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

Week 9 and this week the apprentices had to select and sell two baby products per team at the Baby Show in Earls Court. The team who sold the most would win and on the losing team, someone would get the sack. Leading Ben, Debra and Yasmina (Empire) this week was James. Leading Howard and Kate (Ignite) was Lorraine.

I’m really not sure who I wanted to lose this week or who I’d like to sack first. Lorraine is singularly annoying, Debra is contrary and aggressive, Ben is puffed up and ego-tastic, James is Tim-Nice-But-Dim… Howard, Kate and Yasmina seem the best of a bad bunch with Kate perhaps my favourite…

Anyway, back to the plot and our teams had 6 hours to visit suppliers, view potential products and make their selection of the products that they wanted to sell the very next day…

In Holland Park, James and Yasmina loooked at a birthing pool. In an attempt to influence their decision the client informed them that they had recently sold £5,000 worth of stock at a similar event over three days. Useful information but why did they not ask this question themselves and why did they not ask any follow on questions?

Sales training tip: Selling is all about asking questions. Selling is all about understanding. Selling is all about asking the right questions to aid understanding for both you and your client. Even when the client offered useful information why did they not ask more questions about where this other event was, how many attendees there were, why the people bought, what the competitive products were etc. I would have even asked them what they knew about the Baby Show and whether they’d been to that show before…

In South London Debra and Ben looked at a protective head cap for toddlers. As they left Ben was dismissive, “I’d want my kid to get cuts and bruises” he said, implying that children these days get molly-coddled. Debra agreed with him. And so do I…

But this has nothing to do with Debra and nothing to do with Ben and nothing to do with me. This is all to do with parents and future parents and, more specifically, the parents and future parents at the Baby Show. Would they make an impulse purchase to protect their child’s skull? Is this something that they would buy? I wouldn’t but I think they probably would.

Sales training tip: When you make assumptions about your prospects and your market based on your own preconceptions and beliefs you run the risk of getting it wrong. This is why planning, preparation and research are a critical part of the sales process.

Next up, Knightsbridge, and Debra and Ben fell in love with a horse. A wooden, rocking horse to be more precise. “We are known as the best rocking horse makers in the world… they sell to kings and queens everywhere”, boasted the rocking horse maker. I couldn’t visualize many kings and queens gracing Earl’s Court with their presence and I’d heard enough to move on but Ben and Debra were enchanted… “if you only sell one”, dreamed Ben.

Yes Ben, IF.

Kate and Howard meanwhile had realized the potential of selling the protective head cap that Debra and Ben had dismissed by playing on FEAR.

Sales training tip: People buy on emotion and justify with logic. Protecting your child is natural for any parent and, particularly, for first parents. At £15.99 this could be an easy sale… whether you agree with it or not

Decision time…

James asked Debra what she had seen that she liked and she said that as long as they got the rocking horses she didn’t care. “What’s your second choice?” he asked and Debra replied, “I wouldn’t choose any of them. I got to be honest, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t put my kid in a cradle, I wouldn’t put high heels on a 6 month old and I probably wouldn’t pick a head guard that they’d pull off.”

James and his team selected the birthing pool and the rocking horses. On the other team Lorraine, Kate and Howard selected a foldable buggy and the head guard.

The show…

Lorraine and her team quickly discovered that there was another company selling the same buggy as them and that they were selling it for £35 cheaper than them too. Oh dear.

Sales training tip: Ask better questions. Most salespeople just do not ask enough questions nor do they ask the right questions. In this case, Lorraine failed to ask the question as to whether anyone else would be exhibiting the product at the show.

Kate and Howard, true team players (!), whispered to each other, “I can’t believe she didn’t ask if anyone else was selling it”, whispered Kate, “Do you know what? If we lose, we’ve got a reason, we’ve got an excuse,” replied Howard. Good to know that they have a plan in place… even if it is their excuses if they fail!

