Making an Impact with Sales Enablement

In this, The Faces of Business episode, Mike Kunkle, VP of Sales Effectiveness Services, SPARXiQ, talks about how companies can begin Making an Impact with Sales Enablement to boost revenues and accelerate profit growth.

In this, The Faces of Business episode, Mike Kunkle, VP of Sales Effectiveness Services, SPARXiQ, talks about how companies can begin Making an Impact with Sales Enablement to boost revenues and accelerate profit growth.

Mike has more than 30 years in the sales industry working as a corporate leader or consultant. Through this time, he has developed and learned effective sales enablement and transformation methodologies and best-in-class learning strategies and helped entrepreneurs achieve dramatic revenue growth.

Mike is responsible for developing and delivering cutting-edge sales training programs and advising clients on implementing sales effectiveness systems that multiply revenues.

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SPARXiQ provides businesses with analytics, tools, and training solutions to enhance sales teams’ performance and profitability.

Damon is electrified to have Mike on his show. He straightforwardly asks Mike about the factors driving him into sales. To which he gives a detailed answer.

He says his entry into sales was unexpected since he pursued a career as a musician and two degrees in it. One day, he went through the classified sections in newspapers. He called them and got a job in an event-organizing company. They sold balloons, ribbons, and the like. “And my job was to sell things,” despite no sales skills. He owes his success to Jeff Waldron, the owner of that company. He trained him on identifying buyers’ habits on a call.

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Mike chased his dreams in music simultaneously. He bought a cassette recorder, a VHS video player, and a tripod and “set those things up” to practice Nightingale Conant.

Similarly, from 1984 to 1989, he worked in the same company. He wanted to get into corporate positions. He got into Corporate America, and in 1989, he outsold the rest of the office single-handedly. And they promoted him to a branch manager position.

The company was not doing well. Mike implemented a dedicated prospecting day. “Then we started role-playing, the same thing I did with music.” It worked and made things better.

Get the most value for your business by understanding the process and preparing for the sale with information here on our Selling a Business page.

In 1991, Mike got into sales training. He learned “very early that you just can’t move the needle by training people.” They need to practice all the time. So he got interested in performance improvement. He joined the then-American Society for Training and Development (now the Association for Talent Development).

Mike passionately trained the sales team to achieve results. He figured out to support the sales force that could drive better results. “And so I was doing sales enablement before sales enablement was even a phrase.” Recently, he wrote a book on the building blocks of sales enablement and related issues.

In 2001, Mike founded Force Field Performance Services. Earlier, he worked for ten months at Pfizer. At Force Field, he discovered ways to help small businesses or sellers by decreasing expenses and increasing revenue.

He joined NovaStar Mortgage Inc., in 2003, as Director of Business Analytics. It was a B-to-B wholesale mortgage, eventually crushed by the subprime mortgage meltdown in 2008. For the first time, Mike “stitched together all of the building blocks of sales enablement.”

Damon eagerly wants to know Mike’s approach to hiring personnel.

Mike elaborately explains that to hire people, he gained knowledge from different sources, including Peter Senge’s book, workshops by the International Society for Performance Improvement, and reading about Human Performance Technology. He “tried to bring that to work.”

Mike credits his success to his curiosity, which ignited a series of desires to know about and solve problems. He always wanted to know how the toasters worked. Moreover, his favorite music teacher advised him to “be pleased but never satisfied.”

Mike also talks about the famous 80-20 and 91-9 rules. Similarly, he used business, producer, and market analyses to build the content for the training programs. He shares that the top 1-5 percent of sellers sell “based on the magic of their personality and sales DNA and their makeup.” They still need training for continuous performance. Mega companies set up coaching systems so that managers know what they do and they know how to diagnose performance effectively.

Mike quotes Hyatt to support his argument. It invests in its people. Moreover, it had a great culture way before a culture like that was fashionable. They didn’t care as much about every instance of ROI. They wanted to know that they were getting something for it.

The guest reveals that he tries to do some ROI analysis beforehand. He says that we have to be proactive about that. Only then can we make an impact with enablement. These remarks awestruck Damon, who wants to “soak this up.”

Mike applauds frontline sellers “who are hungry and curious learners.” He praises them, for they aggressively practice and succeed. However, he warns that sellers will only gain traction if they have top-down support and team alignment.

The guest sheds some light on “a complex decision journey with a bunch of different people.” He argues that many people can’t “agree with their spouses and where they’re going to go have dinner.” Ironically, how can ten people in a room make a $250,000 decision? Getting consensus as a seller today amongst these buying committees is incredibly hard. And it takes a different skill set.

Toward the end of the discussion, the guest brings to light SPARXiQ. Interestingly, it is Mike’s idiosyncratic version of “Sparks IQ.” In collaboration with Doug Wyatt, SPARXiQ aims to train salespeople as part of pricing projects “to help them negotiate more effectively.” In simple words, the organization is “consultative, selling, modern, buyer-centric, outcome-oriented, and value focus. Furthermore, this company enables individuals to sell virtually, so they use their digital skills more effectively. In his view, many things are happening in the sales world.

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people, sales, training, selling, organization, sellers, roi, results, business, figure, coaching, call, performance, happening, company, driving, salespeople, buyers, hire, frontline


Mike Kunkle, Damon Pistulka


Damon Pistulka  00:00

All right, everyone, welcome once again to the faces of business. I am your host, Damon Pistulka. We are here with, I just have to say, and we’re gonna be today we’re gonna be talking about making an impact with sales enablement. I’m just excited because we’re here within the legend. We have Mike conkel from sparks IQ. Mike, thanks for being with us today.


