Mastering the Art of the Sale

In this episode of the First Buck podcast, host Nic Cary interviews Gabriele Barbera, head of Global Sales for Hewlett-Packard (HP). Gabriele shares his journey from starting his own business as a teenager to working for Accenture and eventually joining HP. He emphasizes the importance of sales skills and mentality, highlighting the need to understand and prioritize the needs of customers. Gabriele also discusses the value of taking risks, seeking feedback, and being open to change. He advises entrepreneurs to challenge themselves, hire people who are different from them, and listen to their instincts when making decisions. The episode concludes with a discussion on the importance of mentorship and the benefits of seeking diverse perspectives.

1st Buck Podcast Gabriele Barbera

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • The importance of sales skills and mentality in entrepreneurship
  • The need to understand and prioritize customer needs
  • The value of being open to positive criticism and feedback
  • Taking calculated risks and not being afraid to challenge the status quo
  • The importance of agility and the ability to adapt to change
  • The benefits of seeking diverse perspectives and challenging oneself
  • The significance of listening to one's instincts and making decisions with the available information
  • The importance of momentum and taking action rather than waiting for perfection


In this episode…

Nic Cary welcomes Gabriele Barbera to discuss the lessons learned during his entrepreneurial career journey. Gabriele emphasizes:

  • The importance of sales skills and mentality in entrepreneurship
  • The need to love and understand customers to position products effectively
  • The value of taking risks, being open to feedback, and making decisions with agility in entrepreneurship

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by Sky’s The Limit, one of the largest nonprofit programs for underrepresented young adult entrepreneurs in the US. Sky’s The Limit is a quick-growing digital platform that connects entrepreneurs with their peers, volunteer business mentors, training resources, and funding.

Our goal is to develop the social capital that founders need to chase their business dreams.

To learn more, please visit today.

Episode transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to The First Buck Podcast, where we feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Now, let's get started with the show.

Nic Cary  0:23

Welcome to the First Buck Podcast, brought to you by We feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people that support them. Today we're joined by Gabriele Barbera, head of Global Sales for Hewlett-Packard, hp. In this role, Gabriele's responsible for meeting revenue and margin targets for hardware services, ps, and print on a global scale for the company's largest end user customers. Gabrielle's team is focused on services premium growth in delivering a secure and superior workplace experience for HP's customers globally. Gabrielle began his career 17 years ago, has held several sales and management roles across the organization. He previously worked as a partner and consultant for Accenture, holding several positions in the oil and gas vertical around the world. Healed a Bachelor of Economy consulting from Torino University in Italy, and a master's course from Stanford University in 2022, Gabrielle relocated from Geneva, Switzerland to Vancouver, Washington where when he isn't visiting a customer site or on the road, he enjoys hiking and skiing. He has three children living around the world in Australia, Barcelona and the United Nations. And the United States. Gabrielle, we're really excited to have you today. Thank you so much for joining us. We have a little tradition here and the first question we always ask is, how did you earn your first buck, your first Euro, your first pound? Tell us a little bit about that.

Gabriele Barbera  1:42

Thanks. Thanks for the favorite introduction and the detailed introduction. I would say, well, good question. How did I earn my first dollars? I think it came back several years ago when I was 15 years old, and then I started working during the summer I was working together with a friend and actually we were moving furniture, moving kitchens and building them and installing them with our customers. And I think it was a great learning for two reason. First of all, because it was my first job, my first, while it was still liras at that time.

Nic Cary  2:32

A current fee that doesn't exist anymore.

Gabriele Barbera  2:34

No, not really. I just keep some of them just for a souvenir. But I think the biggest learning was how hard physically that work was. And even if we were so young, we were just falling asleep at the end of the day after this is such a hard and physical work. And that's probably where I decided now what I wanted to do in life and why studying and going through universities and so on was so important and accessing while entrepreneurship after that and all the rest that I did in my life.

