should ensure that reps are identifying where buyers are in their buying process, responding appropriately, and documenting the opportunity record effectively in your CRM. This is the majority of what I mean by “Sales Process” here as a placeholder in the sales MOR, and will further detail other aspects as we progress through the activity components.
  • Deal Qualification and Pipeline Management are also part of Sales Process, but I’m choosing to call them out separately as activities that occur within the Sales Process and Sales Methodology.

Sales Methodology

Sales Methodology is what the reps do in each stage of the sales process that is sales skill related… the skills, competencies, and behaviors they use while navigating through the process with their buyers. It does not include all process tasks, since not all process tasks are sales skills.

Whatever Sales Methodology you use, your FLSMs must be expert at it, recognize when reps are or aren’t using it (activity – what and how much) and to what degree (quality), and be able to coach reps to higher levels of skill performance, which should lead to better sales results.

Methodology ties back to the Sales Support System (where it is applied) and the Sales Learning System (where it is taught, sustained, transferred and coached to mastery), so I won’t detail it further here. By placing it here, I am simply suggesting that FLSMs must understand the methodology best practices, and be able to diagnose, train, coach, and support the chosen Sales Methodology.

Lead Management

So much of this is based on the sales role being supported, how Marketing is handling Demand Generation, whether or not there is a Sales Development team, and more. This makes it difficult to recommend a universal model. However your company drives leads, and however your sales force is involved in lead generation, prospecting, and Lead Management, your FLSMs must be expert at what reps are expected to do in your company, and be able to field train and coach accordingly.

This might include thing like:

  • Social research, social marketing, and social nurturing
  • Other territory, account, and contact research
  • Trigger Event and alerts monitoring
  • Taking Marketing or SDR hand-offs and following up quickly yet effectively
  • Qualifying leads
  • Entering leads and opportunities appropriately in your CRM
  • Using the supporting Sales Enablement tools (a separate component but it applies here), and more

Deal Qualification

Whatever you call it (lead, deal, opportunity, or sales qualification), and whatever qualification system you use (there are many), being able to train, coach, and manage a qualification method is a key component to sales management. There are some obvious cross-overs between this skill and Pipeline Management (aka Opportunity Management or Funnel Management) and forecasting, but I believe that qualifying is so important and so often done poorly, that it deserves to be called out and addressed specifically.

Hopefully you are using a scoring system and can capture and track it in your CRM to create visibility and foster accountability, but that’s another topic for another day.

Pipeline Management

As mentioned above, many of these components intertwine. Pipeline Management, for example, is linked to Sales Process, Sales Methodology, Deal Qualification, and Forecast Management.

To me, the hidden magic and performance lever of Pipeline Management is the work of uncovering the buying process exit criteria per buyer/decision-maker and meeting those criteria, to gain continual commitments to move forward to the next stage. (Buying process exit criteria includes anything a buyer needs to see, hear, feel, touch or believe in the stage they’re in, to feel comfortable moving forward to the next stage with you.)

You might remember that this is covered in the Sales Support System. FLSMs must be expert in Pipeline Management, how to conduct pipeline review sessions, and be able to train, guide and coach their reps to do it expertly. Combine this with Deal Qualification and your pipeline health will improve dramatically (as will your forecast). I see this as of one of simple truths about selling that is often overlooked or done poorly.

Forecast Management

Books and countless ebooks, briefs, white papers, articles, and blog posts have been written about forecasting. Software products and companies exist with the sole purpose of better supporting this discipline. Yet, research and company performances worldwide continually prove that many can’t do this well. Mostly that’s because they don’t do the other things well that have led up to this point.

Great forecasting is a culmination of doing other things well. Do the other activities well, and forecasts improve. Sound Deal Qualification, Sales Process alignment, great Pipeline Management, and the effective execution of your Sales Methodology, will yield higher-quality opportunities with more accurate assessments of their status. This means deals will be more predictable than average, yielding far better than the low-level of forecasting accuracy that we see today.

And yes, managers must be experts in forecasting and guide reps to do what’s necessary, to allow them to forecast well. If you fix the other things, forecasting will improve. Pushing for weekly or month-end updates from reps to meet a forecast need, and then fudging most of that data or applying random filters to what you believe or don’t, will not ever result in a good forecast. Although I could sell a lot of Magic 8 Balls at month-end, I bet, if I tried.

Account Management

Again, here’s some overlap. I could have easily put this under Sales Methodology (it is one), but felt it should be called out specifically.

Why? I see way too few sales call objectives (and back-up objectives), call plans, account objectives, factor analyses, force field analyses, account plans, or the gathering, sharing and using of account intelligence, or many other aspects of strategic account management. Way too many Sales Methodologies are incomplete, focusing on subsets of selling, while missing the importance of end-to-end customer lifecycle management. (Among many other things, this is one thing I especially respect about Performance Methods, Inc. (PMI), and Steve Andersen/Dave Stein’s book, Beyond the Sales Process. I highly endorse both PMI and Steve’s/Dave’s book.)

Managers must be experts here, as well, and guide their teams toward far better strategic account management.

Team & Rep Meetings

There are various team and individual meetings that sales managers should lead, in some predetermined cadence. These may vary by company, so you should determine the right meetings, establish an expected cadence, and execute consistently. The meetings might include:

  • A weekly, biweekly, or monthly team meeting (or short weekly meetings with a longer more robust monthly meeting)
  • Pipeline meetings with the team
  • Individual pipeline and performance review meetings
  • Forecasting meetings (separate from pipeline management)
  • Performance observation: Sales call “listen-ins” (live and recordings) or field meeting “ride-alongs” (live and recordings) and the resulting field training and coaching follow-ups
  • Best-practice sharing or team training meetings
  • If you use a virtual coaching tool (and you should), that can be used in either an established cadence, or ad-hoc, as needed and preferred.

Sales Analytics & ROAM

ROAM with Training and Coaching Models

Sales Analytics

From my experience, it almost seems as if we expect that FLSMs will understand how to pull, review, interpret and use Sales Analytics through osmosis or magic. Also from my experience – it doesn’t work that way.

Most people who move into sales management roles from frontline sales roles, haven’t given much consideration to how activity metrics, lead and lag indicators, and other reporting have a dot-connection to skills and behaviors, and how the analytics can be used to diagnose areas for improvement.

When I present this slide deck which is (partly) about sales analytics, there are always plenty of light-bulbs going off and people coming up to me afterward to share the connections they made for the first time.

Based on a webinar I attended recently with Dave Brock (it was excellent) and this post he published afterward, it seems I’m not alone in thinking many managers don’t really understand what I call Sales Math (what the numbers really mean).

If you don’t offer such training for your sales managers, you should. Stop believing in magic. (Except for David Blaine. He’s creepy good.)


ROAM is a sales diagnostic model that:

  • Helps managers know where to focus coaching efforts for the great return.
  • How to dissect what’s happening and not working, to fix it.

The acronym means:

  • Results vs. Objectives (comparing, to identify gaps or shortfalls in Results)
  • Activity (review what they’re doing and how much)
  • Methodology (determine the quality of the activity, or how they’re executing the Sales Methodology)

I first used the method (originally as just RAM) in 2004, as part of a program I designed called Partnership Coaching, and got great results. I’ve used it many times since and have never seen it fail, if it was executed well.

I first published the concept publicly as RAM on LinkedIn in 2014, ten years after its debut, once I started publishing content openly. I ported it over to my own blog in early 2015.

