Tendering: think like your customer or expect to lose the pitch

By | May 28, 2014

Brendan Noonan is senior VP, learning and development at Emirates Airline.  His executive MBA was achieved at Bradford University School of Management in Dubai

As an alumnus of Bradford University School of Management – top ranked by the FT – I have always been proud of my business school and its associations.

Emirates decided to go out to the world’s top business schools within 10 hours flying time, to ask for proposals for a particular programme.  The results shocked us.  Too many business schools are not business-focused at all (I was delighted that Bradford performed very professionally, though on this occasion we used someone with an aviation specialism).

If you cannot see the video please click here YouTube – hello Tomorrow

What were the problems and what can business schools – and anyone tendering – learn from this?

1.      Academia needs to fight for business, not expect it on a plate

We wrote a personal letter to the deans of 45 business schools, all featuring in the FT’s top 100 rankings, with a clear brief and asking for proposals.  Do these responses shock you?

–        50% did not respond at all

–        Only 14 – just a third – submitted what we could call professional proposals

–        4 proposals were so steeped in academic language we didn’t have a clue what they were saying

–        Others said vaguely, here is what we do, tell us what interests you and we can do a proposal!

2.      Outlandish pricing

One or two business schools with well-known names seemed to think they were doing us a favour.  Their prices were four times those of the main group of schools.  Their names are prestigious – but so is the Emirates name.

They did not seem to recognise that our brand also carries weight and, without being arrogant, we would like some kind of recognition for that.  We know that any school working with us will trade on our name.

3.      Think like the customer

We had asked for details of facilities.  Some gave the standard information of location and buildings, but they didn’t really think through what we needed to know.

The best proposals got into our head completely.  They covered

–        Transport, how they would collect and look after our group flying in to which airport

–        How they would accommodate them

–        Which classrooms they would be using and how these linked to the campus and accommodation

4.      Would you want to appoint the presenters?

 We invited the final teams to present to us in Dubai.  Each sent two or three people.

When we went to collect one team, two were ready and waiting in the hotel lobby, the third was late.  This person was disorganised, had to go back to their room for something they forgot.  When they got to the presentation they tipped their bag out to find what they needed.

Another had extolled the wonders of their IT systems – and then when they started their PowerPoint, the equipment didn’t work.

Would this give you confidence that your very expensive programme would run like clockwork?  It didn’t us.  Do send your best teams to present and check your equipment.

5.      Know your customer inside out

I had visited all the short-listed business schools to brief them and see their facilities.  They had had a chance to ask questions; there was enough time for research.

But when the teams presented, some used information that was 20 years out of date.  Others really did not know who we were or what we did.  We asked a few questions such as ‘which countries do we fly to?’ and ‘how many planes do we have?’.   They had no idea.

Customers spending a lot of money want you to be passionate about their business.  Think through what questions your customer would expect you to know.

6.      You may think you are great …

…but do remember the pitch process.  In the final stage, there were three teams each with slots up to two hours.

Believe me, sitting listening to three business schools telling you how fantastic each one of them is, is a tiring process!

Involve your customer in the presentation.  Ask some questions, compliment them, surprise them – maybe some research you have done that will really engage them.  Keep them awake!

7.      Help us – summarise

Some schools gave us packs at the end with 50 or so brochures and leaflets, presumably not wanting to miss out anything we might possibly want.  But with your business hat on, do you want a director to spend time reading all these brochures?

What we would really have appreciated is one summarised booklet, tailored specifically to what we needed to know and with examples and information relevant to that.

What did we do with those brochures?  They sat on our desks for a week and then went in the bin.

Were we expecting too much?  Are there really only a handful of business schools that are business-like?  Do the others need to wake up?