The Sales Apprentice 2009: Sales Training Tips From The Hit TV Show, Part III

Week 3, the car, circa 6am and the boys were talking. Ben, he of “to me making money is better than sex”, was pumped up and ready for the third task, “I’m not nervous, whoever is up against me, their arseholes are going to be twitching like rabbits’ noses”.

Sir Alan had called the candidates to the new athletic complex at Lee Valley, the elite Olympic training ground East of London, “Here we are at Lee Valley athletics centre… fitness is big business… people can hardly afford to pay for a membership at those fancy gyms, what I want you to do is create a piece of portable home fitness equipment. And tomorrow you are going to try and sell them to three of Britain’s big retailers…”

So a design, pitch and sell task; the kind of task that many previous teams of apprentices have failed spectacularly at. This could be good. After a team member shuffle up with Kimberly and Kate moving to Empire and Philip and Noorul (“I’m posh”) moving to Ignite they were off – the team with the most orders at the end of the task would win and someone from the losing team would get fired.

Our two teams had two days to design, prototype and sell a completely original piece of fitness kit. On the Ignite team, Debra half stepped up for team leader, as did Lorraine. “I’m a little bit calmer than other people,” said Lorraine. Phillip and Noorul , meanwhile, were favouring Debra. Patronisingly, Lorraine asked Debra, “Are you capable of managing unique personalities?” Some of this lot really ought to read some books on communication skills…

Putting himself forward to lead Empire James said that he had “a reasonable amount of product management experience”. The others seemed happy for him to hang himself out to dry and none of them volunteered or objected. As Empire discussed their initial thoughts for a product, trainee stockbroker Ben suggested that they should go down the “sex sells” route. He began to expand his idea by explaining that it should be “something that you can incorporate into actually having sex that creates resistance whilst you’re doing it.”

I wonder, has James ever had sex and who is this target audience of people were who are so busy (and sad) that they want to double-up and exercise when they are getting lucky? In any case, this suggestion seemed more sex toy than fitness kit…

Perhaps worse, or maybe not, Debra’s team, couldn’t think of any ideas for a piece of fitness kit at all. Debra, who has to have one of the most expressionless faces I have ever seen, wasn’t looking on the positive side of things, “It’s apparent that none of us are creative” she bleated.

Sales training and business tip: Creativity is a state of mind as much as it is a skill. Anyone can learn to be more creative and the starting point is the belief that you can be creative…

On the other team, James and Empire had finally focused on “flab” as their target enemy and “bingo wings” in particular. I’m not sure that you can say “bingo wings”… surely that’s fatist or classist or something? None of the apprenti seemed bothered by minor complications like these and they quickly agreed that this was what they were going to be designing. James put Ben in charge of designing the product and Ben described it as “this is for people who cannot even lift their own body weight”.

Meanwhile, Ignite were listening to estate agent Philip who was plugging the idea of a core cube (or blocks of dense foam that you could stack), rather like a Swedish ball but in a cube shape instead. Debra was pushing her idea of an ankle exerciser for the elderly. “Biddies need foot stools”, she said (what?).

Unable to agree they visited a personal trainer for advice and the personal trainer promptly rained on both of their parades saying that she would not buy either product. As this product had to retail for under £30, Kate, James and Howard decided to do some research on the high street to see what actually does sell best in this market. The surprising answer (which really highlights the sales training principle of always knowing your market) was… a door chin up bar.

With this knowledge under his belt, James was convinced that the best plan was to kiss – keep it simple stupid. With James not present at the designers, Ben had other ideas and, in conjunction with Majid, was keen to change James’ “simple” brief and bump up the design spec and add multiple features.

In the final minutes of the planning time, Debra’s team, through Philip, came up with a solid idea for a “bum ball” to work on core stability. Next morning, both teams got their first chance to see their prototype products. Ignite’s “bum ball”, now renamed as a body rocker, looked sleek and smart and they seemed rightly pleased. Empire’s “home multi tone”, by contrast, looked home made, Heath Robinson-esque and like something I might have created in my middle school woodwork and design classes.