Mike Kunkle  00:25

Hey, David, thanks for having me. This is gonna be a lot of fun. Yes, it


Damon Pistulka  00:29

Yes, it is. So, Mike. Without further ado, there are not many people that have your level of ser sales experience sales training experience. So I would like you to start back aways here and talk about what really got you into sales. What made you think that sales was something that you wanted to do?


Mike Kunkle  00:58

I don’t think I ever thought that my life. You know what’s funny, Dave and I actually have two music degrees. And I started out playing as a professional musician. And for a long story reasons we won’t get into I decided to get out of that business.

And I wound up back home. paging through the newspaper. Remember those? Yeah. And I’m looking at the classifieds. I answered this ad to answer the telephone. And so I get hired at this place is pretty funny, because it’s a balloon company that does a variety of things. But it they actually sold like clowns and stripping gorillas in and giant six foot bananas that would come and sing Happy Birthday to people or do kids parties.

And a business side of it, where they sold imprinted merchandise and ribbons and balloons and all of that for the company’s for launches and grand opening. So your business, you know, is but but the balloon side of it was pretty funny. So anyway, I wind up on the telephone, taking inbound calls. And my job was to sell things. Now, you know, I just spent four years in college and two years on the road, in a practice room, you know, eight hours a day, you’re playing non stop. I had absolutely no sales skills whatsoever.

But for for whatever reason. And God bless him, Jeff Waldron, the owner of that company, saw something in me and be really invested in me and trained and coached me. Now. That’s an important point, because that’s going to shape my perception of training and coaching. For the rest of my career. I took off like a rocket under this guy’s wing.

And I eventually I became a great salesperson for him moved from the crazy balloon delivery side of the business to the business side selling imprinted merchandise and you know, balloons and helium and all of that. And I decided that since we had a Sears and Roebuck remember when it was Roebuck, you had a Sears and Roebuck in the town.

And every now and then they you know, they had events, I thought, you know, I bet I could sell Sears some stuff, right? We could, you know, be part of their grand opening plan. And so I targeted Sears found that they were headquartered in Chicago, which years later I, I lived in work down the street from that building. But you know, and this was the days where, you know, there was an email, I was calling them on the phone and talking to them live.

And I was sending them things like, you know, a nice delivery of something and I you know, I nurtured them over the course of six months, and landed that account for Sears for grand openings across the country, turned out eventually to be a multi million dollar account for this small business that I was operating. And eventually I got promoted to to basically run that business. So the owner could be more of an absentee owner and sort of float in and out.

So it was a phenomenal experience for me. And, you know, I, I really was horrible in the beginning when he started to train and coach me, but I did something that I did in music. I practiced what a concept. I bought a I bought a cassette recorder. I bought a VHS video, remember the big ones he had to put on your show?

Right, and I bought a tripod and I you know I set those things up and I practiced and I drilled and rehearsed and I bought tape sets from Nightingale Conant and you know, it was probably about 25 minutes away from this place. So, you know driving in I’m listening to Zig Ziglar and Roger Dawson and all of these guys I got to know those tapes. So well, I could actually talk along with them. All right.

And I really invested in becoming as good as I could be. I finally realized, though you don’t get promoted to owner, right. So I’m wondering this, this place, and you know, this is back in the 80s. What was it the 1819 84 to 1989. I was I was working there. Yeah, I wanted to try to get into corporate America. So I applied for a couple positions, got into corporate America had to step back into selling.

But when in that year, I outsold the rest of the Office of single handedly. And they promoted me into a branch manager position. The office was not doing so well. Right. But we did, we did some interesting things. I said, Look, a everybody, one day a week, I’m going to give you a dedicated prospecting day, where we protect you from everything else in this branch office, and anybody who calls in for your walks in whatever. And you’re just going to prospect that day.

Now, it doesn’t mean you don’t prospect other days. But everybody gets a dedicated day, focus on driving business. And then we started role playing, right, the same thing with you know, I did with music, we, you know, we role played in the morning, and we role played at lunch.

And, man, these guys and girls absolutely hated me at first, for doing that. And then an interesting thing happened. They started to get good. Yeah. And they got excited. And so eventually, they’d start, you know, they’d be walking down the hallway, Damon, and would toss objections at each other, you know, try to trip each other up and do a little roleplay, like, right in the spot, and became a really fun environment.

And I’ve been told not to say this, because it sounds like I’m making it up. But we increased results in that branch that year, 600%, year over year. Yeah. And then the company said to me, Hey, do you think you could teach other people how to do this? And in 1991, that’s how I got into sales training. And it’s, you know, it’s been a fun ride ever since.

But one of the things that, that I learned very early, is that you just can’t move the needle by just training people. Right? Yeah. People, people forget stuff, or they don’t have enough practice, or there’s no follow up coaching, or they don’t believe that your way is going to work and think their their way is better. There are dozens of reasons why training just on its own, doesn’t naturally move the needle.

So I got really interested in performance improvement. And I joined the what was then the American Society for Training and Development. Today, it’s the Association for Talent Development, I joined the National Society for performance improvement. Today, that’s the International Society for performance improvement. I started reading everything I could get my hands on, you know, and I, and these people would write these articles for magazines.

And I would hunt them down and call them up on the phone. Yeah, and say, Hey, I read this article that you wrote, and I would start talking to these people to amazingly, they, you know, they were interested that, you know, they were like, wait a minute, how did you get my number? I had done detective work practically to do it, because there was no LinkedIn back in those days. But I’d hunt these people down.

And so I became a student of how do you get better organizational results? How do you drive change in organizations? How do you help not an individual rep get better, although that’s certainly part of the picture. That’s what frontline sales managers should be doing. But how do you step back and look at this, look at all the moving parts? And how the gears turn? And what’s happening and what should be happening? And how do you put a plan together to increase organizational performance and make that happen?

