The Apprentice 2015- Week 4 Connexus become Ruth-less

The Apprentice 2015- Week 4 Connexus become Ruth-less

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After two defeats in a row, this week Lord Sugar gave up on the girls winning a task and reverted to mixed teams. Charleine, April and Varna joined Versatile and Gary, Brett & Scott moved into Connexus. The task this week was to choose items (one big ticket and two smaller) to sell at a Pet Fare. The team selling the most would win.

Having mixed up the teams, Ruth Whiteley, the slightly scary Sales Trainer from Harrogate put herself forward as Project Manager, only for the team to choose Account Manager Scott Saunders. You would have thought that Ruth’s expertise coupled to the task would have made her an excellent choice, but maybe I’m not the only one to find Ruth a bit odd. In the end, Scott’s background in sales and track record in the series got him the job. For Versatile, super enthusiastic Nottingham nice guy David Stevenson got the nod.

The first part of the task involved deciding on which items to pick. David briefed his team to be enthusiastic for every product and charm the manufacturers. Connexus got builder Brett Butler-Smythe to take a more direct approach with zero charm. This proved to be a bad decision and when both teams wanted to sell the pet balloons, the charm of Versatile won out. Versatile also decided to sell tee shirts with pictures of animals, and dog sofas (the large ticket item). Connexus settled for a cat activity toy instead of the balloons, along with heat mats. Their large ticket item was a cat tower.

Selling Lesson Number One – establishing rapport (a connection) is crucial when trying to influence people. The direct approach that Brett was encouraged to take cost Connexus a preferred product. There is an old saying in selling;

“If you are like me, then I will like you”

The first impressions we make, often in the first 30 seconds, can determine the outcome. One way of establishing the right impression is to show enthusiasm and interest in the other person. Brett’s approach was bound to lead to failure. His lack of empathy is a real concern.

As PM of Connexus, Scott came across as nice but indecisive. He changed his mind about which products he preferred, always agreeing with the last person who spoke! This made him look weak. It’s good to listen to the opinions of your team, but thinking out loud creates the wrong impression. Get everyone involved, weigh up the options, make the decision and take responsibility for it. This will earn respect.

At the Pet Fare we were treated to seeing how good individuals were at selling. Marketing Director Richard Woods continues to impress (he sold 3 sofas so contributed massively to the eventual success of Versatile) but does not always come across well. Scott also showed that as a team leader and salesman he was excellent. However, his performance could not save Connexus and in the boardroom it was revealed that they had lost the task by more than £1000. Two members of the team struggled to sell – Sales Trainer Ruth and Events Agency owner Selina Waterman-Smith. It was no surprise that these two ended up in the final 3 with PM Scott.

In examining why Ruth and Selina struggled, there were contrasting reasons. Ruth had masses of energy but she talked too much. Good at engaging in conversation with potential customers, but then failed to close any sales. She was also poor at identifying which customers were real prospects and which were just browsing.

Sales Lesson Number Two: The ABC of selling from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross – Always Be Closing. I remember being taught the following quote

“A sales call without a close is not a sales call – its merely a conversation”

Ruth proved adept at having conversations.

Selina on the other hand exhibited what the Americans refer to as “call reluctance”. She did not seem interested in her product (the cat tower) and lacked resilience. She managed one sale, but needed Scott to help her complete it.

courtesy of BBC

courtesy of BBC

Given these two alternatives, Scott was safe in the boardroom. Selina showed greater fight and resilience in the boardroom than she did in the task and she was given a second chance (she did sell something). However, a sales trainer who can’t sell deserves to be fired, and so it was that Ruth Whiteley became the 4th person to leave the series. As a sales trainer from near Harrogate I can only say that she is not representative of the local area!

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The Apprentice 2015 Week 3 – French Farce

The Apprentice Week 3 – French Farce

Varna Koutsomitis - PM for the girls

Varna Koutsomitis – PM for the girls. Courtesy BBC

The boys pulled off another victory this week, as Varna led the girls to a second successive defeat. The task was the perennial favourite involving buying 9 items for the best price the teams can negotiate. The slight difference here was that each team was split into 2 sub-teams; one near Calais  and one in Kent.

Varna got the role of PM for the girls ahead of Elle, whom she made leader of the UK sub-team. For the boys, Joseph got the part. Personal tensions were evident on both teams; Joseph and Brett dislike Richard, and Varna has problems with Charleine.

Varna laid down the law; she decided upon the sub-teams and what items they would source. Joseph took Richard and Sam with him to France because they both speak (a little) french ( and so he could keep an eye on Richard?)

