The Apprentice – It’s So Wrong

Secret Sales Director discusses The ApprenticeIt’s 2017 ~ and all the talk is about work life balance

It’s about how you can achieve in your career, without killing yourself in the process.  It’s about being a better mother/father/wife/husband/ partner, and still enjoying the fruits of your efforts at work.  Isn’t it?

Well apparently not, if you watch The Apprentice (UK version).

Apparently there, it is still 1984.

I get it that this is meant to be an entertainment show – but let’s just look at what happens in a normal episode.  Everyone gets woken by a phone call at 5am, and has to be out of the house (looking suitably business-like) 20 minutes later.  They then undertake a 14 hour day with no breaks, battle with their colleagues, undermine their team mates, and ultimately blame one another for their failings.

They openly boast about how brilliant they are.  They make unfounded claims about their success.  Sleep is for wimps, and so is parenthood.  There are parents who have come on the programme, proudly announcing they have left their kids (with who knows who?) for the duration of the series, as if this is something to aspire to, because they are “hungry” to “achieve”.

According to The Apprentice, this is how the future business brains and multi millionaires operate – like sharks in a tank.  Because this is what you do, if you want to be seen as a “success”.

For me, this is completely wrong. Let’s look at why.

The Boardroom

Lord Sugar’s Boardroom is, in my opinion at least, a representation of the Dark Ages.

The teams gather to be instructed by Lord (should that be Emperor?) Sugar and his aides.  Aides are meant to be there to assist, advise, and .. well .. aid.  But in the other universe that is The Apprentice, they watch from the sides, taking notes and sniffing a lot but giving no help or wisdom whatsoever.  I recoil every time they turn their noses up at just about everything the candidates do. They are sniping, horrible, insipid people who inspire and aid no one but themselves.

At the Boardroom debrief, everyone gathers to hear the pearls of wisdom gathered by the aides, but never by Lord Sugar himself.  He just sifts through them after the event, then tells the candidates in painful, minute detail everything they did wrong.  There is no leadership, just mudslinging, and the candidates may as well have just been scraped from the bottom of someone else’s rather expensive shoe.  What follows generally descends into all of the candidates squabbling, backbiting, shouting each other down and scrapping in a heap, before it’s down to the fittest (or at least the ones who shout the loudest) to survive to the next round and do it all again.

This isn’t how business should work. 

Setting you up to fail

In my opinion, it is Lord Sugar and his team who should be fired.   They set the candidates an unclear brief, then batter them because, in a field in where they probably had no experience whatsoever, they were actually not very good.  They were placed under immense pressure, divided against themselves, and given no leadership, guidance or oversight.

In other words, time and time again, the candidates on The Apprentice are set up to fail.  And yet they go through what’s laughingly called “The Process” round after round, year after year, making the same mistakes over and over again.

In what normal business “Process” does this really happen any more?

The whole set up of The Apprentice is the absolute antithesis of what’s being talked about on Leadership training courses, and in the real life business world of 2017.  In the world of The Apprentice, no-one reads articles by Richard Branson on Thrive Global.  No-one has heard of the game-changing work of Stephen R. Covey.  Instead, big egos get bigger, arrogance is praised, it’s kill or be killed and you throw everything and everyone in your life under the bus in order to win.  Kids, partners, mates, colleagues .. everyone is fair game, as long as you win.

This leads me to wonder: in spite of all the talk, discussion and hand-wringing, has not much actually changed below the surface?  Perhaps, in spite of all the training and rhetoric, big business really doesn’t care if it burns you out by the time you are 30, you are on your 4th marriage, have an acute alcohol problem and need counselling for stress induced by a job with ridiculous expectations against a very different reality.

Or actually, is The Apprentice just seriously out of kilter with the REAL world of business in 2017?


Work Life Balance

Many of us in Sales love what we do.

It isn’t about the money, and it isn’t about the kudos.

For me at least, it has always been about that long game satisfaction: you start with an account who spends nothing, and you build it into a successful account that is everything you knew it could be.

But if we are not careful, that comes at a price.  And that price is often our home and family.

I’ve selected a couple of articles below which will hopefully help you restore some balance to your life.  I am no expert on this, but I am looking to publish a series of articles that remind us all that home and family comes first.  Work, as joyful as it can be, is a far second place.