Nic Cary  3:13

Thank you for telling us that story. It's so funny because everyone I've interviewed on this podcast, they all start off with the things around them and build a small business of some kind, whether it's a lemonade stand or taking out trash for neighbors or installing kitchens with their friend. And the thing is that you can use those immediate skills that you have that innately everyone possesses to begin your journey to become an entrepreneur, maybe to go work in a professional world someday. And the lessons you learned sounded to me like you probably drew a lot of lessons about customer service and taking care of clients. And so I'd love to hear little bit

Gabriele Barbera  3:50


Nic Cary  3:50

Backbreaking work to moving on a little bit. Walk us through a little bit, maybe your early twenties and how you started thinking about work and what were some of the lessons that you learned?

Gabriele Barbera  4:02

Yes. Well, briefly, I have three different phases in my career. After the university, as you said, in to in the north of Italy, I immediately started working for Accenture. The time the name of the company was still Anderson Consulting. It was still before being Accenture. I lived and moved to Accenture as a consultant. I had different steps there up to partner. I was specialized in the oil and gas. That allowed me also to work in several countries around the world, basically where oil is and to get this experience on seeing big customers from inside, going into their core business, into their strategy, and having this geographical experience as well, working in Africa, working in mid the Middle East, working in Norway, working in Madera, so basically all the places where the oil is and the United States of course. And I did this experience for several years, for eight, nine years.

And then I wanted to have a small company experience, more an entrepreneurial experience as you said. So I moved to France and I started working for a printing company. Actually, I relieved this printing company around 50 people. And I basically brought together three different small companies, made just one and made this company run as one. I did this for several years, for four years. That was a big challenge because compared to Accenture where you have a big company, a big shoulders and big money behind you, that was a very small entity, very local where you do everything. You do hr, you do production, you do delivery, you touch to everything was a very strong experience in this sense that on the other side, revealed to be very local and too much local for my interests. So after those four year where I did this experience, I wanted to come back to a big company.

And actually it was recruited by HP at that time, and I was recruited mainly in thanks also to my, again, entrepreneurial experience because HP was looking for somebody to help building a direct selling model. At time, HP was selling 99% through a network of channel partners or resellers, and we wanted to build a direct business to our biggest customers. And that's why I joined the company, started building this model. And then I went through different management role, always in sales building specialization, building public sector teams, and then building the global business until what I do today, which is, as you said, managing the biggest customers of the company.

Nic Cary  7:15

Wow. Okay, cool. So from installing kitchens to going to university to beginning a career in consulting, which is really a great way to get a lot of perspectives into how companies run, consultants get access to some of the stickiest and most challenging problems that businesses need to unwind. And it's a really good stepping stone I think, in many people's careers to then doing an entrepreneurial thing and learning the hard way about how much responsibility is kind of on the shoulders of the people involved in those smaller businesses. And then going to HP and building up a direct selling model. And that reminds me, I think one of my first computers was definitely an hp and we would've bought it from a third party, and I'm sure HP realized that they could sell directly to consumers via the internet and a few of these bigger retailers, then they could probably improve their margins quite a bit.

So it makes a lot of sense. I know that you were also involved in Business Angels among other things in that you care a lot about entrepreneurs. I was wondering if you could sort of talk a little bit about maybe a time either maybe in the printing business or at HP where you had to take a pretty big risk with some resources, whether it was a budget from HP or something. Talk to us a little bit about how you thought about persuading maybe the management to go down a strategic route or to invest in an initiative. And the idea here is if you get good at taking risk and assessing that you can take more and more risks that are managed in a way. And so I think it's helpful for people to hear, especially as they're early on in their businesses, what kind of frameworks they should use for whether it's making an investment in themselves, their education, or in their business, how should they think about taking risks?

