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

“This is a job interview from hell. I’ve been in business for 40 years. Your prize is working with me.”

And thus we entered tonight’s third show with 14 wannabee apprentices remaining to fight for the chance to become The Apprentice. This week’s task was to transform two pubs by putting on food service. As usual, the team with the most profits at the end of the day would win.

Sir Alan Sugar changed the routine slightly by picking the team leaders himself. He chose Sara for the girls, a trained barrister and international car trader (whatever that is), and Ian for the boys, a software sales manager.

Ian, somewhat ironically given he never looked like demonstrating this throughout the whole exercise, promised to give as much clear and concise management as he could. He then informed the camera that there are two types of people in life, winners and the second type of word that he could not even say…

As my wise my mum is fond of saying, Pride comes before a fall.”

One of the my 6 Psychological Rules of Selling in the C21 is Be Humble. Humility is essential if you want to genuinely reach clients and set yourself apart from mediocre sales and business professionals (for more on humility and the 6 Psychological Rules of Selling in the C21 see my forthcoming new book No Fear Selling).

Back on the show the boys chose an Italian theme and Kevin asked to be head chef. Despite the fact he apparently ate out at Italian restaurants a lot his idea of Italian food seemed to begin and end with Spaghetti Bolognese and Spaghetti Carbonara! Still, they should be easy to cook!

Meanwhile the girls elected to host a Bollywood themed night. Claire had an issue with the whole theme saying that it would be “costly” and that curry was “niche”. Clearly she doesn’t read the papers then or she would know that curry is frequently voted the most popular food in the UK and that several commentators have suggested that the UK national dish should be changed to Chicken Tikka Massala!

During the afternoon the two teams focused on various activities. One of the most interesting was their totally different approaches to marketing. The boys designed a glossy and tantalizing leaflet and a fancy menu. Surely common sense should have told them that they were never going to get a return on that investment in one day’s worth of meals?

One of my friends, Olympic gold medal rower Ben Hunt-Davies (whom I am going to interview soon but more abou that another day), talks of how when they were training for the Olympics they used to ask themselves a question,

“Will it make the boat go faster?”

If the answer was “Yes” then they would do it. If “No” then they wouldn’t.

I often ask a similar question in selling, business growth and marketing, “Will it increase sales and profitability?” If the answer is “Yes” then do it. If “No” then find something else that will instead. This for me was a clear case of an activity that was always going to cost too much for what if could potentially make in profit in a mere one day!

Back in the show the girls had persuaded a printer to do their printing for free and had also blagged some saris for nothing in exchange for a little promotion for the two companies giving them the services. Small business owners and salespeople in general are often far too quick in shelling out money on goods and advertising when a little lateral thinking would get them the same or even better results for far less or even, as in the girls’ case, nothing.

Equally contrasting were the two approaches of the teams to costs and pricing this week. The girl’s took themselves off to the wholesalers supplied by Sir Alan to buy quality ingredients at the best prices that they could. They based their prices and their menus on market research done at a nearby restaurant.

The boys, disastrously, bought their food (expensively) in the supermarket and made up their prices. How many competitions need to be lost on The Apprentice before people realize that pricing and profitability need to be thought through and based on research, costs and clients?

In an attempt to drum up business the boys went door knocking, canvassing in the streets and handing out their expensive leaflets. In a stroke of genius the girls sold their tickets for £5 each promising VIP entry and money off the bill. They sold 45 of these meaning that they had banked £225 before they even opened their doors. Smart!

So at this stage the boys had spent over £400, the girls under £100 and the girls had already banked £225.

The boys were adrift by over £500 and the pub doors had not even opened yet!

When it came to cooking the girls’ over ambitious menu thwarted them from opening for lunch entirely. They had forgotten a few key ingredients and took until the evening sitting to create customer-ready meals.

The boys, meanwhile, were open and selling meals but had their own problems with the quality of their food and were picking up a few complaints from customers complaining that it was bland. During the afternoon and evening the boys ran out of ingredients on several occasions and had to run to the supermarket! Cook a duck! What a waste of time and money! The boys expenses were clearly spiraling out of control!

At 6pm, and 5 hours late, the Chicken Korma was ok and the girls finally opened their doors to welcome their firat customers. They found a “dancer” from a local restaurant and were raring to go. Despite disagreements the girls seemed to be on top of things now. Helene, who we had seen little of yet in the series, said something that I have been waiting to hear for two series’… she wanted to stay as a team and perform as a team as she thinks that keeps people out of the board room.


