Sandia LabNews

‘Small business is HUGE’ . . . When companies call Sandia, they get a person


Ann Riley’s (10222) is the first voice many business people hear when they reach out to Sandia as potential suppliers. “If they say Ms. Riley, I say, ‘Call me Ann.’ We become friends,” Ann says. “They are absolutely blown away that Sandia provides such a service. They can’t believe a company this size has a real person to talk to.” (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Danny Ruiz was surprised when he called Sandia for business information and heard a live voice. “You don’t normally get that with federal agencies,” he says. “It was awesome to have someone to talk to and figure out how to work together and do business with Sandia.”

The person who picked up the phone was Ann Riley (10222), a member of the Small Business Utilization team and Sandia’s Business Point of Contact (BPOC). The BPOC fields all calls from people who want to become Sandia suppliers. “It’s about providing great customer service,” Ann says. “Most of the callers are small companies, and we’re here to help them.”

Ruiz, of Mazda Computing in the Sandia Science and Technology Park, ultimately won a Sandia contract. He credits in part the personal service he received. “It works very well,” he says. “And it doesn’t end with the contract. Ann still calls every now and then to see how we’re doing. The process is great.”

The BPOC was launched five years ago to help people who wanted to do business with the Labs but didn’t know how. “People would try to find somebody, anybody, they could talk to,” Ann says. “We didn’t want to create a system where an automated voice said, ‘Press one, press two, press three.’ Everyone knows how frustrating that is.”

The BPOC is designed to connect businesses to a person who can answer questions and solve problems in a single phone call. “Before the BPOC people became very frustrated,” says Don Devoti, manager of Small Business Utilization Dept. 10222. People complained about how difficult it was to do business with Sandia. “Now callers get to the right person every time.”

The BPOC phone number (800-765-1678) and email address (supplier@sandia.gov) are on Sandia’s external website. In addition to the dialog with the BPOC, each person who calls receives a letter with detailed instructions on what to do next as an interested supplier. Ann also walks them through the Business Opportunities website, which lists Sandia contracting opportunities.

If the caller is associated with a small business with serious potential to be a Sandia supplier, he or she is referred to a Sandia small business advocate, who follows up. “Small business is huge at Sandia,” says Ann, a former small-business owner. The Labs spend about $500 million a year with small companies, more than half of them in New Mexico.

An honest assessment

Krista Smith, senior manager of Policy, Assurance, and Outreach Dept. 10220, says, “Our goal is to give suppliers an honest assessment of whether or not their products or services match Sandia’s needs. We also want to let them know the rigor involved in working with Sandia, like our stringent safety and quality requirements. We know that it is expensive for suppliers to pursue new business, so we aim to make their first inquiry as informative and efficient as possible.”

If there does not appear to be an opportunity for a supplier at Sandia, the BPOC may refer the company to contracting agencies such as Kirtland Air Force Base, local governments, or other federal labs.

In fiscal year 2014 Sandia’s BPOC responded to 2,161 calls and 3,892 emails from all over the world. Ann sets the tone by making the caller feel comfortable. “If they say Ms. Riley, I say, ‘Call me Ann.’ We become friends,” she says. “They are absolutely blown away that Sandia provides such a service. They can’t believe a company this size has a real person to talk to. I get that over and over again.

“This is about helping our supplier community, especially our small businesses, figure out this huge entity called Sandia National Laboratories and alleviating the fear. We want them to start out on the right foot because we know that with nearly half of our annual dollars spent in procurements, we could not be successful without our suppliers.”

Ann says it’s important that internal Sandia organizations also refer calls from outside businesses to Supply Chain and the BPOC. “We don’t want companies to start shopping for business within Sandia using an ad-hoc approach,” she says. “They will get frustrated and we don’t want to give the impression that’s how the system works. We strive to offer a consistent message and avenue to our prospective suppliers.”

Theresa Carson, manager of Information Systems and Science, Technology, and Research Procurement Dept. 10244, says the BPOC is an important service to Sandia suppliers. “Having the opportunity to speak to someone who can answer questions about how to do business with Sandia and provide guidance is a valuable benefit,” she says.

Feedback indicates that having the BPOC role enhances Sandia’s image in the business community. “It adds to our credibility, and is another piece of the puzzle to achieving mission success,” Ann says. “And that’s what it’s all about.”