Gabriele Barbera  9:10

Yes, now you are absolutely right, and even if I will make a couple of example while working for a big company, so again, with big shoulders of big money, big possibilities, but while working in this type of companies, the most difficult thing is to convince the people who take the decision to go in the direction that you want. And I always liked to make a difference and make a change, and I wanted to mention a couple of example as you're asking. First of all, it certainly as I said, when I joined HP and building the direct model, as I said, 99% of the business was done through reseller. So as you can imagine, there were a very high level of resistance to change. So when we came in and said, oh, why don't we build a direct model, most of the people were saying, why you want to do that?

Why the hell we should go to a different model? We always did like this and we will upset the reseller, and you have against, I can make you a list of hundreds of things that were rather convincing us not to do it. And finally we did it because we thought it was the necessary thing at the time because our competition was doing that and we were late and we were not accessing some of the biggest customers that wanted a direct direct connection. So we did this change. Then firstly was a change management and there was a necessity to find the funding, the support, and building all the network of people that would've allowed to build this ecosystem. And the similar thing, I did it four years ago when I created this specific team for the global customer.

We started from scratch. We had a different organization done by geographies, and I brought in the idea to build an organization that went globally through all the geographies and taking care of our biggest and global customer similar reaction and things, why we should do that. We never did it, why the customer should be interested, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and all the kind of resistance that you can imagine. And finally, after convincing the right people, we made an investment, we created a team, we developed an ecosystem dedicated to those customers that proved to be very effective and very successful, especially during the pandemic, as you probably heard, especially in the IT that have been a lot of issues with supply chain, availability of parts and so on. And having this ecosystem dedicated allowed to protect those biggest customer and keep on doing business and developing business with that. So to your question, my point and what I did in my career was to always prone and push for change, always ask our teams and myself, how can we do things differently? Why don't we look at things on a lateral way, on another way of doing, are we doing our best? Are we exploiting all our sources or should we do and take this? Definitely. So always look into the situations in a different way.

Nic Cary  12:38

I think it's so pointed to be reminded that the business world is constantly in competition and it's changing. And so one of the things that's really a challenge for organizations is to make those changes continuous and to constantly invest in new systems and improving the product experience and the client experience. And it can be tough if you've got something that's working, you can be lulled into a false sense of security about that, but the world is changing very quickly, arguably more quickly than at any point in human history. And so adapting to that change is a key challenge I think for many businesses out there

Gabriele Barbera  13:18

Follow up. And all of this applies perfectly to entrepreneurs and people who are leading their own business and challenging themselves on the way of doing that or anticipating or walking a different path is extreme important as you say, especially when things are good and they're doing well, because that's the moment to make a change if you way to make a change when things are bad or you are already in a difficult stake, it will be much more difficult.

Nic Cary  13:48

Yeah, that's very good advice and there's I think some good wisdom there. So you're a sales expert and one of the things entrepreneurs have to get good at is explaining their business idea, their product market fit, their idea for their company. And I want to hear a little bit about your perspectives on what it takes to be effective as a salesperson. And so selling your product or service key for any young founder or business leader. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you go about coaching new sales reps or a sales philosophy within hp, but then maybe separately, two part question. Tell us about maybe one of the biggest deals you've ever closed, something you're proud of, you just kind of went, wow, we smashed it on that one and here's how we were able to get that outcome.

Gabriele Barbera  14:44

Yes. So I strongly think that the sales skills and the sales mentality is extremely important also, and especially when we come back to entrepreneurship, and I just want to give an example specifically on this one. As you mentioned, I'm part of a business angel organization who is funding helping, coaching, mentoring entrepreneurs or people who wants to start that path. And very often the candidates that we meet that wanted to be part of the business engine and funded on their activities are coming with a general ideas. They come with something that is really wow in terms of product or service or whatever, something that maybe they worked on for years and then they finally start. And very often those people miss a sales experience. So they're so good and they know so well their product and service, but when it comes to salad, oh my, it's so hard for that because maybe they're engineers or they're technicians or yeah, they did not think to this part of the job.