I added Objectives just recently, thanks to the influences from my friends and respected sales management experts at Vantage Point Performance and due to a post that my buddy and sales expert, Tibor Shanto of Renbor Sales Solutions, published for Brainshark when I was working there.

Since in “Results,” I was already asking managers to look at results versus objectives to find shortfalls and areas on which to focus, I finally added an O to the model to officially make it ROAM, in 2016.

Since I’ve already explained briefly what ROAM means and have the below resources for you to review, I hope you’ll forgive that I don’t go into more detail here.

Field Training & Coaching

Field training and coaching aren’t rocket science. It just takes a top-down commitment to the need, the willingness to remove barriers, teaching these simple methods, setting up a system to capture coaching and track results, and the willingness to hold managers accountable for doing it.

In addition to the detailed webinar mentioned above, here are some resources that already exist about the models:

  • The slides from the above webinar, on SlideShare:

  • A SlideShare presentation that I delivered at GE Capital’s Mid-Market Summit:

CRM & Enablement Tools

These should be obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked at companies where the managers barely knew how to use the CRM system and needed constant assistance. And when that was the case, expecting them to be able to explain why the sales enablement tools were needed and how to use them effectively, was a lost cause.

Folks, if Frontline Sales Managers can’t get a handle on technology and master it, I simply don’t know how they will thrive in the coming years. This is 2017. Rolodexes, card files, and doing everything manually are practices of a bygone era.

Make the expectations crystal clear, and give managers the rationale and ROI case, the training, the practice if needed, and the support they need, to maximize the tools and help their reps do the same.

Sales Performance Management

Part of Sales Performance Management is embedded in the Sales Learning System (to perpetuate skills taught and cement change in the culture) and is something at which managers must excel. If we know the behaviors that produce results for reps, reps should be held to that standard (for the activities, methodologies and the results), and their performance should be managed accordingly. And… the same is true for the Frontline Sales Managers. Performance management should be a cultural expectation, applied with positive, helpful intention, as part of the fabric of the sales organization.

Lest it seem unfair that the sales organization is managed so rigorously, perhaps even beyond any other function, remember this:

  • Other departments can add tremendous value to clients and the organization.
  • Other departments can create risk for the organization or take it down (Accounting mismanaged, is a nightmare, for example).
  • But with the possible exception of Marketing (with the growing emphasis on Demand Generation, ABM and marketing-driven revenue assignment), there is no other department or function that can save the company, if Sales does not perform.

Nothing happens until somebody sells something. So, treat your Sales team well, encourage engagement, listen and solve their problems, invest in infrastructure and their training and development. Do all of that. But also manage their performance and hold them accountable, with Sales Performance Management. Frontline Sales Managers must know how to do this, and do it well.

But today, Sales Performance Management is even more than that. Gardner recently published its 2017 report, Critical Capabilities for Sales Performance Management. In it, Gartner describes SPM solutions as:

“…a suite of operational and analytical functions that automate and unite back-office operational sales incentives processes. SPM is implemented to improve sales execution and operational efficiency.

Capabilities include:

– sales incentive compensation management (ICM)
– objectives management
– quota management and planning
– territory management and planning
– advanced analytics (benchmarking, predictive and prescriptive, and machine learning/cognitive)
– gamification.”

The most powerful statement in Gartner’s report, to me, speaks to the potential of SPM and the supporting software, and why everyone should be considering it:

“SPM accelerates representatives’ time to value by providing real-time visibility into pay and performance. It provides opportunity estimation of expected commissions, thus encouraging sales representatives to keep more accurate forecasting in the CRM system, and provides motivation for increased close rates on profitable sales. SPM, bridged with CRM, raises execution results of companies’ go-to-market efforts with the execution of more effective compensation plans at the territory and field representative levels.”

At a minimum, we must have frontline sales managers actively engaged in pipeline management, forecasting, and rep performance management, with sales analytics with the corresponding field training and coaching.  At best, it’s also time to explore the possibilities that SPM software can offer, to further support your managers and sales force.

And with that, I will end this 5th and final post in this series (A Systems Approach to Sales) on the Sales Management System. I hope this post, and the entire series, has been thought-provoking and valuable for you.

Author Note:

You can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here and Part 5 here.


As always, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I have poured myself into this series and spent countless hours on these 5 posts. I’d sincerely enjoy hearing your thoughts, experiences, questions, suggestions, or even disagreements or rants in the Comments section. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with others. I appreciate it.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means — let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

Let’s get connected:


sales transformation | sales force transformation | sales training | sales talent development | sales enablement | sales force enablement | sales manager enablement | sales readiness | sales effectiveness | sales optimization

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach – Part 4: Sales Learning

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach - Part 4 Sales Learning System

In Part 1 of this series, I shared that the solution to our current sales problems and the vehicle for transforming your sales results is a Systems Approach to Sales. The four systems I cited are:

Mike Kunkle's The Four Sales Systems

Sales Selection System

Sales Support System

Sales Learning System

Sales Management System

In Part 2 of the series, I detailed the Sales Selection System.

In Part 3 of the series, I shared the Sales Support System.  

In this Part 4 post, I will share the details of the Sales Learning System, which is a subset of the Sales Support System.

The Sales Learning System

Sales Support and Sales Learning Systems

History Repeats Itself

This isn’t the first time I’ve shared the Learning System, so there are many other resources you can access for details:

Learning System Redux, Anew

Given the availability of all that work, I won’t go into great detail here, but I won’t just redirect you, either. As you can see above, the components of the system include:

  • The Right Content
  • Effective Instructional Design
  • Sales Manager Engagement
  • Purposeful Transfer Plans
  • Coaching Excellence
  • Measurement Plans
  • Performance Management
  • An Integrated, Aligned, Change Plan

The Right Content

The best training or learning system in the world can’t overcome poor content that won’t produce real-world results. When training is the right solution, it all starts here. Training pros will be very familiar with needs and gap analysis, and I strongly encourage Top Producer Analysis to find the differentiating practices between top sales producers and middle producers. Your content should be based on this, or if you use a purchased sales methodology, at least customized to reflect your replicable top-producer practices.

Effective Instructional Design

There is a big difference between presenting information and designing effective training. Much is written on this topic, and I have a presentation on Basic Instructional Design Principles on SlideShare, as well. You should also check out the Successive Approximation Model. Whichever methods you use, my brief recommendations here would be:

  • Chunk, sequence and layer the content, and assess frequently. (More on that in this post on Sales Onboarding and this recent webinar I did with Brian Lambert of Oxygen Learning.)
  • Separate knowledge and skill and blend the learning, combining asynchronous learning (training the knowledge prereqs with elearning or other self-directed learning methods), with synchronous virtual instructor-led training and classroom skills-based training (a flipped classroom with much practice, feedback loops, and re-runs).
  • Use as many simulations as possible to model the real-world and teach how knowledge and skills plug into process and workflow, in-context. (Just like when teaching Microsoft Word… don’t just teach the menus, teach the workflow of how to build a document).
  • If you don’t truly understand performance-based instructional systems design, please hire or rent someone who does.

