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The Building Blocks of Sales Enablement: Q&A With Mike Kunkle

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Sales enablement is no longer the new kid on the block. Having grown rapidly in recent years, it’s now considered a best practice at many sales organizations. But there’s little alignment across the sales profession on what sales enablement is or how to achieve it, nor is there a formalized strategy on what a sales enablement practice is or requires.

In his new book The Building Blocks of Sales Enablement, sales enablement expert Mike Kunkle addresses these issues and presents a proven approach that both supports sales talent and achieves true business results.

1. What prompted you to write the book?

I wrote this book to help anyone who wants to start or evolve a sales enablement function that truly delivers results. The book is about getting past the random acts of enablement and moving to a formal maturity model. The intended audience is anyone from a current sales enablement leader who wants to achieve a higher level of effectiveness, to a new practitioner who wants to get started on the right foot, to executives and senior sales leaders who want to implement sales enablement in their company or evolve their function to be more impactful.

2. What is sales enablement?

Although the profession still doesn’t have a universal definition, in short, sales enablement is a function (or department), a title, and a growing body of knowledge about how to support sales forces effectively as they serve their buyers and customers. It includes:

  • Sales messaging
  • Sales content to attract, interest, and engage buyers or answer buyer questions throughout their buying process
  • Sales training and coaching with all the supporting materials and systems
  • Sales technology and tools that support process, methodology, and go-to-market motions
  • Cross-functional collaboration with other leaders and functions that support the sales force
  • Support enablement for frontline sales managers

It’s important to note that sales enablement is not just sales training, not just content, or not just software and technology. It incorporates all of those and more.

3. How has sales enablement evolved over the years?

I’ve been doing sales enablement today since 1991, which was well before the term sales enablement was coined. I had a fortunate start in sales training, working for leaders in a Fortune 50 corporation who gave me a wide berth on what to do and plenty of budget but wanted to know they were getting a good ROI.

While I got great results as a sales manager, I was new to the training profession, so I read everything from books to research, listened to tapes, talked to people, and did a lot of trial and error. I figured out how to move the needle and get results.

As I started to get more exposure to the training profession, I learned that not everyone was getting results like I was. I made a significant impact by approaching the work systematically, through a lens of performance improvement with organized, cross-functional collaboration rather than just executing a series of random initiatives. That made all the difference. Somewhere in the middle of this evolution, performance consulting started as a movement, and I identified with that approach. I took workshops, read new material and books, and hunted down authors to talk to them. I thought we were all going to be moving from training to performance.

But that didn’t happen, or at least not on a large scale. There was a bell curve with numerous practitioners and consultants on the far right of the curve. They were crushing it. A larger number of people fell in the middle and the left, and they were not achieving good results. I was puzzled that the performance consulting approach didn’t become the de facto way that everyone approached training and performance improvement.

Years later, sales enablement has emerged as a function, collaborating across functions with the hopeful intent of improving performance. On the right side of the bell curve, with the practitioners who take a strategic, systematic approach, we’re seeing positive impacts on win rates and quota attainment through using approaches more like performance consulting. But the bulk of the practitioners are not delivering those same results. I see history repeating itself, and I want to be part of a solution to this recurring problem. That’s why I wrote the book.

Building Blocks of Sales Enablement: Systems Thinking, Buyer Acumen, Buyer Engagement Content, Sales Support Content, Sales Hiring, Sales Training, Sales Coaching, Sales Process, Sales Methodology, Sales Analytics & Metrics, Sales Technology & Tools, Sales Compensation & Recognition, Sales Manager Enablement, Communication--Sales Team & Cross-Functional Collaboration, Sales Support Services

4. What are the building blocks of sales enablement?

I’ve developed a systems approach to support the performance levers for sales enablement and improve sales performance. While there are a lot of organizational functions and systems that can support sales, I’ve gotten the best results through the alignment of four systems—sales hiring, sales readiness, sales training, and sales management (which includes coaching).

The framework, collaboration, and communication practices are all intertwined with the systems:

  • The building blocks represent a framework of 12 core blocks. They include buyer acumen, buyer engagement content, sales support content, sales hiring, sales training, sales coaching, sales process, sales methodology, sales analytics and metrics, sales technology and tools, sales compensation and recognition, and sales manager enablement. They are the elements that must be in place for a sales force to function at its highest-possible level.
  • Cross-functional collaboration and communication practices support the building blocks.
  • The systems also support the building blocks, and you implement the building blocks through the systems you create.

