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How to Navigate Supplier Diversity at Microsoft

Aug 26, 2020 10:13:14 AM / by Chelsea Sassara

How To Navigate Supplier Diversity at Microsoft

 

Microsoft has been a global technology powerhouse for 45 years, creating and innovating some of the world’s most well-known products and services.

 

Besides always being on the brink of advancement and innovation within the tech space, Microsoft is also one of the most admired and ethical companies in the world, making it a desired company to partner with or be employed by. On top of that, Microsoft’s growing commitment to supplier diversity is another reason companies, like VMG Studios, actively pursue a partnership.

 

VMG Studios, a small creative marketing agency with a headquarters not far from Microsoft’s in the greater Seattle area, has been a preferred supplier for the tech giant since 2013. Since then, we’ve consistently delivered more than 150 projects for them, ranging from video to animation to design.

 

We’ve learned a lot in our time of working with Microsoft, and as a certified woman-owned company, we’re passionate about helping other diverse suppliers in learning how to create long-lasting relationships with enterprise-level corporations like we have with Microsoft.

 

We reached out to Fernando Hernandez, Microsoft’s Director of Supplier Diversity and Sustainability, to get a greater understanding of how diverse businesses can make connections within the tech giant.

 

In this article, we’re going to outline communication best practices for securing a meeting with Microsoft, including how you can stand out with your messaging and presentations.

 

Overview of Microsoft’s Supplier Diversity Program

Microsoft nicely outlines its supplier diversity program’s mission, goals, requirements, and process on its website.

 

Screenshot of Microsoft's Supplier Diversity website landing page

 

It even includes a nice quote from our friend, Fernando, which reads, “Microsoft serves diverse markets globally, and we are convinced that our supplier diversity initiatives are a key competitive advantage, helping us win new business, retain customers, and reinforce the Microsoft brand.”

 

Fernando says Microsoft’s spend with diverse suppliers including minority, disabled, veteran, LGBT, and women-owned companies is $4.4 billion in fiscal year 2020.

 

For prospective suppliers, there is a registration portal that categorizes your business into a database for Microsoft Procurement. Procurement can then access this database to match diverse suppliers with potential opportunities based on a company’s offerings.

 

Microsoft Supplier Diversity registration profile portal

It’s important to note, as outlined on Microsoft’s FAQ page, that completing a profile does not guarantee future business or partnerships. It simply serves as a bridge between diverse companies and Procurement.

 

This is where we come in, thanks to our in-depth interview with Fernando, to give you tips on how to break through the noise and make a lasting impact within the tech giant.

 

How to Secure a Meeting with Microsoft

As with just about any business relationship, securing that initial meeting can often be the biggest hurdle for a diverse supplier, particularly one who may not have much experience with enterprise-level corporations.

 

If you’re worried your introductory email will get lost in a sea of others, your fear wouldn’t be unwarranted. Fernando admits that he gets roughly 400 emails a day.

 

While it doesn’t hurt to still send an email, Fernando suggests taking another route: social media, particularly, LinkedIn.

 

Utilize LinkedIn to Connect with Microsoft

Fernando says only 40% of people use LinkedIn and he’s right! A study found that of the more than 260 million monthly active users on the platform, only 40% access it on a daily basis.
Fernando suggests connecting with him on LinkedIn and sending him messages through the platform to differentiate from the hundreds of emails he regularly receives.

 

VMG Studios agrees with this strategy. CEO and Founder, Kelly Sparks, says, “80% of VMG’s business comes from LinkedIn leads. I came up with an easy, repeatable process using social selling on LinkedIn, and was able to take my business from struggling to success in a year and doubled my business in 2017."

 

Fernando says he also uses LinkedIn to do his own research on prospective suppliers, meaning it’s important to have an up to date personal and company profile.

 

As LinkedIn experts ourselves, here are two of the core elements for creating a rock star profile.


Professional profile picture

Use a current, high-resolution photo that makes you look professional and accessible. No selfies! Also, it’s important to smile, look straight at the camera, and have a simple, clean background.

Headline

The headline is often the most overlooked part of a LinkedIn profile, but arguably, one of the most important. Your headline is your chance to grab a visitor’s attention (in 120 characters or less). Your headline should showcase your specialty or value proposition, speak directly to your target audience, and include important keywords.

 

LINKEDIN MAKEOVER GUIDE

Get ready for Kelly Sparks' upcoming webinar on navigating your WBENC certification, with the first step covering building your online personal brand

 

Use Video in Your Messaging to Microsoft 

Another strategy to push your email or LinkedIn message to the top of the pack is through video.

 

“Right now, there’s a small percentage of people who will send me a video about who they are and what their company is all about, and that really breaks through the clutter,” Fernando said.

 

He’s not the only one who feels this way about video.

 

A study found sales emails with videos had 8x higher open-to-reply rates and 65% of executives have visited a vendor’s website after watching a video.

 

Explainer videos are a great introduction to your company and can answer those frequently-asked questions upfront, allowing for more time to further connect in those quick introductory calls.

 

Here’s a look at VMG Studios’ explainer video:

 

VMG-Studios-Explainer-Video

 

In just three minutes, we were able to convey all of this information:

Who we are including when we were founded and where we are located

Our diversity certification

What we do (our services and expertise)

Who we work with (our client list)

Our awards and accolades

Portfolio pieces

 

Here’s a pro tip: we recommend producing an animated explainer video because they are more easily updated and have a longer shelf life than live-action videos.

 

Responsiveness is Key

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it’s a business practice that cannot be oversold. If you are able to cut through the noise, whether it’s through an introductory email or LinkedIn message, it’s important to keep on top of that correspondence.

