Leadership and communication lessons from the Apprentice

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In business, securing revenue is key, so this week we saw the focus sharply put on the sharp end of business: sales. The task was simple: sell. Pet products, at a pet show. Cue loads of bad puns.

What not to wear

The first lesson we learned about sales was about matching how you dress to your audience. We saw, possibly for the first time ever, the entire gaggle of wannabes…  without ties! Even Claude Littner treated us to an unbuttoned collar.

If you want to build a connection to your audience, and be seen as a credible connector, then dressing in the right way is key.

Know your market

It is important to do your market research and know your market: so you can identify key focus areas and be credible when you sell. When you are doing your stakeholder analysis, then try to be more insightful than this gem of an insight:

“T-shirts are for humans”, and “In London there is quite a high force of cat lovers”. 

Communicators who limit their stakeholder to this level of analysis are unlikely to make the impact they need to.

“We shouldn’t just jump in and talk about price. We need to build a rapport first.”


Communicators can’t be trusted advisors without building trust.


Clear and incisive decision-making

Your credibility as a leader wins or loses by your capability to have confidence in your own decisions. Of course team input is vital, but indecisiveness gets you nowhere.

Witness this series of statements from the leader of the losing team:

Team member 1: “The two products for me could be the poop bags and the t-shirts.”

Leader: “I was thinking exactly the same thing….[two minutes later] … I definitely think the heat pads and the balloons are the best products for us … [another two minutes later] … I don’t want to hear any more about balloons, we’re going to go for the heat pads and the cat tray.”


Sales & Communication Skills

There is an on-going discussion in The Apprentice about the importance of sales skills. This is always high up on Lord Sugar’s agenda, but today we learned three important lessons about those skills in practice.

First: we saw a couple of people nominating themselves as team leader on the ground that they were good sales people. No, no, no. The skills for team leadership and sales are completely different: putting your best sales person as the sales leader creates two problems: 1) you lose a great sales person, and 2) you risk having a poor leader. As Ruth said, “put your best sales on your best opportunities”.

Ditto communications: being the best communicator or the best at media relations, or the best social media expert, doesn’t necessarily make you the best Director or Manager. Indeed, the guy who claimed he was the best sales manager turned out to be the losing project manager: “you put the wrong people in the wrong place, and not being able to assess what people can do, is bad news in business terms”.

Second: despite the importance of sales skills, Lord Sugar has been known to forgive the occasional sales “duck” (ie zero sales) – especially if the candidate has other skills. However, if you define your main skill as a Sales Trainer, as Ruth did, then surely you need to pace set and demonstrate those skills in practice. Her technique, according to Lord Sugar was “talk talk talk”. I’ve written separately here about the power of listening. Two ears, one mouth: we all know the maths.

Third: back to stakeholder analysis. Witness this exchange:

Ruth:           I don’t think we talked to enough people. I know we’re being criticised for talking to too many people.

Claude:      You’ve got to get rid of the people who can’t pay.

Ruth:           What do you want to say to them? “Please can you just go away?”

Lord Sugar: Yes. Bottom line? “You’ve got no money, sod off.”

In sales, as in communications, it is important to work out who your key audiences (or potential customers) and invest your resources in the right areas.


So what else did we learn from the Apprentice this week?

  1. Male candidates are able to get dressed without putting ties on.
  2. People will spend up to £700 on pet accessories.
  3. Animal balloons!!!!!!!
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