By and large, prime contractors have a vested interest in establishing relationships and doing business with the small business community. So, it would seem to make sense that prime contractors would make it easy for small businesses to find a list of products and/or services they buy, and exactly who is in charge of the buying process. However, this is simply not the case with many primes. In fact, some industries, like the Silicon Valley Tech industry, make it difficult and downright frustrating to find out what they buy and who is responsible. This is precisely why Supplier Diversity Managers are critical. The firms who value supplier diversity in their procurement will have a Supplier Diversity Manager.
Common Responsibilities of Supplier Diversity Managers:
- Maintaining a database of women (WBE), minority (MBE), LGBT, and disabled veteran-owned business enterprises (DVBE).
- Sending out notifications to suppliers detailing the products/services their firm needs
- Providing direct access to buyers within the organization
- Attending networking events to provide exposure and information on their firm’s Supplier Diversity mission
- Delivering sellers’ Capabilities Statements and other marketing materials to the Purchasing Agents within their firm
Finding the Supplier Diversity Manager can be as simple as calling the firm, or visiting the firm’s website and looking for the supplier diversity page. For example, supplier diversity information for Safeway can be found HERE. But, if that doesn’t work, you should also try the social media website, Linkedin.com. Most, if not all, prime contractors will have their own corporate profile page where they will list all of their employees who have a Linkedin page. Most times, their Supplier Diversity Manager will have a profile on Linkedin.com.
Once you have made contact with the Supplier Diversity Manager, it’s important to ask the right questions so you have a clear understanding of the opportunities available.
Key questions to ask Supplier Diversity Managers:
- What was the dollar amount your firm spent with diverse suppliers last year and from that amount, how much went to buying my product and/or service?
- Are there any upcoming programs, events, or special opportunities that would give my company a chance to highlight my unique products and/or services to the Buyers within your organization?
- With which of your departments do I stand to gain the greatest success?”
The goal is to gain insight and knowledge about your chances for doing business with a prime, and to become more than just another supplier that is part of their growing database.
Finally, don’t limit yourself to only a few prime contractors. Don’t assume your unique products and/or services allow you a narrow window of opportunity. For example, if you are in road construction, you are not limited to doing business with large general contractors. Any large firm that is considering expansion is a potential client. Hospitals, tech firms, and retailers are just a few examples of firms that can, and will, do business with you if they know you exist.
A Real-Life Case Study
This is a story of a small business looking to sell to prime contractors. They provided a unique product to large and small firms all over the San Francisco Bay Area. They were seeking aggressive growth and felt that doing business with larger firms was the answer. They decided they wanted to do business with Google.
First, they spent considerable time looking for access to decision makers working at Google. Learning quickly that the company has no central phone number, and Google.com was ironically no help, they turned to Linkedin.com. On this social media site, they were able to make connections with various employees and managers at Google. From these connections, they were directed to a diversity supplier online portal managed by Google. The process of creating connections on LinkedIn and finding someone who shared information about their supplier diversity portal took three weeks. He completed the registration, uploaded the required documents, and waited.
A month later, he received an email from the Supplier Diversity Manager responsible for his product. You see, with a firm as large as Google, they have dozens of Supplier Diversity Managers covering a specific industry or product. The manager thanked him for becoming part of Google’s supplier network and basically said if they needed his product they would be in touch. This was not much of a welcome, however, the real value in the email was that it contained the name of the Supplier Diversity Manager responsible for his products.
Responding immediately, he expressed his desire to send samples, meet buyers, attend conferences or trade shows, and send marketing materials — anything he could do to separate himself from the competition. He waited another month before receiving an answer. The Supplier Diversity Manager called him using an unlisted number (Google can be complicated). The manager stated she was responsible for working with 50 buyers who can, if they choose, buy his products. She would be happy to provide the buyers with samples of his product. But first, he had to complete another extensive report. Google wanted pictures, descriptions, SKUs, weights, sizes, pricing, and a host of other information. He received the report, invested time taking professional pictures, and completing the report exactly as they required. This process took at least 2 weeks.
Almost 2 months later, he received an email stating he was to deliver 50 samples of his product to a specific address, at a specific time, and to a specific person. Oh, and he had three days-notice from when he received the email to when they wanted the samples! This had TEST written all over it. The Supplier Diversity Manager wanted to make sure he could follow exact instructions and that they could count on him before they did business with him. So, following their instructions, he personally delivered 50 samples to the person specified. Then he waited another 6 weeks.
Finally (yes, there is a happy ending) five of the fifty Buyers within Google expressed interest in placing an order for their departments. Of course, the first orders were small but after proving he could deliver on small orders, larger orders soon followed. He never had any other contact with the Supplier Diversity Manager, except a heartfelt thank you email he sent.
Not all prime contractors or large firms will act like this. Doing business with primes is an uphill battle, and it’s never easy, but the reward can be fulfilling and profitable. Navigating the steps, procedures, and potential opportunities within a large firm is made easier by the Supplier Diversity Managers. The investment of your time and energy into creating and building relationships with these managers is in your best interest even though you might not see immediate results.
Written by Thomas Burns, Norcal PTAC Procurement Specialist
Thomas Burns has over 20 years of experience providing start-ups, micro & small businesses with expert advice and assistance in the areas of government contracting, business planning, marketing and sales support. His background includes providing direct representation to small businesses, writing business plans for 50+ clients, bidding and winning multiple contracts with City, County, State agencies as well as doing business with prime contractors in a variety of industries here in Northern California.
Mr. Burns has personally trained, coached and assisted hundreds of entrepreneurs, professionals and small business owners. He has taught webinars, seminars and conducted workshops focusing on building relationships with Prime Contractors, creating winning business plans and marketing to government agencies. Through his personal experience as a business owner, Thomas brings a unique perspective to the small business community.