3 months ago

Mastering the art of business competition

Team Khichuri from IBA, Dhaka University posing with some of the trophies they won -- from left Mohtasim Bin Habib, Turjoy Chakraborty, Mashrif Hasan Adib, and Abir Ershad
Team Khichuri from IBA, Dhaka University posing with some of the trophies they won -- from left Mohtasim Bin Habib, Turjoy Chakraborty, Mashrif Hasan Adib, and Abir Ershad

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Business competitions are the ultimate battleground for teams to showcase and test their strategic thinking and business acumen. In today's landscape, the growing appeal of business competitions has expanded the participation pool beyond individuals pursuing business degrees, intensifying the competition and raising the bar for victory. Despite the intense competition, Team Khichuri has surpassed the winning bar five times in a row this year, culminating in a perfect, one-hundred-percent winning streak in their business competition journey.

Team Khichuri consists of Abir Ershad, Mashrif Hasan Adib, Shubhashish Chakraborty Turjoy, and Mohtasim Bin Habib, all of whom are final-year BBA students of the Institute of Business Administration at Dhaka University. Team Khichuri's championship titles include "Bakeman's Presents Sellsation 2023," a sales competition; "IDLC Presents creADive 2023," a 360-degree marketing competition; "HSBC-IBA Business Case Competition 2023," a flagship strategic business case-solving competition of HSBC and IBA; "Battle of Minds 2023," a flagship sustainability-based ideation competition organised by British American Tobacco; and "BizMaestros 2023,"a flagship branding and marketing competition organised by Unilever.

Team Khichuri shares their winning formula through ten insightful tips and tricks, offering a glimpse into the unique approach that has set them apart in business competitions.

Form a team where you can rely on each other: While it is customary to form a team with specific roles in the realm of business competitions, Team Khichuri has walked a different path. Although they had a vague idea of who would do what, the roles almost always used to overlap. In Turjoy's words, "Essentially all four of us chip in every department. Probably, that is what contributed to making our team such a success. For example, we do not strictly have one person for ideation, one for financials, and so on. Given our complementary inputs and collaborative efforts, we have found a synergy." The flexibility ensured that they could rely on each other in times of adversity, such as facing severe time constraints.

Avoid adding unnecessary information and marketing tools: It is common to add information and employ different marketing tools without assessing their relevance to the solution. However, Abir suggests otherwise, "Don't add marketing tools or leverage models for the sake of it. They exist as a reference, and it's important to not force references. Most judges won't read through every word you write in the slides. So, adding unrelated information and tools will only weaken your solution."

Understand both the product and the brand: In branding and marketing competitions, many teams limit their research just to understanding the product. However, Team Khichuri suggests going one step forward and understanding the brand inside out. This understanding goes beyond simply using the brand colours in the solution slides. Instead, the teams should understand the communication tone, values, and activities inherent to the brand and reflect those in the solution. Turjoy explains, "While researching bKash for 'IDLC Presents creADive 2023,' we realised that instead of using formal Bangla terms, bKash goes for more colloquial terms in Bangla spoken language so, we used similar words in our solution, and the judges loved it." Moreover, Team Khichuri tested the products first-hand to come up with authentic insights for a well-grounded solution.

Keep coherence between the big idea and the action plan: Many beginners fail to understand the difference between taglines, the big idea, and the action plan. Mohtasim breaks it down, "The big idea is the thematic angle or the strategic direction that the brand is suggested to take in the solution. The tagline may or may not mirror the big idea, while the action plan highlights the distinct stages to ultimately achieve the big idea. All the campaigns suggested in different stages of the action plan should work coherently to fulfil the objective of the big idea."

Tailor financials according to the competition type: Ideation and case-solving competitions require different financial metrics and models. Some metrics related to marketing competition include budget, reach analysis, potential sales/revenue generation, return on marketing investment (ROMI), conversion rate, cost per contact (CPC), and customer acquisition cost (CAC). On the other hand, ideation competition requires different metrics such as cost analysis, pricing, gross margins, industry growth (CAGR), demand forecasting, income/revenue projection, and the investment ask.

Come up with realistic numbers for the financials: It is common for novice teams to struggle with generating realistic figures for the financials. The key to precision in financials lies in acute research. Team Khichuri regularly contacted industry professionals to draw up realistic figures. Additionally, creating robust financials includes making educated assumptions that are strongly supported by thorough justification. "All the assumptions need to be backed by accurate research," Mashrif enlightens. "For instance, the customer acquisition cost for a Tk 550 product should neither be as low as Tk 80 nor as high as Tk 800. In BizMaestros, our CPC for a Tk 550 product was Tk 390. We justified the relatively high cost by demonstrating an even higher customer lifetime value for the product, a rationale that the judges found to be plausible. Cross-check the numbers over and over with reliable sources for accuracy."

Understand what the judges want: Understanding what the judges seek is crucial for success in business competitions. In the initial rounds and the semi-finals, the judging panel typically comprises individuals with relatively fresh experience in the industry, scrutinising the minute details and aspects of the solution. The judging panel for the finals, however, usually includes leading industry icons from the C-suite level, prioritising effort, feasibility, and innovation. Team Khichuri adapted their solution according to the judging panel. For example, for the final round of the Bakeman Presents Sellsation 2023, Team Khichuri crafted a distribution-driven solution, as it is a core strength of the sponsor, Akij Foods and Beverage Limited, anticipating that the judging panel would include officials from the sponsor.

Tell a story through your slides: From the reader's perspective, the entire solution should tell one coherent story from the beginning to the end, and the slides should mirror that coherence through clear visualisation. Abir explains, "The role of the slide maker is also that of a storyteller. The goal is not to create intricate-looking slides but to convey the message by building a connection with the reader. You can do the following to build that connection: Don't shy away from using negative space and big one-word slides to prove a point. Don't get too wordy, no one reads them. Be as visual as possible, and use relatable photos."

Keep your biases aside: While proposing ideas, it is common to get entrenched in initial assumptions. In many teams, choosing the best ideas can devolve into an ego battle. Mashrif suggests an approach to avoid this, "The goal is not to favour one's ideas but to select the most relevant and logical ones. So, meticulously filtering ideas is crucial. Incorporate those ideas that realistically align with the product and brand. We used to play each other's devil's advocate to come up with the most logical ideas."

Embrace failures: Embrace a growth mindset. Success stories in business competitions often emerge from the lessons learned through trial and error in the formative years. "Be ready to embrace failures," Mohtasim emphasises, "Because success in business competitions is honestly very rare. But what's important is to focus on learning and growing with every competition that you do."

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