Ben was at it again, “I’ve come up with a bloody great product. I’ve actually shocked myself”. Project leader James grimaced and said, “I like it”. He was clearly lying, which he then pretty much admitted privately to the camera.

Ignite’s Lorraine was practising her sales pitch with the strangest word soupage style…

“The body rocker, it’s innovative, it’s new, it’s original, it’s functional, it’s dynamic, it’s completely blown every other product of its kind out of the market. It’s portable, what I mean by being portable? You can carry it in your handbag, children can use it to enable them to have a stable stability… what do you think so far?”

Thanks for the explanation of portable Lorraine and “stable stability”… suddenly my world has become clear. Debra, who I think could barely muster an emotion even if Lorraine danced the can-can and tossed off her clothing, seemed no more impressed than I was, “Errrm, I didn’t really know what the product was”, she said.

Back in the real world (!), Ben was giving himself some I-love-me-love, “It makes perfect sense that Kate and I are doing the modelling” (cut to him doing press ups ) “I’d say, out of the men, I probably am the best looking. You can tell just by looking at them they’re all out of shape. I’ve at least graced the floors of a gym once or twice.”

Sales training tip: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, selling is about results, not egos. Selling is not about talking the talk, it’s about walking the walk. Selling is not about what you say you can do, it’s about what you actually do. Selling is not about promises, it’s about delivery.

On the way to their first sales pitch, Lorraine was practising her lines and, despite being a “sales woman”, she didn’t seem, able to string two lines together.

Sales training tips for making powerful presentations: To maker a powerful and persuasive sales presentation you need to know your stuff, you need to know what you’re presenting, you need a solid and proven structure BUT you also need to be natural. Practising memorizing your pitch word for word in the manner in which Lorraine did can make your presentation stilted and un-engaging.

Cue Lorraine and her first sales pitch to Power House Fitness, “Let me introduce you to the next iconic design that is a functional, portable, fitness product The Body Rocker…” Noorul leant back six inches on the rocker and then said how much pressure he felt under and how much he could feel the burn. “In terms of target audience there isn’t really anyone who wouldn’t use this product,” continued Lorraine, “I think even Nan who is sitting in the chair all day could use this product in terms of not seizing up…”

Hmmm, I’m kind of not sure, is this for ripping the stomachs of young fit people or is it for octogenarians?

At Totally Fitness, James’ team had botched their first sales pitch, “We target mid to high end so I am unlikely to direct them to this if they have the money to buy a £2000 multi-gym, for example”, stated his prospect. Bang, that’s one door shut.

Sales training tip: Know your client, know your client, k-n-o-w your client.

At John Lewis, Ben was in his element demonstrating the kit and as Kate mentioned the fact that the equipment would exercise your bum, Ben bent over and slapped his bum like a slightly chubby, overly smiley, very cheesy, stripper. The client grimaced.

Lorraine meanwhile, was completing her final sales presentation, still sticking to her “original, dynamic, portable, functional … lip smacking, thirst quenching, ace tasting, motivating, good buzzing, cool talking, high walking, fast living, ever giving, cool fizzing bum body rocker… oh, sorry, that was something else…”

Sales training tip: I know that we never see much of any sales presentation in The Apprentice but what we never see are the compelling reasons why products should be bought. What we never see are any questions or any client engagement. Do our apprenti even consider important questions like what problems their products solve, or how their clients will benefit from using them, or how they compare, improve upon or complement existing products in the market…? Instead, all we get is meaningless words and swaggering promises…

And then Debra closed John Lewis, demonstrating that closing does not have to be sophisticated and that sometimes just asking is all that it takes,

“Can you see it on your shop floor and can you see yourself putting forward an order for that product?”

“If we want this product exclusive to John Lewis, what does that mean for you?” queried the client, playing his dead-pan, I am a serious business person face, for all he was worth for the cameras.

Philip, “You’d have to make us a serious offer on a serious amount of orders because we do have other people interested…”

Client, interrupting Philip, “Order? Have you thoughts about that?”

Debra, “No, we’d have to have a conversation as a group about that”.

