pürEpiphany: Helping diverse businesses succeed with corporate partners
By BEQ Pride Staff
Recently Robin Dillard, publisher of BEQ Pride and Founder of the Business Equality Network, sat down with Regina Cameron, CEO of Diversified Suppliers Inc., a California based accounts receivable and debt recovery company, to discuss the success of their recent pürEpiphany consulting engagement.
The women initially met at the NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference in Palm Springs, CA in 2016, and were reacquainted at the same conference in 2017. In early February 2018, Cameron contacted Dillard for her expert advice after having had two unsuccessful meetings with the supplier diversity team at a Fortune 50 company. Specifically, Cameron wanted insight from Dillard about “what do these people want or need” and “since you speak their language what advice do you have?” Cameron had been granted a third time at bat to pitch Diversified Suppliers and knew she needed help to hit it out of the park.
Operating under an NDA, the two women began the process of discovery and problem identification. A careful review of Diversified Suppliers’ business model, marketing collateral, capability statement and the pitch deck in question revealed a significant disconnect far beyond the simple aesthetics of the presentation. Although Cameron’s company clearly possessed the requisite capabilities, demonstrated experience, innovation and talent necessary to compete for opportunities with Fortune-ranked companies, there were telltale signs of misunderstandings and miscommunications that would ultimately lead to missed opportunity.
Many small, diverse businesses continue to experience menacing systemic disadvantages, structural difficulties, barriers to entry and bias that keep the masses locked out of access to opportunity. “It’s not enough to be invited to the party,” says Dillard. “Someone has to ask you to dance or at least teach you how to dance. There are many supplier diversity programs and different models for success as well as many certifying agencies with award-winning programming, but for many small and diverse businesses, the bridge to success is narrow and, in many places, weak,” Dillard goes on to say, “This is not meant to be critical of the supplier diversity wing of the diversity industrial complex, but instead it is a call to action for all interested parties to do more.”
In this excerpt from Dillard’s recent debrief meeting with Cameron, we see how pürEpiphany successfully helped her do more:
Robin Dillard: Tell us a little bit about your business.
Regina Cameron: I am CEO and Founder of Diversified Suppliers, Inc. We’re a full service nationally licensed accounts receivable management and debt collection firm. This includes business processing outsourcing with a specialty in first party, third-party billing and collections and strategic revenue recovery for Fortune-ranked companies. We are a certified LGBT business enterprise through NGLCC and a minority business enterprise through NMSDC.
Dillard: Now the next question is to understand what value you see in getting certified first as a minority and then as LGBT and then we’ll go from there.
Cameron: That’s an interesting question because I think I came at it through the back door. I didn’t know anything about supplier diversity and I decided to do business with the utility companies. I remembered I had a long-time friend that worked with Southern California Gas, so I called her up and asked about the process. She, in turn, put me in touch with the supplier diversity unit. I had no idea what supplier diversity was or what they did. The supplier diversity contact introduced me to the program and explained the process. At the time I contacted them they actually had an opportunity for debt collection. They encouraged me to get certified, so initially, I didn’t really understand the value of certification except that it was part of the process. Understanding its value came over time.
Dillard: Did you experience any challenges as a new business, finding out about certification and getting into the game? How were you able to get engaged besides calling your friend at Southern California Gas?
Cameron: Engagement is not always easy, and it’s not always cost effective because you have to show up at these events. Most people won’t do business with you if they don’t know you. So part of the challenge was getting to know people, being face-to-face with these individuals more than once, more than twice, so they become familiar with who you are and your capabilities. In addition to the help from Southern California Gas, Southern California Edison’s supplier diversity team invited me to the NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference in 2016. This was sort of my “aha” moment and the beginning of my understanding of the value of these relationships. I could see how all of the supplier diversity managers and executives have relationships with one another and how they communicate with one another. It is a vast network. Once I realized that establishing a relationship with one company made it easier to establish relationships with others I knew what I had to do — start building great relationships.
But there were still a number of challenges outside of the relationship building. In the sector that we live in — financials and debt collection — opportunities aren’t always available, and many supplier diversity folks are less familiar with this part of their business. Timing is critical, and I find myself having to educate them on who we are and what we do and how to go about helping me to engage the right person in the supply chain. It’s important for me to connect with as many companies as possible as these types of opportunities are infrequent and cyclical, so my messaging and pitch must be clean and clear and allow for potential clients to see me, my values and my business capability.
Dillard: So you’ve been networking, following up and attending events and you get an opportunity to present to a major corporation, then what happened? What was your experience and what did you learn from it?
Cameron: That was an exciting time. I decided to partner with a much bigger majority firm and go after an opportunity with a major corporation. My partner is a $20 million company that specializes in health and medical collections services. They were looking to transition into different verticals and they were a long-time mentor for my business.
The timing was right. I allowed my partner to drive the pitch because they were more senior and experienced. Unfortunately, their pitch didn’t sell. It was a strikeout for the first two tries I have to say. Fortunately, supplier diversity executives are also there to help you understand how to do business with them, and if they believe in you, they’re going to work with you to help you. So we struck out the first few times and based on the comments from the supplier diversity executives I went back to the drawing table.
