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Rachel Matthews How The Apprentice candidates are lacking business basics

It’s back for another year. The Apprentice is four episodes in and everyone is talking about the challenges, the contestants, and what they would do better.

As always there are a number of common themes running through each episode. Although it’s easy to say what you would do in a situation you’re not in, it is clear that most of these apprentices are lacking some vital business basics. Not a great start for someone hoping to partner with Lord Sugar.

The great thing about a show like this is it is specifically designed to highlight the skills of individuals, with challenges designed around basic business skills with aims to ‘weed out’ those not cut out for a partnership with one of Britain’s top entrepreneurs.

The Apprentice Logo

But what exactly is missing? I take a look at what business basics could have assisted the candidates, so far.

Episode one – Fish food
Key Skill: Negotiating

The inaugural task pitted the two teams against each other in a battle to negotiate for fish goods, create two lunch products and sell, sell, sell. It was clear here that one of the main downfalls in skills was negotiation skills. Highlighted several times within the show it was surprising to me that so many candidates fall down at this hurdle.

It started with April not negotiating on sales prices and spending far too much at the first vendor. She chose not to listen to her team and made the deal there and then. No talking to other vendors, no negotiating on price. It may have been the drive to get things done quickly, but that was a flaw she highlighted in herself right at the start.

However, the one that really stood out was Dan. Dan was open and honest and told everyone that he had no experience selling. Well that may be the case, you don’t go on The Apprentice and expect not to have to pick up some of these skills (or at least give it a go).

He was unadaptable and unable to follow guidance from his fellow team members. Ruth offered him sales tips on the street, but he didn’t listen. He continued attempting to negotiate his way through the crowd to zero success.

Who got fired?
‘Desperate’ Dan, as Lord Sugar dubbed him.

What could have saved him?
Taking advice and trying out different negotiation techniques could have resulted in a sale, which could have saved poor Dan.

Episode two – Cactus shampoo
Key Skill: Listening

In episode two, it was girls vs boys and the teams were each given a shampoo with cactus extracts to brand and promote. They had to create digital billboards and a 30 second advert for their new brand, highlighting the benefits of the cactus.

Hands down, the boys team was definitely the most successful. They all listened to each other and worked together to agree on something they were all happy with. There were a couple of hiccups around the way (especially during presentation time), but they came out on top all round.

The girls team was a whole other story. Project manager, Aisha, had very little direction and was not leading her team to success. On many occasions she went against recommendations completely creating a lack of trust within the team.

Who got fired?

What could have saved her?
If she had listened to some of her team, considered the options put in front of her and not steamrolled her way through the task and project management role, there’s a definite chance the girls could have been much more successful in the task.

Episode three – Cross-channel discount buying
Key Skill – Project Management

Episode three saw the teams split between the UK and France to buy a number of different items at the cheapest possible price. The theme for this episode really was negotiation, but, for me, project management was one of the biggest issues.

This is not just targeted at the official project managers (although there were some problems there). Every candidate on The Apprentice should be able to successfully execute a project, but none of them seemed able to make any decisions.

Nobody was prepared. Research wasn’t thoroughly completed before setting off to purchase items, with one of the teams looking for an item in completely the wrong country! Nobody could make decisions – the girls went back to the same shop four times to negotiate items (I shouted “just buy the boat!” at the TV several times).

Nobody did any planning. Even when bad decisions, such as looking in the wrong country for a product, were unearthed, they weren’t resolved. There was zero flexibility and no consideration to the overall success of the task.

Who got fired? Lord Sugar
‘Dead weight’ Jenny.

What could have saved her?
Jenny was accused of not contributing anything on any of the tasks. If she had stepped up, voiced her opinions and made some decisions she could have found herself in a much different situation. As a business management student, Jenny should have some project management skills so could have offered suggestions and taken control of even one aspect of the task to prove her worth.

Episode four – Pet show
Key Skill: Influencing

This was without a doubt my favourite episode so far. Each team had a completely different approach to speaking to suppliers and there was a clear winner on this phase – schmoozing works!

A clearly defined sales task, contestants had to select three products to sell at the Pet Show in London. Two of these were low-end products and one high-end.

Influencing the suppliers was the first challenge. While one team won over all of the suppliers, the others went in hard for the sales pitch, ultimately pushing them further away and meaning they weren’t selected for their first choice of product.

When it came to the show the ‘enthusiastic’ team maintained their level of eagerness to sell the product, engaging well with people and going for quantity on low priced products (apparently animal balloons are a real favourite).

On the high-end products, things were much slower. Ruth and Selina had completely different tactics – Ruth wouldn’t stop talking, allowing no opportunity for customers to consider the product and their decision, and Selina looked bored. Needless to say, neither tactic worked.

In the boardroom, these were the two in the firing line. As a Sales Trainer, Ruth seemed to have no influencing skills or understanding of how to close a sale, which was obviously a huge issue for Lord Sugar.

Who got fired?

What could have saved her?
In post-firing interviews Ruth thinks she couldn’t sell because she didn’t tie her hair up! But perhaps if she had a clearer understanding of influencing and adopted that in her sales technique, she would still be in the competition and Selina would have got the chop.

Rachel Matthews

Rachel Matthews, Social Media and Marketing Manager

In my blogs I will look at industry constraints and issues and problems that employees face in their day-to-day work lives.


Copyright © 2017 Bray Leino Learning

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