Corporate Diversity Programs
Corporate diversity programs are a great way for small businesses to get business with large corporations. Most Fortune 500 companies will have a diversity department and they are made available to assist a minority owned small business.
Large corporations actively seek to do business with small businesses, local businesses, and minority owned businesses. This helps the corporation's public relations by showing they are helping the community. Sometimes, large companies have big government contracts that stipulate that they do a certain amount of business with small and minority owned businesses. It is the diversity departments that seek to develop these kind of vendor relationships.
What They Are Looking For
While corporate diversity programs are looking to identify minority owned small businesses, simply being minority owned is not enough to get business from these corporations. A business still has to meet the typical standards for any business that a particular corporation may have for its vendors. Those standards could be things like years in business, size based on annual revenue, and/or maintaining proper liability insurance. Ultimately, a business will have to perform satisfactorily to get and maintain any sales from the corporation.
If doing business with corporations is like any other business, what good are the corporate diversity programs? It is best to think of the corporate diversity programs as another way to get inside. It is an avenue that a minority owned business can use to get inside the doors. Corporate diversity programs attend ethnic chamber of commerce meetings and man the booths at diversity conferences in an effort to promote their programs. This presents entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop contacts with real people inside the corporation. These are people who can champion a minority business inside the company. However, it is not the corporate diversity programs that will be issuing any purchase orders. It is the purchasing departments that still do the purchasing.
So, what is the relationship between diversity programs and purchasing departments? Think of the corporate diversity programs as simply recruiters, and the purchasing departments as the decision makers. The advantage to minority businesses is that the public at large will not have this "inside advantage" into the corporation. This is much better than walking in the door cold and trying to find the right person to start the sales cycle. It offers a hand-up to minority business.
What To Expect
Your first meeting will probably be a canned response of fill out this form, send us information, and your name will be placed on a list somewhere. Expect it and don't try to get around it, just make it part of your initiation. There is the off-chance that the corporation needs exactly what you have to offer, but that would be an exception and not the rule.
The most important part of developing a vendor relationship is follow-up. After your initial meeting, send a thank you note and possibly a premium from your company (a tin of cookies, a coffee mug, etc.). Then start looking for reasons to keep in contact with the corporate diversity program. This could be sending updates on significant news about your company, personal notes about related interests (discovered during initial meeting), or congratulations on a new milestone of the corporation. If you do not get a call after a period of time, call and ask if they need any more information from you. Like any other marketing or sales effort, you want to stay on their mind.
Your goal is to get from the corporate diversity program to the purchasing department where you can start relationship building with the decision makers. Along these lines they will be a good source of insider information that you would not have otherwise.
The important word with corporate diversity programs is relationship, it will assist your business in acquiring business. Understand that the corporate giants do not purchase like the federal government, they will not have set-asides for minority owned businesses. And corporate purchasing people do not have to follow fair bidding practices that the federal programs do. The purchasing departments are looking to fill a need and they may ask the diversity program for a vendor list to choose from. However, should the diversity personnel know of a particular company they have a relationship with, diversity may push that particular business. Or should the buyer already know of a qualified minority owned business, they will most likely call and place an order. That is why the relationship is important.
Your First Order
Once you get a call do your best on the effort, make sure it goes smoothly. It is quite possible they (the diversity personnel) put their name behind your order, meaning they went to bat to get you the work. They don't want to look stupid for recommending you, plus this reflects on any justification of their jobs and program. Doing your best will assure you of getting another call and help corporate diversity programs in general.
Never stop building that relationship. Get comfortable enough with the personnel to take them to lunch every so often and do so. Building a strong relationship can be very lucrative. Your business can get the call for a last minute need or a special need.
I once heard a story from a buyer who said they had a need for TV's and micro-fridges, the kind you can get at Walmart or Costco. The corporation did not have a purchasing arrangement with any appropriate suppliers, so the called up a local favorite minority small business, asked them to buy and sell to them the TV’s and refrigerators. The company got two things for that effort - a small profit because the corporation let them add any mark-up they wanted and good will for doing the purchasing department a favor. Needless, to say that company still gets plenty of business from the corporate giant.
How To Find Corporate Diversity Programs
Finding the corporate diversity program is usually pretty easy. A simple online search of "corporate name" plus "diversity" should bring up the web site with contact information. At the time of this writing, even simply googling "supplier diversity" delivers diversity web sites for Marriott, Proctor & Gamble, Chevron, and Verizon in the Top Ten results. Finding real live contacts is also easy. In any urban area diversity personnel often attend ethnic chambers of commerce meetings and supplier diversity trade shows, these give you a good opportunity to connect with real personnel.
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