Skip to main content

The Failure Opportunity

 You can’t have success without having known failure. If you haven’t failed at anything, how can you really know when you have achieved success?

 I am very well-versed in business practices and protocol. I am privileged to have been exposed to material that was good whether you were just starting your business or had been in business for a long time. It grounded me in the basics of what I really need to do for sustained, continued success: be prepared; set up meetings beforehand; target a few companies on which I’ve done my homework, read their press releases, studied their current priorities, and for whom I believe I can make a difference right now based on what I understand their priorities to be. Additionally, seek to understand rather than be understood. It really is more about them sharing their needs with me; my recapping that I understood; and then asking them for an opportunity to share with them how I think I can support and help them.

 Even though knowledgeable and experienced in these business protocols and practices, I have still had some epic fails. One of my most memorable failures occurred at a trade show. It was in November 2017 at the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s annual conference and business expo. One of the companies with whom I was supposed to meet did not have a booth on the main floor. They actually had a booth at a satellite location, which I did not know. So, after unsuccessfully searching for them, I prepared for a meeting with another company with whom I had an appointment. Just as I was getting ready to go into that meeting, my phone rang. I knew who the call was from because I had left a voice mail with the representative of the company whose booth I could not find, so I answered it. Mistake number one – never take a phone call when you are at a prospective client’s booth. It is the highest form of disrespect.

 The look in the eyes of the lady who was taking me to meet her boss told me that I had just screwed up. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and her impression of me was now cemented. I tried to clean it up later in the day, but she was having no part of it.  On top of that I was wearing a backpack which weighed at least 35 pounds. It was so heavy that I actually got short of breath walking around. I stopped at a booth which I thought was General Motors and was talking to someone - telling him that I had sent a message to his CEO as part of my outreach, talking about corporations supporting diversity and inclusion and extending that to the supply base. However, the guy said I was at the wrong booth – this was the Fiat-Chrysler booth. So, I then tried to smooth it over and transition to his company, but he was having none of it. Mistake number 2.

 By the end of the day, I was just walking up and down the aisles trying to see whether there were people that I knew, or some opportunities that might appear, but it was obvious that this had actually been a wasted day – that the day really and truly was a complete failure. Not because no one took me seriously – not because I didn’t have anything that I could bring to the table. It was more that I just did not come prepared. It really and truly was just that simple. I was not prepared for that event.

 Shortly thereafter, something really significant occurred to me. I realized that my target customers were not the large corporations I had been courting, but small-to-medium-sized business owners who are looking to land corporate contracts. Corporations are the primary beneficiaries of what I do because once I work with you – my target customers – and get you to the point where you are bringing massive innovation at a value that corporations cannot walk away from, they will get the improvement in their cost structure and in their business model that companies like yours can bring them. So, while they are beneficiaries, corporations are not my target customers.

 At some point down the road, I will probably want to reengage them concerning sponsorships and other kinds of things, but right now I want to maintain the independence of my target customers. The only thing that corporations can really offer for us at this time is some general information confirming their needs in the marketplace and confirming that there is a gap between their needs and the percentage of those opportunities offered to diverse suppliers. So far, we have that confirmation and have had it for some time, and it is unchanged. The gap exists primarily because there is a skills and knowledge gap within the diverse supplier community. Now there is a greater demand for corporations to make real opportunities available, and that is continually being worked.

 Here is the huge failure. The biggest failure was not that I mistook one company for another company and went to the wrong booth. The failure was not the mistake I made by just walking up and down the aisles aimlessly looking to see whether or not I could create opportunity. The failure was my mistake of being unclear on my target customer.