5. Which audiences will benefit from the book?

The primary audience for the book is sales enablers, from senior leaders of large enablement organizations to the leader running a one-person show. While they’ll use the content differently (at different levels of breadth and depth), the content all applies. Leaders may hold the title of sales enablement, commercial enablement, revenue enablement, buyer enablement, or any of the latest evolving titles. Their areas of work include commercial excellence and sales effectiveness—all cousins to sales enablement, like sales training, sales operations, and RevOps. In some organizations, marketing, training, learning, and some HR leaders, including OD professionals and change management leaders, are responsible for enabling the sales force. If you support the sales organization in getting the best possible results, there is something in this book for you.

Also, sales leaders at all levels, including frontline sales managers, as Dave Brock points out in his foreword, can benefit from this book. Senior leaders must see how much alignment and top-down support are required and must understand the power of systems thinking to build repeatable, replicable systems and processes that deliver predictable results.

I’d even suggest that C-suite executives, presidents, and managing directors can benefit because top-down support is required to get the best results. Lastly, venture capitalists and private equity leaders (although not for early-stage companies like seed rounds or Series A) can benefit from the book when it’s time to put structure to semiorganized chaos and to build more sophisticated operations.

Also, in the building blocks, I include various elements of sales performance improvement that I’ve used over the years, whether or not they always fall under the heading of sales enablement. I did this for two reasons. These are the performance levers you need to align and fire on all cylinders to get the job done and get results. In addition, sales enablement works across disciplines in cross-functional collaboration. Even if you don’t have personal responsibility for hiring or product messaging or sales process or sales compensation, you’ll want to work cross-functionally with those other leaders to ensure the sales force has what they need and is operating at the highest-possible level. If you are a cross-functional stakeholder (in marketing, sales operations, legal, finance, or any of the “Bricks in the Wall,” as I call them) who works with sales enablement, you can read the book with the team, discuss the relevant portions, and discuss how to better support the sales force and your customers.

6. Do you target a specific vertical industry or organization size?

I don’t target any specific verticals or size organizations, because I’ve seen firsthand that what I write about in this book produces results in start-ups through the Fortune 10 in at least seven different verticals. Sales enablement, like all forms of performance improvement work, is largely industry-agnostic. How you do it, however, may vary based on the size of the organization and the size of the enablement team. For example, it’s unlikely that small companies will offer sales support services like a deal desk or research and preparation support. But all of them can benefit from diagnosing, hiring, training, coaching, and managing more effectively. That said, the sheer scale difference between a 25-person company and a 250,000-person corporation requires adjustments. A sole enabler running a one-person department is going to need to operate very differently than the enablement leader of a 10- or 20-person department. The building blocks apply in all cases. It’s just a matter of prioritization, how you implement them, and to what level.


7. What is a lesson you’ve learned that your readers will benefit from?

There’s a lot of talk about the need for simplicity in sales, like Gartner’s concept of sense-making to make the buying process less complex, less overwhelming, and more frictionless. I support that wholeheartedly. As enablers, we should make things as simple as possible for our sellers, to enable them to make it as simple as possible for their buyers.

That said, diagnosing root-case problems, developing solutions, and changing sales behaviors to improve organizational performance is neither easy nor simple work. I love the quote attributed to Einstein, that you should make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. I’ve seen challenges arise because something was too complicated, and I’ve seen an equal number of challenges created by someone who tried to over-simplify something and the solution didn’t produce results.

My advice to enablers is that we often must do the hard, complex, complicated, detailed thinking and work behind the scenes to produce something that is as simple as possible for our sellers and buyers—and that gets results.

About the Author

Mike Kunkle is a respected sales transformation architect and internationally recognized sales training and sales enablement expert. He is an experienced corporate leader and consultant who helps companies drive dramatic revenue growth. He also is the vice president of sales enablement services for SPARXiQ, where he advises clients, writes, speaks at conferences, develops and leads webinars, designs sales training courses, delivers workshops, and designs sales enablement systems that get results.

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit

The Building Blocks of Sales Enablement Cover Image.jpg
The Building Blocks of Sales Enablement
ISBN: 9781952157622 | 200 Pages | Paperback

To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

To schedule an interview with Mike Kunkle, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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well done. look forward to meeting you at TD sell.
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