And so this organization that I got into, gave me almost free rein about how to run training, but they said, here’s the thing. We want to know that we’re getting results for what we’re what we’re investing. And so I started to, you know, look up evaluation methods, and Kirkpatrick and got Fitz ends. And, you know, eventually, Jack and Patty Phillips in the ROI Institute, and how organizations were evaluating training and other performance improvement methods.

And that’s how the whole thing really started to snowball for me, and, you know, I’ve worked in a bunch of fortune 100 companies. I’ve worked at a start up software company. I’ve worked in a bunch of mid market and private firms, but every place I’ve gone and a bunch of different verticals to write every place I’ve gone it’s really Ben about how do I figure out what’s happening here?

How do I do a front end analysis, a needs analysis, a gap analysis, whatever, one of the 30 names that we call this stuff, you know, how do you how do I do that, and then figure out how to move the needle. And my titles are almost always sales training for many years. Then there was sales effectiveness, sales, performance development. But for me, it was always about more than training.

It was about how do I get marketing engaged in this? How do I understand their research in the messaging they’re putting together and incorporate that in the into what the sales team is doing? And I was building playbooks before anybody ever heard the term playbook. In fact, back in those days, when I started to figure out that if I did, if I collaborated cross functionally across the organization, and get people aligned on how to support the sales force, you could drive a lot better results.

And so I was doing sales enablement, before sales enablement was even a phrase. And I you know, that’s really how it all came together. And how I wound up, you know, writing a book eventually on the building blocks of sales enablement, and the systems that I put into place and all of the things that I experimented with and almost like a living laboratory over the years to figure out how do you really get results and improve, improve results and move the needle on the metrics that matter the most?


Damon Pistulka  11:30

Yeah, yeah. I mean, for people listening, here it go check out Mike’s profile, because I mean, when you look at your profile, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna go through a few of the companies who worked with and positions, you know, starting out, you know, Hyatt was one of the first big companies that you’d recommend director of sales, training and management development.

You look at, then you’re in Pfizer, you’re in when I see GE and here is one of them too. And Nova star mortgage, McKesson health towards mark, you know, in sphere insurance, there’s just man, like you said, it’s the industries.

And we’re talking about sales transformation, leader, Director, sales effectiveness, Director, sales, training, Director training, delivery services, are you man, you got it going on here. And, and then G is another one I saw in there. So when you when you had all these things, and you said, here, or here, I gotta go back on this is a long thing, because we did man even more fast lane and Brainshark.

And, guy, you’ve done so many different things. And then you’re part of the sales education found foundation as well. I think that’s super cool, trying to give back and help with that. But so you’re going through all these things, what really sparked your interest in going out on your own? Because you did that about 15 years ago as well. You went out and wrote a book and the other things there?


Mike Kunkle  13:09

Yeah, I don’t, I think with with forcefield performance services, like I was segwaying, at that point from the startup software firm that had been bought a couple of different times, and I didn’t, you know, it seemed like they were going to consolidate seemed like they were going to, you know, wrap a couple of businesses together. And so I jettisoned out of that, and into forcefield performance services. Actually, I did a brief stop at Pfizer that may have been in the middle.

But, you know, it was really interesting them because I was taking a view of going out to small business owners, like the one that I had started out working with, and helping them look for ways to decrease expenses or costs, or increase revenue or profit. And I was using Kurt Lewin’s force field analysis method that I’m still using today and teaching other clients about, right, where you take a look at the current state and say, Okay, here’s where we are, here’s where we want to be.

Right and look at the gap between those two and then say, okay, what are all of the things that are driving me forward? What are the driving forces moving me from point A to point B? And what are the restraining forces that are holding me back? And when you map that out, you ask yourself two questions. What can I do to reduce or eliminate the restraining forces?

And what can I do to add or strengthen the driving forces in those become your plan to move you from point A to point B and manage that entire change process. And so I was just using that logical process to help identify for small business owners, how could they be more successful, more profitable, you know, you know, reduce costs and increase revenue.

And I had a, I had a blast doing that. But each time that I did a consulting gig and I did it later with transforming sales results, eventually, it dawned on me that I really liked being part of a larger aligned team. And, you know, being this being the solo printer, for me, just, you know, it’s a lot of fun for a while. And one thing I did get was a lot of exposure to different verticals that I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to probably otherwise. But I really like being part of an aligned team.

So I decided after a couple years to, you know, to get back into corporate America, I joined novastar mortgage, which was on NASDAQ, I think is NF phi novastar Financial Inc. It was b2b, wholesale mortgage. And we had AES going into broke mortgage brokerages and convincing them to give her sister loans that we wanted. So it’s an interesting persuasion and influence and sales gig. And they were really cool company, eventually crushed by the subprime mortgage meltdown. But we had some really cool years there.

And that’s where I probably, for the first time really stitched together all of the building blocks of sales enablement, and got a sales hiring system, a sales Readiness System, a sales training system, a sales management system, a sales coaching system, and pieced all of those things together, and then created an entirely new onboarding approach. And man, we, I mean, we were blowing it out of the water there, the results were absolutely phenomenal.

We had top down support from the President, when actually when he would, when we were all formed in the beginning, he he sat us down at this conference table and in Kansas City at their headquarters, and said, Look, I believe in your mission, I believe in what your leader has assembled you all to do. But I gotta tell you, if we can’t point to ROI, a year from now, we won’t all be sitting around this table.

