Posted: Thu 5th Nov 2015
Martin Campbell, managing director and co-founder of fintech startup Ormsby Street, pulls out the business lessons in the latest episode of The Apprentice.
After last week's trade show episode highlighted the importance of people skills and selling, and the exit of Ruth due to her lack of these qualities, this week saw the prospective apprentices summoned to the London Library to be briefed on a children's book challenge.
The task involved writing a book for three to five year old children, which would then be printed overnight. The two teams would sell their book, including an audiobook version, to national and independent retailers.
Storytelling is in fact, a key skill in business. It allows you to successfully position your business as you want to, with both internal and external audiences. It joins the dots around a business and is key to engagement with staff, investors, partners, customers and indeed anyone that interacts with your business.
But in reality, this was just a set-up for another sales task, with issues of leadership also to the fore. Hairdresser Charleine was keen to lead Team Versatile, citing her children and knowledge of children's books as a reason. Sam, with his degree in literature, was challenged by Lord Sugar to lead Team Connexus. Experience in the field can undoubtedly be an asset, as is knowing your target market. But equally, coming at something with a fresh perspective can have value in business too.
The writing process was predictably muddled, with team leader Sam intent on writing a masterpiece. This is actually one of the flaws with The Apprentice; the ability to write a children's book is not generally seen as evidence of business acumen and the best leaders will hire the best people for the job; they won't get anywhere trying to do everything on their own.
Perhaps with this in mind, Charleine appointed Richard as sub-team leader, but requested that David pass any information back to her. This was a politically motivated decision and caused some awkward moments, and resentment among the team.
Not everyone in a team has to get along of course, but it is important for everyone to be clear on their roles and responsibilities and also to feel like they are valued. If you're going to say that your team is connected or versatile, then telling team members that they need to check everything back with you doesn't really fit the story!
Having completed their respective books, it was now time to sell. In the early rounds of the show especially, success in sales equals success in The Apprentice. It is interesting the way it is filmed though; Lord Sugar values and rewards the good salespeople, but they are often portrayed as pushy, crass or brash.
Even without the benefit of hindsight, Natalie's backing away from a pitch to Foyles, citing a cough and a cold, looked like a bad move. She was well enough to visit a children's focus group that same day, so it looked she just wasn't up for the sales challenge, which is not going to impress anyone.
The pitching and selling on both teams was a real mixed bag. Some great deals and quick thinking were blended with muddles over figures and distinctly poor negotiation. All of which highlighted the importance of sales, but also the need for specialist and skilled salespeople in a small business who really know what's going on and what's realistic.
This was borne out even further in the boardroom. By general consensus, Connexus had created the better product, yet still lost the task. Product is important, but the ability to sell is even more so.
When it came to firing, Sam took Brett and Natalie into the boardroom with him, but Natalie's cards had been marked earlier in the episode and she paid the price. What I find interesting about The Apprentice is Lord Sugar's inflexibility at times on personality types.
Last night he criticised Sam for not making an immediate decision on who to bring into the boardroom with him, and also his general indecisiveness. Gut instinct is important in business of course, but there is nothing wrong with being considered and thoughtful, and a good business will have a number of personality types within it. Really great leaders often have to learn first to value diversity and then get to understand different people by working alongside them.
But selling remains key, and any small business would be wise to keep that front on mind. That said, I will watch with interest how this series pans out, as candidates get to demonstrate their strategic thinking and other business skills.
Meet all the candidates from the 2015 series of The Apprentice here. Spoiler alert! All fired candidates are revealed.