It was the coach tours task revisited as one man went to mow selling ride-on mowers. However, James Hill ploughed a lone furrow as he rejected his team’s advice and ended up digging himself into a hole as he became the 12th victim of Lord Sugar‘s Digit of Doom.
went forced to mow
James ignored his team’s advice
His behaviour? Not so nice
To save his face he had to lie
But in the boardroom, said bye-bye
This week’s briefing takes place in the vaguely rural setting of Chiswick House, as a tenuous link to being sent to sell products at the Royal Bath and West Show. The teams’ mission is to represent a proven big-ticket seller and two brand new products. Highest overall sales wins, with individual performances being taken into account.
With each candidate having now project managed once, it’s time for volunteers for a second turn at bat. While James quickly steps forward for Summit for what he (wrongly) perceives as a sales-only task, over at Tenacity it’s a double-barrelled battle as Katie Bulmer-Cooke and Felipe Alviar-Baquero vie for the project manager’s role, with the latter winning out.
The teams split up, with half heading straight to Somerset while the rest stay in London to assess new products including a self-flushing cat box and a gutter cleaning robot.
For Summit, Bianca Miller, Solomon Akhtar and Sanjay Sood-Smith pick out a £65 pet tracking device and a £300 bike trailer with pedals for children. However, James overrules them, sight unseen, for some foldable wellies (£55) and a hanging outdoor chair (£495). His team are not impressed.
Tenacity’s Felipe and Mark Wright opt for £60 handbags made out of flat caps (no, really) and the bike trailer, although Felipe forgets to establish wiggle room on pricing for the handbags and has to be reminded by Katie after the event. Mark observes “that could be an oversight, that”. You don’t say.
Meanwhile in Somerset the rest of the teams check out barbecues, ride-on mowers and hot tubs. The barbecues don’t interest either team as they focus on the other two, which can both fetch up to £4,000 apiece.
Daniel Lassman‘s approach to the product owners is pushy, smarmy and rambling as he prattles on endlessly about being passionate about passion. Katie gives him some sage advice before their final meeting with the hot tub seller. He dials it down a notch or seven and this softer approach pays dividends as James loses out when he calls the seller Derek instead of Anthony not once but twice. Anthony-not-Derek explains that he was concerned they try to might wing it instead of presenting themselves knowledgeably, thereby demonstrating that he’d clocked James from the off.
James decides to disguise his failure as an active decision to switch to the mowers to keep everyone’s spirits up. Roisin Hogan advises him against lying to their teammates, but a sulky James mutters that he’ll do what he wants, thanks very much, with a petulance that would make a crying baby look mature. Sadly, Roisin doesn’t have a dummy to stick in his mouth to soothe him. Aw, diddums.
(Flat cap) handbags at dawn
The following day dawns, and Tenacity spend much of it re-enacting an episode of Men Behaving Badly. In this week’s edition of ‘Things Daniel Does Best’, he’s looking forward to selling highly priced hot tubs in big numbers because he is, of course, the self-proclaimed super-salesman to end all salesmen. The only problem is that in the Apprenti-Carrier en route Mark works on Felipe’s concerns about Daniel’s salesmanship and convinces him that he should replace him.
As Mark later notes with a smirk:
I was a bit sneaky about how I crafted my way into the hot tubs.
Was his ruthlessness just the act of a hard-nosed competitor looking to maximise both his and his team’s – in that order – chances of winning, or did he overstep the line? You decide.
When Felipe breaks the news to Daniel he takes it about as well as, well, James taking on board constructive feedback. Relegated to selling handbags and trailers, Daniel and Felipe spend the rest of the day bickering like a couple of X Factor judges in front of potential customers.
Mind you, the mood at Summit isn’t much better. Roisin is seething at James for being dismissive of her, while the rest of the team are still bemused and unhappy about his apparent decision to switch from hot tubs to mowers. Their mood isn’t helped by the number of dogs and families they see around the show. Wouldn’t it have been great if someone had had, I don’t know, some pet and family-related products to offer? Nah.
