Claude Bardy | Are You Asking the Right Questions When Coaching Your Salespeople?
Managers often miss chances to coach their team during sales reviews. It is easy to focus on the status of opportunities in the pipeline, and miss what matters more. Claude Bardy has seen it happen.
Claude came to sales with an engineering background. Today, he helps new businesses developing their sales process and sales organizations looking to improve.
We talk about:
- What should be normal questions but seem to be tough to ask
- Getting to the bottom of why sales may be stuck ‘waiting to close’
- Letting the sales team figure out how to move opportunities along based on knowing the customer
Michael Webb: B2B sales and marketing works to find the highest quality prospects, reach decision-makers and sell value. Operational excellence uses data and systems thinking to make changes that cause improvement and eliminate waste. My name is Michael Webb and this is the Sales Process Excellence podcast. In the next 30 to 40 minutes, we’re going to destroy the myth that these two groups conflict and show you how to bring both strategies together to create more wealth for your company and your customers.
Michael Webb: I’m excited today to introduce you to Claude Bardy. Claude is a consultant in France. Claude, welcome here.
Claude Bardy: Thank you, Michael. I’m excited to be here.
Michael Webb: So we have only talked a couple times in the past and I’m really interested to learn about your background here. The audience will see why here as this unfolds. But tell us about your background and what has led you to what you do today.
Claude Bardy: Okay, yeah. Thanks, Michael. I am a French national, born in France, lived in France and Europe, and the US of A. I consider myself an international French person. Multi-culti, speak five languages, so I’ve been around in various environments. And from a work perspective, I trained initially as an engineer, so technical background. I hold an engineer’s diploma from one of the French schools. But I moved to sales almost 30 years ago. No, more than 30 years ago, sorry, and haven’t gone back. I’ve been doing sales since 1987. It’s a decision because I wanted to concentrate on relationship, on helping businesses grow, and I thought my contribution was best in the sales, and I like the challenge.
Michael Webb: Okay. So out of curiosity, what was it you were selling in the very first sales job?
Claude Bardy: I was selling CAD-CAM systems.
Michael Webb: Okay, cool.
Claude Bardy: Computer-aided design. It’s one thing led to another, my first job was a technical job with the software company called Dassault Systems, which produces or designs the software called CATIA. And from there I tried selling it and started my sales path using that, or based on this CATIA software, CAD-CAM software. And I’ve sold that to small businesses in France. I’ve sold that to larger businesses in France, but that was only France. And after, how is it? ’93, so six years, I moved to selling telecom systems, international.
Claude Bardy: So there I did a couple of, no more than a couple, seven, eight years in the telecom and payments field. So my customers were international operators, telecoms, banks, all over the world, all over the world. As I say, I lived on in C 66 K in a Boeing 747 flying all over the world.
Michael Webb: All right, and so what led you then to what you’re doing today?
Claude Bardy: I stopped my sales career as an employee in 2009. I’d been selling managing sales team and running sales organizations, business units, focusing on sales. And since 2009 my employer and I split up in 2009. And I set myself up as a consultant, still interested in sales. I like sales, I like sales teams, I like trying to improve and help a sales team sell better. And so I set up shop as an independent consultant in 2009. And now I help businesses develop sales projects usually related to new businesses or restructuring and changing a sales organization.
Claude Bardy: And along the way, I have acquired a bunch of other competencies. I’m a certified coach because I felt this was needed. Sales is also a people thing. So new products are important, processes are important, but people are also very, very important. And coaching was, to me, obvious as a set of skills which I needed to be successful.
Michael Webb: So what kinds of principals in the process-oriented world, operational excellence, systems thinking, lean six sigma types of things. What sorts of principles have attracted you, and especially with respect to how they apply to sales?
Claude Bardy: Right. You can imagine the situation in 2009 when I started my consulting business. I said, “How am I going to go from a wish to a business in helping a sales organization?” I had been exposed to very primitive sales processes, or in-house self-developed mom and pop CRMs. And I thought there must be some better way to do that.
Claude Bardy: So I simply honestly very directly Googled, “Sales process,” and came across a guy called Michael Webb who you might be familiar with, and I liked what he said. So I bought his book, read that and try to apply that to my consultancy cases. And to come back to your question, principles, I think that there is not a single component which explains sales performance. I think it’s, sure, product a little bit, pricing. It’s like the three or four Ps of marketing, product, pricing, sure. But people, and process, and also how you manage the sales team. I must make, let’s say, define a little bit the scope or the field I’m working in.