We should never forget that fulfillment should come from our home life first and foremost.  I have forgotten this too often, and am mindful of what a mistake that is.

This article by Richard Branson is focused on Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs, but I think it applies to us all.

Improving your work life balance

Here’s another piece written by James Caan.

Benefits of a work/life balance in work performance

If some of the most successful people in the world are telling us to slow down and look within ourselves for change, then surely – wherever we are in our careers – we all ought to sit up and listen.


Published Nov 2017 by  All rights reserved.


Sales Professionals are Professionals

Question : What do Lawyers, Pilots, Physiotherapists and Doctors all have in common?

Answer : They all undertake significant training and development to become professionals in their chosen field.

The same generally applies to joiners, plumbers, electricians, astro-physicists and just about any other area of expertise.

So what about Sales people?

Most of the Sales people I know are self-made (myself included).  They start on the phones, or as a Sales junior.  They work their way through into an area they choose to be in, whether that’s

  • in a call centre or inbound sales
  • a customer facing role
  • becoming a Sales Manager or even Director

And during all that time, they will be doing most of their learning on the job, on their own.  Because generally, the selection process in any Sales role has nothing to do with your skills and qualifications, and everything to do with whether you can “talk the talk”.

I say this is a very bad way to select your Sales people.

Because what it says to everyone involved is that Sales isn’t a viable career option, and it isn’t a vocation: it’s  something you “just fall into”.

I believe Sales is a career option, and it is a vocation.  That’s why I always aim to make my teams feel proud of what they do, and to behave like the professionals they are.

What separates a Sales Professional From the Rest?

Let’s use Sport as our analogy.  What separates a professional Sports person from an amateur?

In essence, a professional Sports person gets paid to do what they do, as opposed to doing it as a hobby/just for fun.

But dig a little deeper, and you find that a professional Sportsperson is paid because they are the best at what they do.  This means they invest their time in practice, coaching and training.  They receive ongoing development to make them continually better at their game or event.  They are invested in, because they are an asset to the club or team that pays them.

A footballer may spend literally days on a training pitch in front of the goal, ensuring their muscle memory is correct when taking a particular free kick, penalty or shot.  The same should be true in Sales.

You should spend your time developing and working on your pitch, researching your client, improving your telephone manner.

I continually go on training courses and read good quality resources, to constantly hone my skills.  To use a phrase from Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”  I sharpen the saw.

And I am lucky to work for a company that really believes in training.

  • I have received genuinely high-level negotiation training
  • I have heard talks from some of the world’s most inspiring people
  • I have a monthly mentoring session with our International Training Director.
  • The company values me, and my development, and all of these things continue to improve me

Then there is my wife at home.  I know what you might be thinking: “What has Mrs Secret Sales Director got to do with your work?”  Well, everything actually.  Some of the most important lessons you can learn are ones outside the workplace.  My wife helps me see situations through a totally different lens.  And that broader perspective helps me be a more rounded human being, a better leader, father, husband, mentor and Sales Director.

  • I now deliver better pitches and presentations than I ever have done – because I have been trained to do so
  • I am better at strategy implementation than ever before – because I read up on the best implementations and use that in real life
  • And I have the perspective to see that there are many ways to approach and solve a problem

The company, and I, have consciously invested  in my development.  That is the very essence of being a Sales Professional.

When are you Going to Start Being a Professional?

My challenge to anyone and everyone in Sales is this:  Get out of bed tomorrow, and choose to become that Sales Professional.  Self motivation will get you so far, but by reading, training and learning, you can quickly set yourself ahead of your peer group. Your pitch will be sharper and more focused, your strategy will have a cutting edge, and your team will follow you into battle, whether you are the line manager or not.

You will become that leader, because you are learning and training to be that leader.

You will seal the big deal because you have trained and honed your skills – so you know what to do when the big deal comes up.

Your clients will soon start to notice the difference of working with a Sales Professional.  And if they are any good, so will your employer.

When are Employers Going to Employ Sales Professionals?

My next challenge goes down to employers: Choose Sales people who are going to be the Sales Professionals of the future.

If you are like most, you probably currently select Sales people because they talk a lot, have a bubbly personality, or “look the part”.  Perhaps they dress sharply.  Perhaps they have industry contacts, which you think will get you revenue quickly.

All of these, in my opinion, are the wrong way to go.

When I select people for Sales roles, I want fresh ideas, not more of the same.

