NMSDC 2014 ConferenceThe time is approaching for the NMSDC to host its Annual Conference and Business Opportunity Fair. This year, it will be taking place in beautiful Orlando, FL, the Theme Park Capital of the World, November 2nd-5th. Looks like many of the tourists traveling around this time will include corporate supplier diversity leaders and procurement professionals from numerous multinational corporations seeking top minority owned companies that are looking to do business with them.

I wanted to share a few tips based on some of the things we’ve learned through the years. We’re an MBE that has both exhibited and attended, and we bring the same perspective as those who are trying to meet you. Whether you’ve been tasked with manning your company’s booth for the first time or are a seasoned attendee returning, we hope you’ll find them helpful.

For the many that sponsor this event as corporate members, I know that the level of attendee traffic is far from an issue. In fact, I am sure that there will be more people in attendance than you can probably meet! You want to meet quality connections in order to identify the diverse suppliers that can deliver the goods and services that your organization needs in order to reflect the demographics of the community in which you serve, and it can be challenging to do this with so many in attendance

In order to be as strategic as possible, before, during and after the conference, here are a few ideas:

Before the Conference

  1. Do a little research. As you receive information on what companies are exhibiting at the conference, research which sell what your company purchases. Your goal is to identify suppliers that will spark an interest from your procurement department and can become a valuable supplier. Consider reaching out to some you may be interested in to set up a meeting. It doesn’t have to be as formal as “coffee at 10:30,” although it could be. Simply letting them know you’d be interested in speaking with them if they stopped by your booth is enough. Or make a list of those whose booth you want to visit to get more information during a brief break from your own duties.
  2. Check with your colleagues. Maybe everyone in your program is attending but probably not. Tap into your colleagues’ networks. They may know someone at a promising company that you don’t, especially if they cover a different region or sector than you do. This is just another way to make sure your time at the conference is wisely spent meeting people and companies that have been pre-screened, if you will, and are at least likely to meet your requirements. If you’re not attending but someone from your department is, then help them out and set them up with your contacts. Facilitating an introduction between a great potential supplier and your colleague could lead to a great success story!
  3. Promote your own attendance. Whether it’s a post on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter (or all of them), you can let people know that you are attending. This will alert your contacts and others that may want to get to know you and your program better and can prompt them to reach out to you. Your contacts should include companies that you are keeping in the pipeline; companies that you might not have a need for at the moment, but could in the future. It’s important to have this pipeline and the conference provides the opportunity to connect with them in person not just online, and further develop those existing relationships.

At the Conference

  1. Stay Energized – Fuel up! It’s going to be a long day at your booth and you’ll need to be “on” all day. You can count on spending hours meeting new people, telling them about your program, hearing about their company, and most of it you’ll do standing up! The rest of the conference can be a whirlwind of activity as well with back to back meetings, workshops you may be speaking at, etc. Don’t skip meals and bring a few simple snacks. Take short breaks; walk around, even step outside for a breath of fresh air. Most of all wear comfortable shoes! Do what’s needed to keep your energy level up.
  2. Recognize all the opportunities to meet MBEs. You exhibition booth is certainly the primary way that you will connect with MBEs in attendance but don’t overlook other ways. Workshops, keynote speeches, Meals and break times, etc. – all offer the potential to meet your next great supplier! If you are not speaking at a workshop yourself or do not have any meetings, attendance will also give you the chance to learn from other corporate programs about what’s working for them. Take advantage!
  3. Keep an open mind. It can be challenging to be fully engaged every minute and tempting at times to think to yourself, “This is the millionth person I’ve seen today trying to sell me [blank].” I share this not to assume or be negative but because, I’ve actually had someone say to me “Another staffing firm and roll their eyes with laughter.” Yes, it sets the bar with an opportunity to share what makes us different from the previous firms, but doesn’t necessarily offer a warm welcome. I have staffed our booth before, so I also know how easy it is to feel this way, but please don’t. Although you may meet multiple people offering the same product or service, there is no guarantee that the first ones you meet will be the best or right for your company. Be discriminate, but not dismissive. Thinking that talking to “enough” MBEs will result in finding “good” MBEs is a mistake that diminishes the ROI of your conference attendance.
  4. Stay organized. Anything you can do at the conference instead of waiting until you get back is a time saver. Whether it’s making notes on business cards or separating those you meet into categories like “fills a current need” or “potential future supplier,” it will make you more efficient when you’re back in the office. Use electronic devices to help whenever possible but make sure they’re really time savers. Sometimes a classic tool like pen and paper can be more efficient in the hustle of a conference.

After the Conference

  1. Deal with all the requests. Your inbox, LinkedIn, and Facebook will likely be flooded with requests after the conference. This is good in one sense but can also be daunting. Just like meeting people in person, you can’t do business with all of them and it doesn’t make sense to connect with everyone just for the sake of it. Potential suppliers that you want to connect with will be easy to answer; others may take more thought. You’ll find some helpful tips on connecting with people in our previous post, LinkedIn Tips for Corporate Supplier Diversity Professionals. Respond appropriately to all requests but be discriminate.
  2. Be honest. The idea of giving feedback – positive, constructive criticism – can be a touchy subject but it’s vital to the development of great diverse suppliers. Sometimes an MBE is not a good fit with your firm because of what they sell but other times it is because they are not “ready” to work with your company. Maybe they need to improve and strengthen some business, quality control or financial processes. National and local NMSD councils can help them with this; there are programs and assistance available to address areas that need improvement. You can help them develop into a stronger company by being honest when you respond and letting them know that they need to make some changes before they can be considered. I think suppliers would agree that we don’t want to waste your time or ours.

The time and money to attend the conference is an investment; ensure your time is productive. Do everything you can to get the most out of it. Think beyond the suppliers you know you need today and keep an open mind as to who you might need in the future, or who you know in the corporate world who may be able to use them. You might be able to help both an MBE and a diversity colleague with a timely reference or introduction. I hope some of these ideas help you to have a more successful conference experience. What are some of you are already doing? Please share your tips with a comment below.

I look forward to meeting many of you in November and hope you’ll look for me throughout the event or at our booth at 914. Wishing you all a successful conference!

Angelique Solorio
Corporate Outreach Manager
ATR International

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