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5 Ways to Grow as a Diverse Supplier

Leading companies spend billions with diverse suppliers every year. Here’s how you can grow your business as a vendor to Fortune 500 customers.


Increasing supplier diversity is a major priority for modern businesses. Many of those at the forefront of this effort belong to the Billion Dollar Roundtable (BDR), a collection of corporations that spend at least $1 billion with vendors that are owned by underrepresented groups.

That level of spending presents a massive business opportunity for companies owned by minorities, women and veterans. For those vendors, becoming a supplier to a Fortune 500 company can help fuel growth and lead to even broader market exposure.

With big businesses eager to find diverse-owned vendors, companies that have already forged supplier relationships say the process of growing their network involves serious research and preparation, as well as a competitive drive.

The latest installment in JPMorgan Chase’s “Supplier Diversity: Uncovering Opportunities” series invited leaders from Walmart (a fellow BDR member) and family- and woman-owned Milo’s Tea Co. to share insights and best practices for growing as a diverse supplier. (You can view the program here.)

Here are the top five takeaways from a conversation that included:

 

1. Do Your Homework

Before you step into a meeting with a potential merchant, learn as much as you can about the company. A quality product may get you in the door, but it won’t automatically land you the contract.

“I applaud those who have desire and aspiration,” Byron said. “But I applaud you even more if you prepare and understand what you’re signing up for. You should be a student of your own business—and ours.”

Crucially, this research should extend to the merchant’s customers. Wallwork, knowing this, spent time digging into data on Walmart shoppers and how different products performed—and it paid off.

“Michael said to me so many times along the journey, ‘I appreciate that you used our own data to sell to us,’” she said. “We partnered with them early on to try to figure out what our customer—the retailer—needed and what the shopper wanted so that we could win together.”

 

2. Put Your Best Foot Forward

The key to unlocking further business opportunities is to position yourself for continued success. For Wallwork, that meant getting Milo’s Tea certified as a diverse-owned business and coming prepared with three- and 10-year plans for nationwide growth.

“We got invited to the party [when Walmart asked us to participate in a joint planning session],” Wallwork said. “But we recognized that no one is going to do business with us solely because we’re woman-owned. It was our responsibility to make sure we were [ready to compete].”

You can also lean on your existing vendor relationships to prime your company for the next step.

“Development is a big piece of what we do at JPMorgan Chase,” Kapfer said. “That includes building an ecosystem of support to bring diverse-owned suppliers from good to great, providing them with tools they need to be successful. That can include mentorship, one-on-one training, workshops, panel discussions, podcasts and webinars.”

 

3. Be Patient, But Be Primed

Don’t rush into making a consequential decision. Take the time to carefully assess the opportunity and what you as a business need to do to capitalize. Sometimes that means taking the long-term view and being patient—but also being ready to move quickly when appropriate.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Royall said of securing a deal. “It’s not like [flipping] a light switch where you get the business the next day.”

And don’t be discouraged if things don’t go precisely according to plan.

“No one’s journey is a straight line,” Wallwork said.

 

4. Ensure You’re Ready to Deliver

By the time your customer is nearing a decision, make sure you’re capable of delivering on your promises. If you sense a gap, be honest about it: Most merchants are more than happy to invest in diverse suppliers through resources, mentorship and capacity building. But they likely won’t be as thrilled if you come up short because you weren’t transparent.

“We expect a lot,” Byron said. “We move quickly, and we have to have people moving along with us. So don’t be shy. … Every question is a good question. You have to be able to [ask us] and be courageous enough to do that.”

Wallwork echoed Byron on the importance of transparency to the business relationship.

“I believe trust is built by being honest,” she said. “When people tell me they can’t achieve what I’m asking them to do, I have more faith and confidence in them.”

 

5. Work Your Connections for Opportunities

Corporate supplier diversity professionals are a close-knit group. If you already have one relationship with a Fortune 500 company, use that to your advantage when sourcing business opportunities.

“Stay proximate to the supplier diversity team you’re working with,” Kapfer said. “They can play a leading role in identifying additional opportunities. We are advocates; we want our diverse suppliers to succeed, and we’re constantly being cheerleaders.”

Don’t hesitate to leverage your relationships to this end. After all, as Byron said, advocacy is a core duty of corporate supplier diversity.

“Our approach is simple,” Byron said. “I call it ‘Triple A’: We Advise, Advocate and Advance for diverse-owned businesses as we encounter them.”

 

More Resources to Help Your Business

Looking for further insights and resources?

You can learn even more about the JPMorgan Chase Supplier Diversity Network, Global Supplier Diversity team and other firm resources at jpmorganchase.com/about/suppliers/supplier-diversity. Read about the firm’s commitment to advancing racial equity and supporting diverse-owned businesses at jpmorgan.com/commercial-banking/impact.

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