One of my most successful Business Development Managers is Phil (not his real name).  Phil came to us having sold gloves.  My company doesn’t sell gloves – so Phil had no industry contacts he could bring us, and he knew little to nothing about our product.  We were going to have to give Phil a lot of training on products and services, before he could even secure his first order.  So why did I choose Phil?

I chose Phil, because Phil was ready to become a Sales Professional.

I could see that Phil had integrity.  When I asked him about previous career decisions on his CV, he was honest about failures.  He was passionate about what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go.  He was a blank canvas for me to mentor and develop into something really special.  3 years on, my mentoring of Phil is almost complete.  He has eagerly taken all the leadership courses the company offers.  He has learned and developed from everything I have been able to show him.  At nearly 15 years my junior, he is becoming a shining star within the company.  Phil has become a true Sales Professional.

So employers, stop picking from the same small gene pool, and start looking at people with a fresh approach and fresh ideas.

Stop picking Sales people because they are well connected.

And especially stop picking Sales people “because they can talk”.

Start picking your Sales people because they will be exceptional at the job.  That may require training, investment and leadership from you – but that should be an expected norm.  No-one is the finished article; people should always expect and deserve to grow and be developed in their role.

The same must become true of Professional Sales people.

What do you think about the art of being a Sales Professional?  Please leave your Comments below.

Authenticity, the Key to Great Leadership

I stumbled across this piece today while browsing for inspiration.  It says everything about the essence of great leadership – authenticity.  Your leadership can never be plastic, or just a nod towards an idea: you have to believe it to own it.

Please read and comment.  And thank you to Eric Young for writing this.

The importance of intent on leadership and sales strategy

Your Team are a Reflection of Self


We have all heard it: Someone isn’t measuring up.  They aren’t good enough.  Or they just can’t cut it in the big league.  We blame the people in our team, the ones we recruited and/or lead.  In fact we blame everything or everyone – but we don’t tend to blame ourselves.  Which raises as interesting question:

What if we, as leaders, are the problem, rather than the people we lead?

Or to put it another way, what if – by recognising ourselves as a potential issue – we can effect a positive change in our team?  That’s a Win-Win if ever I heard one.  So let’s expolore that idea a little more.

Firstly let me make some assumptions here.

  1. I am assuming that you recruited, or at least had a hand in choosing in the team around you.  If you inherited someone else’s rag, tag and bobtail outfit, then there may be mitigating factors – but that’s another blog post for another day
  2. Let me also assume that you are working with Sales professionals here: People are trained in Sales, and whose sole mission and purpose in their job is to sell

This may sound like a reasonable assumption – but on the other hand I know of countless companies have “part time” Sales staff – staff who do an Operational/Production role in the morning,  and sell in the afternoon.  Utter madness? Yes absolutely.  You wouldn’t ask a mechanic to fix cars in the morning and split the atom in the afternoon .. Why not?  Because one of these things is a person’s core function, and the other is a random job that has nothing to do with their skill set.  Yet many companies still do not understand what Sales actually involves, and that you need dedicated Sales people to do it. (You can read more on this in my accompanying post “Sales Professionals are Professionals”)

Anyhow.  Let’s work on the basis that the 2 assumptions above are correct.

Good Strategy Equals a Good Team

With a good, well drilled working strategy (see “Strategy : Begin with the End in Mind”), and good leadership, you can develop a collection of Sales people into a very good team of Sales people.  Almost every Sales professional I have ever met needs guidance somewhere along the line, and a good strategy provides underpinning foundations for people to follow.  Something for reference when they get lost (because we all do from time to time).  If your strategy is robust, and you have leadership capabilities, you should have a great team.

Round Pegs in Round Holes

Fact: Different people have different skills.  The same is absolutely true of Sales people. Some can cold call, and some are good at the customer facing side of the job.  Utilise your best people in their best positions.  All the time you should be developing them to be more rounded, and either to excel in a particular area, or to become Jack of All Trades – because the flexibility your Jacks of All Trades bring is a really important aspect of a good team

I like to think of Sales teams as being like football teams: You need your striker (Order Taker), but you also need your defenders (Key Account Managers).  Most of all however you need a utility player (Jack of All Trades) who provides the glue between the defenders and the strikers.  Jack can defend when needed, and can also get forward to support the attackers when needed.  Or to put it another way, a reasonable cold caller who can also make orders happen, is literally worth their weight in gold.   They may not be the best at either role, but the support and flexibility they provide is invaluable.

