By Susan Avery
We’ve long been supporters of procurement professionals, particularly at manufacturing companies, increasing spending with diversity suppliers. We find especially interesting stories of procurement teams that at the same time help to develop capabilities of innovative small businesses owned by members of minority groups, women or veterans. We’ve reported on these successes while at Purchasing magazine and more recently at My Purchasing Center and would love to do more so more often. Readers: We welcome your input on this one!
So, when the team at ThomasNet.com, a regular contributor to My Purchasing Center, asked if we’d be interested in seeing a demonstration of its Supplier Diversity Application, we agreed to a meeting to learn more about this valuable buying tool.
ThomasNet.com is a product sourcing and supplier discovery platform with more than 700,000 suppliers searchable through 67,000 product and service categories. Its Supplier Diversity Application provides one free, central source to discover more than 35,000 women-owned, minority, disadvantaged and small businesses. Buyers can access multimedia company profiles, including ownership certificates, create targeted shortlists, and initiate engagement with suppliers by sending RFIs directly through the platform.
Donna Cicale, Director, Marketing and Audience Development at ThomasNet.com, demonstrated the app in an easy online meeting. She began by reminding us of recent growth--and renewed interest--by procurement teams at manufacturers in growing spending with diverse suppliers.
A CAPS Research publication, By the Numbers (August 2015), shows the change in diverse suppliers as a percentage of total active suppliers between 2012 and 2014 as reported by participating companies. For women-owned businesses, for instance, the figure increased to 6.8% from 3.9%. The CAPS Research also shows 41% of companies report an increase in the number of diversity suppliers. What’s more, employees assigned to diversity programs also rose 28%.
“Diversity spend is growing,” Cicale tells My Purchasing Center. “More and more companies are embarking on initiatives these days, more so than when we launched the platform three years ago.” Initially offered as part of a beta test to users, the application became widely available when ThomasNet.com relaunched its platform in 2014.
As readers may know, the ThomasNet.com team attends many manufacturing and procurement events. (For instance, the company’s Kristen Carty demonstrated the Supplier Diversity Application at the ISM Supplier Diversity conference in February.) “We hear from many people at these events that finding diversity suppliers is difficult,” Cicale says. “What makes it harder is that they have to consult multiple sources.”
As she sees it, the Supplier Diversity Application helps alleviate some of these arduous tasks for buyers. “The bottom line of what this application does is search the ThomasNet database for only those suppliers that are minority businesses, women-owned businesses and small disadvantaged businesses,” she says. “What differentiates us is that the suppliers provide direct (rather than indirect) materials and services to manufacturing companies.”
On the ThomasNet.com site, buyers may access the app by selecting the Diversity & Quality tab at the top of the screen. Cicale says that ThomasNet.com decided to group diversity and quality under one tab because buyers searching for these suppliers often are looking for certification that indicates the supplier meets quality standards and/or diversity requirements. Selecting a category of products, in our demo we used bushings, brings up a page that lists 20 categories of ownership.
Choosing an ownership category or categories brings the buyer to a supplier results page. “At the heart of the page are suppliers each with a synopsis written by our editorial team,” Cicale says. “This makes it easy for someone at first glance to decide if it’s a company they want to do business with.” At any point in the process, she adds that buyers may add other qualifications such as company type (manufacturer, distributor, etc.). “It could be that in addition to being woman-owned, the supplier also has to be ISO 9002 certified,” she adds. Another qualifier that may be valuable for buyers: location.
On the page are icons that describe ThomasNet.com’s sources for the information. Buyers may view thumbnails of available certifications and also download them if necessary. “Our engineers have fielded information on the certificates, making it easy for buyers to view,” Cicale points out in the demo.
The Supplier Diversity Application contains other information that helps buyers with the authenticity of ownership, such as third-party verification. It also lets buyers know if the supplier is actively promoting diversity ownership on its website, providing a link directly to the information on the site.
What’s more, on every page of the app is Request for Quote functionality which Cicale says, “is a good way to open engagement with the supplier.”
She explains: “The buyer sends off the RFI. Supplier A does not know Suppliers B and C are receiving the same request. To that end, you’re streamlining the process. You can go out to 20 at the same time, asking, ‘Can you meet my volume, price and delivery?’ We believe this part of the platform really brings the value forth, by not providing just supplier content but also what you can do with it once you access it.”
With a list of suppliers, the buyer can access a profile page for each company which provides a data box or quick snapshot of the business demographics. “What’s great about the diversity application is you get the power of the ThomasNet platform, all the features, content and functionality,” Cicale says.
Also on the page is company information provided by two sources--the ThomasNet.com editorial team and the supplier itself. Giving suppliers an opportunity “to sell themselves” is important, Cicale says, because oftentimes a buyer may have an unmet need and not realize a current supplier has the capability to meet it.
ThomasNet.com’s Kristen Carty provides free onsite instruction or webinars for corporate, nonprofit and government sourcing and engineering teams. For more information, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also see the My Purchasing Center article, Chrysler Purchasing Changes Supplier Diversity Landscape.
Susan Avery is Editor-in-Chief at My Purchasing Center. She writes articles, blogs and white papers and manages and creates other content for the online procurement and supply management publication. She produces and moderates roundtable discussions, podcasts, webcasts and video interviews. Susan has 30 years experience covering procurement and supply management for Purchasing magazine and Purchasing.com.
George E. Krauter
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