So once again, right? It was really about how do you deliver business value? Or as I call it today, right? How do you make an impact with enablement. And I was really lucky that Damien that in my early years, right at household finance, and then you know, especially at NOVA star, that I was working for leaders, they gave us the latitude in the top down support, but wanted to be able to prove that they were getting something in return.

And Nova star was probably where I delivered my absolutely biggest return the team and I delivered is over 300, almost 398 million year over year in a creative revenue in this was a number that the CFO in the president after seeing all of our analysis, were willing to attribute to the work that we had done.

And so that was a really cool ROI study that we got to do. It was a year long effort. We collaborated with marketing, because we didn’t we didn’t want to be taking take, you know, attributing something to our work that might have been because in this month, marketing ran a special campaign.

And so we actually tracked the trend line of growth, and saw what different things were dropping at different points. And you know, all evaluation is a lie, right? It just happens to be the lie that you get together and agree on. Yeah, we got together and we agreed on it, we figured out ways that we could say okay, well look, in this month, we were going to be here, based on our trendline we ran this marketing campaign, and we got here.

So let’s take that chunk of difference. We’ll attribute that to the marketing campaign. And the rest of it goes to the work that the training team and others had done to you know, to get, you know, to keep the trendline moving in the direction that they already had it moving. And so, you know, we we did that and work together with with marketing and what today would probably be referred to as sales operations, and the executive team and all the leaders.

And we figured out how to attribute that stuff and how to evaluate what we were doing. And you know, it’s not like I didn’t make mistakes along the way, right. We we developed a sales hiring system. And we studied the top producers. We brought in a company that did psychometric assessments, we learned behavioral interviewing, we use simulations and role plays, and we stitched all this to got it right. And it was so cool. But guess what happened? Right?

We couldn’t hire anybody in the current pipeline. It was like, oh, hell now what do we do? Right? So we sit back with recruiting and with the folks who, who ran that team. And we figured out well, we had learned how to hire right. But we hadn’t changed our sourcing strategy. So where could we go? And what could we do to figure out where to go get the people that could actually get through our gauntlet of hiring?

And so you know, the team did that they figured out, where do we source? And we did that by looking at the top producers and talking with them, and figuring out what were their interest? And what did they do in school? And what were their degree programs? And, you know, were they into sports and work? Do they have military backgrounds? And we looked at all of that. And we found out that there was a pattern of sports and military?

Yeah. And so we started recruiting differently. And we’re finding that we could get people in the pipeline that we could hire, we went from a 75% first year churn rate of one executives, down to 25. I think in about six months of starting that program, and by a year later, the churn was down to 12%. Wow, radical difference, right? But it was because we really stepped back and took this logical approach. And then we stubbed our toe and figured out well, now we got it, you have to source differently. Yeah.

But that’s, that’s been the beauty of this, as I’ve got to, I’ve got a crew long of 35 years or 37 years, I think this year of learnings like that where I’ve made plenty of mistakes. Yeah, but we we did what we could to figure out well, why did that happen? Or why aren’t we seeing the lift that we should? Okay, what do we need to do differently? And everything we did just felt like a learning laboratory. And we kept working at it until we moved the needle and got the results that we wanted.


Damon Pistulka  22:10

Yeah. Well, that is a let’s just back up of it. I’ve even people that listen to this, you got to back up. You got to back this up a little bit less than because you went through a lot of stuff we got. We got Arpad tears listening says hey, follow the same strategy. Awesome. Awesome. Thanks for Thanks for dropping a comment in there. And if you’re listening, and you got some comments or questions, go ahead and drop them in the in the chat here are listening.

So Mike, there is a lot that you uncovered there. Let’s let’s just let’s just talk about a little bit of that. I mean, sure. How far ahead. Were you have other places when you started to talk about a system for hiring, sales, readiness, training, coaching and a whole new onboarding approach for your salespeople? I mean, that was in the days when people just thought you just kept hiring salespeople. And, and you know, you found good salespeople? I don’t know, genetically.


Mike Kunkle  23:10

So, yeah, I guess it’s true, right?


Damon Pistulka  23:12

Yeah, it was, I mean, it really was like, Oh, you’ve done sales. We need salespeople. So let’s hire you. And then it was kind of throw you to the wolves in a lot of lot of ways and go out and do what you do. When when you started doing that? What did you really notice about the people? I mean, because it’s that’s a change. Even the people that were there that were successful salespeople are ready. When you started doing Hey, we’re we’re talking about are we really ready?

What training coaching, they’re kind of do? What were some of the things that you really thought were fundamental that that made that big difference that wasn’t being done prior?


Mike Kunkle  23:56

Yeah, yeah, I read Peter Sangye stuff on learning organizations and systems. And I was a member, as I mentioned, of the International Society for performance improvement, I was reading a lot of things about human what they called human performance technology, or HPT. That morphed a bit into performance consulting.

And so all of these disciplines that I was reading about od organization, behavior, organization, design and development TQM, right, all of the you know, six sigma, all of these were all about systems and process and methodology and tools, and getting people aligned, but treating the organization as this ecosystem. And so I just tried to bring that to work.

And you know, sometimes I would try to talk about that stuff in that language to sales leaders, and usually, you know, their eyes would roll up into the back of their heads. Yeah, and I learned early not not to do that necessarily, but what I would What I would look for the problems and I would look for the pain, and I would look for that current state analysis and future state analysis. And what was what was the difference in where did they want to go?

And then I got curious, and I asked a lot of questions. So well, if if you want to get there, what are we going to do differently? Because if we could get there, we’d probably already be there. Right? Yeah, well, changing anything. And so I had a lot of like, what I called curious conversations with the leaders. And I would just, you know, talk to them about the current state desired future state, why did they want to get there? What things were they doing that they thought were going to produce the results, and kind of did some of this analysis without them knowing I was doing this analysis? Right?