Sales of their wellies and chair are initially slow but gradually pick up. Solomon again shows off his smooth selling skills, Bianca keeps the cash box busy and Sanjay … smiles a lot. But with individual sales totals being recorded for the boardroom, he’s already pinning his hopes on James and Roisin.
Speaking of whom, you couldn’t ask for a more stark contrast in selling styles. Roisin has done her homework on the product specs and presents a calm, measured, softer selling approach. James, on the other hand, is all hard-sell and doesn’t know his products well enough. Mind you, having a trilby-wearing Nick Hewer sitting on a mower is probably a bit of a distraction.
James is curt with everyone on his team but particularly with Roisin, at whom he barks:
Stop trying to remind me of stuff all the time!
Like, you know, facts about the technical product you’re trying to sell? God forbid James might need to bother with stuff like that.
Back at Team Men Behaving Badly (Plus Katie), Daniel’s desperate attempts to muscle in on the hot tub sales action are firmly rebuffed by both Mark and Katie, with good reason. Daniel’s best argument – that he had learned about the product the previous day whereas Mark hadn’t – is shown to be groundless as Mark quickly picks up the key selling points and works customers well.
Late in the day, Mark negotiates one final deal – to then be told the customer owns a holiday park and is interested in buying seven. O-ho.
Task over, the teams reassemble in the boardroom.
Tenacity get a good going-over, as Sugar notes that Felipe and Mark had to run to Katie for advice and a reminder to negotiate on selling prices. Daniel claims it was he who recognised that he needed to change his pitching style – not the first time he’s tried to steal unwarranted credit in the boardroom – but Katie sets him straight. Felipe admits he finds Daniel’s selling style aggressive.
Sugar agrees, saying:
If I put you in a team of one you’d still have an argument.
Probably, but he would absolutely put his balls on the line, give 100% and be the best there is at having an argument too.
Felipe gets caught up arguing with Daniel, while Mark damns him with faint praise for being a nice person.
When it’s Summit’s turn to be questioned, James’ decision to override his sub-team’s product recommendations comes under scrutiny. He claims that he actively chose the mowers over the hot tubs, only to be called out by Roisin – did he really think he was going to get away with it? – and then turned on by the rest of the team, who are finding out about this for the first time.
He even attempts to brush off getting the hot tub vendor’s name wrong as inconsequential. Sugar astutely points out to him that he shouldn’t liken himself to Only Fools and Horses‘ Del Boy but to Trigger, who was always calling Rodney ‘Dave’.
On to the results. Summit sold £3,598 of mowers (one sale each for James and Roisin) and £1,159.50 of their debut products (boosted by Solomon miraculously selling one of the changing chairs). Tenacity sold just £500 of their hats and trailers but hot tub sales totalled a whopping £30,115.25 – nine for Mark, one for Katie – giving them £30,615,25 total sales compared to a paltry £4,757.50 for Summit. Even without Mark’s bumper sale at the end they would still have doubled their rivals’ total.
As a reward, they are sent for a boxing masterclass with Olympic bronze medallist Anthony Ogogo where, after a few sparring exercises, Daniel is declared the winner. Well, he had to be the best at something eventually, didn’t he?
It’s probably just as well Summit didn’t win. James would only have called this Anthony ‘Derek’ too, and I don’t want to see how that might have ended.
In the Cafe of Broken Dreams, James feels his lying was justified, Roisin promises to call him out on all his mistakes and, after James says the task should be judged on sales alone, a worried Sanjay admits he sold less than anyone else.
James still seems fairly confident:
I’m not afraid to make a decision. I’m not afraid to lead. And those are the traits of a good businessman.
Yes and no. The willingness to make decisions is important, but not if you make more bad than good ones. And leading is only effective if you can persuade people to follow – which James singularly failed to do.
Back in the boardroom, Sugar asks Roisin for her opinion and she nails her project manager perfectly:
James comes across as this cheeky chappy Del Boy character, when actually in reality he’s very patronising, he’s demeaning, he’s very difficult to work with and also, James, you don’t listen.
