The Apprentice 2015 – The Final

The Apprentice 2015 – The Final

Your firedIn the end, the Apprentice 2015 came down to a battle between the traditional and the new to acquire Lord Sugar as a business partner; either plumber Joseph Valente or dating app developer Varna Koutsomitis. To help Sugar make the decision, each finalist was asked to develop a digital billboard advert and promotional video before pitching their idea to a selected audience. They were assisted by a motley selection of 2015 ghosts of candidates past.

The two finalists seemed to adopt different strategies for selecting their teams; Varna prioritised going with individuals that she respected rather than liked (such as Richard Wood) selecting individuals with a good track record, whereas Joseph went with his mates, choosing relationships over past success. It didn’t seem to make too much of a difference, as it was obvious that neither candidate had a fully formed business strategy going into the final.

For Varna, the challenge was to persuade Lord Sugar to invest in a business that could be seen as speculative (there are apparently 15 new dating apps per week, and 15 failures) where the prize money could disappear within the first few weeks. Joseph wanted to transform his successful local business (in Peterborough) into a national brand. To do this he would need to identify a USP.

The promotional videos strayed into familiar territory. The addition of a juggling metaphor transformed what could have been a very traditional dating site advert into something resembling Cirque Du Soleil. Joseph only just avoided producing “Confessions of a Plumber’s Mate”. Neither was particularly inspiring. The issue was trying to get the essence of the brand each team was trying to sell. For Varna there was the challenge of selling the scientific profiling in the form of gaming. Joseph had based his idea on the “green” revolution, but was informed by focus group that this was not going to make money for the next 15 years (in a subtle dig at government policy). Credit to him, though, he latched onto the idea of investing in smart phone technology to control central heating and shifted his proposal accordingly. In doing so, he actually made the final a battle of the apps, at least on one level. Similarly, Varna realised from her focus group that the thorny issue of funding was not going to go away. She also repositioned her pitch to be an initial investment to prove her unique idea could win and use this to attract further venture capital.

Back in the boardroom with adverts, videos and pitches completed and past candidates dispensed with, it was decision time for Lord Sugar. It was here that Joseph played his trump card; he cited Sugar’s autobiography as a major inspiration and reminded him that he also came from humble roots. In other words, he showed Sugar how alike they are. It is true that Joseph has grown and evolved across the series, even down to his appearance. He has also shown himself as being prepared to listen and learn, two traits that Sugar values. Joseph was also able to dangle the carrot that a rival business in London had grown to a multimillion pound business.

Varna on the other hand has grown less through the process, having started from a high base. She remained focused and confident, with good knowledge of her business area. However, here business plan represented a riskier proposition.

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And the winner is…Joseph. Photo courtesy of BBC

In the end, Joseph and his plumbing business were the safer option.  To choose Varna, Sugar would have to speculate on new product that is untested and, crucially, he would not have control over unless he added significant extra funding. This fact, coupled to Joseph playing the “I’m just like you” card (Sugar’s achilles heal) secured the win. Sugar is going into the plumbing business.

It is interesting to note that Joseph represents the 5th business partner that Lord Sugar has taken on as a result of the revised format for The Apprentice. I remain unconvinced that this is the best format (see my earlier posts) and I am critical of the candidate selection this year, where good TV is more important than business credibility. I really hope that the production team give the format a real overhaul before series 12 next year. That said, good luck to Joseph Valence and his plumber’s mate, Lord Sugar.

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 11 -Fail to plan and you plan to fail

The Apprentice 2015 Week 11 -Fail to plan and you plan to fail

The final of the Apprentice 2015 will be between social media entrepreneur Varna Koutsomitis and plumbing business owner Joseph Valente. The remaining three candidates were eliminated at the interview stage.

In the end, it comes down to the quality of the business plan; how well you sell it and how well it fits with Lord Sugar’s preferences. The truth is, however, that the semi-final makes a mockery of the previous 10 weeks.

