Small and diverse companies drive local business economies by not only creating jobs but also stoking innovation and competitiveness. Unfortunately, gaining access to these business opportunities can be difficult for these firms. Supplier diversity programs, like the one at PNC, aim to ensure access to opportunities.
“Diverse businesses strengthen the communities we live and work in, so it’s important to us that we support them in every way we can,” says PNC Supplier Diversity Manager Hannah Fletcher. “PNC’s policy is to be intentional about supplier diversity when purchasing goods and services — to provide equitable opportunities for diverse suppliers, including small businesses, to compete for our business. In 2019, we spent $372 million with Tier 1 and Tier 2 diverse suppliers.”
Fletcher points out that working with diverse businesses offers mutual benefits. “Through internal metrics, we’ve seen how supplier diversity fosters business growth for PNC. In addition to believing that building these relationships is the right thing to, we see that it is a smart thing to do,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons PNC is intentional about supplier diversity. We can support these businesses that are so vital to our communities with the knowledge that it’s beneficial to all.”
What Companies Qualify as Diverse Suppliers?
While companies may differ in the criteria for businesses to qualify under their supplier diversity programs, PNC accepts companies that are at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by an individual or individuals who meet one or more of these classifications: minority, woman, LGBTQ+, disabled and/or veteran. And while these businesses may be small or large, all small businesses, as defined by the Small Business Administration (SBA), qualify as well.
Although PNC doesn’t require third-party certification of program participants, nor does it treat those who are certified preferentially, Fletcher strongly encourages WBE and MBE certification. “Certified minority- and women-owned companies gain access to certain events and networks that can help them strengthen their businesses,” she says.
Certification can open doors to other business opportunities as well, says Julie Levi, founder and president of Progressive Promotions, a promotional products marketing agency headquartered in Englewood, New Jersey. “When the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, WBENC, was formed in 1997, we got certified right away,” Levi shares. “While corporations don’t do business with us simply because we’re certified — we have to prove how good we are at meeting their objectives and adding value to their bottom line — certification can often be the foot in the door that connects you with decision-makers.”
A Supplier Diversity Success Story
PNC began working with Progressive Promotions in 2019 as a result of its supplier diversity program.
“I was looking for a gift bankers could give their customers and prospects as part of our annual Women in Business Week,” says Beth Marcello, director of Women’s Business Development at PNC. “The Supplier Diversity and Sourcing team connected us with several women-owned businesses who developed proposals for achieving our goals. Progressive Promotions impressed us with the creativity and relevance of the items they recommended. Their ability to deliver within a relatively tight time frame weighed into our decision to work with them as well.”
Levi and her team were delighted with the opportunity. “We had been in touch with PNC for several years, seeing them at conferences and other events, and keeping in touch on a regular basis,” she says. “The key with PNC or any other large company is ongoing communication, because you don’t know when an opportunity may come up that fits your area of expertise. When it does, you want your company to be top of mind.”
Pam Abramowitz, executive vice president at Progressive Promotions, adds that working with PNC was a fully collaborative effort. “I give Erin Ward [PNC Strategic Sourcing Specialist] and her team a lot of credit for the success of this program, because they were very good at giving us guidance. They were clear on objectives, price range and timing; gave us examples of products they had chosen in the past; explained why they had liked those selections; and detailed what they wanted to achieve with this project.”
From PNC’s perspective, the project, which centered around a PNC-branded electronic notebook, went off flawlessly. “Progressive Promotions exceeded our expectations all around,” says Marcello. “While we recognize that this wasn’t a huge project for them from a financial standpoint, we appreciate that Julie and Pam saw it as a beginning to a longer-term relationship.” Indeed, when a new opportunity to work with the company arose several months later, PNC didn’t hesitate.
How to Register for PNC’s Supplier Diversity Program
PNC encourages minority-owned, women-owned and small businesses interested in potentially doing business with PNC to register for the PNC Supplier Diversity program.
“In addition to being included in the database we use to identify suppliers who can provide the goods and services PNC needs, participants can benefit from the information we share about conferences, webinars, and other events and educational opportunities through our portal,” says Fletcher. “And once we get to know a company, we may connect them with opportunities outside of PNC as well. The supplier diversity realm is unique in that we proactively network with our competitors. If they need a supplier and we know of a top performer in that area, we make the recommendation.”
You can learn more about PNC’s Supplier Diversity program at pnc.com/supplierdiversity or register your business at pnc.starssmp.com. Once you’ve registered, be sure to reach out to introduce your company to the supplier diversity team: firstname.lastname@example.org. “The better we get to know you and your company, the easier it will be for us to identify appropriate opportunities for you,” says Fletcher.
Tips for Working Within Supplier Diversity Programs
Working within a company’s supplier diversity program may seem to add an extra layer of effort, but it’s actually an extra layer of support, says Pam Abramowitz, executive vice president at Progressive Promotions. She explains: “When someone’s role is to advocate for women- and minority-owned businesses, that person acts as our champion. If we’re competing with another supplier on a big project, the supplier diversity representative may chime in and say, ‘We should give Progressive Promotions this opportunity, not only because they’re an excellent supplier but also because we really support supplier diversity.’”
For many diverse companies, having that champion is reason enough to participate in supplier diversity programs. Hannah Fletcher, manager of supplier diversity at PNC, and Julie Levi, founder and president of Progressive Promotions, share tips for making the most of your participation:
· Carefully select your target market. “Don’t try to be everything to everyone,” says Levi. “Focus on prospects that are either geographically desirable or part of an industry you can serve extraordinarily well due to your expertise.”
· Research each company on your target list. “It’s vitally important to come to the table understanding where you may fit in with a prospective client organization. Be prepared to effectively communicate how you can help them achieve specific goals,” says Fletcher. Know how they work, what products they sell and who their customers are, Levi adds.
· Be clear and concise about your capabilities. Highlighting your areas of expertise and experience will help the supplier diversity representative(s) connect you with appropriate opportunities and internal stakeholders, Fletcher advises.
· Manage your expectations. No matter how carefully you target your prospect list, it may happen that your product or service is not an ideal fit. Be open to indirect opportunities. Look at every contact you make as a potential referral.
· Be patient, persistent and passionate. Levi and Fletcher both emphasize the importance of patience: Building relationships takes time. Levi says that persistence pays off, too, but only when you know how to draw the fine line between persistence and pestering. As for passion? “When you are passionate about what you do, it comes across to people. Everyone wants to work with others who know their business and are passionate about what they do,” Levi says. “Carry that passion with you always, and never make the mistake of assuming that just because you’re a minority- or women-owned company, you’re going to get the business. Go in there and earn it!”