Who could blame you if, never having been in the military, you were intimidated by the defense intelligence community? The most descriptive term that characterizes the organization (broadly speaking) is 'labyrinthine'. The original use of this term comes from Greek mythology and was applied to a maze intended to befuddle the Minotaur; the original labyrinth was so cunningly devised that even its creator, named Daedalus, almost didn't escape. Although our goal is not to get out... but to get in, the term does seem to fit.
One of the first and most obvious admonitions in selling to the Military or MI organizations is "do your homework". More is online than you can possibly digest, so begin with what I call deep searches, pinpointing your prospective targets. Secondly, don't worry about making a mistake in your selling. It may take a while to learn the rank insignias and organizational units, but when in doubt, go with the flow and say "Yessir" a lot. (General guidance: if the person to whom you are speaking is older, you can always say "sir" or "Ma’am" and this will be fine, whether they're in uniform or a civilian. For enlisted personnel, you can use their rank as an appropriate title. If in doubt, ask, "what is the best way to address you?"). Other note: many in the military still use "Mr." a lot. This may be strange if your background is from Wall Street or the education market. There is a long explanation for this, but the key is that if you hear someone being address as such, you can mimic it unless you're advised, "call me Bob" This may have to do with the fact that they are a warrant officer (or former officer) and this is the proper way to address him, or as a senior civilian (e.g., Senior Intelligence Service), they should also be addressed this way.
When you secure an actual visit onto the military base, don't make any inane comments about security or weapons (e.g., "do those airplanes really shoot missiles, Major?" or, "What does a Rear Admiral actually do?") Remember the aphorism, "Better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." This applies. As you sell to the military you will pick- up the nomenclature and you can always look things up after your visit. For instance, there is obvious stuff like this: when the Army uses the term 'garrison' they mean a physical base, where a commander (i.e., a Colonel or a flag officer (i.e., a general)) establishes his base of operations and the command staff works. When the Navy uses the term quarterdeck, this is the ship term, often applied to the location on the Naval Base where visitors are received. Think of it as their receptionist or front office. And most military intelligence organizations fall under the "2" organization. Recall the N-2, G-2, A-2 and J-2 all refer to the intelligence organization within a command.
If you find the flag pole on the military base, this is where the base commander has his offices and notice how many stars (if any) are on the military flag next to the American Flag. If you notice that at 1700 HRS (5 p.m.) activity comes to a rest, signifying the end of the day, copy those around you, and face the American flag. Taps and flag ceremonies are taken seriously, as they should be.
Obviously, there can be a lot of traveling when selling to the military; I encourage it because the further you get from Washington DC, generally speaking, the friendlier folks tend to be. So, select a business developer who is not afraid to fly to Hawaii, San Diego and Colorado Springs, and places like that (tough duty, huh?... where can I sign up?).
Did you know the US Coast Guard has an intelligence organization? From the outsider's view, they will look much like Navy intel but do have a very unique mission that is well thought-out and expertly led. Don’t rule them out unless you need to.
Question: who is willing to admit a faux pax in selling to the Military? (and help us learn from it).
Earlier in my career, I struck up a conversation with a bystander who happened to be smoking in front of the Crystal City building where I was to brief the Commodore (i.e., a one-star Admiral) in about an hour. If I had been a bit more attentive (by doing my homework and discovering what my target looked like), I may not have made one of those inane comments that I mentioned earlier… I came to find out the smoking bystander was the Commodore himself! What made it worse is that he later was promoted to Rear Admiral Upper Half… and it never did go well for me... Oh, well, you win some and you lose some.
More in Part 2 (coming soon!)