How do you stand out in a crowd of diverse suppliers? You're all vying for the same contracts and opportunities, so how can you get your firm noticed?
The key is to make it easy for supplier diversity professionals to find you when they need you, and then demonstrate how you can add value to the supply chain.
1.Register On Databases
Supplier diversity pros turn to their supplier databases to identify potential new partners, but will they find you there? Be sure to register on your dream clients' supplier portals. Provide complete information about your company, what you offer, your capacity, certifications, achievements, and so on. Your supplier profile should be clear, thorough, and up to date. Double-check your contact information to ensure that the supplier diversity pros can reach the right person.
Leverage supplier databases by spending a little extra time optimizing keywords in your profile. Select keywords that are relevant to your core, niche offerings and are client or industry specific. Keywords should be specific and narrow your scope. The goal here is to have your profile show up when supplier diversity pros search the database for potential suppliers in your niche.
Pro Tip: Develop a page on your own website with similar information in case a company without a portal, or one you haven't thought to register with, searches the internet for potential. Consider directly answering the question, “Why choose your firm?” on that page and don't forget to include contact information! Work with a professional web copywriter who knows how to optimize your content for search engines.
One thing that can set diverse suppliers apart is their level of knowledge about the company they're pitching to and that company’s industry in general. Before you send in your proposal or even meet with a supplier diversity professional, you should know your target company’s competitors, their product lines, their customers, and their mission and value statements. You should also know their industry, including trends and problems they're facing.
Use this information when crafting pitches and proposals to be as bespoke as possible. Demonstrate how your firm's values align with theirs. Explain how partnering with your company benefits their bottom line. Supplier diversity and procurement managers can tell the difference between a generic pitch and a pitch targeted specifically to their company.
Pro Tip: For even greater precision, check out your competitors and what they have to offer. Then, develop a proposal that demonstrates your firm's superiority. Maybe it's a lower cost or a more efficient production line or an outstanding reputation for customer service. Whatever makes your company unique from your competitors, leverage it.
Once you have a potential client's attention, present them with a clear, concise proposal that demonstrates the value you bring to their supply chain. Based on your thorough knowledge of the company and the industry, develop a proposal that answers their initial questions and opens the door to further conversation. Provide information about your firm’s size, capabilities, industries/customers served, and so on. Present solutions to their problems and include examples of how you have solved problems for other customers.
This is a good time to strategically name-drop—case studies of satisfied customers are positive examples of how your products or services performed in real-world environments. Don't forget to leverage the power of testimonials! Request product- or service-specific testimonials from a few of your top customers and include them on your website and in your marketing materials. Update these every couple of years or when you offer a new product or service to maintain freshness and relevance.
Pro Tip: To really wow potential customers, include several testimonials along with the sources’ contact information in your proposal. It's unlikely the supplier diversity or procurement manager will contact the sources, but the confidence shown by simply including that information will make you stand out from other suppliers.
4. Be the Expert
Another long-term approach to making yourself stand out is establishing yourself as a thought leader or expert in your industry. Does your company have a website? Consider adding a blog to your website with regular posts about topics relevant to your industry. Too daunting? Publishing on LinkedIn might work better for you. On either platform, topics should be about 80 percent industry-focused and 20 percent focused on your company.
You could also coauthor a white paper or be a featured guest on an industry-facing podcast. No matter which platform you choose, keep your tone and topics authentic and don't forget to promote your content on social media!
You should also be applying for any awards you are eligible for. Supplier diversity organizations such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), and their local affiliates regularly recognize members in various categories, as do local chambers of commerce and many industry and trade groups. Check with your local representatives about the awards application processes and start submitting your best work.
List awards received on your website and send a press release to your supplier diversity contacts at current and potential client companies. If an award is relevant to a proposal—for example, a product or service you offer was named Best in Class—include that information to further establish the quality of your company.
“Apply for awards and make sure your company is in the best possible position to win them,” advises Jeff Monaghan of Akraya, Inc., a certified woman- and minority-owned staffing firm. “It goes a long way when a potential client can see that your company is a frequent winner of prestigious industry awards.”
Pro Tip: Get quoted as an expert in articles relevant to your industry. Subscribe to services like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) that send out requests for sources several times a day. Reporters usually fill their sourcing needs within an hour after the request goes out, so make sure to respond quickly!
5. Follow Up
Supplier diversity professionals are your advocates within the companies you want to supply and should be treated as some of your most important professional connections. Considering how important follow-up is to relationship building, it's staggering how few suppliers actually take the time to make that additional contact.
You should have a strategic communication plan for nurturing relationships with supplier diversity pros you meet at networking events, conferences, corporate-hosted summits, matchmakers—wherever it may be. Suggested elements of your communication plan include: connecting if you’re in the same place (conference, networking event); sending your supplier diversity contacts updates as your business grows, you offer new services/products, you win awards, and so on; connecting on LinkedIn and commenting on their posts; sending a congratulatory note when the company's supplier diversity team is recognized for excellence.
The key is to be patient but persistent. Supplier diversity professionals are busy and the right opportunity for your firm may take a while to materialize, but the time and effort you exert in staying in contact will eventually pay off.
“In addition to letting people know who you are and what you do, you must stay in touch with the entities that helped you get your certifications,” says Carolyn Barbarite, President of Javamelts, a certified women-owned company and maker of flavored sweeteners for coffee. “They know all of the people and connections to help propel your brand forward.”
Pro Tip: Put your photo on your business card and your email signature to help people connect you to your awesome company with the positive experience they had meeting you.
Winning business is always about more than the numbers presented in a proposal. Relationships, reputation, customer service—these are all factors. Incorporate the strategies discussed here to stand out from the crowd and leverage what you have to offer potential clients.