The Apprentice: Ruth Whiteley talks her way into the firing line

This week's episode of The Apprentice uncovered the candidates who can sell and those who can't, despite what their CV might say

The Apprentice: Ruth Whiteley talks her way into the firing line

Photo credit: Boundless

Sales is a recurring theme on The Apprentice. Those who can sell tend to do well with Lord Sugar. Can’t sell? You’re probably not in a strong position unless you’re an inventor with a cracking product, à la Tom Pellereau from series seven.

This week’s task required the candidates to show off their sales skills in a face-to-face environment, something not everyone is comfortable with. In my opinion, it was the task that’s come closest to reflecting the realities of business. 

Lesson 1: Empathise with your target audience

The first challenge for the teams was to understand the pet-owner audience so they could choose the items that would sell. They needed to empathise with the love that people have for their pets and they started by identifying the people in the teams who had pets themselves – a solid strategy but not one they will be able to rely on for every task.

They also needed to understand the product owners if they were to convince them that they could sell their products. Showing enthusiasm was therefore a key part of the task, something that totally eluded Connexus who were almost rude in their approach and did nothing to convince the product owners that they loved their products.

Lesson 2: People management

Their next challenge was to allocate people to products, another key skill in the world of sales, especially for managers. From their experience, the project managers should have been able to identify the strongest salespeople and what they are best at selling – not everyone has the ability to sell high ticket items. Last year Mark Wright excelled at selling high-value items and if I was a project manager in this task I’d match the high-value product to the best salespeople and give the low margin items to the weaker salespeople.

Richard stood out for me in this task as a good solid salesperson who didn’t appear to take himself too seriously. However, he’ll need to ensure that he doesn’t let a few sales of a dog sofa boost his confidence so much that he becomes pig-headed and loses focus. 

Lesson 3: Consider the bottom line

Success in the end was decided by sales of dog sofas against cat pillars – who knew you could spend £600 on on either of these things? It showed how much difference a big ticket item can make; the smaller items sold well but sales totals are what counts.

Ultimately, the teams really needed to have stronger sales projections and scenarios laid out – for example, if we sell X of this product, we’d need to sell Y of this one to make the same amount – a point Sugar himself made in the boardroom. Whilst Connexus did come up with something of a strategy, aiming for three high-value products each, they didn’t have a contingency plan and therefore weren’t able to adapt their strategy to what was happening on the day. To suggest sales aren’t made in the morning is ludicrous and they needed to be more aware as a group of where the money was.

In the end, team Versatile won and headed off for a jog with Olympic champion Mo Farah, whilst Connexus’ project manager Scott brought back Ruth and Selina, who had only managed to sell one cat pillar between them. Despite her CV saying she is a sales trainer, Ruth failed to make a single sale and Lord Sugar had little choice but to let her go. ‘Nice guy’ Scott might have chosen the wrong two people to sell the high-value product but he made three sales, hitting the target he set at the start of the day. 

So off went Ruth into the distance and our eyeballs will no longer be assaulted by her loud fashion choices. She was quite a character but a team can’t carry an underperformer forever. 

Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell

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