Claude Bardy: I work only on B2B and usually B2B to C kind of businesses. I don’t do B to C. It’s a different set of principles and rules. But in B2B, face to face complex, remember I’m an engineer. I like complex solutions, complex situations. And selling in those environments are … Well, you need a process approach. But success doesn’t come just from having the right process. You need to manage the thing.
Claude Bardy: And just to give an illustration, I believe in the power, lots of Ps today, in the power of a sales review done as quote, “Coaching kind of sales review.” I have seen with my customers, and I must say I’ve been slightly guilty too, sales reviews which are just and only focused on the weighted expected revenue shown in the pipeline. I think that is a partial approach, and the reason is the following. Salespeople, sales managers, sales directors, as we call them here in Europe, have a lot of pressure to meet the numbers.
Claude Bardy: This is all over the world, and not just in France or in Europe. But this pressure, number one. Number two, human nature being what it is, people tend to too easily move an opportunity down in the funnel. And with the weighted average, the pipeline looks nice. The weighted year and revenue looks nice. Whereas the sales, I told the process, the real sales just does not reflect the actual chance of reaching that forecast revenue. Do you see what I mean?
Michael Webb: Yeah, I do. So, I’m hearing two things in there. I’m hearing, it’s sort of like if you’ve ever seen maybe a young adult or a teenager, sometimes an older adult, and they get a dog as a pet. And the dog gets out of the house and is starting running outside. And they don’t want that to happen so they start yelling at the dog, “Come back here, you.” And he’d chase the dog. Right? “Come back here,” and that’s just going to make the dog go the other direction. Right?
Michael Webb: And so sort of our human nature is if you want more sales, you go push for the sales, and the salespeople are going to tell you what you want to hear. I mean, it’s-
Claude Bardy: Absolutely.
Michael Webb: Right? So that’s one of the things that’s going on there. Then the other thing that’s going on there is if I’m correct, that well, what is it that has to happen in the sales process to make actual progress? We create value instead of waste. That’s not something that everybody automatically understands. Right?
Claude Bardy: Absolutely. I think there’s a thing called cost of sales, which is an, I call it an indicator; it’s a French word translated into English. Cost of sales, not just in salary and so on, but in terms of energy, in terms of time. Cost of sales, are you pursuing the right opportunity? Is this opportunity which you have set at a stage, almost the closing stage with a weighted revenue of so much, are we really at that stage?
Claude Bardy: Are we not pursuing the wrong opportunity? And these, “Tough questions,” which are normal questions, are very rarely asked, according to my experiencing with my customers and in the companies where I have worked as an employee. In other words, everybody’s very happy to seize an opportunity moving through the funnel and seeing the weighted average, the weighted revenue nicely growing as the thing is moving on.
Claude Bardy: But have we speak a quote, info team, Miller Heiman language, have we covered the buying center? Have we really spoken to these guys? Have we seen? Do we understand the value we are providing to them, to all of them? To the CEO, to the guy head of operations, have we seen them? Have we spoken to them? And I must say the conversations I have seen or heard, been witness to, are not tough enough; are too complacent. Is that the English word? We accept too easily what the…
Michael Webb: Sure. Well, yeah, you’re talking about critical thinking here. Right? How do you know what you know? Right?
Claude Bardy: Yeah, yeah.
Michael Webb: And it sort of reminds me, a lot of times in the world of sales and sales management, and sales training, and this kind of work, we … Make no mistake, there’s some sharp critical thinking people there. But when you try to convey to simplify it to help other people learn to get better at it, they tend to come up with these old, they’re old because they’ve been around for so long, rules of thumb. One of my favorite ones to pick on is B.A.N.T., right?
Michael Webb: Does the customer have a budget? Do they have a need? Right? Or are you talking to the authority? Does the person you’re talking to have the authority to buy? Do they have a need and what’s the timing? Right? And yeah, those are the qualification rules of thumb. And I had a client that bought into that, and so they structured their whole sales process around it and decided that we can have just yes or no on each one of those things. And then we’ve got a qualified opportunity in the sales funnel. Right? And I mean, have you seen somebody do that?
