Tips from the inside: "In 2009, we subcontracted $4.5 billion worth of goods and services to small businesses," says Gloria Pualani, director of socioeconomic business programs at the aerospace giant Northrop Grumman. "Because we're such a large company and we have so many commodity lines, we ask that our suppliers really target their outreach. If there is something specific that we are looking for, then we are going to see it almost instantly rather than having to read through a lot of extraneous information. If you have a specialty, let it be the prime thing you talk about when you list your capabilities. We appreciate all the other things you can do, but if there is one thing you know you can do better than anyone else, that should be highlighted immediately.

"Also, the advantage to us of working with a small business is the flexibility and agility they offer. Many times we have orders that require very quick turnaround. So it helps when it is the decision makers that we are talking to, and we don't have to go through three or four layers of people to get a decision made. We like to have access to the CEO or CFO of a company, the person who is actually making the decisions."

What not to do: "Don't be shy. Building relationships with suppliers is one of the things we want to do. And if you have a capability, highlight that capability. That's what we want to know about. We want to know what your innovation is, what your technology is. Let us know what you can do to make your product the very best. Let me know if it's priced accurately and if you can give me on-time delivery. The fact that you may reside in a certain congressional district is really not that important to us. Those are the kinds of things I need. I don't really need to know about your congressional district."

What Northrop Grumman is looking for: Machine components, homeland security services, IT services, accounting, military technology applications