So to me, this part is fundamental to be able to present, to position the product at the right way to the right audience with the right route to market, with the right way of selling all those parts and with the right attitude are extreme important. And that's exactly what, to your question, what I push to the new sales reps or to the new people joining the team, first and foremost is the love for the customer, understanding the customer, being oriented with the customer too often, especially in the big companies, we tend to do things or to build big projects, capabilities, skills and so on around what is important for your company, not what is important for your customers. That should be your main focus, right? The main point is to understand what the customer needs and what the customer is looking for and what you can make the things different for your customers because this will give also differentiation to your products and to your services. So all this attitude is extremely important to me. That means also being able to eventually with the customers to build a relationship or with a lot of small customers like consumer to build this loyalty and this loyalty is fundamental and can be built in different way depending on the segment that you are attacking. So all those type of things are fundamental to me to wrap the product in the service in the right way.

Nic Cary  17:36

Love it. I think my takeaway from that will be is just love your customers and learn about their problems and think about how the product that you're offering can emotionally connect with the challenges that they're facing. There was a quote I used to have above my door, which was treat your team like family, but treat your customers like royalty. And it was sort of this passion for reminding myself every day that you have to solve problems for your customers that they find valuable. And so many I've seen it too. And so many entrepreneurs have a brilliant idea, but they have to practice selling, especially if it's not a skill that they're necessarily really comfortable with. One of the things that entrepreneurs should do is practice public speaking, practice talking to potential customers, getting feedback from them and not being discouraged when they don't hear precisely what they were hoping to hear. The feedback is a gift and it can improve how you sell and your product, and I think there's sort of relentless cycle that has to be invested in whenever you're working with customers.

Gabriele Barbera  18:49

Yes, you are spot on, and this means also to go outside of the merely technical part of your product, but also to be able to elaborate around why this product is important, which advantages bring into you as a customer, just put yourself in customer shoes. Right?

Nic Cary  19:12

Totally. So you've hired a lot of people across your career and I wanted to ask a tough question about this because I think everyone that works with teams and whether they're a founder or a business leader has obviously made some great calls and then had some painful lessons about management and recruiting and onboarding. So I wanted to ask, what is your favorite interview question and what are some important lessons that you've learned in figuring out who you can work best with and how do you search for those rare truffles of people that really bring the best to their work?

Gabriele Barbera  19:54

That's a very vast question and I love it. And why is that? First of all, because I strongly think that you can have the best product in the world, but if you don't have the people that can sell or that can create the emotion or can make it happen, you will not go anywhere. So at the end, the business is still man to man relationship that need to be built. So recruiting the right people is extremely important. Now, to your question, I don't think I have a preferred question is rather I think the way that I conduct the interviews and what I do during the interviews is what I explained earlier is to go out of the box. I always start hearing what the person has been doing obviously, but then I start asking questions that are not necessarily connected neither with the job or what his explain he or she's explaining about her career.

I like to ask questions that are kind of, oh wow, why he's asking me this question and see the reaction, somebody, it happens pretty often. People get so shocked by the question that, oh, they don't know what to say because this is out of the what the problem they prepare as a classic job interview, but that's exactly what I need and what I want. I want people that are able to react, that are able to take whatever is coming and have the good reaction in a moment. I don't want people that are in a box. I don't want people that are sticking only to a process and that as soon as there is something out of the process, I don't know anymore what to do or let me come back. Yeah, fine. But that's not what I'm looking for. I look for this agility and I strongly think that most of the people can learn everything. You can study, you can open a book, you can go on the net, whatever, but there are some personal skills that are so difficult to learn that either you have or you have not. So that's the type of things that I'm trying to find out to find the very special collaborators. Right.

Nic Cary  22:26

Got it. Yeah, I think the keyword there that you got to was just agility, which is you really need that in the business climate today. If you hire people that only can do one little thing, then they won't have the capacity to solve the unknown problems that will one day reveal themselves. And I like that it's almost looking for someone with an entrepreneurial mindset to be part of the team.

