Tips from the inside: "Changing vendors can be very expensive, so we're always looking for long-term partners," says Ying McGuire, senior manager of global supplier diversity at the computer maker Dell. "When companies first come to present to us, they may be starting off very small, but if they have a long-term global strategy and vision, that typically attracts our attention. We want all of our suppliers to have global capabilities. If a small business comes in and demonstrates that it has thought about marrying Dell's global sourcing strategies with its own plan to realize the greater growth, that's very attractive. We know that small suppliers have limited resources and may not understand the different regulations and culture. But we always tell people that if they want to compete, they need to support customers regardless of geographic location.

"We worked with a small business based in San Diego that opened its first overseas market in China as a Dell IT services partner. The company specializes in data centers, infrastructure, and networking. Today, it is training workers in China and expanding its business in an emerging market. And Dell was able to use a U.S. small business to help our customers in China. It was a win for everybody."

What not to do: "Most small businesses are willing to learn from us. However, when people don't want to change, when they want to stick to their own practices and philosophies, that's kind of a warning sign for us."

What Dell is looking for: IT services, staffing services, office equipment and supplies, facilities maintenance