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BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AT THE NSA

Monday, January 04, 2010
Dan Callahan

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I like a varied approach to penetrating these complex agencies.  Unfortunately, they do not exist to make life easy for sales folks, but I have found if we know how to work with them, there is more to be gained then by complaining. 

What makes the NSA unique among the sixteen IC agencies?  Their mission is all things cyber, including both ends of the equation: offense as well as defense.  This means encryption (creating as well as breaking), monitoring our nation’s nets and knowing how to defend against cyber attacks (big push of late!) and signals intelligence—both wireline and wireless.  I can’t go into much more detail here, but they key is to know, just as with any business development activity, who is the exact person, first by role, then by name, that you wish to speak with?  You should be able to answer the first question on your own, and the second question is where the fun begins.

Overwhelmingly, the NSA is the best of the sixteen at formally welcoming small businesses and getting them introduced to the agency.  They host an annual conference named the NSA Small Business Acquisition Conference (NSAC) and they also host monthly half-day meetings where you can sign up and meet their small business advocate and receive an introduction to the agency’s mission and how they prefer to conduct business.  If you have not browsed www.nsa.gov lately, you need to.  This is far and away, the best run out-reach program in the federal government, let alone the IC (and you can tell ’em I said so!).  These activities are a no brainer for you if you have not checked these boxes.  (Tip: don’t be passive at these events – go with a specific list of questions; take lots of business cards (duh… but you’d be surprised how many folks don’t bring enough!), make it your goal to meet three impact players.)

The second tier approach into this agency is the standard high impact networking at local chapter meetings such as AFCEA Central Maryland Chapter.   Yes, this is not a small group (the lunches can be overwhelming in size … meaning it’s just you and 450 of your favorite competitors all trying for the same thing!)… however, if you enter this with a “glass half-full” mentality and a open mind, you can make some good connections.  Many of us are guilty of not knowing what we want before we walk into these venues.  Ask yourself, “who do I want to meet?  A prime, a sub, an agency official, and what is his title?”  This will help guide your networking so it’s intentional and not passive.  And remember, the best way to neutralize an enemy (i.e., competitor) is to make him your friend (i.e., partner).  Credit Abe Lincoln for that one…

Also, they host conferences and participate in other public events if you’re simply looking for them.  This particular agency is taking a high profile in cyber security for our nation. 

The third tier entry into the NSA is good follow up and press hard to find prime contractors and specific agency personnel (usually executives) from which you can simply ask for meeting.  This takes persistence, tact, patience and open minded thinking.  For example, I greeted an NSA executive at an industry association meeting (other than AFCEA) being hosted at a prime contractor location… and I told him the latest and greatest from my client company.  He gave me a name of a person to talk with but not the phone number or the guy’s e-mail address.  It took me weeks to get to the targeted individual, even while dropping the executive’s name in my e-mails.  (UNCLASS e-mail is not a priority at the Agency!).  Looking back, I should have used several ways to get to this guy; for example, I have learned the value of partnering with existing services companies (who already have contracts there) and want to be associated with innovation and new technology.  If yours is a product company, you need to find a symbiotic relationships such as this. If yours is a services company, find a product company (already installed in the Agency) to which you can add value.  Make a commitment and work with them.

Also track the executives of the Agency as they enter the public domain and speak at various events.  Call the public affairs office if Google™ and your regular research are not giving you the answers you need.  And as with the other agencies, assume the top 25 primes are already there, performing work; and then network your way to the right program managers.  Be ready with your specific NSA value proposition for the government personnel and the prime contractor.  There are also retired NSA folks who are freelance consultants.

Overall, this approach takes a lot of focus and attention but in the course of one year, you can get a lot accomplished.   Remember, there is no magic wand to get this done and your competitor is already doing it, so don’t wait! 

Comments:  What have I left out?  Do you have an example of this approach working?  Or failing…?  Post a comment!

Comments

Thanks for the positive post Dan!

Don't forget that ARC Registration is the first step to attending NSA Outreach events ( http://www.nsaarc.net ). It also gets you a free marketing presence in the Agency's market research database.

Ross Andrews
ARC Program Manager

By ARC

Hello Dan,

This article covers all the points and shows that the effort must be dedicated.

This is not a short term process and requires time resources as well as some expense.

But the payoff is worth it. Consider the Essex Corp. experience - a failing company with new management was sold to Northrop for $540 million. And the country's security benefited from their value add.

By Jon Stout