Strategy 6: Partner with the big guys

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Large company execs tell what they look for in small business partners

"We like working with small businesses. They are very responsive, they tend to be able to hire very talented people, and they are motivated to do a good job. [Virtual Technology Corp., for example,] picked a couple of areas to specialize in that we have been less interested in doing." | Jim Cantor, corporate vice president, Science Applications International Corp., San Diego

"If a small business comes to us and gives us the typical presentation and lists 35 competencies and revenue of $5 million, they don't pass the 'So what?' test. If they approach us with their value proposition -- what they can do with a particular customer base and their experience doing it -- we will do a matrix of our capabilities and competencies and get a sense of how they fit into it." | Jim Goodridge, president of information technology, Perot Systems Government Services Inc., Plano, Texas

"I want to make sure they are financially stable and strong in their skill sets. They have something that separates them from the crowd -- agencies we are trying to work with; they have contacts that would help us." | Bill Polizos, director, small business program, AT&T Government Solutions, Vienna, Va.

MATCOM's Lou Ray: ""We are an integral part of the team -- it's a good achievement for a company of our size. We had to compete against much bigger companies."

Lou Ray, president and chief executive officer of MATCOM International Corp. in Alexandria, Va., said he's paying a lot more attention to partnering with large contractors than he used to.

"We are not small any more, so we no longer have any of the benefit of small or disadvantaged business programs, and we're not large," Ray said. "We have a struggle going after bundled work, so we have to find opportunities that we are of a size to meet, and in a lot of ways, we need to find ways to subcontract to bigger companies."

The systems integrator and developer specializes in large-scale IT and engineering projects for the federal government, but it's not as big as industry giants, such as Electronic Data Systems Corp. or Unisys. MATCOM employs more than 600 people and had $70 million in revenue in fiscal 2003.

In contrast, EDS employs 137,000 and had $21.5 billion in 2002 revenue. Unisys employs 37,000 and had $5.6 billion in 2002 revenue.

To get -- and stay -- on a prime contractor's team, "explain why you can take explicit pieces of the job and do them better than anyone else," Ray said. "Don't sell a generic capability: 'We can do anything in logistics.' "

Potential subcontractors should also do their share of the proposal work, he said.

"If you can write a proposal in a form they think is attractive to the customer, you have given them something they need to win," he said.

Subcontractors can also get on a team by bringing existing work with them, Ray said. After graduating from the SBA's 8(a) program, MATCOM transferred all of its 8(a) set-aside contracts to other vehicles. Ray used this strategy to bring a clients' job to the Defense Enterprise Integration Services contract.

"We went to Unisys and said, 'We'd like to join your team as a sub, and bring this work.' You can always get an audience with a prime if you bring work," Ray said.

Ray hopes his partnering strategy will pay off next with Northrop Grumman Corp. The Los Angeles defense contractor is bidding on a systems integration job for the Taiwanese government.

"We are an integral part of the team -- it's a good achievement for a company of our size. We had to compete against much bigger companies," he said.

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