 

Besides looking people up on LinkedIn, Fernando says he often asks people to send an overview of their company, such as an explainer video or capabilities presentation (which we’ll talk about next), ahead of their first meeting.

 

Fernando says this tactic has actually become somewhat of a qualification strategy as many people either drop off following that request or wait two weeks to reply, which he describes as “not a good look.”

 

He says the people who catch his attention most are those who reply to his inquiry within the same day. “This shows they’re for real. I know they have credibility.”

 

This is why it’s important to have a solid capabilities presentation ready to go at all times and to make sure you’re prepared for tailoring that presentation to Microsoft before reaching out.

 

How to Make Your Presentations Stand Out at Microsoft 

Even if you haven’t secured a meeting with Microsoft, Fernando provided tips for how to make your capabilities presentation stand out.

 

As mentioned, Fernando says he often asks for these kinds of materials before a first meeting so that he can do his own homework on your company (which also emphasizes the importance of having an up to date LinkedIn profile).

 

When it comes to your presentation messaging, Fernando offered these best practices:

Provide value

Do your research

Include third-party endorsements and/or client lists

Don’t lead with your certification

 

Let’s break these down a little bit more.

 

Provide Value

This seems to be a universal tip among supplier diversity managers – your capabilities presentation needs to outline how your product or services can support Microsoft and its mission.

 

What can your business bring to the table that your competitors don’t? How is your company innovating? What timely solutions can you offer?

 

This tip leads into the next…

 

Do Your Research

In order to see how your company can support Microsoft, it’s important to “do your homework,” as Fernando puts it.

 

Keep up with Microsoft on social media, pay attention to their product announcements, check out their news hub, listen to investor meetings – all of this is essential in determining how your business could align with Microsoft in a meaningful, mutually beneficial way.

 

Include Third-Party Endorsements/Client Lists

This comes down to strategic name-dropping. If possible, provide your client list and/or customer testimonials.

 

“This mitigates our risk if we see they’re doing business with similar companies. It means they can probably handle our scale or scope complexity. Third-party endorsements are always valuable,” says Fernando.

 

He added that including customer case studies is beneficial in showcasing your expertise.

 

A case study, particularly a testimonial video, encapsulates a positive customer experience. It describes how your product or service helped a client achieve their business goals, and even better, it’s coming directly from the consumer.

 

Don’t Lead With Your Diverse Certification

In our research and history of working with supplier diversity managers, we’ve learned this to be a huge faux pas.

 

If you’re communicating with a supplier diversity manager or director, they’ll likely assume you are certified, therefore, it isn’t something you need to highlight early on in a capabilities presentation, email, explainer video, etc.

 

Instead, it’s more valuable to include the aforementioned considerations: conduct research to identify how your business could provide additional value to Microsoft and include third-party endorsements such as case studies.

 

The Importance of Relationship-Building

An overarching theme for finding success, not only within Microsoft, but other enterprise-level corporations is through networking. This is something Fernando stressed as we talked through best practices for finding such partnerships.

 

Even if there isn’t an immediate project opportunity, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make connections or facilitate a relationship with a supplier diversity contact.

 

As Fernando says, “You need to build a relationship, and it needs to be long-term, because the larger the corporation, the longer the cycle typically takes,” meaning it can often take months, even years, for an initial meet-and-greet to turn into a paying contract.

 

Referrals can also help get your foot in the door at other companies or give your company more credibility, as Fernando previously mentioned when discussing third-party endorsements. Many people, like Fernando, belong to industry groups in which they exchange information with other similar types of companies. Our friend Tabatha Watson at Lowe’s talked in-depth about the networking that happens between supplier diversity managers.

 

Fernando said, “I might not have a deal for someone here at Microsoft, but my colleagues over at Apple or Intel or GM might need somebody, so they’re likely going to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, Fernando, I need this kind of company.’”

 

Fernando says this happens quite frequently and since the referral is coming from a trusted source, typically, other supplier diversity managers will take that referral seriously.

 

So, how do you begin building these relationships?

 

Well, we’ll bring it back around to the importance of utilizing LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the place to connect with other professionals, including people like Fernando.

 

Another recommendation from our very own LinkedIn expert, Kelly, is to join industry groups (in which you want to do business with) on the platform. Groups are a great way to network with similar professionals, share knowledge, educational resources, and make long-lasting connections.

 

Moving Forward With Microsoft

Microsoft is a dream company to partner with as they’re constantly at the forefront of innovation, sustainability, and impactful growth.

 

As one of the world’s leading companies, it may seem impossible for smaller companies to broker a relationship and become a preferred supplier. However, that’s not the case, as clearly demonstrated in their commitment to supplier diversity. Plus, you can take it from us, as a small company of merely 22 people who have now been working with Microsoft for seven years.

 

When trying to navigate Microsoft’s supplier diversity program, remember these helpful tips:

  • Utilize LinkedIn to send messages and make connections
  • Use video in your messaging and presentations
  • Commit to responsiveness
  • Provide value
  • Do your research
  • Include third-party endorsements
  • Build long-term relationships

From personal experience, we can safely say that Fernando is a great advocate for diverse companies and one you’d be lucky to have on your side.

 

If you need help capturing the attention of supplier diversity managers or directors, like Fernando, with an explainer video, case study video, capabilities presentation, or more, VMG Studios would love to help take your business to the next level.

Click here

Learn more about navigating supplier diversity at enterprise-level corporations here:

Tags: Women-owned business, Diverse supplier, diverse-owned business, supplier diversity, Microsoft, Microsoft Supplier Diversity

Chelsea Sassara

Written by Chelsea Sassara

Chelsea Sassara is a Content Manager at VMG Studios. Chelsea is an Emmy award-winning journalist with a background in local TV news. She loves to write, her dog & cat, the Pacific Northwest, and the Oregon Ducks.

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