After Sanjay puts up a feeble defence of not only his poor sales performance here (just three pairs of wellies) but his minimal contribution on previous tasks, James elects to bring him back in – along with Roisin, muttering that he’s not judging things on sales, having stated in the cafe that he thought it should be judged exactly that way.
Karren Brady advocates Roisin:
I like her style. I like the way she operates. My only fear is she’s left it too late to show you.
Late? Yes. Too late? No.
Sanjay’s lack of potential is raised as a possible issue, while Karren observes that James isn’t the fully grown businessman he thinks he is. Nick plays devil’s advocate, citing his passion, but adds that in shooting from the hip he has also shot himself in the foot.
Summoned back in to face the final decision, Roisin handles herself in exemplary fashion, reiterating her strengths while addressing James with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Sugar agrees – when he fires James it’s totally expected, and the only surprise comes when he elects not to send Sanjay out of the door after him.
James still has his chin up as he climbs aboard the Taxi to Obscurity:
Obviously I’m gutted. I was hoping I’d get all the way. But maybe Lord Sugar thinks that he might have his hands full with me and I’m probably better off in the big wide world. I’m a survivor – many times where I’ve been dropped and I’ve picked myself back up. I’ll do that, I’ll keep going and I know one day I’ll achieve what I want to.
Is James’ big wide world as big as his oyster, though? Good riddance.
Good selling is important in this task but product selection is critical, particularly with the big-ticket items that have the biggest impact on the outcome of the task. And in the event of both teams wanting the same product, the rapport built up with the vendor becomes the deciding factor. Daniel and Katie got it right. James didn’t – and then he compounded the error by failing to acknowledge his role in it.
Alll James’ flaws that we have seen on previous tasks came home to roost here. His autocratic style and his refusal to take on board advice and feedback from his team. His lack of attention to detail. His trust in his own instinct over the considered input of others, particularly female teammates. His inability to work with a team. It’s hard to know how he could have made any more of a mess of leading this task.
Elsewhere, this episode drew a clear line for me between the contenders and the no-hopers.
Let’s start with the man everyone seems to love to hate: Mark. On the one hand, he was sly and political in ensuring that it was he and not Daniel who sold the hot tubs. He’s not an overly likeable chap but equally I don’t think he’s the bully some perceive him to be, merely a ruthless competitor who is determined to win. Nonetheless, the logic behind his argument, though self-serving, was impeccable – why wouldn’t you put your team’s best salesman on its most potentially lucrative product? – and he backed it up with big sales.
It was another strong week for both Solomon, who again sold well, and Roisin. I don’t think the fact the latter has been quiet in the boardroom should count against her too much. She’s proven to be strong creatively while also being a calm and capable seller. There’s plenty of time for her to make a strong run to the finish. The same goes for Katie, who returned to the fore after a series of quiet but steady performances. She’s one of only two candidates yet to be in the final boardroom.
The other is Felipe, but he has no chance of winning. The problem is not that he’s too nice but his weak leadership and, like fellow lawyer Lauren, it’s hard to see any evidence of commercial business skills. Admittedly that never counted against season seven winner Tom Pellereau, but as an inventor he had his existing products going for him. Does Felipe have a business plan that elevates him above the others? I doubt it.
Sanjay and Daniel also look to be skating on thin ice. That’s been the case for Daniel for several weeks, and he did little to help his cause here with his constant arguing. Sanjay, like Felipe, seems to be a nice guy with no discernible entrepreneurial ability. As he unwittingly demonstrated in the boardroom, he has done nothing of note so far. As a trio, for Felipe, Sanjay and Daniel it is not so much a matter of if as when they will be fired.
That leaves Bianca, who was unconvincing as a project manager in last week’s advertising task, after two basic negotiating errors in the previous two weeks. But there’s something about the way she’s been presented that suggests to me she may go the distance. For now, I would put her in as a dark horse with the group of contenders rather than condemning her with the also-rans. We’ll see soon enough.
Next time: The candidates receive their once-a-season house call from Lord Sugar, who sends them on a scavenger hunt. It’s time for the skeletons to come out of the cupboard and into the boardroom.