What You Say Matters!

We’ve been interviewing supplier diversity (SD) specialists over the last few months and the most recent answer to “what’s one of your pet peeves” struck us as we get ready for the diverse business conference season to kickoff into high gear. His peeve, a diverse supplier coming up to speak with him and asking what the corporation does. When approaching a corporate — be it a supplier diversity professional in their organization or not — at any kind of event, you need to be prepared. This doesn’t mean you have to have read their last five years worth of annual reports and know what every little division or subsidiary they own does — but if you approach PepsiCo not knowing they’re in the beverage (snacks too!) manufacturing business, you’re not going to have a productive conversation.

Ideally, beyond cursory knowledge of the corporation you’re approaching, you’ll have an idea as to how you can help them meet a defined business need. [Tip: Being able to increase their diverse spend by doing business with you does NOT qualify.] The need could be one they’re aware of, though there is a chance they’re not — in that case you might need to explain why you think it’s something they should address. Identifying a pain point and being able to offer a solution is one of the best ways to build a relationship with a corporation. They’ll know you have an understanding of them and be more inclined to trust you with their business.

The national conferences held by Disability:IN, NGLCC, NMSDC, USBC, USHCC, USPAACC , WBENC, etc. allow for informal (at the lunch table, standing in line, etc.), semi-formal (business fair day where you can go booth to booth and talk to vendors), and formal (one-on-one matchmakers) networking. Each opportunity and how you present yourself in them is different … getting a drink at the bar after the conference day has ended you can hope to, but certainly not prepare to, randomly strike up a conversation with corporate SD/employee — but it happens. In instances like this it’s easier connect on a personal level and we highly suggest to leave business in the background; as something to reach out about later. Remember most people prefer to buy from someone they like. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t have purchasing or decision power, they can offer insights into their company. Meaning you have the opportunity to learn more about the company, gaining a new prospective that can help you on future approaches. And, if you’re really lucky, you just won’t just have made a contact, but found a potential advocate for your company within the corporation.

In the busy, buzzing hive that is the business fair/expo faces and names can and do blur. There is a press of people vying for the attention of limited resources. For this, you need to have a plan! Consult your program: find out who’s there that you want to talk to, where their booths are located, and plot your course for the day. When you get your chance to speak with someone: be purposeful. Know what you want to share with them, be brief and to the point. Make sure there is room on your business card for them to jot down a keyword or two (you should do the same on any cards you get) so when you follow-up via a call or email you can say: I met you at the ___ conference and we discussed ___; that way you’re no longer a part of the blur.

TIP: Ran out of business cards, or worse, forgot them? Do you have the LinkedIn app on your phone? Ask the person you’re speaking with if they do as well. If so, open the app and hit the double person icon (it will take you to see your waiting invitations, people you may know, etc.). In the middle of that page, just below the search bar there is the “Find nearby” option. Press the icon for it — you may be asked to enable bluetooth — wait for a moment and the Find Nearby page will begin to populate with any nearby LinkedIn members who are also currently on the page. From there, you’ll be to send a connection request instantly.

When it comes to one-on-one matchmakers, either you’ve requested the meeting with the corporation and they’ve agreed or the corporation has selected you (with or without a topic of discussion given). If you’ve requested the meeting, it’s hopefully for a targeted  potential customer you’ve already done your research on and you know what you want to talk about. If not, figure it out! Don’t waste the corporate’s time or the opportunity another prepared diverse business could have had with them. If a corporate has selected you but you’re not sure why, do your due diligence. Don’t know much about them? Learn, and while you do, think about how the product or service you provide could be of use to them. [Tip: When you meet with them don’t be afraid to ask why they selected you for a one-on-one; your idea as to why they did, might be the polar opposite of theirs.] If a topic was shared with you, get ready to answer any questions you think they might ask you about it. Have something else beyond that topic you’d like to discuss? Don’t hesitate to bring it up before the meeting ends.

Whether the encounter is chance or not, every time you speak with a corporate you’re making an impression — of yourself and your company — make sure you’re always making a good one.

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