And then that, that that sort of fostered a level of buy in, because they were engaged in the process. And they saw me really like leaning in and asking questions and trying to understand the business and how the, you know how the parts move together. And I developed the trust in that, that, you know, I didn’t always explain to them deeply what I was doing, like, well, now I’m going to create a sales Readiness System.

Yeah. But I would build, I would start building bits and pieces of that. And then I would explain what I had done there and show them the results that they got. And eventually a lot of them said, go do your thing, man, and report back about how it’s going. And I will give you the support you need because you’re moving the needle. And that’s how I started to build momentum with it. But when I went into one company, turnover was absolutely horrible.

You know, the 8020 rule, right? Well, this was something like 91, nine, right? The founders of this business had had brought together a lot of the people they had worked with over the years that they knew were stellar. Yeah. And that 9% of the Salesforce at this point, was driving 91% of the business. Wow, the rest of the people were floundering because they had no way to encapsulate what these 9% did, and replicate that across the Salesforce. So I started laying out for them, how you could do that with a top producer analysis?

And how we could figure out what are these people do that are different from what these people do? And how do you get the people who are in the middle to continue stop or start things to perform more like the top. And we use that to build the content, for the training programs, the readiness, the hiring everything else, all around that top producer analysis.

And that was something that they that people really gravitated toward, because who doesn’t want to have the rest of your Salesforce work like the top down, I learned a lot in doing that I’ve done something like 1617 years now of top producer analysis. And I found that that, that top one to 5%. They sell almost based on the magic of their personality and sales DNA and their makeup. And sometimes it’s really hard to take what that top tier does in replicate it.

But if you go under that 4% thing, 4%, right, just the top 20% of the top 20%. If you go under that there’s 16% left in the Top 20 Top 4% Magicians 16%. What I found over the years is that that 16% happened to generally be mere mortals like the rest of us who have figured out the magic sauce in that company with that product set with their customers, etc. And so I spent more time looking at the top 4%.

So I could figure out how do I go hire more people like them? And I looked at the 16% to say, How can I take what these people who have figured out the magic sauce here and replicate this across the organization and try to move the middle as they say, Yeah, and it it works. It worked almost every single time I’ve done it the one time where it was an abject failure. I did it I did not have top down leadership support. And so I was kind of out on an island trying to do this on my own. And it just didn’t work at all.

And I left that company in frustration. And they shall remain nameless, but it worked every other time. Because if you can find what those people are doing and you can replicate it, it asks for the systems come in. Right? You train for the continuous stop start for people to do the things that these people do. You set up coaching systems so that managers know what they do and they know how to diagnose performance to see what their rep is doing versus what they should be doing.

And then how to field trainer coach to close those gaps effectively, and then get into a cycle, a cadence of coaching, creating a coaching culture and getting into this continuous loop of performance improvement. And then that’s, that’s how you raise the water level of sales skills across an organization and ensure that it’s going to produce results. And since I had so many people who were already said to me, I want to know that we’re getting something for this investment.

I had already figured out how do you do this evaluation and reporting. And so some companies were more worried about that than others. Hyatt was really into investing in its people, they had a great culture way before a culture like that was fashionable, they didn’t really care as much about me tracking every instance of ROI. They wanted to know that they were getting something for it. But it wasn’t like, you know, a deep passion or a drive. Now in household in Nova store, I had to really be in there evaluating deeply and showing results and learning from that. So I’ve been in both environments.

And I’ve always tried to do some level of ROI analysis. Because if you wait until somebody at the top says, Hey, Damon, can you show me an ROI for this? Your goose is already cooked? Yeah, you gotta you have to be proactive about that, then you have to find a way to make an impact with enablement, and then share that you’re making that impact.


Damon Pistulka  31:36

Yeah, oh, wow. I’m just, I’m just soaking this up, man. Because you, you have done things in sales that are so cool, from a process standpoint, because I back up to when you were talking about, and I’m gonna get some of these names wrong. But, you know, the human performance technology and the learning that you were studying, and then applying that to the processes in sales.

I mean, it seems to me like, you’re, you’re a curious student, that want to learn how people are thinking and how to maximize that, you know, improve the way we’re doing things. And you married that with sales. And you’ve developed these systems and processes from that. And that’s cool. Randy,


Mike Kunkle  32:31

I was always the guy who wanted to know how the toaster worked. Yeah. And I used to joke, you know, I can take apart anything, I just can’t always put it back together. Right. But that’s, you know, it’s that it was that curiosity, it was that and then, you know, I, I don’t know where it came from.

You know, it might have been my music background, it might have been the mentors and teachers I had, you know, I had a music teacher say to me once, when I, you know, something went really well. And he said, Be pleased, but never satisfied. Yeah. And that was an early thing that was sort of drilled into me. And so I had sort of this achievement driver, I wanted to make an impact.

And then I had this curiosity about figuring out what how did the gears turn? And how do you make them turn faster? And I think all of those things, you know, kind of by me by accident, getting into sales, right? What I got out of music, it all really just sort of gelled for me over time when those things came together. But I really did love you know, figuring out how the gears turned and how to build better how to build a better mousetrap.


Damon Pistulka  33:43

Well, yeah, because you said somewhere as I was reading in preparing for this, you said that on your profile, you said we I diagnosed first then prescribe I love that because so many so many people come in with a preconceived notion of we need to do this and I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes that that you can make as a you know, and people said before you know, if you if you got a hammer the solution to everything is use the hammer, right?

