The Apprentice 2015, Week 3: How NOT to negotiate in business

Cross-channel negotiations and "morale vacuums" were the focus this week as the competition to become Lord Sugar's business partner hotted up

To go into business with Lord Sugar you have to be a keen negotiator, as was made apparent in this week’s episode of The Apprentice.

Setting the challenge of cross channel discount-buying, splitting teams in the UK and Calais to purchase select goods, Sugar asserted that he expected candidates to be “able to negotiate anytime, anywhere, and more importantly, with anyone”.

With two countries to search, the contestants had nine items to find over 10 hours – including snails, a mirror and inflatable boat – with fines granted for any items not purchased.

The task appeared simple enough but it quickly descended into “chaos” with a clear lack of strategy, negotiation skills, and language barriers. Selena – dubbed a “morale vacuum” by some of her colleagues – even told one French merchant that her father and mother were dead in an attempt to purchase mussels.

With the boys team having won the task, the girls business efforts; “a tale of woe, unorganised, un-friendly at times, a shambles”,  saw team member Jenny fired from the boardroom for simply not being “very good”.

Reflecting on the errors of the task, we’ve pulled together three key areas where the contestants went wrong to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes…

1. Strategy

From the outset, it was clear that neither team had a business strategy in place. With a background in stock market trading and fluent French, Vana put herself forward as PM of the girls team. While in the boy’s team, plumbing business owner Joseph took the role of PM.

For the girls team, despite the fact that many of the items were country-specific such as Leavers Lace, known as ‘Lace from Calais’ , Vana was quick to delegate the items that the team would be buying with little thought on the best place to actually source the item from.

As the task got underway, the girls team in the UK showed a distinct lack of organisation and planning. Determined to buy an inflatable boat and, unable to find one elsewhere, the girls went back to the same shop four times to strike a deal – this failed with team member Elle subsequently spending £250, significantly more than budgeted.

Lack of strategy was also demonstrated in the girls team’s attempts to purchase mussels. The girls literally ran from restaurant-to-restaurant to source the mussels, with one contestant losing a shoe in the process, instead of targeting fishmongers or a supplier. Brady summed up the day “as a complete and utter lack of strategy, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Business lesson: The contestants only needed a strategy for that one task, and still failed. To ensure the smooth running of any business you need to have a comprehensive strategy in place from day one. Think about the targets you want to achieve, how you’re going to fulfill those targets and how you’re going to measure them. As our Secret Entrepreneur recently commented: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

2. Negotiation

This week’s episode gave clear illustrations of how not to negotiate in business.

Over in Calais, boy’s team member Richard tried to negotiate with a cheesemonger but ended up purchasing the cheese for the RRP price listed – referred to as “pathetic negotiation” by PM Joseph.

While in the girls team, Elle’s boat purchase fiasco saw her play into the hands of the shop owner. By returning to the shop time and time again, her desperation was obvious and left no room for negotiation. Brady commented that Elle had gone against her gut feeling and said that in business “that’s a bad move”.

However, there were some good examples of negotation among the chaos. Taking a very different approach to Elle, Gary from the boys team in the UK approached a toy shop where he ended up closing a deal for an inflatable boat for just £10; despite the woman’s insistence that her lowest price was £12.50. His line of “What’s the cheapest you’ve ever sold this for and what can you do for me?” and “I’ve only got £9.50 on me” might not work practically in the real world but goes to show that you shouldn’t shy away from bartering on a deal.

Business lesson: For any business selling a product or service, you NEED to be able to negotiate. Rash decisions and poor judgement should be avoided at all costs and, as displayed by Elle’s boat purchase, you shouldn’t lay all your cards on the table when making a deal. Desperation to close a deal undermines your business potential and performance.

3. Communication and understanding of overseas markets

Tasked with dealing with businesses in France, communication was obviously a key focus for the contestants this week yet much of this was lost in translation.

Having boasted that he had an A Level in French, Sam was appointed to lead the French negotiations of the boy’s team but language barriers soon became apparent. As he sought to find a Louis Phillippe mirror in France, Sam spoke with a female business owner over the phone who said she was able to order a Louis Phillipe mirror in, yet Sam translated this to mean she had the mirror. A trip to the shop revealed Sam’s misinterpretation and was precious time wasted.

Questionable communication skills, and poor sales technique, were also displayed by the girls team. In a search to find 10 kilos of mussels, team member Jenny rushed to a restaurant where she enquired with the waitress if she could purchase said mussels. Instead of discussing the offer with the head chef, the waitress returned and explained that they did have the muscles but couldn’t sell them as they needed them for their menus. Had Jenny taken communication into her own hands, there may have been a deal to be had.

Business lesson: As shown by the contestants’ poor cross-channel purchasing, when entering new markets you need to have an understanding of the language, culture and environment. Sam’s poor translation efforts cost the team time and resources; an example of what could happen if you aren’t prepared when dealing with overseas clients or customers.

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