Over the past six months, the Lab for Inclusive Entrepreneurship has focused on translating research findings into actions to promote supplier diversity. What we learned in our survey of diverse small businesses (click here for the report) is that they often don’t know where to begin. For that reason, Egle Slezas, an instructional design graduate student in Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies, is crafting on-demand, interactive modules to provide diverse small businesses (DSBs) with basic information about the procurement process.

Egle Slezas

Lecturer at Northeastern University

To learn what HEIs expect from potential suppliers, she interviewed several seasoned procurement professionals. This is what they said DSB’s should anticipate in this market:

  • Complex Procurement Processes: Colleges and universities often have intricate procurement processes that involve multiple stakeholders, regulations, and procedures. Understand and navigate this complexity without becoming frustrated or discouraged.
  • Competitive Landscape: These institutions typically work with numerous suppliers, and the competition for business can be fierce. It’s essential to recognize that success may take time, and your expectations should reflect the competitive nature of the market.
  • Long Sales Cycles: Procurement decisions in higher education institutions often come with long sales cycles. Be prepared for these extended timelines and not be discouraged by delays. Patience and persistence are key.
  • Relationship Building: Building strong relationships with procurement teams at colleges and universities, as well as groups that champion diverse suppliers is critical. Business development is not a one-time effort, but an ongoing process.

In summary, having realistic expectations is a vital first step for DSBs interested in doing business with colleges and universities. The challenges and complexities are very real.

5 Steps DSBs can take to develop higher education business opportunities

Here are five steps that these procurement professionals recommended to navigate the challenges and complexities of the higher education market:

Step 1: Build Strong Relationships

To begin, focus on building genuine relationships with key decision-makers at colleges and universities. Attend networking events, vendor fairs, and other relevant gatherings.  It’s all about getting to know the people who can open doors for your business. Building strong and lasting connections is the foundation of success.

Step 2: Effective Value Proposition and Capacity

Once you’ve established those relationships, you need to clearly communicate what sets your business apart. What can you offer that supports the day-to-day operations of these institutions? This is your value proposition, and it’s crucial. Highlight your strengths, expertise, and the unique value you bring.

Also, make sure your business has the resources and capacity to meet their needs. Show them that you’re fully prepared to deliver on your promises. You want them to feel confident in your ability to meet their expectations.

Step 3: Be Responsive and Proactive

In the world of business, time is often of the essence. When institutions approach you or express interest, be responsive and proactive. Timeliness matters. Institutions sometimes send out inquiries or invitations, and when they do, you want to be the one who responds promptly and professionally. It’s all about showing them that you’re reliable and easy to work with.

Step 4: Collaborate and Seek Opportunities

Don’t go it alone. Collaboration is often key in the world of higher education. Look for opportunities to collaborate with colleges and universities, whether it’s through second-tier partnerships, joint projects, or other means. This can help you gain valuable experience and credibility, which is especially important if you’re a smaller business.

Step 5: Stay Informed and Adaptable

Finally, keep yourself well-informed about the needs and trends within the higher education sector. Institutions’ priorities and requirements can change over time, so be adaptable. Stay open to feedback and be ready to adjust your approach to meet their evolving needs.

In summary, developing business with colleges and universities is all about building relationships, showcasing your value, being responsive, collaborating, and staying informed. These five steps can set you on a path to success in the world of higher education procurement.

Note: Stay tuned to learn more about the on-demand modules being crafted by Egle Slezas.