Claude Bardy: Well, I’ve seen people putting a lot of effort into designing a sales process. I’ve seen sales teams go through the motions, actually. That’s, I think, the best expression, the best way of putting it. They do everything which is required, but the forecasted revenue doesn’t materialize because we are too complacent with each other. And I must say, most of the salespeople, and it’s human nature once again, tend to be very reluctant to put on the back warmer, any opportunity. Because, “No, no, this one’s going to come up. This one’s going to come up.”
Claude Bardy: I’ve been seeing that. I was a big believer a long time ago into saying, “Well, the guy is naturally going to go on the one that closes immediately and leave on the side the other ones. But once again, I said, “Sales, human nature being what I’ve seen, people are reluctant to remove opportunities from a pipeline, especially when it has been officially put in the sales pipeline.”
Claude Bardy: Therefore, I think my overall blanket feeling is that we need to understand that it’s better value for everybody, for the organization, for the sales team, if we have tougher sales reviews. It’s better for everybody, including for the salesperson who will unfortunately at the beginning have a very thin pipeline, but he will spend more time on better opportunities once he understands that he well has, for example, covered the buying center.
Michael Webb: So how do you that?
Claude Bardy: Does this makes sense?
Michael Webb: Yeah, it makes sense. But how do you do that? I mean, how do you do critical thinking on these opportunities that everybody on the team is happy about and things are fine?
Claude Bardy: Well, I wish there was a foolproof method. Unfortunately I have not found one, call it a foolproof method, a silver bullet, or whatever. I think it’s a a case by case situation. I usually tend to work on the sales manager, sales director, or head of sales, or whatever his title is, sorry, and get him to understand what we’re looking at.
Claude Bardy: I just had an illustration. I was coaching the sales director of one of my clients who told me, Claude, I have a problem. My salespeople are not closing well enough. So let’s look at the sales funnel. And yeah, in the stage which was called prior to closing stage in his sales process, it was inflated. It was bloated, actually. There were so many opportunities there. Why? Why?
Claude Bardy: And then we dig into that. We dig into that with the sales manager, and we come to the conclusion, we come to the intermediate conclusion that his sales reps are having trouble reaching the decision-makers. The offer’s out, the needs have been analyzed, that banting has been done. Okay? But it’s not moving forward. Well, why isn’t it moving forward? I can’t reach the guy. Can’t reach the guy. Well, why can’t you reach the guy? I don’t know.
Claude Bardy: And we entered. I was coaching the sales director to get him to understand which sales conversations to have with his team when he was doing his reviews, to get the salespeople to understand that they were chasing people who were not really interested. Had needs, had a budget, had a timeframe, but hadn’t made the critical decision to switch. It’s a recurring business. It’s an opex kind of business. In other words, the customer, the prospect has already a solution and you’re trying to win back, push that existing solution out and you put your solution in.
Claude Bardy: So there’s no real compelling need to move immediately. And this question was never asked. So yeah, no wonder the guys had trouble reaching the decision-makers because they hadn’t, what I say, qualified, they hadn’t qualified earlier. So I was coaching the sales director for him to have better, tougher conversations with his salespeople to get them to understand that they were not asking the critical questions early enough, and that was part of the explanation, or the main cause. I hate to say root cause, but it’s something like that.
Claude Bardy: That was the cause of his bloated closing, or sales funnel at the closing stage, and his not reaching the numbers. People were chasing opportunities which were not going to close. And they don’t know why.
Michael Webb: You just illustrated one of the key, most popular and most easy to understand principles of process thinking, right? Either lean, or six sigma or any of those sorts of methodologies, which is the five whys. If you have a condition you see in, but it’s undesirable, it needs to be changed. So, why? And then ask why again. And then ask why again. And you keep asking, it’s not limited to five. You don’t necessarily have to have five, but you ask it until it doesn’t make sense to ask it anymore. Right?
Michael Webb: And because the whole universe is connected to it, right? Everything’s interconnected, things are causing effects and we don’t necessarily understand all those causal relationships. And in sales, those causal relationships are in somebody else’s head. Right? So you have to understand them, and what they’re thinking, and why they’re thinking it, and that’s the value the salespeople had, right?