Slick. Errr, not…

Sales training tip: Set objectives for all sales meetings. Set primary objectives for all sales meetings. Set fall back objectives for all sales meetings. Set fall back objectives for your fall back objectives. You get the idea.When seeing professional buyers (such as this one) in particular, you know that if you are successful they will want to negotiate so give your negotiation positions some thought and be prepared…

Yasmina, and you have to respect her for stepping in,

“I would like to put this on the table. Ok. We’re offering this product at £14 for a unit. If you can guarantee us 20,000 units tomorrow then we can guarantee you exclusivity”.

The client, coming back like a Roger Federer back hand, “For how long?”

Yasmina, “For 6 months.”

Client. “Too short? 2000 units for 6 months isn’t a particularly great deal…”

And the cameras were cut on this scene… Pity.

In the board room…

Sir Alan asked, “Was James a good team leader?”… Ben said that he wasn’t exactly like Winston Churchill…. James said that he thought that “the end prototype was not up to scratch”… Sir Alan asked if Debra was a good team leader… Mona said she was “ok” but with little enthusiasm… Philip said he was very proud of his idea… Sir Alan asked about Lorraine’s presentation… Debra showed her slippery shoulders saying that she thought that she “tried her best” but that she did not know whether that was good enough or not… . Philip offered his support for Lorraine and said that she did a “good job and it is easy to be critical later on”…

The results were in…

Empire had no orders from Powerhouse.
Ignite had sold 80 units to Powerhouse.

Empire had no orders from Totally Fitness.
Ignite had sold 100 units to Totally Fitness.

Empire had sold 500 units to John Lewis.
Nick, “(John Lewis) asked for exclusivity but Yasmina went in far too high and asked for 2,000 for a 6 month exclusivity deal but they have placed an order for 10,000 units on an exclusive basis.”

Sales training question: Did she? Did she start too high? Did she really? What do you think? Why not share your thoughts below in the comments and I will share mine with you…

Ignite had won and won well. And, for once, a good result. They dreamt up, designed and created a new fitness product in 2 days and sold 10,000 units to John Lewis. Nice.

Ignite went off for a private concert from Katherine Jenkins and Sir Alan was left to quip with the others, “Well, the empire doesn’t strike back does it?” Another one he dreamt up in the bath I’m sure…

Back in the board room…

James elected to bring back Ben and Majid… James said that he was impressed by how “alive” Ben was about the product and that he did not want to micro manage him… Sir Alan said that Maj just hung around on the periphery of the action… Maj disagreed and said that he was not given a big enough job… Nick asked Maj if it was an enduring lack of confidence in his abilities… Sir Alan asked James why Ben was back in the room… James said because he thought Ben could take the concept and turn it into something that looked better than what he had produced… Sir Alan pointed out that no-one else came up with any better ideas… James and Ben argued… Ben shouted “If you’re quite done, I came up with the concept, it was up to you guys to find our what the retailer and the consumer wanted, if you did not convey that then that is up to you”… Sir Alan asked Ben why he thought James had brought him back into the board room and Ben said that he had no idea…

Sir Alan, “James, interestingly enough Margaret felt that you wasn’t too bad in management. She sees a Jekyll and Hyde person… Your two colleagues are pointing the finger at you the logic is that you go. Maj, you seem to be hanging around on the periphery not doing much… I wonder if a leopard will change its spots… And Ben you are young… I think it would be grossly unfair if you were held responsible for the failure of this task… my instincts are that I can’t really have people that are perceived not to contribute and you might not agree with this but Maj, you’re fired…”

“You are so close to going out that door James. You got Margaret to thank for putting that glimmer of doubt in my mind…”

Final sales training tip of the night: You have to step up. You have to take action. You have to do something, anything to take you in the direction of your goals and aspirations. Maybe Maj was standing back deliberately. Maybe he thought it was a good game plan…

Success in sales does not come to those who watch the game. Success in sales comes to those who pick up the ball and play their hearts out, right the way to the final whistle.

So what do you think about tonight’s decision? Who do you think should have gone and why?

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