Are you meeting with a supplier diversity manager from your dream company? Supplier diversity professionals can be your advocates within their companies, so their opinion of you matters.
Let's walk through some common mistakes business owners make when meeting supplier diversity professionals and what you should do instead.
Don’t Ask “What Do You Do?”
This should be obvious, but we still need to stay it. It is not the supplier diversity pro's job to give you an overview of their company, and asking this makes you look uninformed.
Do your research. Before your meeting, find out everything you can about the company, what they produce, who their competitors are, what challenges they're facing, new products or services on the horizon, recent awards, accomplishments, or milestones, and who their customers are. For more depth, research the industry itself, including trends, challenges, and best practices.
When you can approach your new contact and say, “Congratulations on the successful launch of product X! What a great solution for problem Y,” you present yourself as well-informed and create an opening to talk about what's next and how you can be part of the company's continued success.
Don’t Pitch on the Fly
Did you secure a matchmaker appointment at a supplier diversity conference? Were you invited to a corporate-hosted supplier networking event? Don’t waste the opportunity with an unfocused, unclear pitch.
Drawing on all that research, tailor your pitch to address the company’s needs. This is not the time to tell your story or laud your own accomplishments. Practice delivering your pitch until you can do so with confidence and clarity. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback or coaching as part of the process—your local supplier diversity council most likely has resources available to help you develop and polish your pitch.
Whether you're given 10 minutes or 60 seconds, make the most of your time with a polished, confident pitch that demonstrates the value your company brings to the supply chain.
It's tempting to mention your acquaintanceship with successful people in order to appear more influential or connected, but this is an immediate turnoff. It smacks of insecurity, exactly the opposite of your intention, and you never know what the other person thinks about that notable name. Maybe they've had a bad experience with that person. Maybe they have no idea who that person is.
Stick with talking about what you have to offer, or better yet, making a personal connection with the supplier diversity pro from which you can build a relationship.
Don’t Ignore the People Who Can Actually Help You
Too often, diverse suppliers insist on speaking with the senior member of a supplier diversity program. They will wait and wait at a conference or networking event, insisting that only the top-level person will do. Then, when they meet the program director or senior manager, that person directs them to a program manager.
That's because the senior member often oversees the entire program, not individual suppliers. The program managers are the ones who spend every day seeking opportunities and advocating for diverse suppliers within their company.
Introduce yourself to the program director when you have the chance, but understand that your time is best spent building a relationship with the people whose jobs are to work directly with diverse suppliers.
Don’t Dismiss Tier 2 or Tier 3 Opportunities
Diverse business owners often set their sights on directly supplying major corporations and expect the supplier diversity program to get them there.
Fact: Few diverse-owned companies have the capacity to be a Tier 1 supplier to a major corporation. The demands of supplying a Fortune 500 or even Fortune 1000 company require capabilities that most small, diverse businesses simply have not attained, yet.
Ask your supplier diversity contact where they see you fitting into the supply chain. Ask about opportunities with their suppliers (making you a tier 2 supplier). Better yet, do your research and if it's clear that your company is not ready to be a Tier 1 supplier, state that up front and ask for introductions to the corporation's other suppliers. Supplier diversity pros are delighted to make those connections and facilitate diversity further down the supply chain.
Don’t Skip the Registration Portal
Supplier diversity managers and procurement managers use information found in their supplier database when looking for new suppliers or following up on promising leads. Complete the supplier registration process in their portal—some have proprietary supplier registration portals; others subscribe to collaborative portals that draw from hundreds of verified databases.
Make it easy for supplier diversity pros to find you by routinely checking that your profiles on every portal are complete, accurate, and up to date.
Don’t Skip the Follow-Up
About a week after meeting with a supplier diversity pro, follow up in a meaningful way. Very few suppliers take the time to do this, so those who do stand out to program managers and directors.
Send an email briefly reminding them who you are and what your company does. Then ask for a meeting or phone call to further discuss how your company can help theirs. Help your contact connect your face with your business and what you can provide their company—mention a shared interest you discovered during your initial meeting, include a picture of yourself in your email signature, remind them of a unique aspect of your product or service.
Be mindful of their time and don’t expect an immediate response. Look at this as a relationship-nurturing step.
Don’t Be Impatient
You may not hear from your contact frequently, but that doesn't mean you've been forgotten. Supplier diversity professionals are busy people. They're sourcing opportunities, working with procurement to include more diverse suppliers in the supply chain, and building relationships with multiple suppliers, while often also continuously justifying the very existence of the supplier diversity program to stakeholders.
Understand that the right opportunity to work together may not appear for months or even years. Do your part to nurture the relationship. Let them know you'll be attending the same conference or event and make a point to have a little facetime. Don't nag but do send that follow-up note. Update them on any new products or services, major milestones, and awards you achieve. Companies do business with people they know, and getting to know each other takes time.
Meeting with supplier diversity professionals is a prime opportunity to showcase the value you bring to a partnership. Make that facetime count with a polished pitch. Connect with the right people, ask where you might fit into the supply chain, follow up purposefully, and invest in building those relationships.