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Varna will be in Sunday’s final. Photo courtesy of BBC

Take marketing agency director Richard Woods, for instance. He was many people’s favourite to win the series, as he had been on the winning team 8 times, twice as project manager. In the old format of the series, he would have been the perfect employee. Except he probably wouldn’t apply as he already runs his own business. Richard has played a shrewd game, keeping his cards close to his chest; just enough of a team player but always preferring his own judgement. I suspect there are as many viewers who hate him as like him, because there was something quite incongruent, bordering on manipulative, in his approach. For some, it will be fitting that it was this, and not the quality of plan, that ultimately cost him. Richard chose not to reveal that his plan for a marketing agency for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is a duplicate of his existing business. This could be seen as justice or even a vindication of the process.

Hairdresser Charleine Wain had a plan to turn her hair and beauty salon in to a franchise. Much as she impressed the panel with her work ethic (and I admit that I’ve grown to like her) it showed a naivety in business terms; you can’t  franchise until you have made a name. Sugar may be a big name, but he is not associated with hairdressing.

For Mr Corporate, Gary Poulton, his idea of a virtual meeting space for events confused Sugar and didn’t convince the panel.

Isn’t this just Skype?” asked Karren

So, Gary failed to sell his idea.

Varna is wanting to design a new dating / gaming app and though she was convincing, there is a nagging concern that she has underestimated the start-up costs.

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Varna will be in Sunday’s final. Photo courtesy of BBC

Joining Varna in the final is Joseph Valente. His plan to expand his plumbing business was realistic and, crucially, tangible. Sugar made his name in manufacturing, and he seems to err towards propositions that make things or at least involve real things. He has surprised us (Ricky Martin’s recruitment business proposal) in the past, but Joseph did a great job of selling his plan with passion and realism. Crucially, he has learned from the feedback he received on the property task, and he changed his appearance by shaving off his moustache. This visible sign said “I’ve leaned in this process” and was noted by Sugar.

So the choice this year is between a new app and a plumbing business. Who knows what better plans belonging to fired candidates may have been missed, and this is my main criticism of the series?

Who will win? Who cares! The whole thing has been rendered irrelevant and the format needs to be re-thought. There is a case for starting the series with the interview panel and identifying 12 business plans that are viable and that Sugar would invest in. Then the weekly contests have relevance, as the candidates are reduced to a single winner with a viable plan.

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 10 – Last Orders

The Apprentice 2015 Week 10 – Last Orders

images-2In another first across 11 series of  The Apprentice, the result this week was a tie. Both teams failed to take any orders, so both teams lost.

The task was for each team to design and pitch a new healthy snack. In a battle of the ex-navy candidates, hair salon owner Charleine Wain took on the role of PM for Versatile, with Brett (the builder) Butler-Smythe assuming the role for Connexus. With only 3 people in each team, this inevitably meant that sub-teams could consist of only one person. Digital Marketer Richard Woods jumped at the chance to finally be in complete control of branding for Connexus. Charleine took sole responsibility for product design (ingredients and production). In reality, this was where the problems started for each team; the lack of a second person to counsel or challenge meant that both Richard and Charleine made mistakes that cost the their respective teams orders. For Charleine it was an anarchic approach to adding ingredients,  which meant that it was impossible to make any health claims about their health bar! For Richard, he chose to ignore the fundamental USP of their healthy alternative to crisps – they are raw and dehydrated, not cooked. It could be said that this is down to the PM, and in that situation, as PM, I would prefer to be able to move between the 2 sub teams to coordinate and implement the vision and strategy. I’m not sure if it is a practical or logistical problem, if it is not allowed in the rules, of if they never think of it, but it happens week after week.

In the end, both products were poor and rightly got no orders. The non-crisps were too oily (thanks to Varna) and the health bar too dry. Both teams had problems with their health claims, and Joseph even resorted to lying (though I think he missed the subtlety of ex- Tesco man Gary Poulton telling him that not mentioning facts was not same as misrepresenting them) in one pitch.