Claude Bardy: Yeah, yeah. And to finish on this illustration, getting the sales director to understand this was not extremely difficult. He needed to find a solution so he was willing to try this approach. It made sense to him. Getting the sales reps, in the conversations, to pinpoint the fact that maybe they should review their qualification was slightly more difficult. But then what do we do? What do we do now? Now that we have an idea of why we are where we are. So what do we do?
Claude Bardy: And this I suggested with the sales director that we change our approach. And not one to one, but use a team approach. Generate solutions to move these difficult questions. Can I switch the customer from his existing solution to my solution? Is there a compelling need or can I generate one? How do I do this? We did this in group. We’ve introduced, which was completely new to the sales team, that we use the sales team as a group to work on a problem instead of individually. Each sales rep in his country, because it’s all over Europe, you’ve got one for Germany, one for Poland, one for Italy and so on. So each one of them has the problem, how do I better qualify? So we use the sales meeting, the power of the group, to work on generating solutions for this.
Claude Bardy: So that was my input to helping the sales team is switching methodology, moving from one to one. Hey, do this in France or in Italy, or in Germany, to using the European sales team to generate solutions for which could be applicable in most cases, general idea.
Michael Webb: And that is another principle of operational excellence, right? Is respect for people. And that everybody on the team, we all have different backgrounds, we have different orientations. We’re going to see things in a different way, and there’s richness in that. We can learn from each other about that. And we can come up with a consensus on the team of how to solve a problem, and we all start doing things in a similar way, then we all are able to learn faster as a group.
Claude Bardy: From one another.
Michael Webb: Yeah.
Claude Bardy: Yeah. From one another.
Michael Webb: Very good.
Claude Bardy: Now the limit of this exercise is that Europe is diverse. You can say you’ve got multiple segmentations. You’ve got one which is Western Europe, and the other one is central and Eastern Europe. So there’s a business culture which is different. You’ve got language issues. You’ve got relationship cultures. If you don’t relate to a Polish customer in the same way as you relate to a Brit, or a Frenchman, or a German. But there are overarching principles which are common, and we use the group to find those overarching principles.
Michael Webb: So for example, what are some of them?
Claude Bardy: Well, let’s put it this way. I’m trying to illustrate this without disclosing too much information on my customer. And so if you speak to a Polish person, he expects, this is just a very, how can I say, very easy to understand example. You’re a salesperson, you reach out to a Polish customer. He expects a certain type of behavior. He wants you to come over to visit. He will not speak on the phone. He needs face time, face to face. Okay?
Michael Webb: Okay.
Claude Bardy: On the other hand for the same kind of conversation, which is the preliminary investigation in a sales project. A Dutch customer will very easily open up on the phone. And you can save some travel time and he will only require face time later on in the sales process. Whereas once again, the Polish guy really appreciates face time from the beginning.
Michael Webb: So what’s the principle? The principle is that different people are different?
Claude Bardy: Yeah, that’s pretty obvious.
Michael Webb: Okay, okay.
Claude Bardy: True. But I mean, what you cannot do, this is another illustration which I could give if we have time, of things which we shouldn’t do. We can’t have a uniform sales process, detailed, a very detailed uniform sales process. Flexibility should be given to cultural differences between countries. Because what you want is to provide value to the customer, but you don’t do it in the same way in the Netherlands and in Poland, for example. You don’t build relationship in the same way.
Michael Webb: So in other words, people are individuals and you need to respect their individuality.
Claude Bardy: Absolutely, and their culture. And the cultural codes, if I may say so.
Michael Webb: Yeah. Once a long time ago I heard someone say, and it just really resonated with me, “The biggest cause of waste, wasted effort, wasted everything in sales, is trying to get other people to do things they’re not ready to do.”
Claude Bardy: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Michael Webb: And since they’re all individuals, you have to understand them individually.
Claude Bardy: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely, you have to understand the sales team. You have to understand how the sales team is going to relate to the customer. There’s a local approach. Once again, here in Europe we have a very diverse landscape with different cultures, different countries, different languages, different histories. I’m French, as you understand, we have a relationship with food which is well known. It’s kind of cliche, but a lot of relationship is built around lunchtime.
Claude Bardy: And we do lunch meetings. And we build relationship during lunch. If you go to other countries, lunch for them is a waste of time. So it’s just food digestion. And I can stay at my office and it is not a moment where you build relationship. You do it maybe drinking a beer in the evening. I’m thinking Germany here, okay?