Sales Manager Engagement

You should engage your Frontline Sales Managers everywhere possible (based on the organizational tolerance for it, which, trust me, will create natural limits). Here are some examples.  Sales managers:

  • Were often the best sales people, so they’ll have great content feedback as Subject-Matter Experts and ex-top producers.
  • Need to develop buy-in for the content and support it enthusiastically with their reps.
  • Need to understand the content (in as much detail as the reps) and know what their reps are learning.
  • Must be able to diagnose performance issues and assess whether reps are using the best practices learned in training.
  • Must be prepared and enabled to field-train, sustain knowledge, help reps apply skills, and coach to mastery (all of which are part of the Sales Learning System).

Purposeful (Sustainment and) Transfer Plans

How do you plan to get training out of the classroom and used on the job? This is where most training fails. In the training profession, the application of what was learned in training to the job, is often referred to as “Training Transfer.” Consider:

  • Reps can’t apply what they don’t remember, so develop plans to reinforce content and improve retention – aka “knowledge sustainment.” (More and more tools are popping up to assist with this, many using spaced repetition and gamification principles.)
  • Even if they remember, it doesn’t mean reps will use what they learned. Develop Plans for sales managers to follow-up, help reps prepare to use skills on-the-job, and observe skills in action. You can provide “Meetings in a Box” (aka Manager Toolkits) for managers to run meetings to reinforce concepts and get reps to prepare to use skills with real buyers. Performance support like forms and job aids, or electronic performance support systems (EPS or EPSS), can help with this.
  • Building training content into Sales Enablement applications/tools or CRM and process workflow, make great sense. Do everything you can to turn the top-producer practices into “the way we do things around here.”

Sales Coaching Excellence

This applies generally – good evaluative and developmental coaching skills are required for sales excellence. If I need to convince you about this, you’re reading the wrong post. Some ideas:

  • Coaching on using what was taught (activity) and how well the skills are being used (quality) are a key part of the above transfer plans – but even after the skills have transferred, coaching will sustain and grow the skills.
  • Sales Managers already should understand the content, but also need to know how reporting and analytics indicate gaps in the top-producer behaviors that were taught, and how to coach to close those gaps.
  • There is much enablement and support that can be provided to Sales Managers here. While managers are generally sharp folks, we shouldn’t assume that everyone will make the dot-connections on their own. You can provide support materials to help them reinforce the training with reps, training on how to diagnose gaps, and how to coach as effectively as possible (and separately, how to manage and lead their teams and exceed at other aspects of their complex and difficult role). I’ll share more about this in the next post on Sales Management Systems.

Measurement Plans

We all know that what gets measured gets done, so don’t leave this out. Measurement addresses what success will look like, and how you will monitor results to determine if you’re achieving the desired outcomes or need to pivot. You should:

  • Include both leading and lag indicators, with verifiable outcomes.
  • Measure both the learning (progress reports, learning assessments, feedback documentation) as well as post-training performance results (coaching sessions, and metrics that indicate progress or results for whatever behaviors were trained).

Sales Performance Management

Beyond the transfer plans and developmental coaching required to ensure training transfer and post-training success, every organization needs a great Sales Performance Management system. Utilizing what was taught in training (for reps) and coaching and developing reps based on that (for sales managers), should become part of the ongoing performance management in the organization.

An Integrated, Aligned, Change Plan

Think this stuff all happens on its own? I’d say “Think again,” but I believe you already know it doesn’t work that way. Everyone groans when I say that every sales performance improvement initiative is a change management project, but it’s true.

If you’ve truly designed or chosen content that will lift results if used, it makes sense to create a plan for leading and managing the change necessary to get those results. It’s a great start to:

  • Get the various elements of the Sales Learning System together.
  • Get everyone aligned around them
  • Provide the training and reinforcement for reps and managers.
  • Continue the tracking (measurement and reporting) and focus on getting the results you intended.
  • Over-communicate about expectations, results, challenges, pivots, successes, and what’s required to stay focused on the initiative until the change is cemented in the culture and becomes “the way we do things around here.”

Without going into greater detail now, but offering the above additional resources, I’m going to stop here for this 4th post in the series on Sales Learning Systems. I hope you’ve found this post, and the entire series so far, to be thought-provoking, practical, actionable, and helpful.

Author Note:

You can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here and Part 5 here.


So, as usual, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts, experiences, questions, or rants in the comments section. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with others.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means — let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

Let’s get connected:


sales transformation | sales force transformation | sales training | sales talent development | sales enablement | sales force enablement | sales manager enablement | sales readiness | sales effectiveness | sales optimization

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach – Part 3: Sales Support

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach - Part 3 Graphic

In Part 1 of this series, I shared that the solution to our current sales problems and the vehicle for transforming your sales results is a Systems Approach to Sales. The four systems I cited are:

Mike Kunkle's The Four Sales Systems

In Part 2 of the series, I highlighted the Sales Selection System.

In this Part 3 post, I will share the details of the Sales Support System.

The Sales Support System

Sales Support System

It looks like a lot, but as we walk through the components, I think you’ll see how the puzzle pieces fit together. This system supports both sales readiness and sales enablement.

Buyer Personas: Ensure market and buyer persona knowledge

The first element in the Sales Support System is knowing your market and buyers. You can read elsewhere (like here, here, here and here) about the different approaches to building buyer personas. Good personas include so much more than a “profile” of your buyers, but I still think that concept helps most people grasp what a persona is.

  • Who buys from you? What are their roles/titles and responsibilities? What size company are they typically working in?
  • What problems, opportunities, and risks (PRO) do they face? What are their needs and wants (relative to the problems you can solve)?
  • How are they measured? What are the metrics that really matter?
  • What is their typical budget?
  • What are the implications of not effectively addressing those PROs?
  • What happens if they fail at addressing the PROs? What are the upsides for them, if they do succeed?
  • What other pressures are they under?
  • Who else in their organization do they typically work with?
  • What is their buying process and decision process, when they act to seek solutions?
  • What are their decision criteria – what verifiable outcomes and buying process exit criteria are important to them, at each stage of their journey (meaning: what do they need to see, hear, feel, know and/or believe at each stage to feel comfortable moving forward to the next stage of their journey, with you)?

When you think of personas as people, it’s helpful, but remember the difference. Personas provide outstanding intelligence for guiding your marketing efforts, and for preparing sales reps to approach buyers they don’t know a lot about yet. Personas are based on research and data, but they are still amalgams or generalizations. Marketing generally remains a “one-to-many” approach, while sales is “one-to-one” or “one-to-a-few.” When selling, you need to get beyond the initial persona research and assumptions.

Exit criteria for a specific buyer, for example, may be very close to what the persona research indicates, but as a sales professional working with other humans, you need to get to the nitty-gritty of the problems, needs, opportunities, risks, metrics, pressures, politics, emotional factors, and the entire individualized situational analysis – for the real people making the buying decision.

Buying Process & Exit Criteria: Align sales process to buying process with decision/exit criteria

Once you know the buying journey that most of your prospects traverse, you can align your sales process to support it. I don’t want to minimize other aspects of process alignment – this is important work (and often missing or done poorly with an inside-out perspective rather than outside-in). Yet, I place the heaviest emphasis here on preparing to support the buying process exit criteria for your buyers. You can read more about using buying process exit criteria in this post.

I contend that this is the primary work of opportunity management and a key lever for performance improvement. If you understand your buyer’s exit criteria for every stage, as mentioned in the previous section (what do buyers need to see, hear, feel, know and/or believe at each stage to feel comfortable moving forward to the next stage of their journey, with you) it removes the superstition of selling and allows reps to focus on exactly what matters, delivering just what the buyer needs and wants, when they need and want it.