The pattern of recent weeks continued; the the boys working as a team, even with the personal differences, and the girls continuing to fight publicly.   There was little evidence of planning & logistics in either team, but Joseph was at least open to the suggestions of other team members. Varna displayed a lack of flexibility. She didn’t really have a plan B – plan A was that each sub-team stuck to their assigned list, even when it was obvious that this was wrong. It was only when time was running out that she backed down. Other team members made good suggestions, for instance Charlene pointing out that they should prioritise looking for the mirror as the fine was higher than that of the mussels, but in general these were ignored..

Varna Koutsomitis - PM in the Girl's Team

In the end it was accumulating more fines for missing items and one for getting the wrong item (cheese) that cost the girls, so it was no surprise that they lost the task. Neither was it a surprise that Varna chose to bring Elle and Jenny back; Elle headed up the UK sub-team and Jenny was the only person not to buy an item. What was a surprise, was Jenny getting fired over Varna. In my view, the failure of the task was purely down to Varna being an awful PM. Poor leadership, no planning and no thinking about logistics all contributed to Varna’s downfall, and yet she was not fired. Yes, Jenny was poor, but the failure of the task was down to Varna. Elle, on the other hand made a good impression in the boardroom and was encouraged, by Lord Sugar,  to project herself more.

The format of the programme and the decisions of Lord Sugar continue to be flawed. Yes, it makes for good TV, but it made no sense that Varna survive – unless Sugar knows something we don’t. Her business plan, for instance?

The Apprentice 2015 Week 2 – Versatile Boys Are Head & Shoulders AboveThe Girls

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The Apprentice 2015 Week 2 – Versatile Boys Are Head & Shoulders AboveThe Girls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Week 2 of this year’s competition started with Lord Sugar introducing gender-based teams. This resulted in builder Brett Butler-Smythe leaving the girls with the awful name he introduced – Connexus. The irony  of this name was plain to see, as the girls were anything but united. The boys became Versatile.

In recent years we have seen that the early gender-based teams can throw up interesting contrasts in approach. It is no different this year, with bitchiness and high emotion seeming to define the girls. The boys have at least worked out that they need each other and to work together. It’s not that they always agree and that there aren’t egos on show, but the approach is more passive-aggressive than the outright aggressive of Connexus.

The task this week was a traditional branding…

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The Apprentice 2015 Week 2 – Versatile Boys Are Head & Shoulders AboveThe Girls

The Apprentice 2015 Week 2 – Versatile Boys Are Head & Shoulders AboveThe Girls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Week 2 of this year’s competition started with Lord Sugar introducing gender-based teams. This resulted in builder Brett Butler-Smythe leaving the girls with the awful name he introduced – Connexus. The irony  of this name was plain to see, as the girls were anything but united. The boys became Versatile.

In recent years we have seen that the early gender-based teams can throw up interesting contrasts in approach. It is no different this year, with bitchiness and high emotion seeming to define the girls. The boys have at least worked out that they need each other and to work together. It’s not that they always agree and that there aren’t egos on show, but the approach is more passive-aggressive than the outright aggressive of Connexus.

The task this week was a traditional branding exercise, with both teams trying to market the same cactus-based shampoo. Unfortunately the girls got in a lather and PM Aisha Kasim was fired. This was hardly a surprise, as she was one of the most extreme examples of the Autocratic leadership style that can be seen in a one hour television programme!

For the boys, Marketing agency director, Richard Woods gave an impeccable demonstration of leading from the back with a style apparently so Democratic that Karen Brady questioned whether he had recently read a management text book. This was a bit harsh, but Richard expertly demonstrated the art of leadership; involving others, encouraging discussion, but gently nudging the team to his vision. Given that marketing is his area of expertise, it was no surprise that Lord Sugar described their product “Western” as one of the best examples of doing this exercise in the whole history of the series. A simple idea, well executed and produced in a classy bottle.

This is not to say that Versatile were not without their faults. The pitch led by Account Manager Scott Saunders was awful. His decision to wing-it backfired badly. Unfortunately, this is no surprise to anyone teaching Presentation Excellence; the old adage of “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation” still holds. That said, the stodgy pitch from Account Manager Natalie Dean (is there a pattern here?) was so boring it was unbelievable. Natalie admitted later that she did not believe in her product, and she gave a master class in how our body language conveys our internal thoughts much more than the words we use (see the work of Albert Mehrabian).

In the end, the boys won by a country mile. They were better at every step of the branding process, and Richard did a fine job as PM (although fellow Marketer David Stevenson resented not getting more credit for the TV advert he directed. In fact, he executed the PM’s vision in the most obvious example of Richard nudging the team’s direction).

p033wp1rIn the boardroom, Natalie was lucky to survive for owning up to not believing in the product (the crime of Corporate Disloyalty), but Lord Sugar questioned why social media entrepreneur Vana Koutsomitis was brought back. This sealed the fate of PM Aisha and she was fired. It is hard to disagree with this decision.