Why do people fail?

I generally find it’s down to a lack of direction.  Teams become disheartened because they don’t know where they are going, or how to get there.  So let’s return to the idea of a strategy.

The strategy provides both a goal, and directions of how to achieve that goal. 

Add to this your own leadership skills, and you have a winning formula.  If you, as the team leader, are guiding and mentoring effectively,  you should be able to spot any lost sheep.  In fact, if you are a leader of any sort,  you should see it the very moment someone comes off their game.   Not in terms of revenue or anything quite so vulgar,  but in pure human emotional terms.  If someone is unhappy with their direction, or feeling that they are not achieving all they could, or that they are being micro-managed, or any other number of things that make people unhappy in their role, then you – as the team leader – should know.

There are always those who will have their head turned by a better offer or a new role somewhere else.  And what you do about that is up to your company.  BUT, if you are earnestly trying to build a cohesive team that uses every member to the very best of their skills, and one of your team comes to you saying they have had a better offer elsewhere, I would suggest that is was you, the leader, who missed the signs.

In Conclusion:

  1. You must know your team’s individual skills
  2. You must trust your team.  If you don’t trust them, you will micromanage them – which makes people feel unempowered and unhappy
  3. You must have a clear and cohesive strategy, which all the team understand
  4. If your team fail, you as the leader must look at how you failed
  5. If you know you have good people, and you are putting them into the right roles (those roles which utilise each person’s individual skill set) then your team will not fail

Let’s Tell the World – Part 2

You may have seen my previous piece, where I discussed the benefits of telling your customers about projects you have actually done, rather than new projects you have won.

To continue this theme, I recently read that one company – let’s called them Company J –  had “won” several deals with major customers.  This type of news gets our CEO quite uppity, because our CEO wants to know why our team wasn’t involved in the tendering process.  I know one of the companies very well.  So, as an exercise in calming nerves, I got on the phone and followed the news story up with a senior member of their team – let’s call her Susan.

Me : “So Susan, this deal you have struck with Company J, what’s it all about”

Susan: “What deal with Company J?”

Me : “The one in this article I’ve just read.”

Susan immediately gets on the phone to colleagues and marketing/press department, clearly fuming that this unplanned and unauthorised press release has happened.

Susan: “There is no deal.  Company J sent us a price list, we agreed with the prices, that’s it.”

Conclusion: Company J had decided they were going to put this all across the press, without telling their client what they were doing. And it wasn’t even true!

Company J is a big company by the way – not some half dime outfit (well not in size anyway).  And it got me thinking: at what point do you get so desperate to have something to say, that you bang out any old crap just to get your name in the press?  I am guessing in the case of  Company J, someone in their Marketing team could tell me – because they have recently done it a further three times with different Customers.

And I know they did it,  because I followed up the story every time.

This can only mean one thing: Marketing HAS to change

The world is wise to this level of chicanery, yet this is what some professional “Marketeers” think is acceptable.  What concerns me further is many CEOs think this stuff is great!  But ask yourself this question:  Since when was issuing a price list the cause for a press release to all within the industry?  Because let’s be truthful here – that’s what actually happened.  Company J sent some prices to the client, and the client said “Yes, that will do.”  End of story.

Or it should have been.

What happened next was “The Marketeers” took that same, really rather mundane story, and spun it out of control into something more like this:

“Company J has formed a framework agreement with XXXXX.  This groundbreaking form of agreement shows the strength of relationship between the two long term partners.

Insert name here said “This showcases how our range of services surpasses that of all our competitors blah, blah, blah.  Corporate rubbish inserted here to act as if named individual actually knows what they are talking about, when clearly they don’t have a clue.  In fact they are an accountant, or a legal type who doesn’t actually know what the company does, but is good at counting beans/sending out nasty letters threatening legal action.”

If this is what we are coming to as professional business people, then “Marketeers” across the board really ought to be hanging their heads in shame.

Which brings me to my point:  Why tell lies, when your company could tell people what you have actually done?  Why not talk about the projects you have worked through, succeeded in, and completed with a genuinely happy client at the end?  Why not tell the world about the good stuff!