There are some interesting (and possibly controversial) points to be made about education in this series. Or at least communication skills. Richard is clever and seems to intimidate some of the more poorly educated colleagues. Stand up Brett, who effectively fell on his sword rather than blame Richard for a fundamental and arrogant decision NOT to include the term “raw” on the branding. Brett sounds like a TV copper from the 1960s giving evidence in court “on the evening of the 5th I was proceeding in a northerly direction…”. He is a very poor communicator, and comes across as poorly educated. Similarly, Charleine does not always communicate well, but she does have a fighting attitude. We saw the stress getting to her this week as she thought she was getting fired. Any other week she would have been. Joseph is nice but his lack of education or even intelligence led him to lying in the pitch. It is difficult to see these three surviving the interviews next week.

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Brett preferred being fired to blaming Richard. Laudable or Naive?

One person who definitely won’t be there is Brett, who as PM took the bullet for his team’s failure. He left “with honour” but nothing else. I’m surprised he has survived this long.

My money is on Varna and Richard for the final, depending on their business plan of course, but they seem best equipped to survive cross examination. As for Gary, Lord Sugar keeps referring to him as “corporate”. I’m not sure why this is a problem for a man who runs a corporation, but it seems his card is marked.

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 9 – High (rise) Drama

The Apprentice 2015 Week 9 – High (rise) Drama

skyscraperWell, what an interesting and unusual week on The Apprentice 2015 this week proved to be! Two candidates left the process; one fired from the losing team in the usual manner and one who quit from the winning team. And, news of the quitting was leaked on the day of broadcast.

This leaves 6 candidates remaining for the final 3 weeks of the competition.

In another first for the series, the teams became estate agents selling luxury and mid-range properties in London. The team earning the highest commission would win.

To balance the teams, Selina Waterman-Smith was asked to move from Connexus to Versatile. This was preceded with clips of both Selina and Charlene Wain stating that they dreaded ending up in the same team. The level of tension between these two has risen to outright bitchiness in recent weeks. Joseph Valente was keen to take on the role of PM. Richard Woods successfully lobbied for role in Connexus.

After a bit of discussion and strategising, the 8 candidates effectively became 4 pairs for the rest of the programme. For Versatile, Joseph was sensible and kept Selina and Charleine apart. Joseph accepted Selina’s desire to sell the high-end properties, leaving Gary and an unhappy Charleine (she wanted to sell the high-end properties too) to sell the mid-range properties in south London. In Connexus, Richard and Varna took on the high end properties, leaving Scott and Brett to sell mid-range in south London.

For the high end properties, the first step was to secure the right to act on behalf off the developers. Richard and (especially) Varna Koutsomitis applied passion and enthusiasm to charm the developers. Joseph was more direct and practical, preferring to discuss commission. Selina added nothing. Not surprisingly, Richard and Varna had their choice of developers, and secured the Canary Wharf properties that both teams desired. Versatile were left with the Stratford properties; still high-end but in a more up and coming area. In terms of location, Canary Wharf is more desirable.

In terms of selling, the process is the same whatever the product you are selling.

  • You have to make a connection with the buyer. The buyer has to trust you and be able to identify with you. This is not just about introducing yourself, but also about establishing rapport. Joseph was instructed by the developer to dress in a way that the high end clients would expect; don’t wear braces!
  • Next you have to understand what the buyer is looking for, and this requires asking good questions, but also listening to what they say and how they say it. This will give you clues to what’s important to them.
  • If you know what they are looking for, you can position your product to match these needs. Scott Saunders made the cardinal error of not knowing his product. He had to be rescued several times by Brett because he was misleading the clients.
  • Having answered any remaining questions, the last step is to seek a commitment from the buyer. Charleine was especially good at this, not being afraid to ask for the business in a strong, assertive manner.