But everything looks like a nail, everything looks like a nail. Yeah. And and doing that, but your your sense of curiosity and your study of human behavior and organizational development and all the other things that you mentioned, allow you to marry this in a much different level to help organizations and then then thinking about, about the ROI ahead of time to make sure you know, you’re creating that ROI before you know an executive asks or before the financial people want to know. Is is brilliant, too, because then you can teach your salespeople the ROI, the impact they’re really making as well.


Mike Kunkle  34:52

Yeah, it’s interesting about that, right? It would it one of the models that have been around for a long time. For training development is Addy add, ie analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. But even though the model ends with the evaluation in the process, great instructional designers start with the end in mind. And so what performance results are we looking to achieve?

How will we know when we got there? And they work backwards to build a program or a learning experience or training or whatever it might be it or get you off there a consultant, you know, maybe it’ll be an organizational change project, but they work backwards from that end in mind figuring out how are we going to drive that result? And then how are we going to measure it improve it? Or how do we measure to figure out that it’s not going the way that we want to fail, fast pivot adjust, and then get the results that we want?

And man, I you know, I wish I could tell you that, you know, I didn’t have to do a lot of pivoting in my days. But you know, you do, right? Yeah. And so, you know, fail fast and figure out, you know, why it wasn’t working and trying something different. And, you know, based on logic, you’re not just throwing spaghetti at the wall, right? But you figure out, okay, you know, what do we need to do differently?

I’ll share a story with you. I had come out of the field at this company I was talking about where they said, Hey, can you teach other people to do this? And I got into training, and I saw the course that they were teaching. And I went to my boss, see what time you saw how things go in Cancun? I said, Well, you know what, no one is going to leave this program and be successful because of what we’re teaching.

They got really quiet. Yeah, he kind of tilted his head like my dog does. He says, What do you want to do about that? And said, Well, why don’t we just redesign the program based on what’s working in the real world? And he said, Wait a minute. And he got up and he left the office, I thought that said he’s going to get the papers that I’m fired when he walked into the office of the guy down the hall, who was the general manager for that whole division.

And he came back 10 minutes later, and he said, Okay, go it. So we did we rebuilt that program, from the ground up based on the you know, I just come out of the field based on what I knew would produce results. And it did right then. So it was really interesting. We knew that 120 days, after a new hire left our program, they would be outperforming a control group of people with five years experience.

Now then an interesting thing happened Daymond Wow, performance went like this. And then after that, 120 days, it leveled off. And then it started to do this. Yeah. And it slowly was would dive down to, to average to level back out to where everybody else was. And and so I said, Why is that happening? And so I got on a plane with my boss’s approval, and I went on the road around all these branch offices.

And what I figured out, right, and again, this was my first training job, but I was still reading and learning. Yeah, it figured out that the managers in all of these places, didn’t really know what we were teaching. And they were coaching people when they bothered to coach or if they coached, they were just telling people what to do, based on what they already been doing. Yeah. So these new people came back all fired up, going like rockets, we actually had him on the phone selling from the training class before they left to go back.

Okay. And they go back and they go like crazy. But eventually, they’d be drugged down. Yeah. And so you also, again, we had one of those, well, what are we gonna do about this moments, and we built a program to teach managers across the country, what we were teaching in this new hire program. And we built a program to help them understand how to diagnose and coach to it. And we rolled that out across the country.

And the results went like this, not just back for the new hires, but for everybody, everybody. And that was a pivotal turning point for me that when I realized, you know, these frontline sales managers, they are the change lever, they are the performance lever and the linchpin for driving change in the organization. And if they don’t know what you’re teaching, if they’re not bought into yeah, see on the future, I would engage these frontline sales managers when we were building things.

Heck, most of them were the top salespeople who got promoted into the ones Yeah. And then we’re never given any management training either. Yeah, yeah, we, we fix that. But we pick their brains, we got them engaged. We got them involved. We taught them we help them learn how to coach better And that became a driving force in a lot of my initiatives. And, you know, now I joke on webinars, if I had $1 to spend on a Salesforce, I’d spend 75 cents on the frontline sales managers, because they’re the ones who really make things happen and drive the change.


Damon Pistulka  40:21

is so awesome. Talk to you, Mike. Because you’ve been through this enough, and you’ve you’ve, you put the effort and the time in to really understand the data behind it and watch the performance and understand, you know, we can’t just build our you no great salespeople without having great sales leaders that are helping them throughout the process. And oh, my goodness, my goodness,


Mike Kunkle  40:46

there’s, there’s always a portion of the front of the frontline sellers, who are hungry, and who are also curious learners know, they’ll grab on to anything you give them. And they will try it. And they will practice and they will figure it out and they will succeed.

But if you want to move the organization, if you want to move the middle, it’s your frontline sales managers that will help you do that. I remember reading an article once about this in Harvard Business Review. And they said, you know, when the employee turns to their manager, Bob, and says, Bob, what do you think about this all this change that’s going on? And Bob says, I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

For me. That change initiative is dead. Yeah, right. When Bob turns around and says, you know, I know what’s a lot, Damon, but if you hang with me on this, I’m going to help you get through it. And the changes that we’re making are going to make you better, us better, the company better, and they’re going to better serve our customers, you have a completely different message, you have completely different support. And that change initiative has a prayer of driving the results that you want it to drive.


Damon Pistulka  42:04

Yeah, yeah, that’s for sure. You’re right. In the first case, it is dead. If you if you don’t engage that that manager, that sales manager out there, and those branches are in your organization. And they’re not, you know, encouraging in leading the way they should through those changes. That’s dead. It’s just dead. And you wasted your time and effort. Yeah, but so the awesome observation and honest, like you said, those are the people that can make it or break it for you, those leaders?


