The Apprentice episode four: Talking the hind leg off a donkey doesn't close deals
Posted: Thu 29th Oct 2015
Owen O'Neill, founder of University Compare, looks at the business lessons in the latest episode of The Apprentice.
Wednesday night at 9pm calls for only one thing, another episode of the Apprentice and the larger than life candidates that we're all beginning to have a hate-love relationship with. As we howl at the television and imagine we'd make a good Gogglebox family, we all spend time assessing how we'd have done it differently. This week's task was quite an undertaking, and there was lessons aplenty to be taken from it.
The task involved the contestants to sell at Britain's biggest pet trade show, addressing the Â£4.1bn industry. It was a simple task; choose one high-end and one low-end product that would sell well. Lord Sugar mixed the teams up yet again and each team was split into two sub-teams and then on to view the products.
As each team met with the retailers of the products, it was clear that those with good networking skills would shine through. As any true budding businessman or woman would tell you, enthusiasm, passion and empathy in business is what splits the 'wantreprenuers' from the entrepreneurs.
Although this task highlighted managerial and product selection as the key failure of the task, underneath the surface it really split the candidates into two categories, those who understood the power of people skills, and could win the hearts of the retailers (and their products) and those who could not. Every venture capitalist will tell you the same thing; those that have spare capital to invest will invest in people first, not companies or teams, as it's the individual who will drive the mission or, in this case, the task at hand, not the idea.
Once each team had their chosen products, the teams only had one day before the trade show and each project manager was faced with delegating the correct candidates to sell the high-end and low-end products. Choosing these teams poorly would lead to the failure of the task.
Admittedly David Stevenson (PM of the winning team) had a far easier choice in delegating as he'd chosen well and his products were naturally easier to sell. Another key lesson here; the winning team communicated effectively and worked surprisingly well together.
For the losing team, the lack of enthusiasm when viewing the products carried through to the trade show and led to the failure of the task. Their poor networking skills and inability to adapt to the environment made the team fall behind. Each sub team had to work well together and sell the products that had been listed. This showed up the weaknesses of particular candidates such as Ruth who had expressed great skills in consumer sales.
As any hugely successful business person will tell you, without firm belief in, and passion for what you're selling, you won't close deals. Ruth could talk the hind leg off a donkey, but she demonstrated desperation, rather than focus and belief in what she was selling.
I believe project manager David Stevenson was the reason the winning team succeeded in this week's task and I believe he is playing out to be a dark horse in the competition.
There are two major lessons to be taken from this episode. Firstly, huge enthusiasm for the product or service you're selling needs to be demonstrated. The childlike glee on David's face as he saw those t-shirts and balloons was infectious.
And secondly, as Lord Sugar constantly reminds us, business is really all about the follow-through, actual sales, not polite chit-chat or 'building relationships for the future'. Ruth, as positive and colourful a character as she was, was the right person to go. She didn't focus enough on speaking to the right type of customer and closing those big deals.
Meet all the candidates from the 2015 series of The Apprentice here. Spoiler alert! All fired candidates are revealed.