More than 3500 WBENC-Certified WBEs, Corporate Members and Government Members, and Regional Partner Organizations will converge in Orlando for the three-day National Conference & Business Fair (NCBF). The event is a great way to meet new friends and network with potential clients, but it also the place to elevate your year-round networking with the robust WBENC network.
In the second installment of our three-part themed NCBF “Let’s Chat” series, we sat down with members of the 2016 Host Committee to discuss topics on every attendee’s mind—including how to best network with attendees on site, how to develop lasting relationships, and the benefits of making connections for other attendees.
In a conversation moderated by Laura Berry, Founder and CEO, of Cogberry Creative, LLC, the conversation with Courtney Davis-Herbert, CEO, Barts Office; Susie Galyardt, Founder & CEO, XIOSS, Inc.; and Charlotte Baker, CEO, Digital Hands tackled the nuances and importance of engaging with and leveraging the WBENC network.
Here is an excerpt of that conversation:
The annual NCBF is three days long, but how can attendees make the most of the WBENC network year-round?
I think the most important way I stay connected year round is by attending all of my local RPO (WBEC South) events that are offered. You'll never know where your next job comes from or your next connection comes from. If you close yourself off to other WBEs because you're just looking for those relationships with only Corporate Members, you could be closing yourself off to an opportunity. Even if the WBE can't give you work, you've made connections with them and hopefully they'll pass your information on to someone who can give you work.
I spend my life on the road and so attending local events is very difficult for me. For somebody that's a national company or even a global company, I think the alternative strategy is to realize you are part of a very big and vibrant organization.
We've reached out to the different regions and RPOs. It’s an ecosystem. It’s not always about what’s in your own backyard. Reaching out to other RPOs has really helped us; we've had to pinpoint different companies that we want to not only potentially partner with, but also companies we just want to know more about.
In addition, most of our hires, when we can make it work, are WBENC Certified. Again, they don’t have to come from our own back yard. I have more of an overall national approach to it rather than a regional approach.
As part of our RPO (GWBC), we have a Women-2-Women (W2W) mentoring meeting the third Wednesday of each month. When WBEs are certified, we ask them to attend this meeting where we answer the question, “I’m certified, Now what?” We thoroughly discuss the whole dynamics of the WBENC organization and share with them how they can best leverage their certifications through national participation, various regional partners, their local regional partner organization, and by partnering with other WBEs to go after large RFPs and to use as an internal supplier.
In particular WBEs should not miss the two national events, the Summit & Salute and NCBF. Locally, attend every RPO event that your schedule allows and don’t forget to attend other RPO events! You can look them up on the WBENC website or contact the
RPO in the area where you have business or want to do business for event and engagement activities.
Start by first getting to know your local regional partner and then leverage that relationship into the other regional partners. It’s an awesome way to utilize and leverage the WBENC network.
If you’ve leveraged the network at the local or regional level, when is that moment when you know that it's time to make the leap from the local to the national WBENC involvement?
I think the time commitment to being involved at the national WBENC level is no different than the time commitment to your local RPO. There are two approaches: One, you go to every single thing you can with a regional event and the other one is you're more selective with your time and you manage the entire spectrum of the United States and different regions.
Instead of letting opportunities arrive to you, being involved at the national level, in my opinion, let’s you seek out what you're looking for. I often reach out to ask RPOs to help me. You have to do a giveback, of course. You can't just be using them as your workforce. I think that you can go deep on a regional basis or you can go very specific on a national basis. You can do things like financially support your local and there's nothing more exciting for your local RPO than seeing a nationally successful WBE in their own backyard get involved at the national level with WBENC
I don't currently provide services on a national level, but I know that people do business with people that they know they like and they trust. You develop that sort of relationship over time—and the WBENC network has a lot of overlap. By getting involved on the national level, you're reaching out to your local supplier diversity reps as well as the national supplier diversity reps. The more they see your face, the more you're fostering that relationship.
Years and years ago, a Chevron representative on a panel at a local event said: “It's like dating.” You're not going to walk in the first time you meet a person and ask them to marry you. Your opportunity to get to that marriage comes from whether they see your face, see you're involved, and that you support this organization. If you are involved at different levels, it is more likely you're going to be able to get that critical conversation with them in the future and to hopefully gain their business.
Even though I'm not going to try to work in every single Shell building across the nation, I want to work in One Shell Square in New Orleans, and we got that contract because of my constant attendance at local and national events and Shell representatives seeing me over and over. Finally, after four years of “dating,” we got the contract for One Shell Square in New Orleans.
Becoming a Women’s Business Enterprise Forum representative is a good way to start national involvement. It just gives you one more chance throughout the year to make those connections.
