The Apprentice, episode 4: who’s in the doghouse? » SMEInsider

The Apprentice, episode 4: who’s in the doghouse?

In this week’s show, teams Connexus and Versatile tried their hands at selling to a niche market at a pet show. How did they do, and what can we learn from their mistakes? The runner-up from last year’s series, entrepreneur Bianca Miller, and Neil Dagger, senior product marketing manager for domain name registry Nominet, provide their expert commentary. Warning: contains spoilers.

Missed the last one? Catch up with our commentary on episode 3.

Join the conversation on Twitter: @SMEInsider #TheApprentice #BiancaMillerSays



Bianca Miller


This week’s task was to sell pet products at a large pet show. The teams had to meet with brand owners, look at their products, choose the ones they wanted to sell on their stand and finally persuade the product owner to let them sell them.

It sounds simple enough, though the tenuous link the show created between a literary great [Samuel Johnson], a dictionary and a cat was a bit confusing… anyway, moving on.

the apprentice 11 e4 brady sugar littner cat

The task was set and the teams were led by David for team Versatile and Scott for team Connexus. One of the team began discussions with a few myths like “all single women have cats”… I did a quick personal poll on Twitter and found that this doesn’t appear to be the case! At this point I am hoping they start thinking about the task at hand, which in essence is to:

  • Review the list of products on offer
  • Meet the owner of said products
  • Show some genuine enthusiasm and interest in the product to begin building a relationship with the owner
  • Ask the right questions of the owner including: who buys the product, how much do they buy it for, how many do they usually sell at an event of this nature, etc
  • Leave the owner with a good final and lasting impression
  • Choose the product you want to move forward with and call the owner to persuade them you are the right team for the job.

The strategy

Team Versatile started well by being very charming, quickly building rapport with the brand owners, while showing passion, enthusiasm and desire to sell the product. At times it was a tad overzealous but it was clear they wanted to have options. And they did.

the apprentice 11 e4 versatile balloons pitchTeam Connexus on the other hand decided to skip the rapport section of the business relationship and instead went straight in by asking the owner for the price and discount. Brett came across uninterested and by failing to build a relationship with the vendor he missed some crucial information about the brand and its sales potential.

In short, David’s team – having built rapport – received the products they wanted to sell and sold them well, leading them to a win.

the apprentice 11 e4 team versatile win boardroom

Team Connexus lost due to a few key business essentials being lost in transit. In my opinion, the wrong person was fired, but putting that aside, let’s look at the key business principles from this episode:

Build rapport – this is something I always talk about with my clients and comes back to the importance of networking and communication skills. In business there may be times when you are tasked with selling someone else’s “baby” (product or service), and in order to secure that opportunity, that person needs to feel like you have almost as much love for the product or service as they do. Equally, when selling your own product or service, rapport is essential. It is easy to repel someone by moving straight to the “business of business”.

Embrace teamwork – as a member of a team, your job is to contribute to the progress of the team. You cannot sell if you do not understand the price, purpose and USPs of the product.

the apprentice 11 e4 joseph tries tshirt

Remember: silence is golden – there is a saying in sales that the first person to speak loses. Unless you are in telesales I think this is probably very true. Focus on completing the sale by explaining the need, purpose and USP of the product, and once the customer is sold on that concept, mention price. As Brian Tracy says, “price out of place kills the sale”, but once the price is mentioned give the customer space to make the commitment – don’t waffle on. You should have already sold the concept, why talk more unless to overcome objections?

Avoid time wasters – they do exist, I probably wouldn’t go as far as to say, “you’ve got no money – sod off”, as Lord Sugar put it. But I would say, when you know a client isn’t going to buy don’t spend forever trying to convince them. Know when to move on – time is money after all.

the apprentice 11 e4 richard losing sale

Think on your feet – if you don’t have enough customers coming to you, think of a way of generating more interest. In this show they got on stage and encouraged potential customers to visit their stand. Obviously they may not all buy but in this scenario sales can be a numbers game.

Hedge your bets – having products that suit different price points can be ideal for targeting a variety of customers. This method can also be used in services by having a variety of packages. It does of course depend on your brand, market and industry.



Neil Dagger

Nominet – The UK internet registry for and the new shorter .uk

After circumnavigating the M25 today I was pleased to settle down in front of The Apprentice this evening for some much needed light relief. The focus was on the importance of good product selection – picking items suited to the needs of a specific niche audience. The audience in question were pet owners attending a trade show. Whoever makes the most revenue selling the products selected wins. Sounds simple.

the apprentice 11 e4 chicken visi vest

As the product vendors could only supply one team, the first hurdle was to build a relationship and rapport with the product owners, and encourage them to supply to you rather than the other team.

One team got this and totally nailed it. As a result they got the best products and won the task. The other mob built no relationship, were not enthusiastic or friendly, made no friends and so were not selected by the best product vendors. So they ended up with overpriced, less appealing, harder to sell products to the discerning pet owners. Game over!

the apprentice 11 e4 connexus pep talk

So business lesson one: be positive and enthusiastic when partnering, build rapport, get to know your suppliers, and love your product. People have to want to do business with you.

Once products were selected the candidates moved into position on some booths at a pet show and switched into sales mode. Or at least all of them did except one. Ruth, a sales trainer, ironically didn’t sell anything all day, preferring to spend the day building rapport with people who had no intention of buying anything. It did occur to me that the project leader should have spotted this and redeployed a floundering resource to alternative duties, ideally on the other subteam’s booth.

the apprentice 11 e4 selina hides a yawn

To me, the task revealed was the importance of deploying your strongest resources to the big ticket item sales, where just a few sales of the high priced products can make all the difference to the end result. If the strategy isn’t working then make a swap – maybe another team member can do better – and bring some energy and a new fresh approach. Business agility and bold decision making was needed.

One final thought worthy of pondering. This week’s task briefing took place at the home of Dr Samuel Johnson (no, not as one of the candidates thought –  Samuel L Jackson). Why would a man with every word in the English dictionary at his disposal name his cat Hodge?

the apprentice 11 e4 ruth you're fired


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