You’ve Landed a Contract with a Big Company, What’s Next?
It can take a lot of effort to get your foot in the door and become a vendor with a large corporation. While you can celebrate for a minute, much of the hard work is just beginning — continuing to meet and exceed expectations, maintaining and building a strong relationship, expanding the ways in which you meet the company’s needs and, perhaps most importantly, ensuring you maintain or build profit margins while you expand your business with a big customer.
There are differences large and small to working with multinational corporations and you may need to quickly climb a steep learning curve to make the most of your new relationship. When you attend the fifth annual Global Supplier Diversity Conference (GSDC), you will gain a strategic framework to identify, prepare and secure corporate contracts and obtain critical insights from both sides of the company-supplier relationship. Consider these thoughts to nurture these important relationships.
- Be realistic about your capabilities. One of the quickest ways to sour a new business relationship is to promise more than you can deliver. It can be so tempting to say yes to everything a corporate client wants because the opportunity looms large. But your first step is to realistically assess what products or services you can – and can’t – provide on time and at the highest quality.
Do not agree to turnaround times, volume levels or quality metrics you can’t meet, or that will erode your profit margins. You may not get a second chance to prove yourself if you miss the mark. That said, don’t be shy about engaging in candid discussion with the supplier diversity team at the company to see if the project can be broken down into smaller components, the deadline extended or if you might partner with another organization to fulfill the total need.
Which brings me to the idea of becoming of Tier 2 supplier. Again, the supplier diversity team are your best bet for connecting you with their Tier 1 suppliers who may consider partnership opportunities with you.
- Communicate throughout the process. Like all good relationships, your connection to a major company is more likely to flourish when you keep communication channels open. Keep buyers up to date on deliverables and any changes that could affect their order. Although you don’t want to monopolize your client’s time, a quick check in via email will let them know everything is on track and boost their confidence working with a new, and smaller, supplier. Even when not actively fulfilling an order, you can drop a quick note to supplier diversity professionals in your network to let them know of any newsworthy developments in your business that might help to meet their needs.
- Know your value. Although it can be intimidating at first to engage with multinational conglomerates as a growing startup, you can draw confidence from data that shows diverse suppliers bring significant value to large companies. “Being able to work with multiple suppliers ensures that buyers can best address the needs of diverse and emerging customer segments,” according to marketing professors from the University of Washington and Colorado State writing in the MIT Sloan Management Review.
Research also shows that supplier diversity initiatives often reduce costs for companies. “A stream of academic research has demonstrated that supplier diversity initiatives can quite substantially reduce the buyer’s purchasing costs in a wide variety of industry settings,” the authors write. Be prepared to succinctly point out the value you can offer large customers in terms of unique products and services, flexibility and agility in meeting changing customer needs and, quite possibly, even lower costs or more appealing terms.
- Highlight customer service. When big organizations work with other big organizations, it’s easy to get caught up in a lot of red tape. Sometimes, assumptions are made too that, because you bought from me last year and the year before that, you’ll continue to buy from me. As a new, smaller diverse supplier, you may have an opportunity to shake things up by providing more personalized service and closer attention to the specific needs of your new customer. You might look for ways to differentiate yourself from others through unexpected efforts such as providing your personal contact information in case of an emergency, calling on clients personally as the business owner, or even making an occasional delivery in person to ensure everything is in order.
- Consider independent certification. Obtaining minority certification from an external party can also signal to potential customers that you are serious about serving large clients, and that your business has been vetted and meets the criteria of the Small Business Administration (SBA) or other certifying body. Minority certification is also available through your Monica Motivates, LLC, community and numerous small businesses hold certification through our organization. Building on the robust success of our Global Supplier Diversity Conference, this certification rests on the three strategic pillars of Educate, Activate and Sustain that have helped make the Conference such a powerful experience for hundreds of participants.
Working with larger organizations doesn’t require you to reinvent your company – your strong offerings and responsive customer service are why they want to work with you. Their commitment to diversifying their vendor base just opens the door to an introduction.