For minority and women supplier diversity business entrepreneurs

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How do you define success? By the number of wins, or the number of losses? In a year when the economy challenges even the toughest of us to survive, break even, or perhaps grow, it's difficult to determine what to do next.

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A chance conversation between a member of our staff and a supplier diversity manager reveals that there are often missed opportunities that could smooth the road to success.

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So how do we define our current condition? Blame our shrinking revenue on the tough economy? Tally our wins? Measure our success by annual revenue, the number of contracts won, the number of employees hired, or the profit we either put in our pockets or reinvest in the company?

Let's look back to our early years in school: the teacher hands back the spelling test for which we thought we were well prepared. And there it is—the dreaded red check mark. And the first thing that we did was analyze the error. What did we get wrong?

But how many of us do that in our businesses? We are so focused on selling, improving, growing, networking, and earning, that we often forget to look back at the contracts we didn't win. In that chance conversation mentioned above, we learned that follow-through is critically important. It is just as important to analyze your weaknesses as it is to understand your strengths.

All too rarely do diverse suppliers go back to the buyer or the contracting officer to find out what went wrong. Was it price? Quality control? Experience? Capacity? In public sector contracts, the winning bids are announced and you have the opportunity to analyze and compare. In the private sector, you probably won't be told the exact dollar-per-unit amount of the winning bid—but then most decisions are not made just on price. What you can learn is how or why you didn't win. Knowing what you got wrong is a critical bit of information.

Sometimes it's as simple as communication. Is the contracting officer aware of your capabilities? Does the buyer understand that you have global capabilities? Have you explained the performance enhancements that, even though your price is 5 percent higher, make your product or service 20 percent better? Not everything that is patently obvious to us is readily apparent to everyone else. But not taking the time to analyze the losses can be a costly mistake.

Almost every major corporation and government entity has some sort of commitment to supplier diversity. And if they do, then there is someone whose job it is to make sure that that commitment is fulfilled. They daily perform a balancing act of enlightening their buyers as to the value of supplier diversity, identifying diverse suppliers who can do the job, and matching the two. But figuring out what went wrong is your job.

Don't underestimate the value of following up with buyers, even if you didn't win the business. Their guidance is just as important as the crack in the door that was opened for you in the first place. There's a set of questions that apply to almost everything, which you need to ask. Who? What? When? Where? Why? I'd like to add one more.

Why not?

The answer could lead to the next successful bid.

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MBE Resource Center

MBE's Business Opportunities resource covers business-related financing, consulting, and programs available for the Supplier Diversity community and M/WBEs. Updated monthly.

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MBE's M/WBE Resource Directory is a comprehensive list of resource organizations (including links) that support the Supplier Diversity community and M/WBEs.

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Refer to MBE's Acronyms & Terminology list for frequently used acronyms and terminology and an overview of the major organizations supporting the Supplier Diversity community.

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