Wednesday, August 7, 2013

10 Tips for the Diverse Supplier

By Joseph Ligammari
Corporate Vice President, Procurement
New York Life Insurance Company

For nearly twenty years as a procurement professional I have seen all manners of proposals and presentations from suppliers.  Some are slick, some are fancy with bells and whistles, some are simple and earnest.  Some hit the mark and capture the attention needed to become a supplier, while others fumble a prime opportunity.

 The Proposal and Supplier Presentations are prime opportunities for you to demonstrate your capabilities and value.  Many suppliers view them as nuisance instead of a useful tool in building a relationship.

As a diverse supplier you face many challenges, the proposal and supplier presentation needed be one of them.  I’ve put together a series of tips and suggestions that can help you focus your pitch to greater success!

Tip 1 – Be Patient.  New supplier adoption is not always an easy or quick process.  In many larger organizations it may take multiple submissions before you are awarded work.  Keep your ear to the ground and listen for opportunities.  Try to focus on smaller projects or pilot programs first.  The best way to demonstrate your value is by demonstrating your value.  A company is more likely to award a modest project to a new supplier.  So look for accomplishable scale in the projects you seek.

Tip 2 – Pay attention to the client’s needs.  If you are asked to submit a proposal, understand everything that will have a material impact on your submission.  If you are responding to a Request for Proposal, make sure your read and understand everything that is being requested.  If you have questions…ask!  Don’t make the mistake that any aspect is unnecessary or unimportant.  Respond to every question or request.  If you are unable to respond, make sure you explain the reason why.  Do not leave blank spaces or answered questions.

Tip 3 – Do your research.  Understand the company reviewing your submission.  Study their website.  Understand their mission statement, company values, recognize their vocabulary, these things will help you to focus on the key drivers for your proposal.  It is also important to understand the industry and industry drivers for your future customer. By better understanding your new clients industry you are in a better position to offer them viable opportunities and alternatives.

Tip 4 – Know your value proposition.  What is your elevator speech?  How can you explain what differentiates you from a half-dozen of your competitors.  If you can’t communicate why you should be awarded the contract in a simple and coherent manner, why should they hire you?

Tip 5 – When filling out a request for proposal remember less is more.  Don’t fill your answers with marketing copy.  Address each question with a clear and comprehensive answer.  Answer the question and only the question.  Remember they are reading anywhere from 3-10 other submissions as well as yours.  Brevity will be appreciated!

Tip 6 – Feature your current client list.  It is important for a prospective client to know about your other clients.  This will help your to demonstrate your competence in performing the task or supply the goods or services requested. When presenting your clients, don’t list a firm you did business with five years ago.  Keep your list to firms you have serviced within the past 18 months.  Anything more than that will be perceived as padding.

Tip 7 – Proof your proposal.  If you want to look professional make sure you have read and reread every word of your proposal or your presentation deck.  I have seen proposals where the supplier simply did a search and replace of a proposal they submitted to another company and missed one of the other company’s name references. This does not make a good impression!

Tip 8 – Follow the process.  This is especially important if you are dealing with the procurement department.  Most requests will be very specific about deadlines and communication protocols.  Make sure you understand the process and stay within its boundaries.  Unless there are extenuating circumstances, don’t ask for extensions.  If you are directed to communicate to specific people, do not call anyone else from that organization.  Many times a supplier will meet people at a conference or a networking event.  During a formal process resist the temptation of contacting them.  It will get back to procurement!  Remember procurement can be one of your best advocates so it’s best not to antagonize them.

Tip 9 – Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse!  When you are asked to come in and meet with the client’s team, know what you are expected to present.  Ask for an agenda.  Ask for the participant list with position titles.  Ask about time constraints.  Put together a small team of people from your organization to help with the presentation.  Know what each person will present and allow them to present it.  I have seen many presentations fail because the President or CEO of a company wouldn’t let anyone else speak.  Remember unless you are going to do all of the work yourself, let the participants get to know you and your team.

Tip 10 – Your diversity status is important but not the most important factor.  Share your diversity status briefly at the beginning or the end of your presentation.  While diversity is important to many companies, the people who are making decision are more interested in who can do the best work at the fairest price.  Sell your capabilities and talent, not your diversity status!

I hope these pointers are useful and that you have the opportunity to review your proposals and presentations through this prism.  I sincerely wish you the best in your quest for new business and pray that you do not make the mistakes I have seen countless other suppliers make in their submissions and presentations.  Good luck!

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