You’ve been a certified WBE for a whole year now, and no business has picked up. What to do? Do you keep your certificate? How do you actually make corporate connections?
In this column, we share the insider advice that our corporate members wish WBEs would know about using your certificate to connect.
1. Understand what supplier diversity is…
If you’ve never heard of supplier diversity, start off by reading this brief recap. Supplier diversity is a business practice where corporations and government agencies examine the businesses and vendors that they work with to ensure they come from a diverse background, whether this be women-owned, minority-owned, LGBT-owned, disability-owned, or veteran-owned.
Our corporate members are supplier diversity professionals, serving as the bridge between diverse suppliers (you) and the buyers and procurement officers in their corporation. Their job is to ensure that their corporation is meeting their diversity goals by sharing bidding opportunities with certified businesses and ensuring that the best possible candidates are connected with their buyers.
…And also what supplier diversity isn’t
Being a certified WBE (or any diverse certification) does not guarantee you business.
Yes, supplier diversity professionals care about supporting women-owned businesses. But at the end of the day, they need to ensure that they are hiring or referring the best candidate for the job to their buyers.
The goal of supplier diversity is to offer an equal opportunity to compete. We crack open the door to the network, but it is up to you to actually open it. The most successful WBEs build business relationships in order to build their business, have superior pricing/products/services, and are ultimately the best fit for the contract.
2. Use your certificate to bolster existing contracts
It’s not always about getting new contracts, but keeping existing ones. Share your certification with existing contracts who may have supplier diversity programs. It will be another “nice to have” that they can count towards their goals, and may strengthen your supplier relationship.
3. Don’t lead with the fact that you’re women-owned
It sounds counter-intuitive. You worked hard to get certified. But now that you’re talking with a corporate representative, they want to know what you can actually do for them. If you came to them through WBENC or a supplier diversity event, they are already assuming you’re certified.
You’ve got about 30 seconds of their attention span. Focus on what makes you stand out as the best business for the job. Your star differentiator shouldn’t just be that you’re women-owned, but that you have some unique service, product, or expertise. Lead with that.
4. Focus your capability statement and business description
No one is good at everything. When you list a whole host of different services that you offer (or could offer), the corporate reading wants to know what you’re really good at. As I overheard from a corporate member recently, “What drives 60% of your revenue on a bad day?”
When you recertify, make sure you write a business description that accurately captures what you’re good at. A corporate cares less about your business history and mission and more about your proven track record of services (and thus how you can be successful for them). Make sure you include relevant keywords and NAICS codes so you show up in directory searches.
5. Don’t be a risky prospect… especially if you’re new
A procurement buyer wants to be sure that you’re the best fit for the job and that you’ll do it well. When they award you the contract, they’re sticking their neck out for you. Show them that you are an excellent, low-risk pick with a track record of success.
Give a good first impression online by having a professional looking website set up with client success stories, services, and contact information. Have a branded email set up instead of a gmail.
Corporate buyers can be wary of brand new businesses (or non-tech savvy owners) that don’t present themselves professionally and display a proven record of success.
6. Get targeted in your approach and do your research
Yes, you have access as a WBE to the entire WBENCLink directory of both certified businesses as well as our corporate members. But should you just start emailing corporates out of the blue? Probably not.
First do your research. Search online for their supplier diversity program, and find out more about what they’re looking for and how their procurement processes work. Are you going to be a good fit for them? Why do you want to target them specifically? Do they have any upcoming supplier diversity events where you can learn more?
7. Quality outreach is better than quantity
Once you’ve identified a small handful of relationships that you want to pursue, then reach out. Be specific about why you are targeting them. Be personal. And be prepared that you may not hear back. That’s ok. Sometimes these supplier diversity professionals are overwhelmed with emails of WBEs looking to connect. Sometimes the best way to meet someone is through another avenue, like at a networking event. And yes, sometimes they may not have any interest. But you will be more likely to be successful by sending quality outreach over quantity.
PS- Remember as part of the WBENCLink user agreement, WBEs should refrain from sending mass emails of solicitation to our directory anyway.
8. Be prepared to build a relationship
People like doing business with people they know and like. Plain and simple.
How long does it take you to get to know someone to the point that you want to do business with them? It’s the same for corporates. Meeting someone once at a networking event doesn’t make a relationship. Continued conversations and mutual trust does. Sometimes this can take months, or even years for this relationship to bloom AND for the right opportunity to come along.
Follow up a couple of times a year, but don’t be pushy. Corporates get asked for coffee more times than there are coffee cups in the cafe. Instead, send a simple greeting with your updated capability statement. Remind them in a friendly way that you’re unique. Find out if they’re attending an upcoming event. Wish them well for the holidays.
9. Look for facilitated networking formats
No one likes to pitch to someone else at the salad bar. It’s especially hard to make good connections virtually. Keep an eye out for the following types of events that make networking easier: matchmakers, meet & greets, roundtables, supplier connections, or “how to do business with xyz company.”
And remember that attending an event is just the beginning. Now you have to cultivate a relationship.
10. Don’t limit yourself to WBEC-East and WBENC events
If you’re just looking for WBEC-East events to network, you’re missing out. Among our network are 14 different regions, with over 18,000 WBEs and 400 corporate supplier diversity members representing major corporations. Check out the full calendar of events for all regions, and sign up to receive event emails from the other regions. Take advantage of virtual programs- you never know what corporate may be active in another region. Your WBE is valid in all 14 regions!
But don’t limit yourself here either. Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs), and even the corporations themselves are all known to host procurement networking events like matchmakers and other formats described above. These events are usually open to all certified diverse businesses. Get on those mailing lists, search online… and read our newsletters too, because we’re often sharing these programs with you.
11. Take the answer “no” as a gift
Not every corporate meeting or event you attend will blossom into a business relationship. And not every business relationship will grow into a contract. And that’s ok. When a corporate tells you that they don’t have an opportunity for you or that it’s not a good fit, be grateful! They’ve now given you back precious time that you can use to market yourself elsewhere. Don’t get discouraged, and pep yourself up to look for a better connection.
Wishing you the best as you journey onward into the world of supplier diversity!