Claude Bardy: Or so, this has to be understood. So designing an identical sale, or designing a sales process which fits for all of Europe needs to have some play, some room for there for a local way of doing things. It’s obvious, but when you come with a CRM such as, I don’t know, we can mention Salesforce but there are many others, you’ve got a monolithic software, which, how can I say, binds people into a single way of thinking; and that is counterproductive.
Michael Webb: And I totally agree with you there, but let me throw a curveball, which is that if you are responsible for a corporation that has business interests, branch offices, or you do business in 100 different countries, or 50 countries, or you know? You need to know, you need to be able to predict the future. You need to be able to know what’s working and what’s not working in those field sales organizations. And with the complexity that you just described, it’s impossible. So how can that person-
Claude Bardy: It’s not impossible.
Michael Webb: Okay, so tell me more.
Claude Bardy: I have not been exposed personally to global sales, but I’ve been exposed for decades to European sales, which have, we’re Europe, we currently have what? 27 countries, maybe 26 pretty soon. And each of them has their culture, some of them are close, some of them are different. So how do you do this?
Claude Bardy: Well, you have principles. And one principal which I think it’s importance should be raised with European sales organizations, is that there’s danger in putting weighted averages on each stage of the sales cycle. People input data into the CRM, so expected revenue, you multiply by a certain weight, confidence index or whatever, and you do some kind of calculation and you get a number.
Claude Bardy: What I would recommend is that the principles for putting an opportunity in a given stage in the sales cycle, in the sales process should be identical. The principles, okay? Leave it up to the sales guys to figure out the way to move an Italian opportunity from stage one to stage two, and a French opportunity from stage one, stage two. But the criteria for being in stage one and or be in stage two should be very, very strictly and uniformly applied.
Michael Webb: So then there is a common set of stages across all of the different cultures in places where you do this?
Claude Bardy: Yeah, yeah.
Michael Webb: But the method of moving through them is different. Right?
Claude Bardy: Yes, yes.
Michael Webb: Very good.
Claude Bardy: Yes.
Michael Webb: Okay.
Claude Bardy: That’s my take on it.
Michael Webb: Yeah. I would tend to agree with you on that. But I’m sure that there’s people out there that would not or say, “Yeah, but the devil’s in the details.” How the heck do you do that? And-
Claude Bardy: Well, you got to trust your people. I mean, if you’ve got a sales director in charge of, let’s say Germany, I don’t see any organization functioning, performing, if it has salespeople in charge of sales in various countries whom corporate doesn’t trust, whom corporate has to tell, “This is the way you do your job.” No, come on. For example, I’m German. I know how to sell in Germany.
Claude Bardy: Okay, you want me to put an opportunity in stage two when it meets this criteria? Fine. Let me handle the way I move the opportunity through the pipeline. That’s my job. That’s German. That’s typically my way of doing it, and I am capable of doing that.
Michael Webb: Very good. So again to the idea of bringing your team together to talk these things through and come to an agreement that everybody can accept about how to do it, about what those stages would be, right?
Claude Bardy: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Michael Webb: Very good. And it’s a shame, but a lot of times in the corporate world these basic principles are not understood. And I think that’s why you were attracted to sales process and my books and stuff. And you’re obviously being successful using these principles, your clients.
Claude Bardy: I try to.
Michael Webb: This is great. So thank you for these stories, and I’m sure that we’ll be able to talk again. We’re at about 30 minutes here, so if we could wrap up. I’m wondering if someone wants to learn more about what you do and how you might be able to help them, how can they get ahold of you?
Claude Bardy: I’m on LinkedIn, Claude Bardy on LinkedIn. I can be reached by email, claude.bardy@ my company’s name, bceuropartners.com. There’s a website currently being revamped, so don’t look at it in five minutes, please. But you can reach me, yeah, LinkedIn or email is probably the best way to do it.
Michael Webb: Well, Claude, I had a great time listening to your discussion there, and your examples, and particularly that sort of deep dive in what’s necessary for succeeding in sales management in Europe. So thank you for that. And-
Claude Bardy: You are welcome.
Michael Webb: Let’s do this again some time.
Claude Bardy: Yeah. Had great pleasure talking to you, Michael. And keep on writing those good books.
Michael Webb: Thank you, thank you very much. So-
Claude Bardy: You’re welcome, welcome.
Michael Webb: Goodbye, everyone. Until next time.