The Apprentice 2015, Week 4: How NOT to do business

It was dog-eat-dog in the boardroom this week as Lord Sugar set the teams on a pet show task - Startups looks at where the contestants went wrong...

Pets are big business – just look at the recent boom in pet sitting opportunities – and it’s a huge market to tap into; worth over £4.6bn in fact.

With that in mind, Lord Sugar wanted this week’s Apprentice contestants to “get a piece of the action” setting them a task to choose a selection of pet products which they would then retail at the London Pet Show.

Having chosen their products, including guinea pig t-shirts and ‘cat towers’, the candidates got to work but there were plenty of business mistakes made along the way such as poor ‘schmoozing’, ineffective sales strategies and questionable executive decisions.

In the boardroom, sales trainer Ruth was the fourth budding entrepreneur told ‘to go walkies’ following Lord Sugar’s comments: “You claim to be a fantastic sales person and yet you failed miserably. Scott, you need to be ruthless and that’s not a pun. If you’d been less Ruth then you could have won the task”.

Just where did Ruth go wrong? And how can you make sure you don’t make the same errors?

Startups brings you up to date with the key business lessons from the latest episode…

Massage your client’s ego

When deciding on their product selection, both teams had to meet with vendors and compete to represent the product. On team Versatile, project manager David took the “schmooze” approach and told his peers to show enthusiasm for each and every product and compliment the vendor.

Team Connexus took a very different approach. Brett, who headed the vendor meetings, decided to get straight to the “nitty gritty” from the off, discussing financials and business numbers. Brett’s inability to build up a rapport with the vendor ultimately saw Connexus lose out. Competing with Versatile for the animal-themed balloons, the balloon merchant chose to go with team Versatile as they showed more passion for the product.

Business lesson: You need to win over clients and convince them to choose your product or service over the competitor. A level of ego-massaging and ‘schmoozing’ is a must in business, particularly when you’re just starting out.

Know when to shut up

Lord Sugar’s decision to fire Ruth came down to her inability to close a deal by talking excessively and becoming too over-familiar with potential customers. Advisor Claude Littner said that Ruth didn’t understand the “rule of golden silence”:

“You make the pitch and then let the customer deliberate. She’s not closing the sale, she needs to shut up a bit more and sell that product.”

Business lesson: Creating a relationship with a potential customer can turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ but you need to know how and when to close the pitch. If someone’s clearly  not interested in your business offering, then don’t force it. Make use of the Littner’s advice on ‘golden silence’.

Don’t shy away from potential sales opportunities

Criticised by Littner for having been “not quite good enough”, team Connexus’ Selena faced the firing line for demonstrating a lack of enthusiasm and motivation when selling the high-end cat towers. While she insisted that she had made one sale, Littner interjected that it was in fact Scott that had helped her to close the sale by assisting with the pricing strategy; “you were standing back and doing as little as possible”.

In the discussion between Lord Sugar, Littner and Karen Brady; Littner advised Sugar that he wouldn’t “want to work with someone who doesn’t care enough about the business” and Brady said she felt Selena “had the hump”.

Business lesson: When starting a business, you have to have the confidence to get out there and sell your product or service. Start-ups can’t afford to do the bare minimum; you need to actively seek out prospects and potential clients and customers.

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