The Sales Apprentice 2008: Sales Training Tips From The Hit TV Show, Part XI

Love them or hate them, tonight The Apprentice treated us to the “interviews” of Lee, Claire, Lucinda, Helene and Alex. There weren’t any sales training or business lessons to be learned and we didn’t get to see much of the interviews. You can’t learn much about interviewing from The Apprentice either unless you want the spirit if not the weight of UK Employment Law bearing down on you.

Still, let’s be straight here, this is not about interviewing, this is about sensationalist TV and nothing more. If someone with Sir Alan’s experience didn’t know who he wanted to recruit weeks before this and after all of the exercises they have been set, it would be a poor show!

And if you tried to interview salespeople in this manner you wouldn’t find any recruiters to recruit for you let alone applicants for your positions. This “dream team” of interviewers all make me look like sweetness and light but even I once got a stroppy call from a recruitment agency asking me why I gave their candidate a “hard time”!

But in the name of good TV, four (probably normally) upstanding business people made out that interviewing is something like a cross between an interrogation and a no-holds, full contact, ultimate fighting competition. Tonight’s contenders were Paul Kemsley (property developer), Claude Litner (Sir Alan’s former trouble-shooter), Bordan Tkachuk (CEO of IT firm Viglen, owned by Sir Alan) and Karren Brady (MD of Birmingham City Football Club).

So, before we get into any conclusions that could be drawn from tonight’s melee let me share with you what I wrote but did not have time to post earlier this week…

Hmmm…

Many people have been asking what I think about the candidates and who I think Sir Alan should hire. This is not an easy question given their different skill sets and the “vagueness” of the job title in question…

Last year we saw Simon win… enthusiastic, well presented, well-spoken, a true Sir Alan fan and a real team player…

The year before we saw Michelle beat the Badger who would have seemed the logical choice for Sir Alan…

So what is he looking for?

Difficult to say on these two radically different choices and I think the answer is that Sir Alan is very flexible in what he is looking for. This makes second guessing him very difficult to do. Sir Alan said last week that he is looking for someone who can slot in. Nick said last night, Sir Alan needs people who can deal with corporates too…

So I waited to post my thoughts until after watching last night’s (Tuesday) “insight” into the remaining 5 candidates. I can’t say it helped much and I didn’t feel that I got a “sight” into very much at all.

So here goes nothing…

Lucinda.

She’s cooky, she’s off beat and she has wacky dress sense. Her berets and colour combinations will always make her stand out! Her management skills seem the most honed and she has an ability to put people into the roles that suit their skills best. She seems to aim to get the best out of the others around her as a team leader and seems effective in this endeavour. She is analytical and intelligent and has (apparently) already done well in her career as the top earner before entering The Apprentice. She has also done very well in the tasks where she has been project manager.

Unfortunately, she gets rather stroppy, seems not to have the ability to deal with Alex and Lee (who I do think were making things very hard for her) and appears to hand the towel in when things aren’t going her way. She is not fitting in a team player although in her defence I suspect she is not used to back-stabbing, Machiavellian teams like the ones she has been presented with in this situation.

She cannot sell… or should I say, she thinks she can’t. I think that if she believed she could, she could but that’s another story. Her belief that she cannot sell and her abdication of any responsibility in this area will “probably” make her unhirable for Sir Alan. I also think she is way too individualistic for him and his companies and it is highly unlikely that he would employ her.

Helene.

I found her obnoxious and aggressive at the start of the series. She did more shouting and stirring than nearly anybody. And then she went quiet and seems to have stayed out of trouble and off the radar ever since.

On the positive side she seems to be level headed and sees things for what they are. She clearly has some success behind her in the past but in what, doing what and with what results we really don’t know. We just keep getting told that she worked for a large corporate…?

