The Sales Apprentice - Sales Training Tips From the Hit TV Show, Part VII

Gavin Ingham

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Ring! Ring! Ring!

6am and the teams are ordered to meet at the Lloyds Building. Cars will be with them in 20 minutes. Clearly, getting ready fast is important for big business people! How do all those Sales Apprentices get ready so fast?

On arrival we found out that today’s task was all about “buying”. SAS wanted to test the sales negotiations skills of the teams by pitching them into a series of separate sales negotiations. To facilitate this, each team was given a list of 10 items which they had to buy for the least possible amount of money. They would be given guide prices and a fixed amount of money. The team with the most money left at the end would be the winner.

On the face of it this seemed like a task that would be full of sales training tips and strategies and it was… well, sort of!

Tonight’s intrepid “leaders” were Adam, the car sales manager, and Simon, a Cambridge graduate and internet entrepreneur. This was going to be a tough task for Adam as if his team lost this week he would be guaranteed to be in the board room for the 4th week running! Surely, if this were to happen the programme would end with him towing his suitcase to the waiting taxi at the end of the show!

Segway to SAS who informed us that this task was all about three core business skills… research, negotiation and time management. I agree with him entirely here but I thought that the research bit might have had a bit more credibility if he hadn’t given them guide prices for each of the articles. How much more fun would it have been if they had to research the market and get their own guide prices? And as for negotiation … well there were plenty of sales training tips to latch onto but really we were never talking about negotiation here…

We gradually found out during the programme what the rather random group of 10 items were although I seem to have lost one of them along the way somewhere!

1. A pair of leather trousers

2. Marble tiles

3. Leg wax

4. Wet suit

5. A white rabbit

6. 3kg of Nigella seeds

7. A 1997 Peugeot 106 car battery

8. A unicycle

9. A Brabantia bin

Simon decided early on that the key to completing the task was to make his teams’ negotiations quick and timely. It’s true that time can and does play an important part in many negotiations with clients and sales people alike speeding up and slowing down sales negotiations for many different strategic reasons. In this scenario however, this decision was going to cost him.

By speeding up these negotiations he simply weakened his negotiation stance and gave the client the impression that he was short of time and rather desperate. Although we didn’t see much actual negotiating this would have encouraged the sellers to “stand firm” feeling that Simon and his team would have little time to go elsewhere if they didn’t buy from them!

Sales training tip: Know how to use time to control negotiations. Mis-timing, whether instigated by you or your client, can seriously damage your wealth!

So let’s get to the crux of the day… it was all about negotiation. Or was it?

Well nearly. Let’s have a look at a dictionary definition of negotiation that I use in all of my sales negotiation training seminars…

Negotiate v. confer in order to reach an agreement / arrange or bring about / find a way over, through etc / transfer to another for consideration / convert into money

~ Oxford Compact English Dictionary

So not really a negotiation then.

In none of their negotiations was there anything to transfer to another. This was a simple case of trying to get someone to give you something for the cheapest possible price. But the problem was that there was little incentive for anyone selling to discount…

Sure, it’s an important business lesson to learn that you need to get best prices from your suppliers but asking, “What’s the best you got?” and saying, “You’ll have to do better than that?” do not in of themselves constitute a negotiation! In “Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares” he nearly always takes the egotistical chef on a shopping expedition to show him how to buy good food, cheaply. He also haggles with the traders to get best price and in essence that is what we had here… haggling.

Sales training tip: Negotiation presupposes not only that both parties want to reach an agreement but also that that you have something to negotiate with!

The line between negotiating and haggling was lost on our sales teams although we saw many willing, if weak efforts…

Simon on leather trousers: “Is there anything we can do? Nothing we can do?”

Sales training tip: Avoid closed questions of this kind when conducting a sales negotiation. It makes it far too easy for the client to say, “No”.

Have a look at another exchange…

Ghazal: “Is it negotiable?”

Sales: “No”

Adam: “Can you do anything at all?”

Sales: “No”

Adam: “Anything?”

Sales: “No”


In negotiations it is important that you put yourself in the shoes of your client and ask yourself why they are going to discount. In this show I found myself constantly thinking, “Why would they discount to help you for nothing in return?”

Negotiation requires planning and preparation. I know our Sales Apprentices had guide prices but why didn’t they ring around and get several ballpark prices? They seemed to spend far too much time running around in the streets… and far too little pre-negotiating on the phone? Did any of them think about getting several quotes and playing the suppliers off against each other? If they did, we never saw it.

Think about it! If someone turned up at your door, in a rush and with no time left and you knew that they had gone out of their way to get to you and that if they don’t buy they’re in trouble would you negotiate?

No! Me neither! I would know that I was the one with all of the power in this negotiation.

Sales training tip: View things from both your own and your client’s perspective when negotiating. Ensure that you consider the relative power of both parties.

Meanwhile Katie and Kristina were “negotiating” some good deals. This wasn’t full on negotiation but more, “Please can you help us” - smile - “P-l-e-a-s-e". Good on them for getting some good deals but this looked more like good old persuasion and personal rapport to me. A useful tool for improving your negotiations, in fact critical, but not negotiation!

At the end of the task Simon’s team had secured all 10 items but they had only made very small discounts. Adam’s team had only 9 of the items so they incurred an £80 fine. In the event, Simon’s team were fined too for buying “seconds” marble tiles instead of perfect thus incurring a £50 fine. Despite this Simon’s team won by 97 pence!

So Adam was in the board room for the 4th week running. This was never going to end well for him. He chose to take back Ghazal and Katie but had little on them. Even though he had to go I was routing for him. I really wanted Katie to go. She bitches about all of the other Sales Apprentices behind their backs and says really nasty things which often include bad things befalling the other players.

Tonight she pretty much said that all Northerners are stupid…

On Adam she wished that he, “… secures his route to the North and his Northern chums where I feel he belongs”.

Stay South of the M25 “sweetie” (her words to Adam - patronising girl), I don’t think us thick Northerners will be welcoming you to our whippet racing, flat cap wearing, ferret parties!

Maybe he’s not going to set the world alight but if Adam had missed anything glaring tonight it was Katie stabbing him in the back… (Aside: I do wonder if SAS sees the videos before he make his decisions…).

Katie finished off by saying to Ghazal that she’d had her revenge for last week and the “wrong man” getting fired and that the only thing that would make her happier would be if Kristina went too. Can't see that myself. She then returned to the house and lied to the rest of the team about what SAS had actually said. Enough said.

So what do we learn from tonight’s Sales Apprentice…

1. Negotiation is a two way process and requires concessions and variables to be traded as the two parties work towards a common goal.

2. Consideration of the relative strengths of the parties involved is critical to your success. There is no substitute for research.

3. Without concessions or leverage most negotiations resort to persuasion, haggling and ultimately pleading.

4. Consideration of the other parties’ situation / needs / wants from their perspective is critical to your success.

5. Asking the right questions is fundamental to negotiating a better deal.

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