Here's where things get tough, however. In the short term, you're going to have to work hard, because corporations are turning inward right now to sort out their own operations while the economy is in a funk. In other words, it's difficult to get attention when people are worried about how to slash a department's budget or about getting laid off. They may also be picking up the slack as colleagues depart. "Everybody has to answer to shareholders, so a lot of people have been focusing internally and ignoring outside activities," says Jack Lowden, vice president for equity groups at the Association for Corporate Growth.
Once you manage to establish contact, you'll still face the intense job of managing the relationship. These days, large firms have multiple partnerships. What is a bet-the-farm project for you might be a once-a-week consideration for your partner. "You have to go in with your eyes open," says Larraine Segil, author of Intelligent Business Alliances (Times Books). "You'll have to do all the work."
One area where you'll have to put in some extra effort is your computer systems. Spinelli notes that the Web continues to be critical in corporate decision-making. "They're looking for a fully enabled Web value chain," he says. "So the more nimble companies are asking where they can make changes to add value."
Providing the goods and services isn't enough. Systems have to be adapted to your partner's information needs. Your father's business probably never had to worry about adopting electronic data interchange or learning XML. Yours very well may.