Grow Fed Biz

It Starts With Creating Trust

Three steps to building relationships for contracting success.

It Starts With Creating Trust

Three steps to building relationships for contracting success.

The most successful contracting professionals do three things superbly. They understand the roles and goals of their counterparts, consistently give each counterpart a sense of momentum toward their unique goals, and they create trust.

These three steps help contracting professionals in government and industry, prime or subcontractors, avoid or fix common relationship mistakes. They pave the way for successful teaming and contracting.

Successful contract management requires an extraordinary network of trusted relationships. These are among people who continually renew consent to stay in connection – before, during, and after contract award. That network of relationships is broad and deep. It spreads from the CEO or organization head to the newest hire on the project.

Behind every successful project is a whole network of people who had to trust each other to get the job done. Those relationships begin long before contract award and can outlive contract closeout. The best contracts create a network of relationships among primes, subcontractors, and government employees who genuinely like working together. These are individuals who go out of their way to create opportunities for additional orders, option years, successful recompetition. They even provide referrals and introductions to new projects.

However, there’s a lot at stake with every contract. The tax dollars authorized by Congress for government contracts come with public accountability. That includes for what federal employees spend, how they spend it, how they – and their contractors – perform. And there’s responsibility for the results – the return on the investment for public funds.

Real human beings are professionally – and personally – accountable for what happens. That’s why there is no such thing as doing business with “the government.” There’s only doing business with people.

Federal buyers, and their contractors, have everything at stake when they choose us. Not just their agency missions but their careers. On the line are their professional reputa-tions, promotion prospects, personal financial security, and, ultimately, even their retirement income.

Little wonder that federal buyers can seem reluctant to return contractors’ calls.

Prime contractors are cautious, too. If you’re feeling frustrated by fruitless attempts to engage or team with one, think about risk. If they don’t know who you are, then it does not matter how bright your smile is, or what your certifications are, or how innovative your ideas. All they hear in that first conversation is a great big ball of risk.

Contractors’ lives might not be perfect right now. They might be dealing with poor service and escalating costs from current vendors and partners. But they wake up in the morning knowing what to expect. Predictability can feel more comfortable than the risk of a promising solution that might not happen.

Dig into GovCon Personas

Get to know the Players at Every Layer in the GovCon Sales Journey

The GovCon Persona Guide is an Essential for Federal Sales Success. Get to know the 5 people you need to meet.

Focus on Roles and Goals

Contracting in large organizations – both corporate and government –involves multiple people who each have distinctly different roles and goals. Leaders have time for you if you can help them solve problems. That is, help them meet their goals.

Contractors have goals, too, like “win X dollars in contracts” or “win the recompetes on all our current contracts.”

But those goals can sound very different from those of prospective clients.

I was advising the CEO of a company that designs and equips hybrid surgical suites to give surgeons. These surgical suites give surgeons imaging capability in the same room where they perform procedures.

The CEO wanted to win more contracts from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. He knew he needed to get to know his customers long before they published solicitations in But he didn’t know how to start the conversations.

It felt awkward.

I told him, here’s the secret – don’t make it all about your goals.

Think for a moment about what the future looks like for you and your prospects. Eighteen months or two years from now, when you are both fabulously successful, what will be happening for them?

If they are working with you using leading-edge, proven equipment in surgical suites you design and build, then experience with your other clients shows your prospects they should see improved patient outcomes. In January, you just equipped a vascular surgery suite at Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Florida. The team there can testify to providing better care because of the equipment you provided. Your other medical center clients can expect similar positive results.

“I get it!” the CEO said. “We don’t make it about us. We make it about them.”

But who are “them?”

Show someone you’ve quickly solved a problem for someone like them. They’ll usually at least give you a few minutes to tell the story. But you have to know enough about them to understand their problems. Given what that person does in their organization, what might be their top performance goals for the year?

The surgical suite CEO first heard about the Bay Pines opportunity through a contract opportunities notice in His company was qualified to compete as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. It was a small contract  worth about $34,000. The CEO bid in mid-June 2022.