Gabriele Barbera  22:52

Very much so. Look back a few years ago, who would've never imagined about pandemic and whatever happened, nobody. And the one who came out of that were the one with most agility and think, oh my God, all this is happening to us. Yes, okay, then what do we do?

Nic Cary  23:10

Yeah, you'll hear this frequently, which is that the obstacles are actually opportunities and that's that you have to get good at is just solving one problem and then going forward and solving another one, and not taking it personally that there are just many problems, but seeing them as opportunities to fix.

Gabriele Barbera  23:28

I just finished a book from a friend, which one who collaborator, it's called The Phoenix and the Unicorn as a book from Peter Hinson. And Peter is an exceptional person driving change and is an exceptional speaker and presenter. He is elaborating exactly around these themes of agility and ability to drive the change in business, not only because a lot of those skills and capabilities you can apply in your own life. This book is really exceptional and I definitely suggest as foreign entrepreneurs and people who wants to start this path and this career.

Nic Cary  24:21

Oh, I love that. So Phoenix and the Unicorn. So one of my questions was going to be what was the best book you've read recently? And I think you got to it there. Go right way. So perfect.

Gabriele Barbera  24:32

I anticipated the question.

Nic Cary  24:34

So one of the things having talked to a lot of business leaders is that no one really does it on their own. Even the great successful entrepreneurs that are sort of heralded, they have a lot of help. And one of those ways that people get help early on frequently is through a mentor or an advisor to them about their business. I was wondering if you had any examples of how mentorship has shaped how you've been able to improve as a business leader, and then talk a little bit about that relationship and what made it work.

Gabriele Barbera  25:09

Yes, definitely. I can give a couple of example and the mentorship is a very important thing, but I will also add to that the typology and the profile of the people we are working with. I think that this is extremely important that at least that's one of my learning, that we also challenge ourselves under that point of view. And for example, we choose a mentor or we choose our collaborators in a way that challenges ourselves. In other words, don't look and don't hire people that are too similar to you. That could be a trend. I mean, you tend to like people that are like you, they think like you or they say yes to your things and so on. But how enriching is to hire people that are different from you and that challenge you and that challenge your ideas and that bring you ideas and that open the way of looking to the world, to the business and so on.

And we must not be afraid to be challenged or not to be right on something and to admit that, oh, that's a better idea than what I had, how enriching and how farther we can go in that way. And I'd like to think and to apply this also to mentorship, don't try and choose a mentor who has been doing exactly your career path or exactly your step or having exactly your culture or mirroring exactly what you expect to hear. Rather try and find somebody who is different, who has a different, obviously you need to find some common points, but somebody who can bring a different perspective and challenge you. Don't be afraid to be challenged. That's my overall message. Right?

Nic Cary  27:06

Yeah, I think that's fantastic advice. I think frequently we're biased to sometimes seek comfort and obviously the hard things about hard things are exactly that, which is sometimes you have to be told, Hey, you're not looking at this problem maybe in the correct way, or have you thought about this other perspective? And it's very true. I mean, the military knows this. When they'd set up an obstacle course, they have a team run against another team, and if they have everybody that was exactly the same in one team and then a diverse team on the other group, the diverse team wins every time because they can challenge their way through an obstacle course with unique talents and skills of a diverse group. And that's why you have to hire for people that are different than you, especially in a world where you have to adapt to more change and have that agility. So I think when thinking about your mentors or who could potentially be a good mentor for you, I love the idea of having someone that's quite different from you and can help you find your blind spots, basically. We all have them.

Gabriele Barbera  28:13

Very much so.