Just as with personas, exit criteria can be documented generally, but when selling, must be discovered and understood for each real buyer on the decision team. While I don’t always call it out specifically by saying “qualification methodology” – that’s what this is (or, it’s part of it, at least). It’s an understanding of the decision criteria for each buyer. Of the myriad of qualification methods available, whichever you use, this must be included to be effective.

Buyer Engagement Content: Create buyer engagement content that aligns with decision/exit criteria

I’m sure you’re seeing that exit criteria is like a needle and thread that weaves through these first few components of the Sales Support System. If you know what buyers generally want to see, hear, feel, know and/or believe in each stage of their buying journey to feel comfortable moving forward with you, you can create marketing and sales content (sales asset management) that’s aimed at satisfying those needs and wants.

What you learn about your buyers – their problems, risks, opportunities, needs and wants – can also fuel your content marketing plan, demand generation approach, and SDR/sales prospecting plans.

Sales Enablement Technology: Use tools to improve efficiency and effectiveness

Years ago, before “sales enablement” was even a phrase, a mentor was fond of saying that “technology is just an enabler.” He was referring to elearning technology at the time, but the sentiment remains true today and certainly applies equally to sales enablement technology. Circa 1995, he may also have been the first person I heard say that “a fool with a tool is still a fool,” which I hear a lot today (and remains true).

I recently worked for a sales enablement solution provider (aka a tool company) and maintain my belief that the right tools, well implemented, can increase both efficiency and sales effectiveness. The challenge is that there are so many tools now, all making wild claims about their impact.

My advice is caveat emptor. Be very clear about what you’re trying to accomplish and support, in advance, and seek purposeful solutions, rather than spending time with every tool vendor who calls, listening to pitches and watching demos for disparate, disconnected solutions. Since stringing tools together can end up somewhere between the Frankenstein monster and a patchwork quilt, I lean toward integrations and vendors who solve multiple problems (when possible) versus a series of point solutions. You need to figure out what’s right for you, but whatever that is, be purposeful. There are limits to budget, sales force mindshare and attention, and the ability to implement and gain adoption.

In my Sales Support System, in this bucket, I tend to focus on tools that:

  • Help support a Sales Learning System and Sales Readiness (the Sales Learning System is a component of the Sales Support System, but I will detail that separately in the next post in this series, because there is a lot to it, as a system of its own). In addition to enabling and managing elearning and fostering knowledge sustainment, this might also include:
  • Help manage, share, and track content usage, as an enabler for buyer engagement (with content that, of course, supports their exit/decision criteria). It works best if the content can be served up to reps in context of the buying/sales process in their workflow (CRM).
  • Help with research, lead generation, and prospecting.
    • Serving up training content or reminders, performance support (forms or worksheets), insights, or playbooks, when the reps needs them.
    • Providing workflow support for adoption of best practices for lead gen, opportunity management, and strategic account management.

Sales Process & Methodology: Use a buyer-oriented sales methodology

Aside from aligning your sales process to the buying process, and detailing the exit criteria, you also need to detail the stages, objectives, and tasks/steps in the process, teach it to reps (and managers), and support the workflow in CRM (and possibly with others apps).

Despite the importance of and need for sales process work, the real magic happens with your sales methodology.

So – for clarity – the sales process includes the stages a sale moves through, the objectives of each stage, the tasks performed in each, and the desired outcomes of each.

In contrast, the sales methodology is WHAT exactly the reps do in each stage (more detailed than tasks, it’s the models, skills, and behaviors they use) and HOW the reps perform those tasks – meaning how well (the quality) they use the models/skills. In other words, it’s how they sell and how they interact with the buyers – and not just “how” but “how well.”

Without naming names, the bulk of the vendor sales methodologies we hear about most often are incomplete, in my opinion, or at least don’t support the full customer lifecycle.

  • A few are aimed at top-of-funnel prospecting and lead gen.
  • Many are aimed at how to conduct a sales call (most are outdated for today’s complex B2B enterprise selling environments and team selling).
  • Perhaps an equal or slightly fewer number include full opportunity management.
  • Far too few focus on strategic account management.
  • There are various supporting skills like time management (which is really self- and task-management and organization skills), territory management, delivering compelling and effective sales messaging, conducting business conversations and needs dialogue, using business and financial acumen (needed for the sales conversations/business dialogue and not to be under-estimated; it’s so often missing and is the language of business for executive buyers – see the next component of the Selling System), and more.
  • Then there are a smattering of methodologies for things like negotiating, making effective presentations, and other point solutions, as well as newer methodologies like insight selling.

Similar to the tool market, it’s a jumble of options.

Whether you have the expertise internally to build, or you decide to buy, you should examine what your top producers do (to deeply customize) and what industry best practices exist, around every sales/buyer interaction that occurs along your customer lifecycle, from initial account research on one side, to strategic account management on the other. You should have a recommended, “What good looks like” model defined for every major seller/buyer interaction in that lifecycle. Obviously, you should start with whatever is most important right now, based on strategic plans for the year, but you should plan to cover the full lifecycle.

And then, you should ensure that the methodology is modern, buyer-oriented, consultative, solution-focused, and outcome-driven.

I’m not going to detail or recommend specific sales methodologies here, but make no mistake… this is where the magic happens, or doesn’t.

Market and Business Acumen: Train reps to engage buyers in valuable business conversations

This is an outgrowth of the sales methodology, with a similar needle and thread connection, as you saw earlier on the buyer-focused side of the Selling System diagram. To create real value and differentiation, and conduct effective sales/business conversations (including discovery and eventually, solution dialogues), reps must have the business acumen to uncover problems that matter enough to solve and the ability to discuss the value of solutions. To go beyond that, I’d suggest that my Four Pillars of Sales Value Creation come into play here:

  • Customer Acumen starts on the left side of the Selling System diagram, with market knowledge and buyer personas, and evolves deeper into a real understanding of your buyers’ business, a complete situation analysis, and an understanding of what matters to each of the decision makers. Proving your interest in them and your deep understanding of their situation is the foundation of credibility and trust – especially when you do so without discussing your solution until you fully understand the problem (which is why I consider patience to be a selling superpower).
  • Business and Financial Acumen are almost a ticket to entry in these discussions, if you are going to earn credibility, ask the right questions to uncover problems that matter enough to solve (helping to avoid deal stalls and No Decision status), and understand how their problem impacts the metrics that really matter to them (and next, how your solution will impact those same metrics).
  • Solution Acumen includes the ability to select the right solution to the problem, the ability to work with the buyer to co-create the solution or how it will be applied (fostering buy-in and ownership), and the ability to communicate the value of solutions by tying them to the resolution of Problems, Risks, or Opportunities and the attainment of the desired outcomes (again, reflected in the metrics that really matter).
  • Operational Acumen may play a smaller role in earlier discussions, but eventually, the ability to navigate complex organizations, relationships, politics, and the knowledge of how to get things done (during the sales process and afterward) in both the selling and buying organizations, provides real value.

I’d be pleased if most reps had the market and business/financial acumen to have valuable sales and business conversations, but when you plug in the Four Pillars, the Sales Support System becomes even more effective (as will your sales reps).

Analytics: Use analytics to track training, content, sales behavior, and outcomes

Whether it’s data from your CRM, LMS, or a separate business intelligence tool with drill-down dashboards, having good analytics is a foundational element that underpins the Selling System. You want to determine the metrics that really matter in terms of learning performance and sales performance – and may want to consider lead and lag indicators for both. Here are just a few examples that I share in another presentation on Sales Onboarding.

