Today we’re excited to continue our series of blog post interviews as part of the National Small Business Week festivities. In celebration of small businesses, we spoke with experts on the supply chain to gain professional insight on how small businesses can best make use of supplier programs.

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We start our interviews here with Katy Brownley, manager of IBM’s Supplier Connection Initiative, and her inside perspective on supplier programs:

Can you tell us about Supplier Connection and some ways it helps Business Owners? Supplier Connection provides a single point of entry for small businesses looking to network with potential buyers. The consortium contains 19 large corporations all committed to using Supplier Connection to identify new small businesses for their supply chains.  In addition to gaining potential new business, Supplier Connection provides small businesses the ability to network with each other and access training and development tools.

How can a Business best prepare to apply to a Supplier Program?  Going through the comprehensive application process will give small businesses a good sense of what is required to become a supplier to a large corporation. A small business can then understand what areas they excel in and what areas may need further development.

At what point in a businesses life cycle should they consider applying to a Supplier Program? At any point.  Our members procured over $10B from US small businesses last year alone, across hundreds of commodities. Some members are looking for established small businesses while some are looking for start-ups at the forefront of innovation.  Your business may not be a fit for each member, but I wouldn’t limit yourself to creating a profile only at a certain point in your business’s lifecycle.

What are common reasons a business may get rejected by a Supplier Program? Corporate supply chains procure billions in goods and services, but not all small businesses can be a supplier to all members.  Each member runs their own sourcing process, but the basics remain the same.  Your small business must be competitive on price and quality. You must provide the data requested in a timely manner.

Can you share some reasons or types of businesses that excel with Supplier Connection? Small businesses that fully immerse themselves in what Supplier Connection has to offer gain the most.  You could fill out the minimum required fields and walk away from the site, or you could provide the non-required fields that really differentiate your firm.  For instance, within your profile, you can upload a video, presentation, brochure, and logo. While not required, these features will set your company apart and bring to it life in the virtual environment.  Also, getting involved with our LinkedIn Community and other social channels (Facebook, Twitter) will only increase the likelihood of connecting with a member. One small business posted to the Supplier Connection Facebook page and a buyer who had an active bid for that commodity happened to see the post. When the buyer checked out that small business’s profile, they were able to see a sales brochure. Shortly thereafter, that small business was invited to bid and won a contract.

Check out some of our earlier blog posts in the supply chain series and keep checking back for more throughout the next two weeks!