The Sales Apprentice 2010: Sales Training Tips From The Hit TV Show, Week 9

Week 9 of the Sales Apprentice and tonight was supposedly all about “negotiation.” Now, before we carry on, let’s make things clear, this task tonight was not about negotiation. If it was about anything, it was about preparation and personality. Let’s have a look at what the Oxford Compact English Dictionary has to say about negotiation…

Negotiate v. confer in order to reach an agreement / arrange or bring about /     find a way over, through etc / transfer to another for consideration / convert into money
~ Oxford Compact English Dictionary

This had little to do with what went on tonight which was far more about personality and push than anything else. Now, don’t get me wrong here, personality is important for success in all walks of life. Indeed, I would rather be on the side in a debating contest arguing for personality and potential. But the personality required to succeed in today’s task was more about Sir Alan’s barrow-boy tendencies than it was modern-day negotiator.

Tonight’s task was to source, negotiate and buy a list of 10 mundane and bizarre objects for as little cash as possible. Failure to buy an item would incur a fine of the recommended cost of the item plus £50. The team spending the least money (including fines) would be the winner.

So before we recover a few sales and business tips and strategies from this mess I want to point out that this task had far more to do with door to door hustling than business. And it certainly brought out some traits that you would not want to see in any reputable business.

Team leaders this week were Liz and Jamie although this made so little difference to the task that I had barely worked out who was leading the girls’ team until the board room! At the start of the task, the boys and the girls opted to approach things with very different strategies… the girls opting to cover as much ground as possible on the phone before venturing out onto the mean streets of London and the boys opting instead to race, seemingly aimlessly, from place to place looking for goodies.

Sales training tip: Planning and preparation are critical for sales success. As someone somewhat cheesy probably says in your office on a regular basis, when you fail to prepare you prepare to fail. As a sales and business person you can end up spending an awful amount of time wasting your time. There’s always something fruitless to do if you don’t watch out. I firmly believe in Pareto’s Law which states that 80% of your sales results will come from 20% of your efforts… but which 20%? That’s the smart question and the only way that you will know the answer is through effective planning and preparation.

In this the girls had the boys beaten hands down and if it had not been for their radically different personalities from the boys they would have won the task. Because of their lack of preparation the boys spent an inordinate amount of time searching for products and, in some cases, trying to work out what they even were. This resulted in them only finding 7 out of 10 products compared to the girls who found all 10.

What were these objects you ask? Hey, no promises that I can even remember them all but I will try… some specialist truffles, the blue book, plain single tikka, a specific Singer sowing machine (like my Nana used to have!), tartan, laptop memory, wooden kitchen worktop, chicken feet, plates… yep, one missing…

“It’s not a complex task, infact it’s very simple,” said Sir Alan. He was right. This test proved to be more of a test of who would ask for the biggest discount. Not a bad trait I agree and it is true that many sales and business people do have limiting beliefs about what they can sell things for, what they can buy things for and indeed just money in general… but if business was as simple as, “I’m sorry, I am just not paying more than £50,” then many people would be a lot richer / poorer than they are!

The boys did get two things very right however. The first was that they thought about what the cost price might be on articles and had a strategy for asking for discount. This in turn made them bolder in what they were asking for than the girls who tended to approach the negotiations with a more, “Could you possibly?”, “Would it be alright if?” approach than anything else. This was summed up by the somewhat pathetic Stella telling a man selling tartan that she would only buy it for a £1 off when he steadfastly refused to haggle with her. What was the point of that Stella? Negotiate or don’t negotiate but have some pride. Give him the darn quid and pay full whack rather than that meaningless gesture!!

Sales training tip: Have a strategy prior to negotiations. In the heat of the moment, emotions will often take hold and you are likely to be more effective if you have a strategy.

The other thing that the boys did well was to produce a back story as to why they needed a discount. This may not have been pure negotiation but it was a good old haggle and a good story or reason for the discount works. Cialdini explains this in his excellent book “Influence the Psychology of Persuasion” when he talks about the use of the word “because”…

“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

Unfortunately, I was not okay with the way that they did this lying and making up tales about their Grandmother, their brothers, lost books and eaten homework. They may have thought this was funny or smart but it did little to improve the standing of salespeople in the eyes of the British public! And before you say, “lighten up Gavin” I am smiling ( 8-) see!) but I am also being slightly serious in that you and I may know this is not the way we behave but the general (non-selling) public have few other references to draw on.

Karen was amused at their successes saying that she might not have done it the same way but that it had worked. Please bear in mind that unless you are selling door to door in one off sales this is not a good way to behave. The word “worked” is open to debate here. Relationships are built on trust and destroying it in this way is a sure fire route to the sales wilderness. What works in one battle could well lose you the war.

Sales training tip: Use stories to support your sales and negotiations. Have reasons to support your arguments. Use the word “because” to be more influential.

Meanwhile the boys were soundly beating the girls in seemingly every negotiation. One of their core tactics along with stories and strategies was starting low. On being quoted a price the boys’ initial opening gambit was always significantly lower than those of the girls and they were far less willing to negotiate upwards, on one occasion with the Tartan actually going down part way through the negotiation!

In the Boardroom…

Jamie got 2 of 5 products, Chris and Stuart got 5 out of 5 making a total of 7. Sir Alan asked what they got and Stuart started to recite a list saying it was “like The Generation Game.” Sir Alan growled and made it clear that he does the jokes in his boardroom.

The girl’s meanwhile got fined for being late back but did at least bring all 10 products to the table.

The scores were in… including fines…

Apollo (the girls) had spent £1094.40.
Synergy (the boys) had spent £1020.50.

A silly task really but that’s what they’d signed up for so the boys had won and one of the girls would have to go…

Back in the Boardroom…

Liz elected to bring back Stella and Laura… probably because Joanna has been looking good the last couple of weeks and in a sales / negotiation task was probably the stronger of the girls. With these three it was not a difficult choice with Laura clearly the weakest despite Stella having been sliding inexorably backwards week on week and Liz having royally messed up by not thinking about prices.

Laura played her only card letting the big guns battle it out perhaps hoping that an all out nuclear war might leave her able to negotiate peace and align herself with the winner. She opted for Liz, backing her against Stella but Sir Alan wasn’t going to let Stella or Liz go yet despite his reservations about Stella being “too corporate”.

It was adios Laura and then there were 6… Stuart, Jamie, Chris, Stella, Joanna, Liz.

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