APRIL IS ALWAYS one of my favorite months of the year.
The beginning of second quarter is the perfect time to take stock of your goals for the year, analyze what’s working and what’s not, and make any needed adjustments with plenty of time left in the year to reach your goals.
April is also deep enough into the year that it’s possible to identify the major trends that are starting to take shape – trends that will define the future of corporate supplier diversity this year and beyond.
Trending conversations about supplier diversity in 2017 are focused on:
- How corporations and organizations are choosing their suppliers, and
- The specific qualities those suppliers must have in order to win contracts with key players in their industry
In the past, there has been a strong focus on experience and relationships; vendors sought suppliers who had a proven track record of established industry relationships and service.
While both areas are still important for diverse suppliers, we’re seeing a strong trend toward value-add, influence, business strategy, and flexibility, all of which have been impacting purchasing decisions in significant ways.
Here are 5 surprising trends that are influencing how corporations choose their diverse suppliers, and how you can capitalize on these trends to secure more business in 2017.
Trend #1: A focus on value
When prepping their RFPs, more and more corporations are focusing (and being told to focus) on value.  This means they are looking first and foremost at what value you can provide them as a diverse supplier.
Value can be interpreted in many different ways, but the bottom line is clear: how can you help your corporate client to:
- Cut costs
- Increase efficiency
- Boost profits, and
- Exceed their business goals
The value-add you provide should address at least one of these key areas.
Since more and more vendors are considering contractors in terms of the value they can provide the company, be sure to have value-focused talking points prepared for interviews and phone calls. You should also include value-focused statements in your proposals.
Remember, value isn’t just about saving the client money, and it’s not just about the service you provide your client.
If you manufacture t-shirts, the value isn’t in the t-shirts themselves; it’s in what the t-shirts provide, such as increased brand recognition, a feeling of exclusivity, the chance to rally behind a cause, and so on.
Your value-add should be unique and set you apart from other diverse suppliers. Skillfully articulate your unique value-add in a single sentence that differentiates you from the competition – especially competition who are also diverse suppliers.
Trend #2: Influence matters
So often as diverse suppliers, we think of corporations as the ones with all the influence. But in 2017, we’re seeing a growing trend toward influence on both sides of the fence.  You can no longer think of yourself as the “little guy” and your corporate client as the “big guy.” You too must demonstrate influence in your industry in order to beat the competition and win the contract.
So what do I mean by influence? What if you’re a small business or focused on a local, niche market? Do you need to worry about having influence then?
Yes. You can still demonstrate your influence to corporations by framing your reach not in terms of how big it is, but in terms of how deep it runs.
Having a ‘deep reach’ with your customers means:
- Having an active subscriber base who regularly opens and reads your emails
- Having an engaged following on social media
- Demonstrating positive reviews and customer testimonials on your website and other marketing materials
Influence doesn’t have to mean having a massive reach – remember, that’s why you’re partnering with a larger corporation in the first place. You don’t have to be huge, but you do have to be connected. Think about how you can quickly demonstrate your influence with your tribe in a way that makes a huge impact during the proposal process.
Trend #3: The end of the Division of Labor
Let’s say your small diverse business is a tailor shop, and you’ve submitted a proposal to create the suits for a large corporate gala.
In the past, your only responsibility would have been to create the best darn-looking suits possible.
In 2017, that’s no longer enough. You must also demonstrate a clear understanding of what the suits are for, how they’ll be worn, who’ll be wearing them, what type of event they’re for, and how every stitch will help that corporation reach their long-term business goals.
Sounds like a lot to be responsible for, doesn’t it?
It is. Even if you provide a service that seems simple and clear-cut, corporations are looking for diverse vendors who understand their overall business strategy.  You can no longer make decisions about how to serve your clients without considering the overall business goals of those clients.
While it may sound overwhelming, this is actually a good thing. Think of the tailor example again. The tailor who knows the who, what, when, where and why of the suits she’s creating will make a much better suit than the tailor who’s operating ‘in a vacuum,’ with no clue about her client’s overall business strategy.
Know how to articulate the overall business strategy of the corporation you’re targeting, as well as how your service fits into that overall strategy.
Trend #4: Technology, Flexibility, and Innovation
There’s nothing new about technology trending in the world of corporate supplier diversity. You’ve probably already had to navigate new types of software, applications, and processes to secure work and submit proposals.
What is new is the focus on flexibility and innovation when choosing diverse suppliers, which is happening because of technological advancements. Since technology is constantly changing, corporations seek suppliers who are very flexible, can adapt on at a moment’s notice, and are able to change as the company changes. 
At the same time, better and better technology necessitates hiring diverse suppliers who are highly innovative, and can help the company beat their competition. Just as technology is giving your client an edge, that same technology is making their competition more powerful. This means you need to be adaptable, tech savvy, and demonstrate innovative ways to help your client to stand out.
Begin by making sure your small business is up-to-date on the latest tech trends for your industry. When you know how to use all of the latest apps, software, and devices relevant to your industry, you can maintain the flexibility corporations are looking for.
Once you’ve mastered the required technology and have found ways to demonstrate your versatility in this realm, focus on creating new, innovative ways to solve problems.
- Find fresh ways to create services and products for your clients and customers.
- Look outside your industry to find inspiration from groundbreaking businesses and leaders in other spaces.
- Look for ‘white space’ among your competitors, and your client’s competitors: where are other suppliers falling short? How can you fill in the gaps in unexpected ways?
Trend #5: Building bridges with other suppliers
Perhaps the most surprising trend of 2017 is the growing lack of ‘corporate’ in ‘corporate supplier diversity.’
In the past we’ve seen a strong focus on building relationships between large corporations and smaller diverse suppliers. However, with the advent of new platforms like the Supplier Connection Initiative and Dun & Bradstreet’s Global Diversity Registration Portal, diverse suppliers can easily connect with corporations as well as other diverse suppliers. 
The implications of this movement are huge. Just think of all of the vendors and service providers you utilize on a daily basis to keep your small business running strong. You may already make use of tax professionals, Virtual Assistants, marketing consultants, and all sorts of suppliers.
Now imagine being able to hire other diverse suppliers or, better yet, finding other Small Diverse Businesses looking to hire someone like you?
In 2017, the search for the perfect corporate client just might lead you to new opportunities with other diverse suppliers you never would have considered before.
The top five trends in corporate supplier diversity for 2017 are:
- An increased focus on value and ‘value-adds’ during the procurement process.
- Corporations seeking diverse suppliers who can demonstrate their business’s influence with their target market.
- Small Diverse Businesses that understand corporate business strategy, and can position themselves to help achieve corporate goals.
- Technology increasing the need for both flexibility and innovation in corporate/supplier relationships.
- Small Diverse Businesses building relationships with other suppliers, sometimes instead of with larger corporations.