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 2013 – The Result

The Apprentice 2013 – The Result

Apprentice winner, Leah Totton. Courtesy of BBC

Apprentice winner, Leah Totton. Courtesy of BBC

In the end, Lord Sugar surprised us with the brave choice of Leah Totton as his business partner. Brave, not because of Leah herself, but because her idea of aesthetic clinics takes Lord Sugar into unknown territory. The safer option would have been Luisa’s baking wholesale brand. This decision will be seen as just  reward for Luisa who was, frankly, awful for long stretches of this season. Yes, she did improve as the series went on, but when she was bad she was rotten. This possibly accounted for why Luisa only got Neil as her first choice team member ,where as Leah got all of her first choices. I for one am pleased that she lost.

Having said that, we saw a different side to Leah, who so determined and set on getting her way, that she almost ignored good advice from her team around her brand name.

Leah was very clear in her business proposal, and had researched the market thoroughly. She may be new to business, but she has the clinical credibility to see it through. Don’t be surprised to see Lord Sugar get his wish and Leah become not only the face, but the name of her business. “NIKS” could easily become “Dr Leah”. Not only does she have professional credibility, but she is photogenic.

It is probably Leah’s passion and conviction, backed up with solid numbers (something that Luisa was a little vague on) that helped to convince Sugar to go with the aesthetics business. One other factor was Luisa’s vagueness about what would happen to her 3 other businesses. Sugar may be recruiting a business partner, rather than a member of staff, but he expects 100% of their attention in return for his £250K.

It will be interesting to see how this business idea progresses, but don’t be surprised to see The Baker’s Toolkit also become successful, with alternative investors.

Young Apprentice Week 6 – Team fails to gel in hair product disaster

Alan SugarYoung Apprentice Week 6 – Team fails to gel in hair product disaster.

Lord Sugar yet again mixed up the teams in the week’s Young Apprentice. Like a DJ trying to find that elusive blend, or maybe it’s just a reflection of the lack of obvious talent in this year’s bunch, Maria ended up with Ashleigh and Patrick in Platinum (I think, it’s so confusing). Odyssey now had a team of 4; Andrew, Steven, Lucy and Navdeep. With only 7 candidates and 3 weeks left personality was always going to play a big part this week.

The task was to design a concept for a new hair product. Note: not the actual product. No chemicals were involved, just design and a pitch. In Odyssey, Andrew was pm and the team settled on the idea of a brand that would help men to stand out from the crowd. Their first, and critical error, was falling in love with the name Chameleon, and not realising that this means to blend in, not stand out. This was later compounded when the focus group loved the name.

Over in Platinum, the team targeted girls with the somewhat bizarrely named  “Strexy” (it’s strong and sexy see?). Their approach was to be as tacky as possible, and in this they succeeded. But whereas Odyssey had an unclear brand strategy (brand concept, name and target audience didn’t fit), Platinum had focus and direction, albeit with a pretty crap product.

The rest of the programme showed just how dysfunctional both teams were as individuals tried to shine. They still haven’t realised that working as a team and winning the task is still the only guaranteed way to avoid getting fired. Odyssey’s journey went from bad to worse as they realised at the 11th hour that Chameleon didn’t fit the brand concept. Rather than change either the name or the target market, pm Andrew carried on regardless. This was in spite of the rest of the team trying to persuade him otherwise.There was even a first (I think) when an exasperated Nick Hewer told the team they needed to get on with it. I’ve never seen one of the observer’s get involved in the task before, so things must have been bad.

This lack of belief in the product came out in the pitch, when the usually reliable Navdeep gave a poor performance. Selling an idea or a product is as much about confidence as it is about the product. If both are poor, you have no chance.

That Platinum won the task was down to the product and not the team. Maria and Ashleigh disagreed on everything, and Patrick drifted into the background, finding his niche (ironically) as a would-be macho voice-over man.

In the boardroom, it was revealed that Strexy had stood out more than Chameleon (naturally). Andrew chose to bring back Navdeep and Steven (whom he had worked with throughout the task). Lucy survives for another week. All of the team were united that Andrew was to blame for the failure of leadership, and not making critical decisions. Sugar agreed, citing the decision not to change name or concept as the critical error. Navdeep’s poor pitch was also highlighted, but all of the evidence pointed to Andrew being fired and he should have been. A tearful Andrew waited for the finder of death, but instead in a genuine surprise it was Navdeep who went. I still can’t work out how Sugar came to this conclusion. Yes, she was a one trick pony who suddenly couldn’t do the trick, but at the very least Andrew should have gone as well. Amazing and illogical.

