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.