Is ‘bespoke’ just an excuse to charge more?

It has become one of those phrases in the good ole game of business buzzword bingo – the game where you sit in a presentation and wait until the supplier in front of you uses the various phrases that will score you a point on your bingo card. It’s now alongside such things as ‘blue sky thinking,’ ‘out of the box,’ and ‘in the tent’ such is its disregard.

I have to confess ‘bespoke’ is a word you will find on my website. Only I actually mean it – I really do create training and development needs from scratch to meet the customer’s needs, rather than just my desire to make money.

So what should it mean? And how can you ensure you are actually getting what they claim you are paying for?

It should mean that the entire package is created from scratch, after all the phrase comes from the old verb bespeak – to speak for something, and originated, it is believed, in the tailors’ domains of Saville Row, London where custom made suits were just that – made from scratch and unique. Today, bespoke stands for anything that is customised or made to order, or, as I have suggested, something all too frequently to describe something that is used when training providers try and sell you their off the shelf package, tweak it with your logo and use that to raise the prices!? Or am I being too cynical here?

So, what should ‘bespoke training’ be?

It should start with a chat with the client to understand exactly what the issue at hand is that needs training to assist it.

I don’t mean an idle ‘the sales staff aren’t doing great so we need training’ but a more definitive look. Why aren’t the sales staff doing great? Is it their telephone skills? What has the customer feedback been? What have the sales figures been? Is it the morale? What have the absence levels been? And work out the specifics of the issue.

After the specifics, set your objectives
So often the objectives are assumed and not enough questions are asked, or an ulterior motive is in play (such as a major cut and paste exercise). But a training provider cannot hope to be bespoke if they don’t know what their customer is trying to achieve. Once they’ve had the investigatory chat indicated above, a training provider should brainstorm all possible content to meet your needs. I would ask to see this – then watch the ones who aren’t really bespoke pale in panic!

Next it’s about structure and style of delivery
Yes, a training provider can guide you on delivery style ie ‘this works better delivered classroom styley,’ but they should also be open to change and your suggestions. Ask them what works and why. Ask them to explain how that style would meet your objectives and enhance the course delivery. Once you are happy with that you can move on to timing of the content to add the relevant times that reflect the emphasis that you want them to put on various elements.

Finally, the support materials
The glossy bound tomes are very attractive and sure they make you feel you have had extra value for money, but not if they have just dusted off ABC Company’s logo and replaced it with XYZ & Sons logo instead. I’m all for utilising some material from other courses – there’s no point reinventing the wheel after all, but make sure that your provider hasn’t been sidetracked looking at existing material and trying to make it fit rather than working on new material that would fill any gaps in what YOU require. It’s only through actually writing the material, retyping everything, that I find that the material becomes real, that your objectives start to get the context I want when writing a course and you get the emphasis you need.

The training provider also needs to take the time to go through it – not cut and paste, so ask them for copies of ‘similar’ course materials and see if it’s all too samey before you part with extra cash for that ‘bespoke’ package they promised you.

Think you could get the ‘bespoke’ training you want?

For more help and advice about employee development issues or a ‘bespoke’ course 😉 contact us at or follow us on twitter @3domSolutions


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