Mike Kunkle  42:35

Yep, absolutely. And if you don’t have the top down support, you know, the stuff that I’ve done is been relatively the same stuff, right? After I figured out system process, methodology, tools, all that. I always go in curious, right. But you see patterns over time, right?

And you recognize these patterns. And that can help speed you up a bit. If you don’t have the top down support, you’re just not going to get traction. If you don’t have alignment, in top down support, you’re not going to get traction. And so I have done some of these very same things in other organizations, and just got paltry results. 3% improvement here, right? Because some people would grab on to it or gravitate to it. 5% here, right, but not like 35% Yeah, like 600%. Right, you know, and those results are so possible.

I haven’t walked into Salesforce in a 37 year career as an employee, or as a consultant with clients, where I haven’t seen the opportunity to at least double sales without adding a body. Wow. But most organizations in this is mind boggling and backed in a any along in fun career. The bane of my existence is this next statement. It’s sometimes very difficult to get people who are responsible for driving revenue to actually do the things that would radically improve revenue. Yes, it’s that is the single toughest thing because everybody gets into these patterns in comfort zones. I look at a lot of senior sales leaders today.

And I often use the phrase harder, faster, longer louder. They have driven that way in lead sales organizations that way for so long. And in the time that they grew up as a sales leader. It worked. Yeah, but now we have What does Gartner say somewhere between a dozen and 20 buyers and some complex deals? Yeah, we have buyers who are saying things like I’m really sick of the way that sellers don’t listen And don’t engage, you know, are always just looking for their next commission.

Right? You know, we we’re at a point where sellers need to be buyer centric, it doesn’t mean that you don’t look out for your own interests, but you have to operate in your buyers best interest. You have to be value focused, consultative, outcome oriented. And you have to be a servant leader, to be able to work with buyers today, and help guide them through what’s often a complex decision journey with a bunch of different people.

A lot of people can’t like agree with their spouse and where they’re going to go have dinner, what movie to watch right now put 10 people in a room and have them make a $250,000 decision. Right when they all have their own interests and personal needs. And what they think they want to get out of this. Getting consensus as a seller today amongst these buying committees is incredibly hard. And it takes a different skill set.

And so that’s one of the other things that, you know, I predict that we’re going to have to change on a larger scale faster than we are, is this shift toward becoming a servant leader, a buyer centric seller, who’s really a problem solver and is much a consultant. And I think that, you know, the organizations that are doing this, seeing huge success, the organizations who were lagging, and sticking to harder, faster longer. Well, I don’t I don’t think they’re going to see the next 10 years.


Damon Pistulka  46:39

Yeah. Well, and and one of the things that I read recently, and I know it’s books been out, but it’s it’s it’s a marketing book by Marcus Sheridan, but they asked you answer me, it was such a revelation in why the heck are we not just enabling people to make our customers to make better decisions. And when I when you know, talking with you, and hearing this again, that is really as the salespeople our job anymore, is to take all 12 of those people, give them the information, they need to make the decision, and then let them make the decision.

Because at the end of the day, if you do that the right way, if you’re a choice, and you give them the best information, they’re gonna choose you. And and I think it but as you said, all those people have different different perspectives and different things that they’re worried about in that decision. And how do you really as a salesperson help them and how does marketing help you? And when we’re talking about sales enablement, that’s got to be working together. Otherwise, I don’t have that information as a salesperson. And so


Mike Kunkle  47:52

So what are the geeky terms that I talked about a lot, Damon that’s related to that is buying process exit criteria. And exit criteria is a term that came out as Six Sigma came out of process management, BPM business process management, and it’s even used in the software development world in so if you think of a process, there were There were stages of a process, right?

They usually have stage names. But for each stage, there’s an objective for that stage, there are tasks that need to be performed in that stage. And then there’s this exit criteria thing, which means, what do you have to complete? Which tasks must be completed to be able to exit that process stage? Well, buying process exit criteria, is what does each decision maker in this stage need to see, hear or feel understand or believe, to feel comfortable moving forward to the next stage with you? And you know, what most sellers do?

Right? They are, they are doing the same thing, the same way, the same time in every stage with everybody. And if you can get them past that, and you can say, Okay, let me get into what are the exit criteria for each of these buyers. And in some stages, they’re all the same. In some stages, every single one of your committee members is going to have a different set of exit criteria. And if you don’t address that, you’re going to have this friction pulling you back from your forward motion and your sales process all the time.

And so it’s simple stuff like that. Mack Dixon and Ted McKenna just released a book called jolt, which is about the the indecision that buyers feel in the risks and all that thing involved in then how do you work with these committees to get them past that outstanding research? excellent book, and we’re going to see more of this about decision science I’d predict about how do you guide people through these these decision process and make it less complicated for them. Yes, don’t give them too many choices, but give them the right choices.

Marketing has got to have all the right materials in each stage of this process for all these different buyers, sellers have to be able to understand how to articulate their messaging based on what these different sellers, are these different buyers rather, what they value in their value might be business value, financial and operational metrics, it might be experiential value, making the process easier, or a candidate experience easier.

It might be aspirational, it might have something to do with mission vision values. Yeah, you know, or a cause. And everybody has personal value at stake. Right. Something that matters to them is, is this going to be a risky decision that could hurt my career? Yeah. be promoted. Right? I mean, you know, so if you understand those things, you become a different seller than the way most people are selling today.