Richard & Varna managed to sell high end properties using the same approach that secured them the Canary Wharf location in the first place. Joseph manage to sell a high end property in Stratford, but Selina was more of an observer, constantly blaming everyone else for her lack of success. Yes again, there were scenes of Selina and Charleine arguing, back in the house or on the phone.

In the mid-range properties, Charleine proved to be formidable, selling several properties alongside Gary. Brett and especially Scott struggled. Scott didn’t manage to sell anything.

In the boardroom the sales and commissions were calculated and it was no surprise that Connexus won convincingly, predominantly from the high end sales of Richard & Varna. However, as part of the

Scott became the first candidate to quit from a winning team

Scott came the first candidate to quit from a winning team

review Lord Sugar had been in a particularly challenging mood, with Scott’s shortcomings this week coming in for special mention. Despite being in the winning team, Scott was told that he was lucky to be in the process. As his team mates left to celebrate victory, Scott remained seated and then shocked everyone by quitting. He said very little – thanking Lord Sugar for the opportunity, then departing without even saying goodbye to his team mates. Later, in the taxi and on “You’re Fired” he suggested that he had realised he was out of his depth and his heart wasn’t in it. He probably saw the writing on the wall. Whatever his reasons, this was a first for the series.

For Versatile, there was the post mortem in the cafe. Everyone agreed that Selina had added nothing to the process and that she was manipulative – finding ways to blame other people rather than accept responsibility for her own failings. It was no surprise that Selina was brought back into the boardroom by Joseph, with Gary making up the final three. His sales did not stack up to those of Charleine.

It was no surprise that Lord Sugar fired Selina – her lack of success alone made her vulnerable, but her lack of personal accountability and general bitchiness along with a tendency to sit on the side lines, sealed her fate. Where Selina has had success it has been as PM, but too often she has been poison in whichever team she as attached to.

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Selina – fired in week 9

Selina refused to honour her contract and appear on “You’re Fired”. Presumably, she preferred to stay in Dubai where she lives. Instead, in the run up to the day of broadcast, she tried to sell her story, have a go at the producers and (coincidentally) it was leaked that Scott had quit. Taken together, these events reinforce Selina’s lack of character and good riddance.

As for Scott, he did have a bad week, and the criticism was deserved, but I suspect that his was an emotional response. He seemed to lose his energy or enthusiasm in later weeks, as though his heart wasn’t in it. Possibly he lacked the emotional intelligence (resilience) to last the process. I’m sure that that is what LordSugar would say.

As for the remaining candidates, Richard remains strong, but Charleine may yet prove to be the dark horse. Her determination and resolve is formidable. Don’t rule out Varna either.

 

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 8 – Party Party

The Apprentice 2015 Week 8 – Party Party

imagesAfter last week’s personality clashes, it appeared as though we may be in for more of the same at the start of this week’s programme, with candidates taking it in turn, Big Brother style, to slag each other off. Surprisingly, lessons appear to have been learned and almost everyone was on their best behaviour.

Lord Sugar selected the PMs for this week’s task, both based on their experience or interest in running events. Selina has experience in running events and headed up Connexus. She was allowed to bring Richard over as well. Gary was PM for a second successive week, running Versatile.

The task was to organise a children’s party with a budget of £2000. The team with the biggest profit would win, but the parents buying the party had the option to ask for money back if not fully satisfied.

Both teams met up with the parents of the children they were organising the party for. Both teams checked what the children were interested in. Gary was particularly  good at engaging both parents and child, and was sure to leave with the client’s telephone number. Selina, who admits to not liking kids, also got lots of information, but it came across as more mechanical. She also forgot to get contact details.