Looking at it from a broad picture, I always say national is for everybody right away and I say that because you should go to the Summit & Salute and NCBF. I attended Summit & Salute in 2009 as my first national event and I met Exxon-Mobil, and within 18 months I had a contract with them.
You need to be there nationally. Supplier diversity representatives need to keep seeing your face. You need to keep showing up. I love the dating analogy. I’d also call it a “slow dance.” It used to take about 18 months to be on-boarded as a vendor for a Fortune 500 company. Now it's from two to six years. This past year XIOSS was on-boarded by Wells Fargo, but it took since 2012, so you can see it's a slow dance, but one worth dancing.
Even if you were just a WBE wanting to do business with other WBEs, that’s a huge target market all at one conference. It’s also very important for all WBEs to understand if they want to do work with the Fortune 500, they need to look at their own internal supply chain as well. Several of my Fortune 500 clients require me to report annually or quarterly on my supply chain, noting diversity or lack of diversity within it. They, in turn, may capture the Tier II diverse spend dollars and accurately track their overall impact.
You’ve all mentioned referrals and making connections for other WBEs. How can attendees reach that level of networking?
Networking is hard. It's uncomfortable. The only way that you get better at it is to practice and practice coming out of your comfort zone. The more connections that you foster throughout the year, the more comfortable that you're going to be navigating that room at NCBF.
If you're active year round, when you show up, you're going to see familiar faces. Once you’ve made connections with some WBEs or other supplier diversity reps throughout the year, even if you're not looking to do business with them personally, they can help you make connections to the people in the room who you really want to meet.
I've actually had supplier diversity reps come and talk to me because they think they know me. The reason why they think that they know me is because my face is familiar to them because of all of the engagements that I've attended over the years. I'm familiar to them even though we've never had a conversation before.
I also like to build relationships before I want or need a relationship. Once we're friends, then I'm in a position to offer my services to them and the ask is a lot easier because the friendship was fostered in advance of the ask. Spending that time developing those friendships throughout the year and then being able to turn that into something in the future is kind of sneaky, but at the same time it's effective.
I'm going to piggyback on the idea of keeping in touch with diversity officers. They all know each other. They're a small-knit community and one of the things that I've found is while I might not be right for, let's say, American Airlines, but they will gladly introduce me to another diversity officer at United Airlines.
We've really found that you can be talking to somebody and they will say, "You know who you really need to talk to? Go over to that booth and talk to this person." That happens every year at NCBF.
I think you've got to view it as the fact you are not only somebody who comes to the table to network year round. You can also just say, "Hey, everybody's a human being here and we can actually do a favor for someone." Perhaps they're looking at WBEs and if you can refer somebody that's in the video business to put together a marketing video collateral or you can refer somebody that's in the recruiting business, they're appreciative because they know the close knit WBE community. If you're referring somebody, you're really putting your stamp of approval on them that these are quality individuals.
I think women, in general, have a hard time keeping that touch point year round when there's not an apparent reason to be doing outreach for business reasons. But I think if we can put on the hat that you can be the helper, that you can be the one that's facilitating business development, it makes you feel better. It makes you more valuable. And when those reps do think of something that's up your alley, they're going to give you a call.
I enjoy developing relationships with supplier diversity reps, even if they're not even in my state. There's no way for me currently to do business with them but it's so joyful for me to take someone else that really wants to meet that supplier diversity rep because they really want to do business with them.
I actually recently did this with Toyota with another WBE. We were just talking at Summit & Salute and she's telling me how she's really wanting to do business with Toyota and she just can't really get in front of them. I said, "Hold on one second. Come take a walk with me." We walked into the hotel bar and I walked her right up to the Toyota rep and was like, "Matt, if you're not busy right now, this is Sharon Reynolds and I would really like to introduce her to you. She has a great product that I know Toyota would be interested in."
A gigantic yes to all of this. But also let me just back it up a little bit. Learning and listening to what other people do is so important. I've been nicknamed, the "ConnectHER," because I'm always connecting WBEs to WBEs and corporates. But if I don’t know who you are and what you do, how can I possibly make the connection and introduction? What's so funny is all three of us are sitting here and we are so generous with our contacts and connections once we know what you do.
With that being said, WBEs need to practice their pitch! At GWBC, we start our Women-2-Women meeting by asking our WBEs to state their name, company name, and what it does in five words or less!
We start with the pitch, but the WBENC network is about listening. Don't be selfish, You should be learning what everybody else is doing so you can make those introductions, too! It's a two-way street. It’s pretty apparent when people are in it for themselves. A genuine, authentic, wanting-to-help-others attitude is essential to leveraging this awesome network.