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Attend Conferences like a CIA Operative to Build Alliances and Persuade Customers

Conferences are often that one shot you have to make an impression with government decision makers and schedule a meeting. You’ve gotta be prepared. If not, you're likely to walk away frustrated, feeling like you attended an expensive happy hour with no results. Below are 6 tips to maximize the value of your conference attendance drawn from my experience at the CIA. Learn how to gather intel, build alliances, and influence customers like a CIA operative.

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Article by Eric Prostejovsky,
Former CIA Analyst


Learn how to implement these tips in our upcoming live web event with Eric Prostejovsky.

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Leveraging Video


Every CIA operation has a mission objective. Collecting a few business cards or catching up with your favorite customer is not an impactful mission objective. Make an attainable and measurable objective such as “I will schedule 12 customer meetings by the end of the conference to discuss an identified pain point.” Be able to answer the following questions: Which customers am I trying to meet? What message do I want to communicate to them? How am I tracking success? What call to action am I offering customers? Make sure your team knows these objectives and is aligned with them.


Value is the ability to solve specific customer problems with your mastery and expertise. Use every customer engagement as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of their pain points and operating environment by "working your programs." Learn from agency staff what the buzz is around the water cooler? What are agency leaders saying? What do their latest strategy docs say? What information is being shared on the agency's intranet?


How do CIA operatives extract guarded information from their marks? They offer something in return. Offer your customers something of value to them for free–a modernization tip, a lesson learned from migrating to the cloud, or providing a connection to a resource. Providing value at every customer engagement is the first step in becoming invaluable and building trust. These offerings can also be leveraged to ask for something in return–”I’d love to share this with your colleagues, may you send me their emails?” or “What software packages are you using? I have some useful workflows to improve efficiency with the most common ones.”


Do not overlook the value of creating a champion from one of your customer’s direct reports. If you’re targeting a President, find a Director that can help shape and influence their decision making so that when the President asks, “Does anyone know XYZ company?” that Director can say “I met them at the conference and they really understand the challenges we face.”


Government execs are busy and inundated with marketing material. Produce short video content that is easy to digest and easy to share. Video also puts a face to your team offering a low commitment way to break the ice with customers and prime in person interactions. Short videos sent over email or social media are easy for customers to share with their team, generate buzz, and can be used as conversation starters when meeting in person.


Customers don’t build relationships with corporations, they build relationships with people. Most corporate marketing material is written in a passive third person voice. This is impersonal and does not humanize your team. Build stronger customer connections by crafting marketing material that is written in an active first or second person voice. Speak as one individual teammate to an individual customer. Consider short mission success stories that humanize your team by demonstrating their passion when providing value and insight to customers.

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CIA Tradecraft

Deep Dive

Want more tips from the CIA? Learn the foundations of the CIA communication tradecraft in our free 15 minute webinar where Former CIA Analyst, Eric Prostejovsky reveals the framework used by the CIA to rapidly communicate high value information to the President and Secretary of Defense. Sign up below.

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