Having decided on their themes, both teams set off to find venues and games etc. Both teams had an eye on profit, but it became a recurring theme for Richard across the episode. Connexus settled for an Olympics theme at a leisure centre, Versatile went for an Outdoor Activity centre. David Stevenson was quick to point out that he is a qualified climbing instructor, so a few pounds were saved here. There is always a risk in taking this approach – David may be a qualified and competent teacher, but he is no entertainer! By way of contrast, Scott and Brett put personal differences aside and pulled out all of the stops to make their party, and the bus ride in particular, fun.

In the end, it was cost cutting that decided the task. Both teams had to offer refunds because of poor p03948syquality items, but Versatile suffered most. They eventually lost the task by over £200. Most of this was due to the idea of selling personalised tee shirts. They paid for the tee shirts, but had to write them off as the quality was poor. They also had to give back money for the lack of entertainment on the bus. David was implicated in both of these, so it was no surprise that he ended up fired. Gary managed to demonstrate his lack of decisiveness when he couldn’t separate Joseph & Charleine, so all 4 of the team was brought back by Lord Sugar. Charleine, Joseph and Gary survived to fight another week.

The key to success in this task is to listen to what the client wants and then find a cost effective way to deliver it. It’s good to be able to cross-sell or up-sell items (such as the party bags) but you have to make sure they represent value for money.

 

Cost effective is not the same as cheap

In the end, Versatile lost because they cut a few too many corners. If they had bought professionally printed tee shirts and gift bags, they would probably have still been able to make a profit, and maybe won the task.

 

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 7 – Discounted

The Apprentice 2015 Week 7 – Discounted

the idea!Yet again viewers were left underwhelmed by the quality on display in The Apprentice, and I’m not just talking about the discount items each team were trying to sell. I have made the point before that the tactics needed to succeed in the programme are very straight forward – win every task and you will make it to the interview stage. You need to be a team player, and secure the win every week. If you win, you can’t get fired. Unfortunately, in one team (Connexus) it was “all for one and sod the rest”and it cost them the win.

The task this week was to stock and sell items in a Discount Store. Scott moved into Connexus and got the role of PM. Gary led Versaitle because of his retail experience. Scott has demonstrated his lack of decisiveness in a previous task as PM in the Pet Show task (week 4). His leadership style, coupled with trying to forge personalities such as Brett, Varna and Selina into a team, proved a bridge too far. With Gary, the issue is more a lack of urgency – get it right, no matter how long it takes.

In the end, Connexus probably lost the task due to having the wrong strategy (they went for higher priced electrical items with higher margin). Versatile went for low value, low margin items which require high volumes, but this approach is what discount stores are built upon and ultimately it was a success (despite getting the prices of branded items badly wrong).Stack em High, sell em cheap.

Scott struggled to get everyone to agree on anything. Selina (rightly) objected to the electrical items, but came across as whining; Brett and Varna openly declared that they wanted to protect themselves in the boardroom; and Sam…well what does Sam bring? He can’t do simple maths and always seems to be on the periphery. Personality clashes (Brett and Scott, Varna and Selina, Scott and Sam) and resentments were openly displayed. Scott never managed to create a sense of common purpose and it became a case of everyone for themselves.

p038f472In the Boardroom, it was established that Connexus had indeed lost the task. At this point the gloves were off and it was obvious for Lord Sugar to see just how dysfunctional Connexus was. Scott probably felt he had to bring Brett back, as Brett made it clear he blamed Scott. Sam completed the final three, based on incredibly poor basic maths (again) and general uselessness. Once again the nice guy (Sam) failed to stand up to the fighters and he was fired. In truth, Scott could have gone for poor leadership and Brett is long overdue being fired for lack of team work. Whoever leads this bunch next time needs to establish a team, or Connexus is going to lose every remaining task.

 

 

 

 

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right

The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right

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Connects PM – Sam Curry courtesy of BBC

As we approach the midway point of this year’s “The Apprentice”, this week’s episode allowed us to study the art of Leadership. The task was for each team to design a children’s book and audiobook and sell it. The team with the biggest profit would win. However, the real focus was on what makes a good leader.