In addition, you want to consider each component of the Sales Support System to determine whether you have or want analytics for each, and if so, what they would be.

  • You may not need ongoing measures or analytics for buyer personas, for example (although you could track which ones were involved in each deal, which ones most often start deals, or which are most often your Champion or Economic Buyer), but you would want to incorporate a qualification scoring system in your CRM, which took decision criteria and buying process exit criteria into consideration.
  • You would want data around the usage and consumption of content during an opportunity cycle, and to eventually try to correlate the use of certain content pieces to win-rates or the progression of opportunities from one stage to the next.
  • Business acumen could be measured with an assessment or simulation score.
  • For sales methodology, you could use a competency assessment or skills certification program.

I’m sure you get the idea… consider each component of the system and do what makes sense, adds value, and can be tracked, for your business. And of course, the sales metrics are a given. For insight into a dashboard that can be used to help managers determine where to coach for the best results, see this post and slides 8-13 of this SlideShare presentation.

Sales Learning System: Enable the Sales Support System with a Sales Learning System

Sales Support and Sales Learning Systems

This is another foundational component of the system. Without the ability to teach, sustain, apply, and master the other components, the system fill fade and fail faster than you can say “poor execution.” The Sales Learning System is the component that perpetuates it all. Which is exactly why I’m going to stop here and detail the Sales Learning System in its own post, next time.

I could certainly have gone deeper on this system, but to prevent this post from becoming an ebook, I’ll stop here and see what reactions or questions I get, and determine if more might be needed, later.

Author Note:

You can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here and Part 5 here.


So, as usual, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts, experiences, questions, or rants in the comments section. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with others.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means… let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

Let’s get connected:


sales transformation | sales force transformation | sales training | sales talent development | sales enablement | sales force enablement | sales manager enablement | sales readiness | sales effectiveness | sales optimization

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach – Part 2: Sales Selection

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach - Part 2 GraphicIn part 1 of this series, I wrote about the challenges we face in the sales profession and shared my opinion that…

…the solution to our current sales problems – and the vehicle for transforming your sales results – is a Systems Approach to Sales.

There are many sales systems, but the four I prioritized as the “movers and shakers” were these, which I dubbed “The Fantastic Four” (Marvel Comics: please don’t sue me, I’m a fan.)

The Fantastic Four :: The Four Sales Systems

  1. Sales Selection System
  2. Sales Support System
  3. Sales Learning System
  4. Sales Management System

The Four Sales Systems 2x2

Today, I’m going to dive into the system that lays the foundation for all of the others to produce the best results… an effective Sales Selection System.

Thoughts about Sales Selection

Can you pick your next sales team (both reps and managers) or individual hire, and get it right? What percent of the time?

Allow me to get passionate (aka, rant) here for a moment. This is the foundation on which everything else builds. It’s Jim Collins’ famous advice from his book, Good to Great, where he wrote, “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” The other systems are powerful. They help you maximize the potential of your talent. In fact, great systems can help you get above-average performance from otherwise average players, which is why I build systems. I’m fond of quoting the late Geary Rummler…

“Put a good performer in a bad system, and the system wins almost every time.”

Geary Rummler , founding partner of Performance Design Lab and co-founder of The Rummler-Brache Group  

So, it’s obvious I’m a systems guy. A bad system will drag down good performers. But hear this clearly. If you don’t have the right players in the right roles, the other three systems simply won’t produce the maximum possible results. Any one system will do something for you. Combine them and it gets even better. But you simply can’t over-compensate for the lack of appropriate talent.

  • If you want to improve your sales onboarding and decrease ramp-up time while increasing average new-hire production — the first step of effective sales onboarding is to hire the right talent for the right roles.
  • If you want to increase the performance of an entire sales team, there are a lot of things you can do, but the single biggest is to put the right manager in place (hiring and promoting sales managers effectively).

We all know this, right? Heads nod around board room tables whenever I say stuff like this. So here’s the big question…


Yeah, okay, I’m a little excitable about this. I’ve seen the massive impact it can make. I’ve seen first-year, new-hire churn nose-dive from 75% to 25%. I’ve seen a team with solid B players, but no hardcore A players, double their average monthly production in six months’ time with the right (replacement) sales manager in place. In both examples, there were other factors and initiatives in play, but they wouldn’t have worked as well without the right talent in place.

And conversely, twice in my career I’ve had reputable, well-qualified, highly-experienced vendors do complete talent audits of the sales force (reps and managers), with approved job profiles, competency measurements, psychometric assessments, calibrated reporting, and more. Leaders were engaged throughout the process and signed-off on each step. Everyone was educated about how the process and tools worked and what they would tell us. And when the final reports rolled in, senior leaders didn’t like what they were being told, and the reports got stuck on the shelf. Think results improved? In both cases, eventually, there were layoffs.

For those of you who are now clapping, laughing, or crying, and may actually want to do something differently, here’s a better way to approach sales selection.

Elements of a Sales Selection System

Determine Sales Competencies:

Determine the competencies (skills and behaviors) needed for sales success, in your company, for your various roles. There will be overlap between roles and other things that may be indigenous, but list them all and create a library from which to pull. This is the foundation for everything else in this system. You need to get this right, and there are experts who can help.

I added plenty of resources here because of the importance of the foundation of defining sales competencies by role. I won’t do that everywhere else, or this will be an ebook.

Determine Traits:

Determine the traits (aka attributes or characteristics; personality) required to support the competencies and thrive in the various, challenging roles. (In addition to high skill levels, selling requires certain mindsets and traits — it’s more like being an Olympic athlete than an accountant.) These may also vary by role. Create a library, as with your competencies.

Create Job Documentation:

By sales role, create a job description and job specifications or job profile, especially documenting the tasks required for success and slotting in the competencies and traits you defined, to build the requirements for each role.

Select Psychometric Assessments:

Find statistically-validated psychometric assessments that can assess the competencies and traits.

Approaches vary, but since I’m a believer in sales nuance, I prefer assessing and profiling top-producers inside a company to find more like them, rather than assessing against a stock “sales profile.” Even better, if possible, profile the top, bottom and middle performers, and look for statistically-valid differences between top and middle performers and the top and bottom (helps you know what patterns to avoid as much as what patterns to prefer). If you have a small sales force, you may not be able to do quite as much valid analysis of your own data, and may need to reply more on the assessment company’s experience, until you build your own data by hiring more and correlating to performance.

Some vendors sell their assessment as a “weed out” tool. Most will advise you that the assessment should be weighed as a third of the decision process. I prefer to use the assessment to inform the interview and the final decision, more than a weed out factor (or perhaps you might weed out some, based on how far a candidate scores outside your ideal).

Whatever you do, be consistent. Other than validity studies, that’s what keeps it legal and ethical.

  • Note: I don’t have a Ph.D in psychometrics, but from the research I’ve done, I prefer normative assessments to ipsative. Those selling ipsative assessments obviously disagree with me, so do your own research, talk to experts, and find the right approach for you. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good – there is no perfect assessment. Demand validity and “settle” for excellence. Any statistically-validatedapproach will likely be far better than what you’re doing today, especially if weaved in with these other methods.

