Thursday, September 30, 2010
Dan Callahan

In keeping with the format of this blog, I like to occasionally profile intell agencies to provide a bit of focus.  Now is a good time to explore the NRO.  One of the best ways to become familiar with this elusive agency is to attend the SPACE ISR Conference that AFCEA is hosting—a.k.a. the Fall Intelligence Symposium in mid October in Chantilly.


For starters, if you already have a TS/SCI/TK clearance, you may want to read this in order to get the most out of the conference.  And if you don’t have a TS/SCI/TK clearance—yet still have an interest in penetrating the NRO, you definitely should read this to learn how.


Let’s begin with the folks who are on the outside…looking in: no TS/SCI clearance and especially no TK!  Do Not Despair! … but as a matter of strategy, you may need to realize that it will be easier if you’re from a product company.  If your company is a services company, you need a strategy to get cleared.  The NSA is far-and-away, the most accommodating with their PISA Program.  The other intell agencies have no such program so if your firm is truly a newbie to the IC, I advise beginning at the NSA and then branching out from there.  This is a multi-year process, and requires patience and commitment.  Clearly, if you just started your company, the NRO is probably not the first stop on your list, but if you have a desire to enter the top-secret market, they will eventually be on your radar screen.   The tips below are worth incorporating into your longer term planning.


If your company is a product company, there should be enough open market data that allows you to determine how they may use your product; or better yet, how you need to position your product’s value proposition to meet their unique mission requirements.  If your selling sounds just like the selling that you conduct across the other federal agencies, the NRO may not want to listen. Assuming you have tailored this towards their mission, you can always find a BD professional who is independent and have that person attend the conference on your behalf.  Naturally, they will report back to you what they find… redacted for your unclassified consumption, of course.  This is perhaps the best way to efficiently penetrate, if you have no clearances yet want to target this agency.


Remember that the NRO is a brother organization to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and operates some of the most sensitive collections assets that our nation owns, often referred to as “national technical means”.  For all practical purposes, they do not have small business utilization goals and don’t hold many conferences that seek new contractors.  Their introductory meeting for new contractors is really intended for cleared companies that are already in the IC and want to bring their existing clearances to the NRO and perform work.   


But as a product company, if you’re willing to invest in working through a third party or systems integrators, you can ship your products into this account successfully.  Obviously, there will be accreditation and certification issues to work through.  This alone represents a commitment.  But if your leadership is already going through this for other intell agencies, why not try your success at the NRO? 


Here are some keys that lead to success:


·         Learn how to work with and through  other companies and possibly a third party BD professional (other posts on this blog detail how to accomplish this);

·         Learn how to jointly value proposition an agency, i.e., how is your product complimentary to someone else’s service (who is already there with the TS/SCI clearance)? 

·         Note: Cleared Service providers are looking for the next “hot” technology that will undoubtedly come from outside the Beltway.  You should assume they’re looking for you and set out to find one such services provider.

There are contracts that you may be able to attach yourself to (in the near term… you should get active now if you’re interested!).  The ROI is there if you can sustain the up-front effort.  I realize this is a big “if” recall this is a $75B market (i.e., the IC at large).  You may also want to check the normal sources for unclassified NRO table top trade shows (Call Joe Shrader at ; Read this posting about how to work a table top show.  


The most important thing to remember about the NRO is that it’s very likely  that you’ll need to work with SI firms that have existing contracts or at least a relationship with this agency.  This is how the federal government wants to acquire much of their technology, so if you’re not particularly good at this, now is a great time to develop the skills of selling through partners.

Finally, do an article search related to various topics, surrounding the agency (acquisition, funding, congress, leadership, etc.).  I am amazed how even government officials will talk to reporters.