Market Connections

Aaron Heffron

Aaron J. Heffron, Market Connections President

FAIRFAX, Virginia, February 6, 2018— Market Connections, Inc. announced the promotion of Aaron J. Heffron to president of Market Connections, effective immediately. Lisa Dezzutti, who had held the title of president, will continue to serve as the company’s chief executive officer.

Heffron has more than 25 years of experience in the market research industry. After working for several years on the client side for various trade associations, he originally joined Market Connections over a decade ago serving as a research director, and later as vice president of research services. He continued to have successful engagements as senior vice president for public affairs research at Harris Interactive and executive director of government research at The NPD Group. Returning to Market Connections in 2017 as executive vice president, Heffron has led business development and marketing efforts and overseen expansion into new markets while working to develop new products and services to support clients’ business needs. He is a respected leader and partner in the organization and industry. In his new role, Aaron will be responsible for executing the vision and goals of Market Connections and oversee its day to day operations. He will continue to report directly to Lisa Dezzutti.

“In recognition of the many contributions Aaron has made to the company during his tenure here, I am pleased to announce his promotion to president,” stated Dezzutti. “Aaron and I have worked together over the last 15 years, and I look forward to continued collaboration with him as we pursue our strategy of selectively growing and further diversifying our product and service offerings and advancing our goal of delivering the highest quality, actionable research to our clients.”

Heffron added, “I’m proud and honored to lead Market Connections and continue to build on the remarkable efforts and vision that Lisa established over the past 20 years. This company is truly a first-class research organization that continues to provide market insights to the top companies both in the public and commercial sector. As a researcher and executive, I know the importance of being a partner that can deliver high quality service and market expertise. We will continue to guide our clients with solid research and strategic insights to help them make better decisions.”

About Market Connections, Inc.
Market Connections delivers actionable intelligence and insights that enable improved business performance and positioning for leading businesses, trade associations and the public sector. The custom market research firm is a sought-after authority on preferences, perceptions and trends among the public sector and the contractors who serve them, offering deep domain expertise in information technology and telecommunications; healthcare; and education. For more information, visit:

Dave Glantz, Director Research Services, Market Connections, Inc.

On Oct. 9, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) blog posted an infographic and blog entry that they say “fight[s] against the myth of Pentagon spending as a job creator.” The post asserts that, based on historic data, sequestration cuts to Pentagon spending will not cause widespread job losses. The historic data they cite show a 3% reduction in the contracting workforce among the top 5 defense contractors from 2006-2011, a period in which those same contractors saw a 10% increase in contract dollars.

I take issue with the logic of the infographic’s argument.

That last five-year period (2006-2011) saw defense spending that covered a great many contracts, a lot of them associated with two major wars, including the longest war in US history (Afghanistan). Going forward, the next five-year period is likely to see fewer (planned) wars (we hope) and thus fewer, less expensive contracts.

Also, it stands to reason that over that very active five-year period of defense spending, the defense contractors themselves were able to identify efficiencies along the way that allowed them to complete their contracts with fewer personnel – I would imagine this to be the case for the longer term and more mature contracts especially.  In other words, like other industries, the contractors were able to raise more productivity per worker over time, and thus were able to shed some workers as and when they saw fit.

But sequestration is supposed to hit contractors more suddenly, with immediate and indiscriminate program/budget cuts, with no advance notice of what exactly is to be cut or by how much. In many instances my guess is the contractor will not have the luxury of time to shed workers when and as they choose, and still remain profitable.  They may instead need to make that decision up-front, given the unpredictability of the environment and the conceivably reduced scope of any new programs that are approved or survive.

I don’t want to automatically take the side of the defense contractors, because even without sequestration they would have been aware (as we all are) that the winding down of two wars and a fiscally strapped federal government would lead to less business. Nor do I feel the Pentagon in particular is or should be seen as a Job Creator, because its budget (and consequent freedom to issue contracts) is authorized by Congress.

It is true that if the Pentagon suddenly reduces contracts by ten percent, then that action cannot help but be the impetus for job losses to the firms that supply the Pentagon with products and services. Indeed, the prospect of a big and sudden cut to budgets in ANY industry is likely to lead to equally immediate job losses. That’s very different from industry’s shedding jobs due to productivity gains over the course of many contracts from 2006-2011, an era of unprecedented defense spending.

At the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to label the Pentagon as a Job Destroyer. Like the contractors, the Pentagon is also looking for efficiencies over time, and it is only reasonable to expect (as the contractors do) that more can be built by fewer hands.  From that standpoint, it really isn’t in the interests of the Pentagon to encourage more hiring in the first place if fewer hands can do the work.