What a radical thought. So the best way is not to behave like an over-preened, arrogant, self-centred, me me me then?

Really? Gosh!

I do sometimes wonder whether people watching this programme who are not in business think that these people do really represent what it takes to do well in business? That would be really tragic.

Meanwhile, at the Duke of Hamilton, the boys were having a pep talk from Kevin. This talk probably did need to take place but Kevin just seemed to lack any gravitas. Why didn’t Ian step up and lead his team?

In the board room Sir Alan asked the boys what they thought of Ian. For once they were all lost for words and there was an ominous silence. The girls, whilst not showering her with praise, were broadly in favour of Sara as a manager.

The results were in. The boys had sold 844.97 of food with a measly profit of 310.97. The girls had sold less with 795 but had brought in a far more respectable 604.27. Not a lot for 7 people in a day but considerably more than the boys.

Whilst the girls swanned off to learn how to cook at a country manor (he is a wag that Sir Alan isn’t he!) the boys visited the local Bridge Café for a mug of tea!

Back in the board room Sir Alan berated the boys for not pricing things up correctly. He said that he did not see any business acumen in the room at all and that nobody picked up on this issue. This was incorrect as Simon did pick up on this and was crystal clear about it saying to Ian that they should deal in “absolutes” and “facts”. It was this conversation between Ian and Simon that, I believe, contributed to Ian calling Simon back into the board room along with Kevin.

(Aside: I’m not sure of his management or leadership abilities as yet as he has had no chance to show them  but Simon seems to have his head screwed on, works well in a team and is an industrious worker. He shouldn’t be in the board room and Ian picking him demonstrated that Ian was struggling to blame anyone for the loss apart from himself.)

Under questioning from Sir Alan, Ian blamed the head chef Kevin for all of the pricing errors. Kevin said that he did not want that responsibility and that he was just looking after the kitchen.

“Ian this was a total disaster. Quite frankly I think you lost it. Ian, you’re fired.”

A good decision from Sir Alan. Back at the house Kevin is giving it large, “I let Ian  speak and I nailed him to the ground.” Oh come on! Who do you think you are? Arnie in The Terminator.


So that’s it for another week. What what sales training and business lessons can we learn from tonight’s show…

Selling is not just about turnover, it’s about profitability too.

Understanding your costs and pricing accordingly is critical for your sales and business success. Whatever your costs you need to cover them and make the right amount of profit too.

In this exercise the boys massively over spent on food and on advertising. They should have either cut their costs or increased their prices. You should always be aware of your margins and your profitability when selling. Doing business is a choice and two people get to choose – you and your client. Many sales and business people approach selling as if only the client has a choice. They forget that they have a choice too.

A friend of mine was pricing up for his restaurant the other day and he started with what he thought his customers would pay. Whilst this is valuable information it is not the only information. He needs to work out his costs too. There is no point selling at a price if he cannot make profit out of it.

Advertising has to be measured – anyone can spend money.

Sir Alan made quite a song and a dance about the fact that the boys sold more than the girls. They did but it was not that much more and you have to remember that the girls failed to open for lunch at all.

Perhaps even more significantly the boys spent a whopping £272 on advertising. £272! Anyone can spend money on advertising and marketing. Anyone can buy adverts and brochures. Smart business people invest their money wisely measuring their return on investment and profit (sales, visibility, brand, reputation etc…) from each and every campaign.

Choosing the right marketing / advertising / sales mix is essential for the ongoing sales success of any business. Most business owners and salespeople are far to quick to lash out money on expensive brochures, fancy websites and paid advertising. All of these mediums have their place. The real skill in selling and marketing your business is in choosing the right one and the girls did that with their 121 promotions in the street.

Selling and business is about creativity.

There is a phrase out there that you should use OPE or Other People’s Experience to leapfrog your way to business and personal success. This is preferable to having to work out and invent everything for yourself when many of the answers are already out there. This is a great model and one that I utilize in my business and when working with clients a lot of the time.

But you need creativity too. You need to think laterally. You need to be flexible and to be open to better and more original ways of doing things. The girls had the idea of selling tickets and this more creative approach than just knocking out some fliers at the local printers gave them a business head start and a profitability margin that the boys never competed with.

So that’s it for another week. I’d be really interested in knowing your thoughts on the competition so far.

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