Unless of course, you don’t have any good stuff to tell …

What “fake news” and faux marketing is actually saying is, “We haven’t done anything good for a while, so here’s some empty-headed rubbish to fill some space in a magazine.  Now please look the other way.”  Everyone in your industry knows what they are looking at; and a good competitor will always follow the story up.  You have been warned!

Watch out for this in your own industry, because rather than being a sign that a company is doing well, fake news is actually a big chunky neon sign saying “We’re knee-deep in the brown stuff.”

Oh, and for any CEO (or “Marketeer”) who might have read this far down and still thinks making stuff up = good coverage: It’s not.  Fake news in business is just as fake as anywhere else in the world.

Fake news is tantamount to lying.  Fake news tells everyone you’re really not doing very well.

Or to put it another way, it’s like walking down the street with a bare backside.  And trust me, nobody needs to see that …

Why This Place Exists : An Introduction to the Secret Sales Director

OK, it’s October 2017 and I have decided to rework this blog.

Who am I?  Well that would be telling – and what’s the point of a secret if everyone knows it?

More importantly why am I doing this?  I’m doing this because I have something completely unique to share with you – a working lifetime in Sales.  A lot of people will tell you ancient stories about how they have been there and done it.  Most of what they talk about is stolen experience from someone else.  The difference is, I really HAVE been there and done it.  And I am still doing it now.  I also have the scars (both physical and mental) to prove it.  I have:

  • Cold called, and knocked doors house to house
  • Sold perfume, alarm systems, clothes, ladies tights and stockings (yeah, I know)
  • Worked on the phones as an office sales junior, in a time when the fax machine was still a wonder of the modern office world
  • Sold cars, car spares, bearings and all kinds of  industrial equipment to everything from mines to sewage processing plants
  • Worked in energy, aerospace, transportation and just about every other sector you can imagine

From junior office telephone sales through to being a CEO, and all that good stuff in between,  I have sold to everyone – from the Great British public, to some of the biggest multi-national companies in the world.

Through all that time I have always excelled in one area: Customer Service.  Giving the customer that extra value.  Don’t mistake that for extra discount, or leaving cash on the table.  If the customer wants it and I can provide, then that is what I have always done.  It is something I encourage my team to do too, because …

Sales is an Art Form

And like every art form, not everyone gets it.  If you do, then The Secret Sales Director is for you.  In a world where cheap has become king I have always encouraged a more entrepreneurial approach to getting the order, and keeping the order value as high as possible.  I hate saying we cannot do something – so we find a way to make it happen, without dropping too much of the price, and definitely without dropping our standards.

So, back to why am I doing this?  I’m doing it because I feel it’s an excellent time to out 2 things:

  1. Bad customer service
  2. Bad sales strategy

I also think it’s important to out those people (who exist within every company) who struggle to understand why more work through the door might actually be a really good thing.  They are what I refer to as “The Sales Prevention Officers”.  We all have them, and I will go on at length about them in other upcoming posts.

Then there are the self-interested egotistical bunch, who feel a company only exists for and because of them.  Let’s call them “The Sams”.

No offence to anyone actually called Sam, it’s just the first gender-neutral name that came into my head, because “The Sams” come in all ages, shapes and sizes.  “The Sams” believe the company exists for their own personal benefit.  Customers only come because of them, and if/when they leave (which “The Sams” of this world never do by the way), then the whole company will come crashing down without them.

It’s a bit of a stream of consciousness … I know a lot of these posts may only ever be read by me.  What I hope though, is that professional Sales people like you will find something of interest. I hope you will share your stores, talk about your experiences, and that together we can prove there is a better way to do this marvellous thing called Sales.

I don’t want to “out” people by particular name (so please bear that in mind when you Comment), and I don’t want to trash reputations (well I do but lawyers are such an expensive side effect).

Some companies are just bloody awful when it comes to serving their customers. Let’s showcase that and learn from it.  I also want to showcase the classic failures within modern corporate culture that prevent us being honest with our colleagues and customers, hence crushing any chance of having a fulfilling relationship with colleagues, clients, and your career, before you have even started.

In conclusion, I’m writing this blog because this is the job I do, day in and day out.  I’ve got the real world experience of Sales and Customer Service – and I hope that by sharing it, I can help you on your way to a more fulfilling and successful Sales career.

Thank you for reading, and welcome to The Secret Sales Director.