For those interested in exploring assessments or just learning more, here are some good, non-partisan educational resources:

Implement Behavioral Interviewing:

Establish behavioral interview questions to gauge whether candidates possess these competencies and traits and can provide examples of such from their past (past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior). Establish a way to take notes and score answers, perhaps against a best-case answer. Learn how to conduct a behavioral interview and guide candidates to provide detailed stories and examples through effective questioning. A good framework is SAR: Ask the candidate to give you an example of a time when they [fill in the blank with the behavior you want to assess). Guide them to provide the Situation (which relates to the competency or trait you’re assessing), the Action they took, and the Result they got (and possibly, what they learned from it).

Test Situational/Hypothetical Judgment:

Establish some challenging hypothetical scenarios (perhaps built from real case studies as your company) and prepare questions and best-case responses to assess candidates’ answers against.

Orchestrate Skill Validation:

Create role plays or simulations (sims) to validate that candidates can actually demonstrate the skills they verbally tell you they have. Sims can be low-tech role plays (please don’t do “sell me this pen”) or there are high-tech options with virtual coaching solutions, virtual roleplays, or full-blown, online, branched simulations with scoring. Your mileage may vary, but roleplays work. Hiring an SDR rep or field rep who will prospect? Have them email you and call you. Give them a real or simulated case study or prospect, and see what they can do (calling you, not the real prospect). Use your imagination here, but keep the tasks and sims as real-life as possible, and see how candidates handle themselves.

Perform Background & Reference Checks:

For finalists, do background checks (employment, education, criminal, and as desired, drug testing, following HR and Legal guidance) and reference checks. This is just common sense, but since common sense isn’t always common practice, don’t leave this stuff out.

Sidebar – Consider Topgrading for Sales:

This is its own system by Brad Smart, not mine, but it deserves the mention. The Topgrading for Sales system and book was co-authored by Brad and Greg Alexander of Sales Benchmark Index, who used Topgrading for Sales very successfully at EMC, before he started SBI.

Putting It All Together

This is where you weave together the above elements (or the ones you choose) so that there is a structured, logical process for executing. (Get consultant advice if you need it). In some companies, especially where each hire was critical, I have implemented all the elements. In others, I selected the combination that made the most sense for the company and culture.

In the link above from AON/Sales Management Association, this slide provides good perspective (and includes some things my system does not, like biodata, which some companies and industries, like insurance sales, do use effectively):

Things to Consider

Many companies use behavioral interviewing (or so they say; I’ve interviewed at some where they said they did, yet no one asked me a single behavioral question) but have no plan for how various interviewers will split up the interview questions or no plan to calibrate their ratings of the candidate at the end (which would require using questions consistently and actually taking notes of the responses and rating them). Have a plan.

With some assessment products, if you use the psychometric assessments before the interview, the assessment will provide behavioral questions to help you dig deeper into an area where the candidate did not fit the profile as closely as desired.

A Side Note on Sourcing: I once developed a selection system for a business that was highly effective, but we ran into a roadblock shortly after implementation. After we developed the ideal profile, there wasn’t a single candidate in the pipeline who was remotely close to qualifying. Keep in mind that few candidates are an exact match. People are, well, human. There’s a give and take in hiring. If the person can learn, is willing to, and will accept coaching, you can teach the right person new skills. For traits, you need to be a bit more selective, but also accept some shortfalls than can be compensated for in other ways or coached. In the above case, we didn’t have anyone remotely close to the new profile. We had learned to hire right, but now needed to source right (for the new hiring profile). For that, we worked very closely with Recruiting and HR, and figured things out. Interesting lesson though.

I can’t run through every combination or scenario, but these are the sorts of things you need to think through. An experienced consultant or vendor partner can help with this, and establish a flow and process. While putting a selection system in place like this seems daunting, it’s the research, project work, decisions, and implementing a new process that is the hard part. Once you have the elements in place and a sensible process, and have people trained on how to use the system, you’ll build momentum quickly, as people start to see it working. When you consider how absolutely critical it is to have the right sales talent, and the costs of turnover, failed reps, or the opportunity loss of barely-successful who usually miss quota, you’ll be glad you invested the time and energy to hire right.

Next time, we’ll talk about building an Effective Selling System.

Author Note:

You can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here and Part 5 here.


Related Webinar – Watch the On-demand Replay!

Aligning an Effective Learning System with an Effective Selling System for Breakthrough Sales Results

I did a webinar on 2 of the 4 systems on The Sales Experts Channel via BrightTALK. You can watch it here.


As usual, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with others.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means… let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

Let’s get connected:


sales transformation | sales force transformation | sales training | sales talent development | sales enablement | sales force enablement | sales manager enablement | sales readiness | sales effectiveness | sales optimization | sales operations

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach – Part 1 (Overview)

Transform Your Sales Results with a Systems Approach - Part 1 Graphic
It Ain’t Easy, Making Green

With apologies to Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog for that header, and apologies to you for the poor attempt at humor, I think we can agree that the road to sales performance improvement is a noble yet challenging path.

If you work in sales leadership or a sales performance improvement role, you know it’s not easy to properly select, prepare, manage, lead, and change a sales force to achieve sales growth.

True, right? There are so many factors to consider, so many levers to align and pull, and so much complexity to manage, that most leaders don’t know where to start, to truly make an impact. This is why we hear about top sales leaders turning over every 18-24 months.

This is also why there is so much thrashing in our profession, with leaders trying to push harder, faster, and longer to get better results. It’s why we tinker and settle for a 5% to 10% performance improvement–rather than overhauling to blow the doors off–and why we’re relieved when we hit such a small number.

I don’t admit this often, because I try to position and push to spur leaders to action and to think differently, but part of me truly understands and empathizes with this plight. I get it. It’s hard work. We’ve all heard the sales stats that are shared by many, such as:

  • 61% of new salespeople take at least 7 months to ramp up
  • 43% of sales reps miss quota
  • 25.5% of forecast opportunities end in “No Decision”

~ Source: CSO Insights (report:

I could go on, listing other research stats, but I’ll spare you. (That’s not a slap at industry analysts. I respect them and all the research that’s published. Frankly, I’d enjoy doing that work. I just know you understand the pain already, because you see and hear these stats daily, and you live it, in the field.) We also know from our experience that:

  • It’s hard to get time out of the field for training reps and managers
  • It’s difficult to get frontline managers focused on developmental coaching
  • “Flavor of the month” thinking often detracts from focused execution of initiatives that could help

I’ve read recently from AON that sales turnover is at a 5-year high. Yet we know that the costs of sales turnover are staggeringly high.

Clearly, in the sales profession, we’re not making enough progress and need to do something differently.

I know how to fix the problem. And I’m sorry.

I wish I had something flashy to say now. I wish I had a silver bullet or a new app or sales enablement software that would change everything. But I don’t. And neither does anyone else. (Having said that, sales enablement software can certainly be part of the solution to create efficiency, foster effectiveness, and enable and support the things I’ll talk about in this series).

The real solution is one that most don’t want to hear about or tackle. We’re not teaching enough of this in business schools. Very few current leaders seem to have exposure to it (or act like they do). It’s sort of arcane and only talked about in geeky circles. You probably know what I’m about to say from the title of this post:

The solution to our current sales problems and the vehicle for transforming your sales results is a Systems Approach to Sales.

When I say this, or remind sales enablement leaders that our work is really change management, I always feel like I should apologize or duck. But that doesn’t change the solution. There is an entire body of work dedicated to organizational performance improvement that we need to bring into the forefront of the sales profession, and stop operating on hope, half-implemented solutions, point solutions (unless part of an overall plan), and the harder/faster/longer method.