Going forward, the girls need to sort out their differences, or they are unlikely to win any tasks.

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 1 – Nice Guys Finish First

The Apprentice 2015 Week 1 – Nice Guys Finish First

The Apprentice returned to BBC1 screens this week with 18 scarily enthusiastic and self-believing candidates, just in time for Halloween. Not only that, but we had the even scarier prospect of the ghost of The Apprentice past (Claude Littner) replacing Nick Hewer as one set of Lord Sugar’s “eyes on the task”. I suspect that some of Claude’s frightening reputation will be diminished in his new role. Just like (Bruce) the shark in “Jaws”, the more you see of Claude in this series, the less scary he will become. This is because fear of Claude is based on the way he has cross examined candidates and destroyed their self esteem through pithy put downs. The problem here is that Claude is a silent observer. We, the audience, get the benefit of his opinions, but the teams are protected. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

Carrying on the horror movie theme, just like in a slasher movie, I am not inclined to spend too much time examining each of the 18 candidates. Some will be dispatched and fade from our memory minutes after they have been fired and appeared on “You’re Fired” (by the way, Jack Dee is an excellent choice of host to replace Dara O’Briain). The editor of Week 1 agreeed, because only about 9 of the 18 got any significant air time. Unfortunately, some of those we did see were not very impressive.

The task this week was to buy fish from Billingsgate Market and turn it into lunch time snacks to sell. The team with the biggest profit wins.

Lord Sugar made things interesting by mixing up the teams. Rather than starting with the usual gender based teams, 3 boys and 3 girls made the move to mix things up. We ended up with a blue team (they wore blue overalls for the task) called Versatile and a yellow team (you guessed it, yellow overalls) called Connexus (because if you sat it fast it, you know, “connects-us”). I’ll stick to blue and yellow.

In Blue, it was a case of everyone take a step backwards when selecting Project Manager. Selena Waterman-Smith was last to do this and, reluctantly, became PM. The scramble to avoid being PM in both teams will embarrass some candidates as they watched this episode, but over in Yellow, Driving-style April Jackson was decisive, volunteered and was swiftly accepted before she could change her mind. Actually, changing her mind was not something we saw a lot of from April in this episode. Selena on the other hand was indecisive, but even0handed with it.

April decided that fish cakes and Salad Niçoise would be the products Yellow would sell and immediately cut off any other opinions. Over in Blue, the team eventually agreed on Calamari and fish finger sandwich, without much direction from Selena. Claude observed Blue and Karen followed Yellow.

The rest of the task went more or less as expected – April making all of the key decisions for Yellow without any obvious consultation or strategy. For instance, Yellow bought the first tuna they came across; no checking of alternative options, no negotiating. Typical of the Driving-style (from Social Styles) it was all about results and keeping to time. Quick decisions, few facts. Over in Blue there was more delegation but also more indecision. Ex-Royal Navy (but now running her own hair and beauty salon) Blue team member Charleine Wain took control of some of the decisions, but the whole thing was much more democratic. The decision to buy the cheapest squid proved a poor choice, but using coley as a cheaper alternative to cod showed an eye for a profit.

So the scene was set; two different leadership styles (autocratic Yellow, democratic Blue). Which would win out? Fortunately, Blue made the better choices (location, pricing, delegation of tasks) and despite carrying a few Muppets (Mergim Butaja trying to sell fish to a vegan restaurant comes to mind) they managed to turn a profit of £200, despite, the calamari going off and having to be disposed of because it hadn’t been kept below 5 Celsius!

In Blue, the editing focused on three characters; April’s leadership style (her non-negotiable pricing strategy was laughable – £9 for a tuna salad), team leader in the kitchen Brett Butler-Smythe (also ex-navy, but obsessed with following the “specifications” [sic] of the recipe) and hapless Dan Callaghan – who owned up to not being able to sell or cook in the boardroom. It was no surprise when we discovered they made a profit of only £1.87 [sic]! Yellow missed the lunch time rush because Brett (organising and preparing fish cakes) and Dan (in charge of calculations for ingredients) took too long to prepare the fish cakes and didn’t produce enough.

Fired this week - Dan Callaghan

Fired this week – Dan Callaghan

Having lost the task, it was no surprise that April brought Dan and Brett back with her. Brett and April fought their corner, but nice guy Dan as just too honest (and naïve in admitting to his short comings), so it was natural that he was fired. However, Brett and April were both lucky. They were worse than Dan and will have to learn soon or face being fired. Dan at least was a nice guy and seemed intelligent. But, in The Apprentice, nice guy’s get to finish (the series) first.