 Once I realized that my target customer is companies like yours – small-to-medium businesses trying to get into the door of large corporations and break the supplier glass ceiling – my focus became clear. If you had attended that trade fair, you would have been looking for opportunities to sell product and get a new customer. You would have been open to potentially looking for some competitive differentiation through strategic alliance, or looking at partners, or looking at an opportunity to improve some skills, but that wouldn’t have been your primary reason for being there. So, if I had found you at the event and started having this conversation with you, it would have required a huge mind shift for you from “I’m here to look for an opportunity for my company with a large corporation” to “I know your company helps me with partnering, but once I understand what the opportunities are here, then I will start thinking about what a strategic alliance partner can do for me”.

 With that in mind, I realized that I had picked the wrong conference, and I had gone about being there in the wrong way. That really and truly was my failure. You will see me at these conferences now, but more than likely I’ll have a booth and people will be able to come up and get a good sense of what I do, how I do it, and why we are positioned there. It is highly unlikely that you will see me walking the trade floor.

 What I want you to take away from this is when you are picking trade shows and trade fairs, make sure that they are the ones that are for your industry and that the companies there are the ones you want to see. Ask yourself, “am I better off going to an association conference versus a large generic conference? Will I be better-served attending a chamber of commerce conference versus a manufacturing conference or an industry-specific conference?” Additionally, “how precise do I need to be when determining if the companies participating in the broader conferences are the ones I want to approach”?

 My failure to effectively recognize that my target customer really and truly was not at the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s trade show - was my failure opportunity that started me to thinking through a more precise way to approach companies like yours, and also pinpoint what I needed to bring to events when I was talking to you. So, yes, I have failed, and it brought about huge growth that’s really and truly made all the difference for my business.

 I have a fantastic mission to be a part of helping you get that corporate contracting opportunity that makes the difference in your businesses. I am disseminating information that people need, and I believe that once you have great information you will have the business wherewithal to do what needs to be done to get things across the finish line.

 And when you run into an issue, I’ll be there to help you.


Popular posts from this blog

Getting Business in Person

Today, we're going to discuss the secret to getting business at conferences, expos, meet-and-greets, any place where you are at forums where you get a chance to interact with representatives from corporations for some of the largest companies.           How many of you can identify with going to these events, walking up and down the hallways in these big convention centers, being excited about being able to get your product out there and let folks know about your wares? And you end up leaving and reflecting back on the day and saying, "Well, I got the website from 20 other companies, and I can fill out the supplier database, put my information in their supplier database, and when there's an opportunity, they'll reach out to me because I made such a connection with them."           Or they took your business card and said, "We'll have somebody follow up with you." Or you got the business card of everybody at the booth saying, "Hey, I just

The #1 Rule to Landing a Corporate Contract

My entire professional career was based around designing, negotiating, implementing and managing strategic alliances. I did this from all three sides of the table:  as buyer, seller and minority business owner.   I started my career doing research for Shell Oil Company and eventually moved up to supply chain management work. Here I negotiated strategic alliances with some of the largest suppliers in the world.  You see, in the world of corporate, strategic alliances are tightly integrated relationships where resources are invested by both companies . The partnership allows for both businesses to prosper - clearly, a key component of the revenue driver, cost drivers or profitability.      In 2004, I decided to leave my corporate career and start my own company. I decided I was going to approach a friend of mine, who happened to be a supplier diversity manager, about doing a contract with her company (mind you, t his company is and was one of the top five largest oil and

Diversity vs minority owned; what's the difference?

A question that comes up frequently is, “What's the difference between diversity versus minority owned business?”    In the United States, minorities are African-American or Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Indian-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans. In other countries, such as South Africa, it means something slightly different. In Australia, New Zealand, it means something different. In Canada, it means something different.  In general, minorities, as a group, are country-specific and are considered to be underserved when compared to the majority.   Originally women were lumped in with this group, which confused many people. They were eventually classified as a specific group so people understood women were a minority group. To avoid confusion, we identified women as Women Business Enterprises to distinguish this group from Minority Business Enterprises. You've probably heard of acronyms such as MBE/WBE or M/WBE to indicate these two distinct groups. As