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How To Become The Vendor They Trust

You know you have the superior solution for that Federal buyer…if only she would give you a chance. What’s the secret to winning work from a Federal buyer who’s already working with your competition? “We have to know you, like you, and trust you,” they say. But how do you build trust when you can’t even get in the door?
Here are some things to consider as you get ready to break the cycle of frustration and change the game — in everyone’s favor.

Research. Relationships. Then Requirements.

For starters, how many Federal offices and agencies are you marketing to? Building trust takes time. That’s why the most successful vendors focus tightly and deeply on building a rich network of relationships in a few Federal agencies. Like them, you need to get to know a few dozen people really, really, well.
When someone says, “I trust you,” that can feel reassuring, even if you haven’t thought deeply about how you got there or what they mean.
Conversely, when someone says, “I don’t trust you,” that declaration can shake you to the core — whether that person is a cherished friend or family member, a client, or a prospect. It’s hard not to panic, and even harder to sit down and figure out what might be wrong and what you can do to rebuild that trust.
Dr. Brene Brown has done extensive research into how trust and human connection is built. She presents seven elements, and a fundamental principle, in her talk The Anatomy Of Trust that explains what people really think trust means and how it is built.

RELATED:Explore more of Brene Brown’s work, including in communication and leadership

The big concept is something you know intuitively: While trust can be smashed in an instant, trust is built one small interaction at a time. That tracks with the experience you have when it takes months or even years to win business with a Federal buyer or partner, right? It seems to take forever. If your journey so far resembles endless miles on the proposal hamster-wheel it’s time to get off, because your intuition is right: you’re wearing yourself out while you’re going nowhere, building no relationships at all.

Whether you are looking to build trust, or rebuild it, here are the seven elements that Brene Brown discovered people need. They’re easy to remember: they acronym out to the word BRAVING.

In short:

Boundaries: You are clear to me about your boundaries and you hold them. I clearly tell you about my boundaries and you respect them. When we are mindful of our limitations, we make commitments we can keep. (Situations to think about: responding to requests for tasks outside of scope; respecting someone’s time by not running a call or meeting longer than was promised or offered; simply starting a conversation by asking, “Are you the appropriate person to speak with about this?” or “Is this a good time to talk?”)
Reliability: We each do what we say we’re going to do. Consistently. (Situations to think about: returning a call at the day and time you scheduled; sending the information you promised; following up in the time frame requested.)
Accountability: When you make a mistake you own it, apologize for it, and make amends. When I make a mistake, you allow me to own it, apologize for it, and make amends. (Situations to think about: when a Contracting Officer has scheduled a meeting, and traffic was so bad that you know you’re not going to make it. What do you do?)
Vault: Your confidences are safe with me; I don’t share things you tell me in confidence, and neither of us tells stories that are not ours to share. (Situation to think about: a Contracting Officer who usually only agrees to 15-minute meetings offered you another 30 minutes of her time and gave you her mobile phone number to follow up. A friend from another company asks you the best way to get in touch with that Contracting Officer and what to expect. What do you say?)
Integrity: We practice our values, not just profess them, by making choices that put courage before comfort. We do what is right even if that is harder, or slower or simply less fun than alternatives that are not aligned with our values. We walk our talk, and hold each other to account for doing so. (Situation to think about: You noticed what appeared to be a simple clerical error in a solicitation that, if left uncorrected, would make it easy for your company to successfully protest an award in a tight competition. What do you do?)
Non-Judgmental: We can each be in struggle and ask for help without being judged by the other. (Situation to think about: how would approach the Contracting Officer to share your concern about the potential error in the solicitation?)
Generosity: We each assume the most generous thing about the other’s words, intentions, and actions, even (and especially) if we don’t have full information at the time. Imagine how differently you might respond to others if your basic belief was that, 99.9% of the time, the people around you are doing the best they can. (Situation to think about: The Contracting Officer doesn’t return your call. What’s the first thing you think about why she didn’t? Okay, but why else might that be happening? How can you really know?)


Easy to remember. Harder to practice…but so powerful when you do.

Here’s my challenge to you: What one small thing could you do, for each of the seven elements, to build trust with a new prospect, or to strengthen trust with a client you already work with? Not sure how to do that?

You’re not alone.

To get insight from the Federal buyer’s perspective, I asked a former DoD contracting officer. She shared examples of things that prospective vendors could do easily to constantly build trust from first conversation or contact to the opportunity to win a first contract! Tap all these great ideas, and a Q&A with other contractors about real-life situations, by taking the on-demand course “Become the Trusted Vendor” today!
Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight, gives federal contractors the competitive analysis and sales strategy you need for the success you’ve always wanted. It’s easier than you ever imagined. Call her at (703) 627-1074 or visit for live and on-demand webinars, articles and more.

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