Apparently next week there is a double firing. It should have been this week. This series has been poor and it just hit a new low. The candidates are poor, and Sugar’s decision making defies logic. Young Apprentice has always been a television programme, but this week we saw just how much the television agenda is obviously leading the purported purpose of the programme. Poor

The Apprentice 2012 – Butterfly emerges to win the prize

The Apprentice 2012 – Butterfly emerges to win the prize

*SPOILER ALERT* Last night’s BBC Apprentice resulted in Lord Sugar choosing a self proclaimed, would-be heir apparent as his business partner. The lucky candidate goes into a business venture with Sugar and receives £250K to get it off the ground. But who won it? You may well have already guessed from the above statement, but the final programme in the series started with 4 candidates remaining; siness Development Manager Jade Nash; Fine Wine Investor Tom Gearing; Recruitment Manager Ricky Martin; Tech Entrepreneur Nick Holzherr.

As usual for the final, each candidate had to present and justify their business plan to a selection panel chosen for their personalities as well as their expertise; Claude Littner, whose intervew style was obviously refined in some police state secret service; former Apprentice-Assistant, Margaret Mountford; Mike Soutar, magazine publishing entrepreneur; Matthew Riley previous winner of Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Really, it’s the interview panel from hell, and all recorded for our enjoyment.

I’m not going to go through what we saw in the programme, but rather, focus on some of the key things to emerge. Each of the four candidates stuck to their areas of expertise with their business proposals; Jade had an ambitious idea for a mega call centre for cold calling the public; Ricky for a new Recruitment Agency focusing on science candidaters; Tom for a hedge fund buildt around finewine investment; Nick for an innovative website which provided the ingredients for published recipes and sourced the ingredients. Each of the candidates was also wanting to take their expertise into either new or bigger arenas. So, in the end it would come down to;

  1. how much Sugar liked the business idea
  2. how sound the plan was
  3. whether Sugar believed in the candidate proposing it.

Jade was the first person to leave the process. Her plan for a mega call-centre involved the incorporation of a powerful database, which she claimed access to, for very targeted cold calling. Sugar believed in Jade, and even paid her the complement of firing her “with regret”, but Sugar was not happy to be associated with the idea (especially on TV) and the interview process showed Jade’s plan to be poorly developed, as there were no real costings. We saw elements of this during the series, when Jade was better at organising than “strategising”. Jade herself agreed with this. She could undoubtedly lead this project, but Sugar would need to be hands-on t oget it off the ground. However, in the end it was the idea itself that did not appeal.

Next out the door was Nick. Really, Sugar did not get the idea that people would use this website, despite the fact that such a thing probably complements his business empire better than any of the other ideas. Sugar wouldn’t use it, so why would anyone else? Secondly, Nick’s profit projections (£25M in 2-3 years) was based on the idea of a Facebook-type sell off. The interview panel thought this “ambitious”. So, Nick also failed on points 1 and 2. It was pointed out that Nick tends to prefer to start-up ideas, make them successful and move on, something Sugar can identify with, but instead here Nick was said to lack “focus”.

That left long-time favourite Tom and Ricky.

Tom’s idea reflected a part of his character that we saw in the series; his willingness to take high risks (remember the “urban art” ). Using fine wines as part of a hedge fund could be described as risky; doing it with someone else’s money doubly so.

Ricky had the more straightforward idea of setting up an agency to recruit scientific personnel. This is something that Ricky has done very successfully for other organisations. Now he wanted the capital to do it for himself.

The choice was clear; high risk or safe(r) bet?

A quick word for Ricky. Firstly, he will henceforth be known as Richard, his given name. Ricky underwent a transformation in the series. Richard is the butterfly that has emerged throuh the series. He entered as pupal-stage Ricky, and for me is the candidate who has grown most in the process. He certainly grew on me. Richard also managed to win over Claude. His business plan was sound, and once Claude started focusing on Ricky’s (not Richard’s) original application with it’s outrageous claims (“I’m the best business partner on the planet”) He became the frontrunner. Everyone else spent more time justifying their plans. Richard admitted that the original letter was a mistake he wouldn’t make now. This also reflected one of his trengthss observed inthe series. Richard really emerged in the boardroom, where his focused, considered answers ensured he survived.

And so it panned out. Sugar acknowledged that Richard had emerged from the process and went with the safer bet. Ricky won and got the contract.