The Fantastic Four > The Four Sales Systems

There are quite a few systems in the sales performance ecosystem that a sales consultant can address. I’m not even going to attempt to discuss them all. I’ll focus on just four that commonly fall under the purview and span of control of sales enablers and sales readiness pros. They are the:

  • Sales Selection System (see Part 2 post here
  • Sales Support System (see Part 3 post here)
  • Sales Learning System (see Part 4 post here)
  • Sales Management System (see Part 5 post here)
Mike Kunkle's The Four Sales Systems

Why these systems?

Does compensation not matter? You bet it does. But it won’t radically move the needle if you have the wrong reps and don’t support them properly.

Does your GTM strategy matter, in terms of account assignments and territory design? Absolutely, and the same applies as it did for comp–even if the accounts are assigned well and territories are perfect, it won’t matter if the reps can’t execute.

Shouldn’t you tackle all the systems? Eventually, sure. But if you start with these four and ensure they are aligned and working, you can radically improve sales performance over the course of a year.

If these are all in place in your company, move forward. But I’m betting they’re not and that you can move the needle on the metrics that really matter, with these four systems, in your company.

In fact, I’ll go as far to say:

If a sales organization gets The Four Systems only 80% right, they will blow the doors off, YOY.

Are you ready? This is just the tee up. I’ll be back as soon as possible and take on the systems, one by one.

Author Note:

Related Webinar – Watch the On-demand Replay!

Aligning an Effective Learning System with an Effective Selling System for Breakthrough Sales Results

I did a webinar on 2 of the 4 systems on The Sales Experts Channel via BrightTALK. You can watch it here.


As usual, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with others.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means… let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

Let’s get connected:


sales transformation | sales force transformation | sales training | sales talent development | sales enablement | sales force enablement | sales manager enablement | sales readiness | sales effectiveness | sales optimization | sales operations

Sales Enablers: For Best Results, Focus on Sales Force Performance (not Sales Reps)

sales enablers - focus on sales force performance

I’ve been reviewing sales enablement job descriptions lately. As members of the burgeoning Sales Enablement Society (and almost anyone close to the Sales Enablement market) will tell you, “sales enablement” means different things to different people, and is being executed differently in different organizations. This certainly is apparent in the job descriptions I’ve reviewed.

There’s a trend in what I’m seeing, and in conversations I’m having, that concerns me. Not in all cases, of course, but in many, company leaders seem to believe that a sales enablement professional should be working directly with, and coaching, frontline sales reps, as a regular part of the enablement role.

A Balanced View

I disagree strongly with this, but I will offer a balanced disclaimer and acknowledge grey areas. I’ve written a lot about “sales nuances” and work very hard to avoid black and white thinking in general. There are circumstances where an approach like this might be needed in the short-term…

  • In a start-up where the frontline sales manager (FLSM) must be a seller-manager (not something I usually support, but this is a real-world nuance we need to acknowledge in start-ups)
  • When a rapidly-growing business is hiring and onboarding more sales reps than a FLSM could possibly support while also leading and managing his or her current team
  • In other very small organizations, less complex companies, those with simple sales processes, or other situations where the other work of sales enablement does not take as much dedicated time and the enabler has the capacity to assist with field coaching without detracting from influencing organization-wide sales force performance (although even in this case, the enabler should work with or through the FLSM)
  • On an as-needed, occasional basis when the FLSM needs help with a particular sales rep and the enablement leader has the specific or deeper expertise needed to help
  • On an as-needed, occasional basis when a FLSM is being coached and supported on how to coach reps more effectively

With such exceptions noted, generally speaking, I think this is the completely wrong approach toward sales enablement.

Sales Enablement leaders should be enabling frontline sales managers to hire, train, coach, develop, lead, and manage sales reps more effectively – NOT coaching reps themselves.

Where, Oh Where Has My OD Gone? Aka B = f(P,E)

I think it’s a shame that more sales enablement leaders and perhaps more sales or business leaders in general, don’t have a better grounding in formal strategic planning, tactical execution planning, organization development (OD), organization effectiveness (OE), organizational behavior, and change management. If getting better business results is the purpose of leadership, these disciplines – along with aligning the organization around achieving key strategic initiatives – offer the best path to that outcome. (By the way, the equation B = f(P,E) means that behavior is a function of the person and the environment. Thank you once again, Kurt Lewin. See this and this for more.)

This is why I have focused for years on putting systems, processes, methodologies, practices, policies, technology, and other performance support in place to create the right environment for sustainable, ethical, high performance. Organization cultural work, employee engagement work, rewards and recognitions efforts, and creating a learning organization go a long way toward this end, as well. (Check out for more on OD.)

The true work of Sales Enablement

My recent work on Effective Selling Systems and Effective Learning Systems is an outgrowth of my time learning about OD and OE. Implemented and executed well, these systems get results. And I’m talking 2X to 10X results, not an incremental 5% YOY improvement.

Want to take this even further? Go beyond just Selling and Learning Systems to what I call the Fantastic Four, and include Selection, Selling Support, Learning, and sales Management Systems:

A Systems Approach to Sales: The Four Systems

Talent management and, in our sales world, sales readiness and sales enablement, are big parts of this approach. If you create the right environment for performance and plug the right people into the equation – with proper hiring, training, coaching, development, management, and leadership – the results can be truly transformational.

No guts, no glory

We tend to aim low. I understand all the reasons and pressures that encourage this, but to me, the above (and aiming high to transform results) is the real work of Sales Enablement. This approach is what truly “enables” a sales force to perform at higher levels.

As always, the right “content” must be plugged into the equation. If you’ll allow me to depart from thinking of content as just training or marketing collateral, perhaps you can think of “content” as “inputs,” and it might include things like:

  • Training content
  • Market and buyer knowledge, as well as buyer’s journey documentation with exit criteria
  • Sales methodology
  • Sales messaging
  • Sales support and marketing collateral
  • Performance support / job aids / forms (e-forms and sales enablement software, hopefully integrated into reps’ and managers’ workflow)
  • Management operating rhythm (cadence) and how managers should manage to get results
  • And more

So, how does all this tie to my pet peeve on sales enablers coaching reps directly as a key responsibility of their job?

Back to the Point: Prioritization and Impact

For every hour a sales enablement pro spends working with an individual sales rep, they are not influencing the performance of the entire sales force.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” ~ Mr. Spock

Okay, yeah, I quoted Mr. Spock. There it is. And while philosophers have debated this logic and its ethics in certain situations, it certainly applies here.

The return of time and energy in terms of sales performance improvement is far greater when a sales enabler spends time on organization-wide initiatives (enabling performance through systems, processes, methodologies, training/effective learning systems, effective selling systems, management operating rhythms, performance support, etc.) than when spending time directly improving the performance of individual sales reps. The more time spent with individual reps, the less time spent on initiatives that have a wider-reaching impact.

In addition, the work of spending time directly improving the performance of individual sales reps, should fall squarely on the shoulders of FLSMs, not sales enablers.

If these managers need enablement, development, or support – provide it! Sales manager enablement is critical and should be a major focus for sales enablers. Train, coach, and develop FLSMs, and provide performance support in every way sensible, in partnership with their managers, who should be involved and doing their own coaching with documented action plans and performance management steps (when appropriate), to hold the FLSMs accountable. And please, get out of the sales prevention business and remove obstacles to your FLSMs doing their real job.

