Engaging Veteran-Owned Businesses: Leading Practices for Corporate Supplier Diversity

by Elissa Gibbs

Veteran employment continues to be an issue at the forefront of many companies’ veteran strategy, with 60% of veterans going to work for small or medium enterprises. That said, helping veteran-owned small businesses succeed in the marketplace is increasingly relevant to the American economy. According to a comprehensive SBA study, there are more than 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses (VOBs), that’s 9% of all US businesses, with total annual revenues of more than $1 trillion.[1]  These businesses operate in both business to consumer and business to business models. Business to consumer markets are typically easier to navigate as it is much easier to get to know your customer. Business to business markets are much more difficult to navigate. This is where business to business coalitions come into play.

The Coalition for Veteran Owned Business (CVOB), out of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, was founded by First Data and other corporate partners to assist VOBs in becoming procurement ready by sharing corporate leading practices, and through programming and resources.

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Ultimately, the CVOB goals are to:

  • Increase Opportunities and Information – Increase access to opportunities and information for veteran and military spouse businesses within corporate supply chains
  • Create Networking Opportunities – Create networking opportunities for veteran and military spouse businesses and large companies.
  • Create Awareness of Resources – Create awareness of existing resources and connect small business owners with education, lending, and networking for entrepreneurs through formalized communications and marketing.

To create these standardized processes, the CVOB conducted a survey of CVOB partner companies to determine their leading practices as related to veteran-owned businesses. It is relevant to note that, on average, CVOB partners allocate $238 million to veteran and military spouse owned businesses. We have outlined some of the leading practices and first steps below.

Supplier Diversity Leading Practices for Veteran-Owned Businesses (VOBs)

The first step in making sure your company is not only ready to hire veteran but also buy veteran, is creating a tailored approach with buy-in from the top of the company. A few starting points are listed below.

Opportunities for Corporations

  1. Establish a supplier diversity policy specific to veterans to ensure that it becomes part of company culture. When executive leadership is committed to and enforces a supplier diversity initiative, the program is more likely to be a success.[2] Executive leadership has the ability and authority to enforce supplier diversity programs when the team isn’t fully on board. They can also help open doors to opportunities that include programming and internal initiatives.
  2. Partner with professional groups. Certifying groups like the National Veteran Owned Business Association (NaVOBA) and the National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC) as well as CVOB are leading the charge to get qualified VOBs into your supply chains. Learn best practices and share opportunities with these organizations.
  3. Participate in educational and matchmaking events. Raise awareness of your commitment to VOBs and make the connections to your company. Holding regular open call events allows past, current, and potential suppliers to meet the company as well as other suppliers. This provides a significant venue to network with other suppliers, learn how those other suppliers have been successful or failed, and meet key purchasing individuals from the company. Creating websites, documents, or other training materials keeps suppliers engaged and informed on changing policies and initiatives.
  4. Buy local. When looking to do corporate gifts, catering, or more, look for local VOBs and other small businesses who may not be ready for the large pro-card spend targets.
  5. Establish mentorship programs for potential suppliers. Mentor-protégé programs help both sides of supplier diversity. The buyer trains their suppliers, giving the supplier an idea of how the buying company operates, makes decisions, selects suppliers, etc. The supplier makes connections with various stakeholders and learns the ins-and-outs of what’s necessary to do business with that company.[3] These types of programs/trainings improve a VOBs ability to compete with other suppliers.
  6. Create an ecosystem that encourages networking, education, and growth opportunities for suppliers.
  7. Implement company-wide payment terms to the benefit of the VOB. By creating special payment terms (ex. 15 days to pay), companies help the smaller VOBs – this allows them to pay their employees and other bills in a timely manner, enabling their growth and development. Instituting pro-card spend targets helps employees to look to new opportunities for purchasing.
  8. Form military/veterans affinity groups within the company. Creating these groups helps to better inform and engage employees across departments. When employees have a personal or emotional connection to a group, they are more likely to support programs or practices that involve that population.

Opportunities for Veteran-Owned Businesses

  1. Seek out supplier events such as open calls, networking opportunities, and matchmaking events
  2. Get certified via organizations such as NaVOBA, NVDBC, and the VA
  3. Join the Coalition for Veteran-Owned Business (CVOB) to learn about upcoming events and learning opportunities
  4. Take advantage of educational and training materials offered by large companies (ex. Walmart’s How to Become a Supplier website)
  5. Do your research on the companies you would like to sell to – understand what types of products/services they buy and ensure that you meet their specific needs
  6. Take advantage of organizations like the IVMF and BunkerLabs and the free training they provide to VOBs

[1] “Veteran-Owned Businesses and Their Owners: Data from the US Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners,” Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/advocacy/435-veteran-owned-businesses-report.pdf.

[2] Green, M.V., ed, “Best Practices No. 1 Establish Corporate Policy and Top Corporate Management Support,” in Billion Dollar Roundtable, Inc. Supplier Diversity Best Practices (Dallas, TX: MBN Custom Publications, 2012), 6.

[3] Green, M.V., ed, “Best Practices No. 3 Establish Comprehensive Internal and External Communications,” in Billion Dollar Roundtable, Inc. Supplier Diversity Best Practices (Dallas, TX: MBN Custom Publications, 2012), 37.

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