A few weeks ago I was on a conference call planning for an upcoming panel at a diversity event that we were all a part of. On the call were people from the corporate diversity office of a large global company, their procurement department, and several other MBEs, such as ourselves. One of the procurement people made a comment that I thought was really interesting. He said that he doesn’t attend diversity events very often, and being on a panel like this one was a rarity for him. If a diverse supplier wants to meet and impress him, it won’t usually be able to be done at a diversity event. He stressed that MBE companies also need to attend events in their own industry, which is something he was much more likely to attend.
His comments stayed with me after the call because he made a really good point. When you want to do business with a company you need to make sure that more than just their diversity manager or program director knows you. You need to develop relationships with their procurement staff too, and as he pointed out, they may not be at diversity events. You need to be involved with organizations in your industry as well as diversity industry groups such as the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council (NMSDC) or DiversityBusiness.com. Your company needs to promote itself in a number of ways in order to reach a broader audience within your target companies.
For us, this means being active in the staffing industry, and so we are members of the American Staffing Association, avail ourselves of the advice and information provided by Staffing Industry Analysts, attend staffing industry conferences and events, and subscribe to a number of industry publications. This not only helps us to develop relationships with the right people at potential client companies but it keeps us up to date on trends and new developments within the staffing industry. It also shows that we continue to learn and grow and are committed to bringing the latest in best practices to our clients. What company doesn’t want to work with a proactive business partner!
Depending on the company size, you may want or need to develop relationships with others too. For example, we are a staffing firm that specializes in placing IT consultants, so we want to make sure that the CTO, IT department manager or whoever needs to hire IT consultants knows our company and what we can do for them. This involves being part of another industry and getting to know people in another part of the company from the diversity professionals or procurement. Again, this is where you have the opportunity to not only present your firm and its capabilities and status as an MBE but also position your firm as an industry leader who can bring real value to their clients. For us to best serve our IT clients, it helps that we understand the latest trends and developments in the technology industry.
The bottom line is that having contact with different individuals in different roles at a company is a best practice. Networking with only diversity professionals is too narrow a focus to ensure success. You’re more than just a diverse supplier so make sure more than just the diversity program knows who you are and what you can do. Plan to be EXACTLY WHERE THEY ARE when possible. Think about the multiple industries you may be involved in and the variety of conferences or events you should attend. Consider exhibiting and becoming a familiar face to these professionals. Suppliers need to build relationships with people who make decisions in regards to supplier selection, and those aren’t always or even ever in some cases, the diversity manager. Of course you can’t be everywhere or at everything, nor should you, but you definitely need to be thinking more broadly than just the diversity office.
Corporate Outreach Manager