Notes on Supplier Diversity

So, we read a post on LinkedIn the other day and just can’t get it out of our heads. The reason is because this is a bigger issue than our colleague Tammy Davis, CEO at NexLevel, wrote.

She’s not wrong in her characterization of some supplier diversity professionals (SDP). Like us, they are imperfect humans doing the best they can at any given moment in time. And, the moment in time is our point today — particularly with regards to supplier diversity events. Even the smaller, local events draw hundreds of SDMWVLGBTBE (Small Disadvantaged or Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprise) owners who are targeting a few dozen SDPs. Even the best organized event is filled with distraction, bright lights, noises and people, so many people.

  • Will our ten minute one-on-one meeting with an SDP be the first, fall in the middle or be the last of the day?
  • How many people want this person’s attention today, right now?
  • What kind of day is s/he having?
  • Did s/he have any say in choosing who to meet with or was the match made by someone else?
  • Is our commodity or service one their business has an interest in, ever? Is s/he familiar with how what we sell is purchased by their company?
  • Do we all blur together in his or her mind at the end of the event, or did we do something memorable that made us stand out?

We could tell a few stories about some SDPs but that’s not our point. None of us expects to close a sale with every contact we make. It seems unrealistic to expect SDPs to champion each of us. The matchmakers are akin to speed dating. An introduction, your best elevator pitch, a little Q&A and a thank you on exit.

Sometimes, the follow up afterwards can be problematic. The SDP might not have buy-in from all sectors of the company, so even if they have need for your product or service, the buyer with authority might not care if it is procured from a diverse supplier. Other times, the need isn’t current, and the SDP  might suggest reaching out again months or even years (given the contract length) later. One SDP we know gets 75 to 100 blind approach emails a day (average 87 or 437 a week and over 22,750 per year), not to mention voice mail messages. So, even if s/he vividly remembers you it could simply be that among all of the requests that s/he receives yours gets lost in the shuffle — or accidentally filtered to a spam, junk or clutter folder. Lack of returned response is not necessarily a total lack of interest.

If an SDP tells you about a person to connect with in their organization, don’t always expect them to make that introduction. Over and above all the diverse suppliers asking for a piece of the SDP’s time, s/he is juggling their other job duties, supporting internal requests, attending meetings, traveling on business, filing reports or conducting research. Instead of waiting around for those introductions take the initiative. Make note of the person mentioned and research him or her. When you reach out directly, copy the SDP and tell the contact that the SDP suggested there might be a synergy.

The one thing we know works is personal persistence. Connecting with a supplier diversity professional on a personal level over a sustained period of time will get you noticed and remembered. If you are members of a third party certifier, go to the events. These organizations are non-profits and always in need of volunteers, giving a little of your time and expertise is a good way to be noticed in the community of partnering SDPs. Volunteering in general can facilitate relationships with target customers with cultures of corporate responsibility. As Bob Burg said: “Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.” We need to make a difference in our communities and who you serve/advocate/volunteer for may be as important as what you sell.

Beyond all that it must be remembered that while SDPs want to facilitate the use of diverse suppliers, their priority is to do so in a manner that is in the best interest of their company. If the company is happy with their current X provider and there is no inherent difference (quality or price) between the X you provide, it is unrealistic to expect a corporation to do business with you just because you’re a diverse supplier. It is NOT unrealistic to ask for referrals to other SDPs. They all know each other.