Personal Tutor Sam Curry was drafted into Connexus by Lord Sugar with a strong hint that he should take on the role of PM. The team got the message and accepted Sam’s offer to be PM. For Versatile, Charleine Wain (Hair & Beauty salon owner) pushed for the role of PM on the grounds that she is a parent. This resulted in two contrasting styles of leadership.

Sam’s undergraduate studies in English Literature meant that he had good subject expertise, though less so in children’s books. Charleine’s practical experience as a mum gave her a different type of expertise. But, whereas Sam’s theoretical knowledge made him indecisive (or brought out his indecision, as we would see later) Charleine’s practical approach gave her the confidence to be too decisive, to the point of being autocratic. Neither approach got it right – Connexus were stuck in “analysis to paralysis” with too much democracy, and Versatile were run like a dictatorship.

Lesson 1 – a strong leader will listen to the views of other people, but has the capacity to make a quick decision when the team is unable to reach agreement. This is an illustration of the work of Bruce Tuckman’s Team Development Model. Both teams were demonstrating “Storming” behaviour, so a “Let’s talk, I decide” approach is needed.

PM - Charlene Wain  Courtesy of BBC

PM – Charlene Wain
Courtesy of BBC

As the design task progressed and each team split into 2 sub-teams, Charleine’s autocratic style became reinforced. As it was not possible for her to control both sub-teams, she appointed Richard as a false sub-team leader. I say false, because she gave him no authority and wouldn’t allow him to communicate with her. Instead, David was the “voice” of the sub-team. Charleine demonstrated her fear of Richard, who has been very successful so far, but likes everyone to know it.

Lesson 2 – a good leader has to recognize the strengths that individuals bring to the team. Allowing personal differences to cloud judgement creates resentment and failure. Charleine demonstrated her fear and resentment of Richard by her actions and members of the team were laughing at her behind her back.

When it came to pitching to leading book retailers (Waterstones and Foyles), Charleine again decided that she needed to be in control. Her team gently tried to persuade her to allow Richard to lead the pitches, but Charleine put herself forward. It was a complete disaster. Natalie did some of  the pitching for Connexus  (along with Sam) and was also awful.

Pricing strategy was also unclear in each team. When negotiating with retailers, it is imperative that those involved in the negotiation agree their WIN positions in advance and then stick to them;

  • What do I WANT (good result)?
  • What would be IDEAL (best result)?
  • What do I NEED (minimum result)?

Both teams had muddled pricing strategies, and in the end went to get rid of stock at any price. Selina and Natalie were particularly poor in this respect. Natalie (Connexus) lost an order for her team because she did not have the discounts (as percentages) to hand. Selina (Versatile) requested an order of 150 which was refused and immediately suggested 50 instead. She should have asked the customer how many they were prepared to buy and put extra discount against higher volume.

Lesson 3 – in negotiation always know your WIN positions, and stick to them.

In the boardroom, it became apparent that a piece of individual success for Charleine got Versatile the win. She persuaded a smaller retailer to take over 100 books and this proved to be the difference between the teams. Sam, on the other hand, took his team to Charring Cross Road where there are lots of book sellers – but it was the wrong market and nobody bought.

Natalie was fired because of poor pitching and negotiation. Courtesy of BBC

Natalie was fired because of poor pitching and negotiation.
Courtesy of BBC

Having lost the task, Sam was able to give another illustration of his indecision as he struggled to decide who to bring back into the final three. In the end, he chose (reluctantly) Natalie for her poor negotiation disastrous pitch and Brett for no obvious reason. So really, it was between Sam and Natalie. Lord Sugar showed rare compassion;  he fired Natalie, but saved Sam. In truth, either could have gone. If Sam is to survive, he needs to become more decisive. He was in tears as Natalie was fired, and he seems too nice to survive. Charlene on the other hand needs to watch her back, as dictator’s rarely live out a full life.

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!

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

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

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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.