On the downside, Helen cannot sell and this probably makes her unemployable by Sir Alan just like Lucinda. She probably brings another “dimension” with her corporate background but if Sir Alan wanted this he could buy it in. I can’t see why he would need it in an apprentice…

Which leads us to the other three…

Claire, Alex and Lee. I do not see them as having more “dimensions” than the other two. I could probably argue the opposite in fact…

However…

My choice of Apprentice would be from one of these three, admittedly mostly because they are the best salespeople left in the competition.

Lee.

Lee is ex recruitment. He is a lively upbeat individual with some obvious communication and motivation skills. On the flip side, he does not always seem in control of his communication skills and seems prone to outbursts and swearing in places and with people where perhaps it is not the best tactic or approach. He is not that academic which shows in his choice of language and approach at times. I am not sure that he has the potential of Alex and Claire.

He’s a likeable guy which is one of his strengths and he can sell… how well of course remains to be seen. He sold the knickers at the wedding show and that was commented upon although I suspect they were a very easy sale as most brides would want to spend something at the show and here was a purchase that they could make with no down side. The wrong wedding dress equals a disaster, the wrong knickers equals… sexy lingerie during the week! Hardly the end of the world!

He sold some supercar rentals too but nothing like as many as Alex. This may have been bad luck or it may have been that Alex is the better salesman.

And whilst his motivation skills seem good his management and leadership skills seem dubious. There is an obvious split between him and Alex and Lucinda and neither he nor Alex seem to have been able to bridge that gap as managers. Clearly, there is a lot we don’t know here but none the less I don’t think he would be in my top 2.

Alex.

I have liked Alex and then I haven’t and then I have and then I haven’t. With many of the other candidates this season, this hot-cold-hot feeling of mine towards them has been due to their characters unfolding in front of us and us seeing different aspects of them but with Alex it is because he blows hot and cold himself.

He is undoubtedly capable of selling and has proved this in several tasks. When the wind is blowing in the right direction, when he gets out of bed the right side and when he’s happy he would be an asset to a team…

But when it’s not going right he seems to be childish and moody. He states his passion and energy but he doesn’t always show it.

There has been a lot said on this series about the huge pressure of the show and how tiring the whole thing is. The contestants and the media have fed us this line from the start of the series…

Really?

I know plenty of people who leave the house every day before 7am and never get home until gone 9pm. They work 6 days a week for 48+ weeks of the year and have done for the last 20 years +.

As far as I am aware our apprentices have not been through sleep deprivation and whenever the phone rings at between 6 and 730am they all seem to be still in bed asleep or just rising…

If they want to be “the tycoons of the future” they are going to need to be able to work at least this much and this hard for years on end not just a few weeks!

Anyway, back to Alex…

I think he could be good but I am not sure if he would consistently produce. I’d also like him to smarten up a bit. Far too much attention on looking cool, not enough on looking the part for me (but then I am old fashioned like that!).

Which leaves…

Claire.

Claire is definitely the one with the mouth. She seems quite young in this group now although Alex is apparently the youngest. She reminds me of the Badger in some ways although with a different skill set…

She is not quite as much of a direct salesperson as Ruth was but she seems more capable of listening and growing. Of all of them Claire has impressed me with the way she has taken on board the feedback about her being opinionated and pile driving people…

Whether this is a permanent change who knows but she certainly seems to have been more reflective and less opinionated. Even if this is just because she has become more savvy in the board room and started to realise when the waves are crashing on someone else’s shore, this is an improvement. Awareness is an important board room, sales and business skill after all.

Claire can sell as she proved last week with the cars and she managed ok when she did.

So who would I hire? You know, I still don’t know. Let’s see how they do in the interviews this week. Last year these were very illuminating. Very illuminating indeed!