Dillard: As you know, presenting to supplier diversity folks is different than talking to the end-user of the products and services you are looking to provide. This is a very important screening process and your pitch and all your messaging has to meet their needs so they will decide to go-to-bat for you within their company. It’s their name and reputation on the line. You’re actually going there to find an advocate and they have to be able to promote you. It’s nuanced and you must impress them. Tell us a little bit about why you think you guys struck out.
Cameron: It was due to a defective presentation that did not clearly articulate our capabilities. I mean, looking back at it, it was MS PowerPoint 101. It was not appealing. It didn’t convey our values, our capabilities weren’t clear or compelling and we hadn’t established our track record in the deck. We were on the wrong road, the wrong track for what the supplier diversity team was looking for. It was a great conversation nonetheless. The supplier diversity representative took time to break down each slide and I took copious notes. We didn’t get defensive about it. Even though it hurts when you’re giving a presentation and it’s like, “no, no, no, no… I don’t want to see this… We know this already”, to hear that kind of verbiage in your presentation, you feel like, oh no, the door is closed. They’re not going to give us another chance. But she was doing that to break us down then build us back up. This was Reality 101.
Dillard: What caused you to reach outside of your organization to pürEpiphany for help with your messaging and your marketing collateral and being able to communicate your value and capabilities to this unique part of a major corporation?
Cameron: We engaged three different individuals that specialize in marketing collateral and preparing presentations. However, the conversations I had with them did not convince me that they understood what it was I was trying to accomplish. They had no idea what supplier diversity was at all and that was frightening within itself. I paused for a bit. I started scratching my head and I got on my knees, ‘God, please guide me through this. I don’t want to miss this opportunity. This is huge. I need to talk to…’ And a light bulb went on. Robin Dillard. Oh yeah. She knows supplier diversity. If anything, she may have a referral for me. That’s what I was thinking. I didn’t think we would end up working together in the way that we had.
Dillard: What was the need? How did you realize you needed help and what kind of help?
Cameron: Number one, I knew that I couldn’t do it and my team was not up to the task because we had already struck out twice. I didn’t want to strike out a third time, that’s not in my DNA. I couldn’t live with that. I knew I needed a different skill set and level. I needed someone from the outside who understood, how to put together a creative, corporate presentation and someone who could quickly grasp and better articulate the message that we were trying to convey. But what I got was even beyond that! Working with you and the Business Equality Network helped me to go deeper and to articulate even more profoundly our business strategy and relevance. You know, we came out of it with more than just the presentation. We came out of it with an action plan. As a result of our relationship and putting together the new presentation, we were able to clearly define our value to the market with our new strategic revenue recovery model developed through our pürEpiphany engagement.
These companies realize it is easier to keep an existing customer than to find a new one and that includes customers who are in overdue accounts receivable status. If the individual fell on hard times, we can get the money and get them back on track. By revising our presentation we were able to clearly articulate how Diversified Suppliers’ strategic revenue recovery model maintains a positive and compliant relationship, with respect for the individual. While understanding that yes, sometimes people fall on hard times, we work with the customer and quickly get them on track. It’s about clear communication, based on building and managing a positive relationship where we can, we’re here to bring them back into the loop and, increasing the odds for a future revenue stream with a satisfied customer. Now we can walk into a presentation and showcase what we offer in a meaningful, results-driven pitch that we didn’t have before.
Dillard: It was basically a consulting engagement where we took a look at the materials, including your capabilities statement and your business model among other information. When approaching opportunities through the supplier diversity programs of a corporate client there are things you must understand about how best to communicate with them. These are strategic relationships that are intended to ultimately enlist advocates for your business, being included or considered in procurement opportunities or at the very least access to growth opportunities and education. The pürEpiphany comes out of your ability to understand, embrace, own, make and evolve the value of your diversity.
As a woman, a minority and part of the LGBT community, you represent a valuable perspective and voice that is woefully underrepresented in the corporate supply chain. Some may think it taboo to allow some of your personal values and ideas to be apparent in your collateral, but people want to know who you are and what you stand for and of course, can you get the work done. One of the most interesting things about working with you was being able to clearly understand who you are and the fact that you’re out and you’re visible in the community, your self-loving and you’re bringing your best game to the table. That’s of big value to corporate America and pürEpiphany is all about illuminating that value. As I see it, it’s all about making inclusion easier. If they can see you, understand your value, match your offerings to their need, then it becomes easier to realize the benefit of diversity and inclusion.
The supplier diversity programs or the programming provided by the certifying agencies aren’t just a magic pill for a few lucky members, but sometimes figuring out how to get in the lucky line takes a little help.
Each BEQ Pride magazine is filled with articles about the journeys of diverse business owners and their advocates.
Small, diverse businesses seeking opportunities with Fortune-ranked companies often find it challenging to articulate a clear, concise and compelling reason for why there should be a business relationship in the first place — and are further frustrated by their inability to convince the supplier diversity team to take them seriously.
BEQ, through the pürEpiphany service, has a network of seasoned market development strategists ready to work with you to identify your authentic voice and develop the materials that get your company noticed by potential corporate partners. For more information about pürEpiphany, contact Robin Dillard at firstname.lastname@example.org.