In the end, Tom’s idea was ambitious, creative and just too risky for Lord Sugar. Tom peaked too early in the series and his last few weeks were poor, with the exception of the semi final when he worked with PM Ricky. No doubt he has got a good consolation prize in terms of publicity and his idea will be picked up by an organisation with expertise in hedge funding.

For me, this has been another entertaining series of The Apprentice, and I’m coming round to the idea that this format does eventually work to identify the characteristics needed to convince Sugar to invest in their idea. It certainly worked for Richard. Of course, in the end, it doesn’t matter how good you are if your business idea is poorly thought out. This year, the right candiate won.

Well Done Richard Martin.

Now known as Richard Martin

How referee body language affects the perception of performance

How referee body language affects the perception of performance.

I recently watched the new documentary “The Referees” which follows a number of FIFA referees through the Euro 2008 finals. The film is a great record of the stresses and pressures put on the top officials in the modern game at the highest level. It also reveals some mighty large egos!

As a referee at a local level, I can identify with the challenges of getting it right in every game. The film gives some insights into what is in the minds of the officials at key moments in games as we can here their miked up conversations. Yet the top officials keep their doubts (for the most part) hidden. How do they do this? Through confident non-verbal communication.

In the Empire Magazine review of the film, the reviewer says the defining shot in the movie is “an Italian linesman practising his flag-waving in front of a dressing room mirror. Absolutely priceless.” The reviewer has got it completely wrong. The assistant referee is actually checking that his flag technique is clear, unambiguous and, most importantly, delivered with confidence. Every decision that assistant gives is going to be scrutinised. He has to convey that he is absolutely sure of the decision (even if some of the conversation we hear suggests he is not).

Check out this clip of research into what footballers want from a referee;

 

The research confirms that players want the referee to be;

  • competent
  • dependable
  • respectful

Notice how players decide on this based on a number of verbal and non-verbal (mostly visual) clues. This is consistent with the work of Albert Mehrabian, who showed that body language and tone of voice are the most important factors in someone hearing the right message and,crucially, believing, it.

So, how do we do this? Here are a few tips to help;

  1. Make strong eye contact when you are speaking to a player.
  2. Once you have made a decision, be quick and clear with your flag or hand signals.
  3. Talk to players as you expect them to talk to you – be firm but respectful. Never swear. Use your tone of voice to convey authority, not arrogance.
  4. Where you can, give players clarification on your decisions, but state this as fact from your point of view. Don’t allow your doubts to surface. Then move on, whatever you have decided it has gone.

Follow these few rules and we can all be perceived as more competent, dependable and respectful referees. Whether we are or not depends upon accurately knowing and applying the Laws of the game.

Influential communication – does body language matter?

The fundamental purpose of influential communication is to persuade others to behave the way you want them to. This has numerous applications in sales, marketing, leadership and management. A key question in trying to do this is “does body language matter?” The simple answer is “yes it does!”

The Social Styles model was developed over 40 years ago and has been refined and expanded since that time. Social Styles can be used to influence the behaviour of others, and at the heart of this model is the reading and adaptation of behaviour; first our own, then that of other people. But where does the evidence come from that adapting body language is important?

Back in the 1970s, a researcher at the University of California in Los Angeles identified the importance of body language to verbal communication. Now, the work of Professor Albert Mehrabian has often been misquoted and used to explain / justify much beyond his original work, but the gist of what he found is as follows: getting our message across to other people is about much more than just choosing the right words.

In fact, Mehrabian showed that words only contribute about 7% to the effectiveness of communication, with tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%) being much more important. In particular, it seems that we need more than just the words to decide whether we believe the speaker (or even to decide if they believe what they are saying ).

That is not to say that the words are unimportant. Change the words and you change the meaning. However, the words are not enough on their own.

Still not convinced? Well, just think about how the intent behind the words becomes more ambiguous as we move from face-to- face communication, to telephone, to e-mail and txt!

Notice that according to Mehrabian, over half of the message we take from verbal communication comes from reading body language. Now, most of this is going on at a subconscious level, but it does make sense. For instance, we are able to discern possible danger to ourselves by interpreting body language, and this has been a vital survival mechanism throughout human evolution. You disagree? Well, next time you see someone coming towards you with a bloody knife and a deranged expression on their face what will you do; take precautions, or wait to confirm your worst fears with a simple verbal, “do you intend me some harm?”

So, body language does matter and Social Styles allows us to maximise the 93% of communication that Mehrabian says is vital to understanding and influencing other people. Clearly this is key to successful sales, marketing, leadership and management.

Learn more about Albert Mehrabian