But doing their coaching job for them, in a regular cadence, as an expectation of sales enablement? I can’t agree with this, and you shouldn’t either.


As usual, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. If you enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with others.

Thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means… let’s continue to elevate our sales profession and evolve, elevate and professionalize the Sales Enablement function.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

Let’s get connected:

Craft a Practical & Powerful Sales Value Proposition


craft a practical powerful sales value proposition

Reality Check

Stop and think for a moment about the difference between the average high school theater production and an Oscar-winning movie.

Got that in your head?

Now, do the same with the average high school orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (the “other” CSO).


Now, do the same comparison for the average telemarketing call you receive at home and a true, professional B2B prospecting call.

Now, ask yourself… where am I – or where is my sales team – on that continuum?

From Point A to Point B

I worry that we’re living at a time when true self-awareness is on the decline, but given how much we hear about the inability of reps to communicate value and the dissatisfaction of senior executives with initial sales meetings, I’m guessing there are a fair amount of you who are feeling at least a little uneasy right now.

So what are the differences?  I could produce a laundry-list, but I’m going to focus on two parallels that I hope are obvious:

  • The amount of time spent in purposeful practice, honing one’s craft to reach mastery.
  • The quality of interpretation and delivery of the screenplay script, the music on the page, or the sales messaging.

This post could now go in several directions, but I want to start by laying the foundation of crafting a well-designed, practical and powerful sales value proposition.  I’m starting there because poor screenplays don’t win Oscars, hackneyed musical pieces don’t end up on the playbill of a word-class symphony, and even the best sales producers need relevant, compelling messaging to rise to the top of the profession.

The General Sales Value Proposition

There is a lot written about value propositions.  It’s primarily a marketing concept but it certainly transfers to selling.  I’ve developed my own materials over the years, but admit I’m particularly fond of Futurecurve’s work and give them a nod here. (They also have a solid white paper on sales insights.)

To use your Sales Value Proposition to sell more effectively in a Buyer-Oriented Selling System™:

  • STEP 1:  Document common Market and Buyer Problems/Risks/Opportunities (PRO), Negative Impacts, Business Needs, and Desired Outcomes.
  • STEP 2: Document your Solution Architecture language and create Sales Messaging.
  • STEP 3: Gather Proof Statements and stories to back up the messages.
  • STEP 4: Aim the messages at the right Market (marketing), personalizing for each Buyer (sales).

General Market / Buyer Issues

This is the specific group of customers you are targeting.

  • You may focus on industries/verticals, such as healthcare or automotive
  • You certainly should have target companies in those verticals, such as Ascension Health or AutoNation Inc.
  • Within those companies, you’ll likely target Buyer Personas or roles, such as CFOs, COOs, or VPs of Procurement.

The market you serve and buyers you target usually face a relatively well-known set of issues. Here’s how I categorize them:

  • They face Problems, Risks, and Opportunities (PRO)
  • If you don’t resolve the Problems, minimize of eliminate the Risks, or achieve the Opportunities, there are negative consequences, or Impacts.
  • Those Impacts create business Needs.
  • The Needs lead to Desired Outcomes.

Solution Architecture

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts…

From the Product Perspective:

  • You have a Product or Service (I’ll use “product” for simplicity).
  • Your Product has Features which are factual characteristics.
  • The way a feature works or what it does is the Advantage. (A feature may provide a Competitive Advantage over other similar products).
  • The way you combine your Features and Advantages to address business issues for your clients become your Solution.

From the Buyer Perspective:

  • A Feature and its Advantage (and Competitive Advantage, if any) provide a Benefit to customers by addressing an issue for them, usually by avoiding Negative Impacts (solve a Problem, avoid a Risk, enable an Opportunity). Benefits are entirely from the buyer’s point of view, and this is a critical distinction.
  • That Benefit produces a business result or a Desired Outcome.
  • The Desired Outcomes provide business Value – impacting the Metrics That Matter for the business and the way that the buyers/decision-makers are measured. Value may include things other than financial, such as the achievement of mission or vision, but is very compelling when dollarized. This is the ROI.

There is Value when the Outcomes minus [Solution Costs + Change Pain] is greater than the PRO (the Problems, Risks, or Opportunity Loss)

Hopefully, it’s obvious how your Solution connects to the PRO, to deliver the Desired Outcomes and Value your buyers need.  However, if you’re going to effectively communicate that value, you’re going to need some…

Proof Statements

This is substantiation of your claims about your offering. You can offer proof through:

  • Success Stories and Examples
  • Case Studies
  • Customer Testimonials

Real examples are best, dollarized whenever possible, and are even more powerful when they include your customer’s perspective, quotes, outcomes or endorsements.

Considerations for Personalized Sales Value Propositions

Taking your sales value proposition to the next level is not that difficult, it just requires specific information from a given buyer – a real person versus a role or persona or market SWOT analysis.

Buyer PRO

Now we’re talking about real people… a contact / decision-maker or influencer in a real account (such as John Wilkins, COO for ACME Health Systems)

Much of the issue structure is exactly the same, except you’d plug in the specifics about the buyer’s situation:

  • Problems/Risks/Opportunities (PRO)
  • Negative Impacts
  • Business Needs
  • Desired Outcomes

This time, you simply go deeper to include the things that you know about the person, as well:

  • Personal Motivators (personal goals, career/political considerations, emotional factors)
  • Metrics that Matter (tied to how the specific buyer is measured)
  • Buying Process and their role in it
  • Decision Criteria and Exit Criteria
  • Budget (or where the funding is coming from, if not budgeted)
  • Timeframe (if time-sensitive)

Personalized Solution Value

If you have access to the information, this is a tremendous opportunity to personalize the value equation. You have Value when:

Outcomes – [Solution Costs + Change Pain] > PRO

Whenever you can plug real data into this equation and show the potential ROI for your Solution recommendations, it’s an obvious win and a clear way to demonstrate compelling value, to get past the “No Decision” stall.

Everything I Just Told You May Be Wrong

Okay, not quite, but I do want to point out a very real limitation to anything that you do that isn’t tied to your customer’s current reality.

For example, the second version of the personalized value prop for a real buyer is closer to reality that than the initial generic market version.  Yet, even the generic version is still better than winging it.

These value propositions and any resulting sales messaging are effective for prospecting and for use early in the buying/sales process where you may not have quite the deep buyer detail you need to truly personalize, or communicate the value you have constructed or co-created with them.  At later stages of the sales process, you need to have constructed or co-created value with them, to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Co-creating or constructing value together with your customers is powerful. This is a foundational element from Futurecurve, is also reported from my friends at RAIN Group, and often discussed by Dave Brock, Tamara Schenk, Brian MacIver and others.   Here’s a view of this, adapted slightly from Futurecurve’s work:

(click graphic to enlarge)

I can’t go into more detail in this post, but any post on sales value propositions that doesn’t mention the limits of sales messaging and the power of true value construction, is misleading and does a disservice to the reader.  So for now, I’ll end here for today, but will be back to this topic in a future post.


As usual, this is what I think. More importantly… What do YOU think?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences in the comments. I’ve also included some related resources below, that I hope you’ll find helpful.

As always, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means… let’s continue to elevate our sales profession.

Mike Kunkle

:: transforming sales results ::

Let’s get connected:

Related Resources