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Success often boils down to who and what you know. That's especially true when it comes to snagging contracts with major corporations.
Supplier diversity programs have given women a jump on the who part of the equation. Much of the what factor can be found by reading, doing and talking. Four supplier diversity insiders offer tips to increase your knowledge and possibly provide the edge you need to secure that contract.
Tip No. 1: Know what type of supplier diversity programs you're dealing with. Otherwise, warns Chicago management consultant Ralph G. Moore, you'll waste time and energy trying to work with corporations whose effort is merely window dressing. Most programs fall into one of five categories:
1) Token programs are at the bottom of the barrel. They're typically nothing more than a contact number that's never answered. 2) Basic programs are embryonic efforts, which respond to queries and attend trade fairs. 3) Companies with traditional programs are active in advocacy efforts and have an easily identifiable program leader but tend to limit contracts in noncritical areas, such as janitorial or office supplies. 4) Advanced processes incorporate supplier diversity into the way the company does business; companies have a stake in women suppliers doing well. 5) A world-class process permeates the corporation from the CEO down. Suppliers compete for mission-critical contracts, and the second-tier supplier program has built-in accountability requirements, eliminating lip-service subcontracting.
Tip No. 2: Look for opportunities to connect with a corporation. These connections don't have to be related to procurement, says Debra Faraone, who regularly works with the procurement department at Freddie Mack and owns The Elements, a corporate gifts company in Great Falls, Virginia. Other points of contact with corporate executives include joining trade associations they belong to, serving with them on industry committees or being involved in community causes they support.
Tip No. 3: Be short and sweet when sending marketing materials. Enid Mary Winn, senior vice president and director of the Chase Manhattan Bank Minority and Women-Owned Business Development program, suggests you focus on your essential unique or value-added service. If corporate buyers don't know what's in it for them by the end of the first paragraph, they're not going to read additional material.
Tip No. 4: Be persistent. Leslie Saunders, whose Lutz, Florida-based boutique insurance agency specializes in rental car insurance, has done business with eight Fortune 1000 companies. She says just tacking "certified" after your company name doesn't ensure you'll be beating buyers off with a stick. They probably have a vendor supplying the product or service you offer, so it may take a while to get them to consider you.
Tip No. 5: Don't display an "entitlement mentality." Saunders says many corporate employees already perceive women as having this mind-set. Excelling at what you do, providing good products and services at competitive prices, and demonstrating good marketing skills may help adjust this attitude.
Tip No. 6: Try to understand a corporation's thinking about procurement strategies. Do this by attending meet-and-greet functions, especially those hosted by the companies you're interested in.
Ysabel de la Rosa is a freelance writer in Madrid, Spain, who specializes in international business.