Nic Cary  28:15

Okay, last question. So you've sort of had this incredible story arc from starting off as a young entrepreneur with the kitchen business to going into one of the most famous management consulting companies in the world to doing an entrepreneurial sort of thing yourself to working again for a big technology company and now investing in young entrepreneurs and supporting them. So I think a lot of entrepreneurs, we see this data in Sky's the Limit. They frequently are afraid to get started because they don't know where to begin, or maybe they lack a role model or a mentor to help them get some confidence. What tips can you give the listeners for how to manage some of the stress that comes with running your own business or starting off your career?

Gabriele Barbera  29:06

Well, I would say a couple of things. Now, it is difficult to, in my opinion, to have points or tips that are valid for everybody. And that's key to me, come back to agility. So take some of those points and then transform and move them in. What makes more sense for you and the place where you are, the ideas that you have, the career that you want to make. Certainly one of the thing is never stop to challenge yourself for the reason that I explained before, but don't think that your product is the best in the world, that your service is the best and that will never change. And that will always be like that and everybody will like it and so on because it will probably not be the case. So be open to positive criticism and I would like to call this feedback, be open to feedback, integrated the feedback.

Seek for feedbacks from diverse point of view. That's extremely important. Don't be afraid to take risks. What makes a difference is the ability to take risks. Now, it does not mean to go into crazy things and borrow millions of dollars if you will never be able to pay this back. It doesn't mean to go against the wall, but to take calculated risk. And don't be afraid to open boxes that the haters have not done. Don't be afraid of the long list of reasons why you should not do that. I made a couple of example in my career where everybody was saying, nah, why you do that? Don't do that. Don't be afraid of that. If you think that this is second thing. And last but not least, listen to your guts. So listen to what is inside you and what your inner voice is telling you and think that is the right thing to do, right?

Again, maybe don't adapt to everybody, but my way of taking decision is certainly collecting information, certainly to get to know better what the problem is and so on. But I'm not waiting to have one 90% of the information to take a perfect decision because this will take too much time when you get the 60, 70, 80%, I dunno, this depends from each of us, but when you get a certain amount of information to take a first decision, do it. And then don't be afraid to correct your decision, right? Because then maybe you find, okay, that could have been better. Let's move it and let's change it. But this process of taking decisions and being agile in moving and having things done, it's fundamental to me, especially if you start an entrepreneurial career.

Nic Cary  32:10

Gabrielle, so much to summarize there, and I think some true pearls of wisdom, so I'll do my best. But I think there's something very true about maintaining an agile state of mind that's attempting to learn and grow and to personalize all of the feedback you might get in the world and to figure out what that prescription for yourself is. But to never stop challenging yourself, to be open to positive feedback, to not be afraid to take risks. And I think that last bit is hard to cultivate, but it's sort of like how do you listen to your instincts and your guts and get to a point where you can make a decision? And I think a lot of people suffer from analysis paralysis or perfectionism or they're afraid to get going because they don't have the perfect arrow or target, but an entrepreneurship, very much so. And I also think in business there are thresholds where you can make a decision. And even if it's not a perfect decision with more information later, you can go back and make a better decision going forward. But that process of just making decisions creates momentum in your personal life, but also in your professional life. That momentum is critical.

Gabriele Barbera  33:30

Time is the essence in this type of decisions, rather than take too much time to take a decision or having a perfect product. And then you are out of the market, go to the minimum value decision, take the decision, make it happen, and create a momentum, and then you will correct if necessary.

Nic Cary  33:52

Perfect. Well, Gabrielle, thank you so much for your time today. I definitely was reminded of some important timeless lessons about the importance of sales, of the appreciation and affection for customers and to listen to them and on the personal side to be open to criticism and feedback and see it as a gift, as a way to continually improve. So in conclusion, at skys, we connect underrepresented entrepreneurs with volunteer business professionals for free one-on-one mentoring. We also provide business guides to all of our members monthly funding opportunities. So sign up for free today, and if you liked what you heard, please subscribe and share this podcast. Thank you very much, Gabrielle.

Gabriele Barbera  34:36

Thank you.

Outro  34:43  

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