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ATD Blog

The Foundation of Sales Enablement and Sales Effectiveness

Thursday, April 18, 2019

For your sales enablement practice, you want to improve your sales productivity (your sales force's ability to generate profitable revenue) . Achieving this goal first requires a strong foundation of the concepts of sales enablement and sales effectiveness. This post lays out that foundation which fuels the mashup of sales enablement and sales effectiveness.

I’ve always liked the Socrates quote, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Remarkably, we have relatively few common definitions in the sales profession. So, for purposes of alignment and understanding (even if we’re not in complete agreement), I’d like to offer some definitions to get started.

Sales Productivity
I often hear sales productivity defined as “revenue per rep.” However, I prefer to define it more broadly as “the output of the sales force over a given time period.” This can be expressed as a total or as an average of revenue per rep.

While many sales leaders measure that output solely in terms of revenue, I like to consider both revenue and profitability. (You’ve probably heard the old joke, “How do we lose money quarter after quarter and still stay in business? Volume, volume, volume!”) Unless you’re running a startup that needs to show customer acquisition and revenue growth at any cost to secure funding, it’s profitable growth that matters.

Simply stated: total revenue, revenue per rep, and profit percentage for a given period, compared to the same metrics for some previous period (previous quarter, for example), gives you a quick, high-level view into whether the sales force is doing better or worse. That’s sales productivity.

Sales Enablement
There are numerous definitions for sales enablement—from various individual sales analysts, the Sales Enablement Society, and even ATD. I’ll add my own: sales enablement is providing the information, content, training, analytics, support, tools, and technology needed to enable your sales force to go to market effectively and efficiently to generate and win opportunities with your target buyers and profitably grow the business.
What’s more, there are various stages of maturity in sales enablement:

  • No approach: Let’s leave reps alone and let them sell (because this works so well, right?).
  • Informal approach: Random acts of sales enablement (typically fueled by bright shiny objects, flavor-of-the-month thinking, and knee-jerk reactions to the latest problem).
  • Formal approach: This is what I call the “Building Blocks of Sales Enablement” (with systems thinking).
  • Adaptive approach: Evolving to performance consulting. (This is my best hope for the future of our profession.)

Building Blocks of Sales Enablement

For now, let’s focus on the formal maturity stage and my building blocks and systems (see figure and definitions below).
Kunkle_Building Blocks of Sales Enablement 2021.png

Talent Selection

Implement a proven-effective process to hire or promote people who have the best chance of succeeding in the chosen role.

Sales Training

Build sales onboarding/ongoing training that supports the above. Develop ongoing training based on sales competency gaps and new offerings. Train managers (first) then reps. Establish a sales learning system: train, sustain knowledge, develop skills, transfer skills, and coach to mastery.

Sales Coaching

Select a sales coaching model and implement a competency development framework. Remove obstacles, enable managers, and engage reps and managers in an ongoing process to identify and close sales competency gaps to increase organizational sales mastery and performance.

Buyer Acumen

Identify your buyer personas: what problems are they trying to solve, what outcomes are they trying to achieve, what are the metrics that matter to each? Document your buyer’s journey, including buying process exit criteria or (decision process and decision criteria).

Buyer Engagement Content

Align your marketing content (and lead-gen campaigns), sales content and collateral, and sales messaging to identify the problems, and address the buying process exit criteria.

Sales Support Content

Develop sales support, job aids, checklists, training reminders, calculators and other tools, to support process/methodology.

Sales Process

Align your sales process to the buyer’s journey. Document tasks and exit criteria for buyers and sellers.

Sales Methodology

Select appropriate sales methodologies for prospecting, opportunity management, and strategic account management/development. Develop sales competencies by role from a top-producer analysis whenever possible, or proven best practices. Customize.

Sales Analytics

Benchmark your sales metrics, including conversion ratios, deal size, cross-sell, ramp-up times for onboarding, pipeline velocity, content sharing, KPIs—whatever is important for your business. Track results pre- and post-training. Also track your sales onboarding and learning metrics. Analyze everything. Using whatever tools you have available, analyze customers, territories, purchase patterns and more to understand your business and improve performance.

Sales Technology and Tools

Select and implement sales technology to support your sales force, create efficiency, and increase time spent selling and support effectiveness.

Sales Compensation

Design a sales compensation and incentive plan that encourages the behaviors you expect and the results you want.

Sales Manager Enablement

Train managers to use your sales coaching model. Train managers on performance analysis and coaching. Foster a coaching culture and sales competency development. Determine your management operating rhythm and management disciplines you want to instill. Train managers on that and hold them accountable for executing your cadence.

Systems Thinking

Apply systems thinking to create an environment that supports high performance. Implement a Sales Support System, supported by a Sales Learning System, to perpetuate the above and pull everything together.


Manage communication to the sales team; become the single point of contact for communication.

Sales Support Services—the base of the building blocks—aren’t widely offered and tend to be provided by only the largest departments that have the budget and staff to provide them. Support services are often offered through service level agreements (SLAs) to the sales force and include items like:

  • buyer- and client-facing presentations (creation / customization)
  • account or contact research (prospecting preparation)
  • preparation services for meetings
  • RFP support
  • deal desk
  • coaching services.

Please note: Even in the core building blocks, not all the elements are owned by sales enablement (especially talent selection and sales compensation). It varies greatly by organization size and complexity, and depends on organization design (for example, what departments and roles exist). If not owned by an actual sales enablement function, the SE team should still have influence and input on cross-functional collaboration, because these areas impact sales readiness, enablement, and performance.

Applying Systems Thinking

I’m not alone in believing in the power of systems thinking. Consider the words of W. Edward Deming, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” Likewise, Geary Rummler and Alan Brache said, “If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.”