Damon Pistulka  51:11

That is one of the things the last thing you become that different seller, I think that is the real, the real gunpowder to light someone’s career on fire is understanding how to be that type of sales person and sales professional today and to sell that way because you will stand out far and above anyone that’s done like you said, What is it harder, faster and more of it or whatever the heck, because because you’re getting it you’re you’re making people are not making, you’re given people education,

so they can calm their concerns, solve their, quote, answer their questions, and allow them to make decisions that they feel comfortable going forward with that, that they’re not worried about, did that decision just put me on a path to getting fired or causing me trouble? And, and then helping them through that? It’s It’s so cool. So cool.


Mike Kunkle  52:09

You know what this stuff is? This stuff is not rocket science. No. Right. And yet, I get I have an inbox and InMail LinkedIn filled with these horrible seller centric pitches, most of most of which are trying to sell me something that I don’t even buy. Yeah, my current job, right? Yes, yes. Yes. Yes. Yeah, we can do we can do better.


Damon Pistulka  52:35

Yeah, we can. We can actually, I actually, I think I’ve posted about that I wrote I write my posts up every week ahead a week. So I think that’s one of them that’s coming out this week. Because it’s it is it is I look at people that are doing that every single day. And I wonder why are you wasting your time? Just it’s a waste of time. But I’m not gonna go off on that rant. It’s it’s it’s so awesome. Like, so incredible to talk to you today. Man. We are going to have to have you come back and we’re gonna talk about some more stuff.

But let’s talk we got it before we get off let’s talk about what you’re doing it sparks IQ. You guys got a lot of stuff going. I mean, I feel bad because we missed so many things. You got so many awards you got so man, you got to check out Mike, check out his profile and look at this guy. But what’s going on at sparks IQ now that that’s got you fired up stuff, your hat that’s happening that you’re having fun with?


Mike Kunkle  53:31

Well is, man there’s a lot, right. So there’s a ton of great stuff going on. Sparks IQ has been around is previous company name, strategic pricing associates in wholesale distribution focused on strategic pricing. And then in 2015, our CEO said, we really need to train the salespeople as part of these pricing projects to help them negotiate more effectively, and got into negotiation training.

Well, things have grown from there. And I joined the company in 2018. And Doug Wyatt and I collaborated to build modern sales foundation. So we’re talking about consultative, selling, modern, you know, buyer centric, outcome oriented value focus, that’s all of what this is about.

And we did it and following our CEO David’s vision of what training could be. And so we created episodic, I call it Seinfeld for sales, right? We created this airco team here way this is my airco hat, right? We created this team called airco, who sells high quality air filtration solutions, and you see them going through the program as you’re learning modern sales foundations. And there are also it says there’s a studio show with two co hosts, they teach the concepts.

Then you watch the Eriko team, too. See what does good look like? Or what struggles are they having and it is kind of like watching this Netflix episode. But along this 26 modules, we teach them everything from the right mindsets about being biocentric. We teach them prospecting, opportunity management and strategic account management. So it is full cycle.

Because a lot of methodologies today, they focus on one little thing, or one piece of it, but they don’t cover your entire customer lifecycle. So we’ve got that, and we’re implementing it in highly effective ways. My sales coaching program that’s been around since 2001, to 2003, we implemented that at NOVA star. We’ve we’ve done that in this episodic video based format. And so we’re implementing like crazy with customers, we’re having a blast, we’re seeing a lot of great results from it.

People are raving about the programs, we just got a an award from selling power for being one of the top top 20 virtual training companies. So we get the managers engaged, disliked walking the talk from what I talked about earlier, right, the video training is virtual. But managers generally tend to run local meetings, or for the coaching training, they get workshops with me along the way.

And we’ve gotten negotiation training, relationship training, probably coming out with a business acumen course, we have a virtual selling course right now, they get this, it’s free. We built this thing in a little different, you know, less intense way. Because we just saw so much bad virtual selling bad lighting, bad cameras, bad backgrounds. Yeah, so bad, you know, bad audio, and then poor selling techniques and virtual environments.

Right, you know, bad research, bad call planning, no objectives, poor meeting management, and not understanding that if you’re going to sell digitally and virtually, you need to be able to manage what elago calls the backstage in front stage. And so, you know, there are tools like digital solution rooms, where you can create a a personalized website for clients to go look at solutions that you load there, and they can explore and share with other people.

And so basically, ways that you can sell when you’re not there personally to sell. And so you can better manage the entire digital experience. Well, this course virtual selling is free. We’re giving it away to help sellers understand, hey, how can I create a better environment? And how can I use skills more effectively, to sell what I’m selling in a digital and virtual environment? So tons of stuff going on? And we’re having a blast?


Damon Pistulka  57:55

Awesome, awesome. Well, Mike, it’s been great talking to you today and man that the listeners the people that have been that that haven’t commented, man, go back and listen, if you’ve gotten this late, go back and listen to it. There’s so much gold in this. And I just want to thank Arpit and the other people that have commented while we while we are on today, thanks so much for that. But, Mike, I know people can follow you on LinkedIn, and then the sparks IQ. What’s it what’s the website address there again, on Spark


Mike Kunkle  58:27

sparks, IQ, unusual spelling S P A, R x Okay, SP AR x And there you’ll see both sides of the business sales analytics, strategic pricing, and then the sales training and coaching training. Check it out, reach out to me on LinkedIn, and I know there’s a Follow button there. But if you’re if you’re listening here to Damon, and you want to his peeps, you should connect, send me an invite to connect told me that you heard me here and I’d be happy to add you to my network.


Damon Pistulka  59:05

Awesome. Awesome. Well, Mike, thanks for being here today. Thanks, everyone for listening. We’ll be back again later this week with another show. Mike, hang out with us for a moment and we’ll talk a minute.


Mike Kunkle  59:15

All right. Thanks, David.

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