Welcome back…

So those were my thoughts and I don’t really think they’ve changed after tonight’s show. As tonight’s show was barely chronological and has no real business or sales tips to get our teeth into I thought I would cover it off like this…

Claire added £8m to the bottom line of her business yet only took home a £27k bonus. She was told that she hadn’t negotiated a good deal there!
Alex was described as a “former landscape gardener who now works in a supermarket”! That’s just rude that is… and Alex looked like he thought so too!
Alex got told that he must have some “thick friends” if he thinks that his skills are exceptional. He didn’t look pleased about that either!
Lee was shown to have doctored his CV saying that he had spent 2 years in a college when he actually left after 4 months. Not a smart move for a recruiter that one! We learned that he has an “issue” about his lack of formal qualifications.
Lee had a sentence in his CV that had so many mistakes in it that I would have been disappointed had it been written by a 10 year old. Sorry Lee but that is just not “what I’m talking about!”
Alex got told that his CV was boring and to say something interesting. Apparently, he didn’t!
Lucinda got told that she doesn’t listen by an interviewer who definitely wasn’t listening!
Helene apparently managed a team of 500+ salespeople. Why would anyone give that up for this? I just don’t know but then as my mum likes to say, “It takes all sorts!”

And take all sorts it does. Who do you know who would put up with this kind of boorish, oafish, idiotic and childish interviewing? At least Karren brought a modicum of decorum and sense to the otherwise pointless proceedings!

The panel were relatively split in what they thought. There were no amazing surprises from them and I doubt that anything they reported back to Sir Alan will in any way have changed his opinions!

On Alex.

They liked him. They liked the fact that he had been on a commission only role and they found him charming and likeable. Claude was the only dissenter finding him shallow and believing that he would require work.

On Lucinda.

Intelligent, bright and articulate but a big NO for Sir Alan. They thought that she would be a handful.

On Lee.

Paul Kemsley hated the fact that Lee winked at him at the end of the interview. They found him likeable but did not like the fact that he had embellished his CV. Karen thought he did a good job of selling a pen to her. They thought he would work hard.

Claire.

Karen thought Claire was fantastic, a doer, saying that she would employ her if Sir Alan didn’t. (Claire, that might be a better role for you…). Claude was not so sure, doubting whether her retail skills would transfer well. Bordan thought she didn’t listen and questioned if she might be pretending to listen now. Paul said he saw her as the holiday rep that she once was. A tad harsh that one.

Helene.

Claude liked her. Paul saw her as back room staff but said you couldn’t rule her out. Karen liked her. They were all taken with her rise from a troubled upbringing.

In the board room…

Sir Alan asked each of the candidates to give an account of themselves which they did and then Alex stepped in and attacked Lucinda for maybe not wanting the job. This was a shrewd move, effectively casting doubt on Lucinda and showing his passion for the job through his annoyance at her going for a job she may not want.

Upshot…

“Lucinda, you’re a little bit too zany for me. You’re fired!”

So who would be the next two to go?

Apparently, no-one! Sir Alan does not have enough information to make his decision. 11 weeks and 11 tasks and he does not have enough information? And him this amazing business person too! He’s virtually been employing them for 3 months!!! Oh come on!

How can he possibly not know exactly what he is going to do?

Sir Alan decided to take four not two into the final stating that this was because he thought that they all had skills and were “very, very good candidates” and he wanted to see more of them. I don’t believe this anymore than I see them as “very, very good candidates”. I believe that it was fall for TV but in that I think he was right…

It will be more interesting!

Next week’s teams for the final will be Claire and Lee versus Alex and Helene. Apparently the losing team is going to be fired in its entirety and Sir Alan will chose from the winning team. This would imply that Sir Alan really does not “know” who is going to win as it could be out of his control if his “favourite” loses! I find this staggering!

So here’s my thoughts on next week…

I would not, could not hire Lee. If for no other reason than that he’s an ex recruiter and there is no way he could have expected to have got away with that clanger about his education. Whether this will bother Sir Alan who knows!

I don’t think Sir Alan will hire Helene either. She’s too corporate and he has already questioned what she brings to the party. She would be a safe bet but I don’t think he will go with her…

So that should leave it a shoot out between the pretty boy and the motor-mouth, Alex and Claire. They are conveniently split with one on each team so Sir Alan should be able to choose from one of them…

But will he? What do you think?

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