If anything, the label of Job Destroyer belongs to Congress for fashioning that 10% reduction as a massive, sudden and ill-conceived action that prevents the Pentagon itself from allocating funds as it sees fit to maximize the cost efficiencies of the programs it runs, and to cut programs it doesn’t need.

Laurie Morrow, Director of Research Services, Market Connections, Inc.

When doing research regarding perceptions and attitudes of key stakeholders, it is often very challenging to gain feedback that may be brutally honest or even negative.  The reality is that the most honest feedback from research is always the most valuable and provides organizations with the insights needed to enhance performance.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) recently undertook an aggressive research effort to gauge perceptions of its suppliers.  After Maurice C. Stewart, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), joined the VA a few years ago, he undertook the tremendous challenge of rebuilding the agency’s reputation with suppliers, many of which were unsatisfied with the VA.

Beginning three years ago, Stewart led an initiative called the Supplier Relationship Transformation (SRT) program.  In order to thwart discontent, VA officials began surveying vendors and traveling around the country to host industry forums.  The feedback the agency received was often hard to swallow, but they were able to begin developing targeted, multifaceted plans to make its processes with suppliers better.  This was no easy task.  Stewart recently told Federal Computer Week, “Initially, some folks were reluctant to read what was reported on the surveys.”  Essentially, the VA recognized there was a problem and took the bold step of facing it head on.

When doing research much like the VA undertook, we recommend starting with qualitative research (like in-depth interviews [IDIs] or focus groups) that allows organizations to flesh out the actual issues and hear directly from the stakeholders.  We then recommend following up with quantitative studies (online or phone surveys), in order to properly validate the issues at hand.  The VA did it right by implementing semi-annual supplier perception surveys, quarterly internal customer perception surveys and events including annual webinars and ongoing supplier outreach forums.

For instance, the VA was able to track measureable progress. Vendors were asked to use a five-point scale to rate VA’s performance in specific areas. When the first survey was conducted in October 2010, the agency scored 3.5 or higher in only two areas. In the second and third semi-annual follow-up surveys, companies gave VA a rating of 3.5 or higher in four areas.  Obtaining feedback from industry sources is greatly important.

When digging through the research it is imperative to listen to all points of view, negative or positive, and then prioritize which ones are the most important to act upon.  After identifying the major issues, we recommend assigning people who are accountable for addressing these challenges.  Then, it is important to effectively communicate with everyone involved.  This way, the entire team is on the same page and can act on the findings in a timely fashion.

By not trying to address all of the issues at once, or biting off more than you can chew, positive change will happen — creating better relationships with stakeholders as a result.

The effort should not stop after the initial evaluation.  It is best to do follow-on research after 12-18 months to ensure that the issues are being fully addressed.  Communicating and providing a follow-up survey with stakeholders gives organizations a chance to see what improvements are being made.  It also shows the stakeholders that someone is listening and action is being taken.  The initial effort is your benchmark and the subsequent research tracks and confirms that the plan for improvement is working.

When embarking on a widespread program evaluation such as the VA’s, you must conduct upfront communication with all internal team members prior to the measurement and evaluation stages.  For instance, providing clear instruction to your team that you are soliciting feedback from stakeholders and there is a high probability that negative feedback will occur will help make things more palatable. Provide a clear message that the objective is to collect information to facilitate improvements for the betterment of the agency.

The General Services Administration (GSA), which handles $50 billion in business volume annually, is also looking to improve vendor communication and relationships.  Steve Kempf, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FSA) stated that they are in the planning stages of launching a supplier relationship management initiative.

Taking a page from the VA, the agency recently surveyed 50,000 contractors to gain an understanding of how FAS is perceived as a business partner.  The results will lead to specific action plans to build positive relationships with vendors.  Additionally, the GSA has been reaching out to companies earlier in the contract development process to help in this initiative.  The GSA’s Interact website hosts a community for industry members who are interested in providing input about the agency.  This proactive approach is a great step toward building better relationships.

The VA and GSA should be commended for addressing performance by using research as the foundation for improving relations with suppliers.

On Thursday, May 17, Market Connections will present the first of a two-part webinar series for government program professionals on how to build a program evaluation roadmap to drive the change management process. For more details and to  register, click here.

Welcome to the inaugural Monday Morning News Kick Off post from the FedPulse blog. For anyone working in the government sector – whether as a contractor or as a federal employee – knowledge really is power.  And, the more we arm ourselves with the right information, the better we will perform professionally.   As such, each week, we will pull together all of the actionable news you need to kick start the workweek.  Happy Monday!

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