On Friday, March 27th, we had the pleasure of joining forces with industry leader Comcast NBCUniversal for an event about supplier diversity. "The Opportunities, Pursuit, and Winning Bid" brought together senior corporate officers and women business owners for a half day event at Comcast’s global headquarters in Philadelphia. The goal was to share and strategize on how to best prepare women business enterprises (WBEs) to win corporate contract opportunities.

This event featured two great panels and some special remarks by Comcast executives. Maria Arias, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion for Comcast Corporation kicked us off, welcoming everyone to the Comcast Center for this special programming. The first panel, "Strategies & Best Practices for Doing Business with the Fortune 500," was moderated by Martha Soehren, the Chief Talent Development Officer and Senior Vice President at Comcast. This session featured senior procurement officers from Comcast, ARRIS, and Accenture for a discussion of supplier diversity programming and business opportunities. Panelists included: Kim Armor, CFO of Comcast Ventures; Bruce McClelland, President of Network & Cloud and Global Services at ARRIS Group, Inc; Annette Rippert, Managing Director of Accenture Federal Services; and John Schanz, Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer for Comcast Cable. John coined the quote of the day for me: "Leadership is about information and instinct. If you wait until you have all of the facts, then that’s management." He reminded us that successful supplier/diversity relationships are, in the early stages, about taking risks, and taking those risks are an inherent part of leadership. This is a principle that was evident in Comcast’s convening of this group of entrepreneurs and discovering new relationships.

The second most memorable quote came from Kim Armor, who concluded her commentary with direct advice to the entrepreneurs to "land and expand." She spoke directly to the strategy of starting with small targeted assignments with a corporate supplier to gain an understanding of the client’s needs — and then leveraging the information to gain greater penetration and market share with the client.

This expert panel spoke about the business case for diversity, and the commitment that their respective organizations have to diversity at all levels of business. They spoke highly and recounted many of the successes they have already seen. It was also confirmed that the trend towards personalization has increased the desire for diverse vendors. The rest of the conversation was lively and included other tips and best practices for WBEs to build their presence in the corporate value chain.

We were happy to hear their comments and learn about the diversity commitments of these corporations – NWBC has long advocated for increased supplier diversity for this very reason; diversity holds the potential for better ideas and new perspectives to add to the market place.

David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation, spent time with the group and echoed the charge for the day: "make a connection." He reiterated the theme of the day – diversity is both good business and good for business. He briefly shared some of Comcast’s success stories, citing that 45% of the vendors contracted for the construction of the Comcast Center were minority-owned or women-owned.

The second panel called, "Success Stories & Lessons Learned – from WBEs to WBEs," was moderated by Pam Prince-Eason, President & CEO of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and Member of the National Women’s Business Council. This session was a tell-all and best practices sharing session. Panelists included: Kimberly A. Blackwell, CEO & Managing Partner PMM Agency and Member of the National Women’s Business Council; Nina Vaca, CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources; Jennifer Collins, President of The Event Planning Group, LLC; and Peggy Delfabbro, Owner of M. Davis & Sons, Inc.

These successful women business leaders shared a lot of experiential wisdom with the audience from how to build relationships to how to ready your firm for a big contract. Kimberly Blackwell shared how she deployed the "land and expand" strategy using small opportunities to get her foot in the door and using success after success to penetrate the corporate relationship over the years such that PMM Agency is now the Agency of Record for that company. Jennifer Collins, CEO of The Event Planners, shared that she used her initial events to meet and greet with people and then to share her vision for strategic use of events management to create brand visibility and growth. Nina Vaca shared how she built her business and how she overcame adversity to propel the business’ growth.

Some important takeaways:

  • Key relationships are the way to start the conversation, and flawless execution is the way to build the business.

  • Stay ahead of the customer curve, anticipate their needs, and refine your product offering.

  • Agility is a key competitive advantage, especially if you are a small business.

  • Prepare yourself for growth and consider what your strategy will be — who will you hire, what will the finances look like? Remember to think about what needs to be in place to take on some of the bigger contracts.

There is an opportunity to exponentially expand your business, by forging and building relationships with large corporations. It’s important to focus on companies that are willing to lead and take risks with smaller suppliers. Make sure that you are prepared to succeed with the financial resources, the agility, and the right team. When you get into the supply chain, you can and will grow if you deliver. Getting the right exposure is as simple as participating in industry conferences and showing up when invited by the big companies to get to know them.

Companies who are leaders in their industry are looking for the big ideas that small companies can bring and they will invite you to the table. Like Comcast did.