More than any other element in the building blocks, though, systems thinking requires some explanation (see figure below).

Kunkle Sales Systems Thinking.png
The Sales Support System on the left lays a foundation to help your sales force go to market effectively. Technically, sales training or the sales learning system is a part of this system, but it’s important enough to expand and explain in detail, because the five stages of sales mastery and behavior change are embedded in the learning system. For now, let’s focus on the sales learning system. (For more on the Sales Learning System, download a free eBook at

Like Kurt Lewin’s three-stage change management system (Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze), the learning system will help you think through how to prepare for change, guide the change (with the five stages), and cement the change in your culture.

Kunkle Sales Learning System.png
And that is Sales Enablement, at the formal level, with systems thinking support to foster learning and behavior change.

Closer Look at Sales Effectiveness

I define sales effectiveness as the process of identifying and implementing:

  • the right sales tasks, activities, and methodologies to produce the best possible sales outcomes
  • the best or most-effective practices for each task or activity.

Sales effectiveness includes the most successful practices (or top-producer practices) for:

  • prospecting and demand generation
  • opportunity qualification and opportunity management
  • strategic account management.

After years of conducting top-producer analyses, I’ve identified what several Sales Effectiveness Acumens—or the series of things at which top producers excel that differentiates them from the rest of the pack. (Keep in mind that some of these depend on organizational structure and how the company goes to market).

Industry Acumen

Domain expertise: understanding the industry challenges, opportunities, technologies, regulations and legislation, business practices, current events and news, and the general state of the profession.

Business Acumen

Understanding business models, financial acumen , operational metrics and outcomes such as key performance indicators and critical success factors , pricing , how customer organizations make money , and how to build a business case and calculate ROI.

Customer Acumen

Understanding general buyer personas and buyers’ journey or buying processes, including challenges, opportunities, impacts, needs, objectives, priorities (COIN-OP), decision process, decision criteria, decision roles, desired outcomes with metrics and measures, and consideration of both the decision makers’ business and personal needs.

Ecosystem Acumen

As applicable, understanding of vendor and channel partners and how to most effectively build relationships and engage with them to uncover, manage, and win opportunities through the effective co-creation of solutions for customers.

Sales Acumen

Includes sales research, sales call planning, prospecting/lead generation, digital selling practices, opportunity qualification, consultative selling using an adaptive sales methodology (including discovery/situation assessment, solution development/co-creating solutions, developing proposals, conducting demos and/or presenting solutions/solution dialogue, resolving concerns, and gaining commitment), sales meeting management, multithreading to message appropriately to buyers with different interests, storytelling, insight selling, negotiating, influence skills, consulting skills, general dialogue and communication skills, team selling, and strategic account management.

Solution Acumen

Understanding of products and services and how they solve customer problems, critical thinking and problem solving, forcefield analysis, how solutions tie to industry acumen, financial acumen, customer acumen, and ecosystem acumen. This is the culmination of acumens, used to create value for customers (and differentiation for the company) to achieve customers’ desired outcomes. Includes an understanding of competitive offerings and how to position against them, as well as against DIY (do it yourself) and the status quo.

Organizational Acumen

How to plan and organize effectively. Includes territory planning, account planning, sales call planning, leading sales meetings, task management, using CRM, sales enablement tools, other technology tools and performance support, action planning, calendaring, project management, change management, and personal productivity practices.

Operational Acumen

How to get things done: how to make things happen in your own organization and in others. This includes an understanding of processes, political savvy, culture, collaboration, consensus building, and the ability to execute on all the above plans effectively.

Like the various Sales Effectiveness Acumens, I’ve also identified Foundations of Sales Effectiveness (see figure below). Less than the full acumens, I think of the foundations as the “Pareto Principle of Sales Effectiveness.” In other words, here are the key things (approximately 20 percent?) that sales reps must do well when selling to generate the bulk (approximately 80 percent?) of their results.

Kunkle Foundations of Sales Effectiveness.png
Most of these foundations have been explained in the above acumens or are common language in the sales profession. Two may require a bit of explanation.

  • I use the phrase “resolving concerns” instead of the more common “overcoming objections,” because in my opinion, nothing could be less buyer-oriented or more combative than having your “objections” be “overcome.” It’s time we evolve our sales language.
  • “Buyer-orientation” is probably self-explanatory, but still worth detailing (see figure below). Essentially, I endorse a Buyer-Oriented Selling System that flips the script and focuses on understanding the buyers and their individual situations, and co-creating solutions to achieve the outcomes buyers want and need. This viewpoint is based on the evolution of buyer behavior, that most buyers have a less than favorable opinion of sales professionals, and how buyer expectations for sellers have increased in recent years.

Kunkle Buyer Oriented System.png

Putting It All Together

The magic happens when the top-producer practices for the Foundations of Sales Effectiveness (with a Buyer Oriented Selling System) meet the Building Blocks of Sales Enablement (with the Sales Learning System) to drive Sales Productivity. (Peanut butter, meet chocolate!)

I won’t say it’s easy. It is possible, though, and I’ve seen it done multiple times with excellent results. The good news is that it doesn’t require perfection. If you get this even 80 percent right, you will have your sales machine humming, selling, and producing in ways that far exceed expectations. You’ll also be far ahead of most other companies, because even though the rewards are great, and this is the work (I believe) we’re supposed to be doing, many do not approach it this way.

I wish you the very best of success with your mashup of sales enablement with sales effectiveness to drive sales productivity!

About the Author

As VP of sales effectiveness services for SPARXiQ and a nationally recognized thought leader in sales improvement, Mike Kunkle designs sales training courses, delivers workshops, and works with clients to implement sales effectiveness systems that dramatically improve results.

You can connect with Mike on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @Mike_Kunkle.

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