Tuesday, December 02, 2010
Dan Callahan

If the CIA is your business development target, then it will help to know how to start breaking into their universe (legally, of course!).  Here are a few tips, collected from my specific experience as well as general knowledge of the account.  Although it generally draws from my book, Cracking the Code, (see:, I have tried to be just a bit more specific here, regarding what works for this particular agency  (e.g., the NSA is a completely different animal!)   No, I am not going to tell you every secret of selling to the CIA, but I may give a hint or two as to what works.  The key is to apply your own focused effort and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish!


  1. Do you know which integrators are employed there?  My advice is to begin by assuming the top 25 are there, and as you perform your normal networking (discussed in previous blog entries), ask to be referred to the CIA Account Manager at the company you happen to be speaking with (your goal is to discuss with him, a specific value proposition…).  You will either get referred and life will be good, or you’ll find out the position is currently vacant, and may even get a job offer out of the deal!  

  2. Periodically search the news and as many outlets that would report on this agency’s activities and conduct some focused browsing.

  3. Set a Google news alert once you discover the CIA’s Chief Information Officer or other target.  Occasionally, he or his deputy comes out in public and speaks.  You should have a news alert for them, so when announcements are made, you’ll know in advance and can schedule it into your monthly planning.

  4. Background reading will help you determine a value proposition for this agency vis a vis your product or service.  Recall that their primary mission is human intelligence (HUMINT) gathering and processing.  Also, understand their chain of command relative to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).  As you’ve noticed, they are not getting along lately (turf battles), so don’t expect to get accolades when you go bragging on your DNI accomplishments over at Langley.  In fact, don’t even bring them up.

  5. Ask around because there is a small cadre of consultants who can provide access broker services.  As with any service, this can be right on target, or not so much… They may start out as perfect, and then have a reduced ROI as time goes on.  Then again, this may be the gift that keeps on giving.  In any case, stay focused on working with your consultant to get the appointments that are necessary and strike a balance between trusting them yet working regularly with them to stay on target.  In fairness, the CIA doesn’t move fast for the Secretary of Defense, the President of the United States or anyone else.  Why would they move rapidly for you?  (i.e., keep a perspective on who you’re dealing with).

  6. There are retired CIA executives that can get you into the right place, in a heartbeat, but can be expensive.  Once he or she is out of the one year lock-box, they are fairly unrestricted unlike during their first twelve months of separation.  I am of the opinion that sometimes it is far worth it to pay extra for exactly what you need rather than getting a cheap consultant who may take eight times as long to git-r-done.   This is not meant to be a concrete rule, but time is money, especially time-to-market.

  7. Apply for the table top trade shows that you may be able to participate in.  Although this has no guarantee, it only takes a few moments to apply.  The secret to this is having someone on the inside who wants your firm to exhibit at the event.  If you have not prepared anyone to ask for you when the list gets circulated internally, they have no idea who you are.  Some up front leg work here is well worth it.

  8. Make friends with the right folks.  I am not talking about social engineering, I am simply referring to social networking with folks who are or have provided products to this agency.  Obviously, the CIA’s CIO has purchased lots of products and services since 9/11/01 and deep searches around public facing outlets will give you some hints.   There are other ways into this community that cannot be listed here but they do exist.  If you were an open source detective or analyst, how would you network your way into this universe?

  9. Are you a member of AFCEA?  This association has an intelligence committee that is loaded with folks who know lots of things about lots of things!  Don’t waste anyone’s time, and be ready to give some intelligence when you’re asking for some…but in general, if you are gracious and humble, you may be able to make huge progress by plugging into existing groups that you are already a member of.

  10. Be patient if you don’t discover immediate answers in your overall search.  Frankly, no one owes you anything.  You simply have to enjoy the chase.  Have some fun with the journey.  When I was a kid, my favorite adventure was a treasure hunt that my sister would occasionally make for me and my brother.  I still enjoy treasure hunting, but it’s a bit more complex these days…

Good hunting!