Lorraine, meanwhile, was making a hash of demonstrating the buggy. “She’s making a complete horlicks of it”, commented Nick. Lorraine knew that she could not work the buggy last night and yet she had walked in to the show itself still unable to work it. What is that about? Why did she go to bed before she could take that buggy down and put it back up again blind folded, one-handed and wearing boxing gloves?

Sales training tip: Everyday I see salespeople who know that they have not completed something adequately but who pack up their bags and go home at 530pm anyway. Sales success is directly related to effort. Often, I have worked through the night to complete something important. That’s what important means, worth dedicating time and effort to. Clearly, operating the buggy was important and I would not have slept before I had mastered it.

And then a prospective customer showed Howard, Kate and Lorraine how to operate it. “We just don’t look professional when people ask how do you recline it and then they have to show us. It doesn’t look good”, said Howard implying that Lorraine was at fault. You knew you couldn’t operate it too Howard and you went to bed as well. You could have worked it out yourself you know.

That’s two weeks now that he has claimed innocence whilst seemingly being present whilst bad decisions were made. He does remind me a little of the Jasper Carrot sketch, “Never been involved in an accident… seen thousands”.

Over on the other team, Ben was half-heartedly trying to get people to talk with him about the rocking horses, “Can I interest you in our rocking horses?”, “Would you be interested in our rocking horses?” and “Excuse me, could I interest you in our rocking horses?”

Sales training tip: Closed questions of this kind are not the best kind of question to get people talking to you. It is far too easy for a client to say, “No”… and they all did. Planning and preparing your approach for engaging clients is critical. When you work a show or a stand you need to plan and prepare a strategy for enticing, engaging and converting prospects. You need to know what you need to achieve and how best you can achieve it.

In the board room the results were in…

Empire (Ben, Debra, Yasmina and James) had sold £722.
Ignite (Lorraine, Kate and Howard) had sold £1606.89 (or was it £1666.89?).

Debra was quick to cast blame, “In my mind, if you are a family, you will always have a need for a buggy…” What? She is unbelievable and so contrary. She says one thing one minute then reinvents history and says something else the next. Debra, do you not remember saying that you would be gutted if you did not get the horse?

James was criticized for choosing the birthing pool when only 2% of people have home births (or was that birthing pools?). James took this on the chin but said that they had also spent far too much time championing the rocking horse and far too little selling the birthing pool.

Sales training tip: I don’t know enough about this market to comment on their choices and anything I could say would be based on best guess and not research however… James is right about the strategy. Debra and Ben seemed to be looking for the knock-out punch, the big one, the retirement sale. They (rightly) pointed out that if they could sell one rocking horse they would win.

But they didn’t sell any rocking horses and they didn’t win. Too many salespeople rely on one big deal or one important deal to help them to hit their targets but then when it doesn’t come in, which is frequently, they miss target. They whine about how unlucky they were, how close it was and what would have happened if…

Debra continued to say that there were other options and that she had told James that. No Debra, I wrote it down. You said, “I wouldn’t choose any of them”. She continued about the choice of the birthing pool, “They beat us because they picked a product that everybody needed”… Ah, of course yes, because everybody needs a rocking horse Debra!

James elected, not surprisingly, to bring back Debra and Ben…

Ben claimed that he had shown Sir Alan raw business talent. He said, “I’ve shown you that I can be a compete grafter?” Apparently he can “compete at a world class level” and, did I tell you, he had a “scholarship for Sandhurst”?

But Sir Alan wasn’t having any of it, “It’s a very tough decision and it’s not a nice one for me to be perfectly honest but I feel that the light at the end of the tunnel has gone out quite frankly and I think it’s time Ben for you to leave this process. Ben you’re fired.”

Bye-bye Ben.

About the author: Gavin Ingham
Gavin Ingham is a speaker and author on mental toughness and will help you to Be More, Do More & Have More in your business and in your life. For all of the latest news, podcasts, videos, tips and strategies join his newsletter. Sign up to the newsletter
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