The contract specialist at Veterans Affairs Network Contracting Office 8 awarded the contract in July. The CEO’s company met the requirements and the set-aside requirement at the best price. That was the contract specialist’s goal.

The CEO had relationships with four vendors who met his goals by providing the equipment he needed on time and at the right price. He also had relationships with staff in the facilities department, who managed the project. And in the loading dock where equipment was received and unloaded.

FIGURE 1. The BRAVING Inventory

Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay and why.

You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.

Choosing courage over comfort; choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and practicing your values, not just professing them.

I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.

Source: The Braving Inventory from Dare to Lead5

His team includes surgeons and other doctors who design surgical suites. He’s hoping to win bigger contracts to completely design and provide more hybrid surgical suites.

On the government side, the contracting officer (CO) has the legal authority to award the contract. But the contracting officer’s ultimate customers include the chief of surgery, the medical center director, the nurses and surgeons, and the veterans receiving care. The CO never forgets that. And this is not the only contract the CO is handling. The contracts she awards affect thousands of lives every day.

Each of those involved has different goals related to the contract. For example, the medical center director must squeeze maximum value from a fixed capital budget. The subject matter expert – let’s say the vascular surgeon – wants the contracting officer to choose a reliable, proven supplier with past performance. The chief of surgery seeks to improve patient outcomes and service time. Veterans want – and deserve – first-class care with minimal delays.

Having won this contract, the CEO has even more ways to show how he can bring success to players at multiple layers within the VA. Conversations with people across a broader range of roles open possibil-ities to create opportunities he can win and generate more success for his company and his partners, too. The Bay Pines project won the attention of a large industry partner that is now bringing the CEO potential opportunities.

Connect on Best Value

Best value comprises the qualities that set us and our company apart from other bidders. These are things that make it easier for buyers to choose our firm when decision-makers are behind closed doors, down to the final few.

The contract specialist at Bay Pines chose the CEO’s company because it had the equipment she needed at the best price for a simplified acquisition from a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. The CO didn’t need to know how many board-certified surgeons were part of the team.

We talked about how he could position to win larger opportunities. The CEO saw a pre-solicitation notice for a $1 million to $2 million design/build project. But he was concerned about what might happen if he approached an architect as a potential partner.

“Wouldn’t they just take the opportunity for themselves?”

Think about it this way, I told him. The contracting officer isn’t a surgeon, an architect, or a biomedical engineer. She needs the advice of all of them – and of expert contractors – simply to write a specification for a project that will help everybody meet their goals. So, the more experience and expertise, the more success the contractor officer is going to have serving all the people who are relying on her and in meeting her goals.

Here’s where you have so many advantages, I told the CEO. You’ve got subject matter experts – surgeons – on your team who can advise the architect how to design a hybrid surgical suite to optimize efficiency. Your experts can suggest a design to maximize utilization of the suite for different kinds of procedures. That can make the medical center’s capital budget go further. Your company’s expertise will give an architecture firm a huge strategic advantage over firms that don’t have surgeons on their team.

If that architecture firm isn’t a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, then your SDVOSB status also is a best value. The two companies can use the status through a properly structured joint venture to win work the architect might not have been able to win alone.

To lower risk for yourself and your federal customer, look up which SDVOSB architecture companies recently have won similar projects in the region where you want to win work. Make those companies your first prospects for partnership. Past performance is powerful. More than 90% of people are likely to make repeat purchases from companies that offer excellent service.1 The Federal Acquisition Regulation governs the competitive process, but the system is run by human beings.

Your company’s experience, knowledge, relationships, and past performance can help people across diverse roles achieve their unique goals on a project. The winning contractor knows how to show each of them that it will bring them the most success. That’s what gets the first meeting, and the next one, all the way to contract award and beyond.

When the CEO searches for bigger projects to design, as well as equip, such as surgical suites, he’ll start by looking at the longer-term procurement forecast for construction and renovation at VA medical centers. The subject matter expertise of the surgeons and other doctors in his company will help the CEO get appointments. These meetings will provide the opportunity for visionary conversations about the leading-edge surgical suite designs with chiefs of surgery who have big goals for improving patient outcomes.

Build Trust With Micro-Engagements

We can use the neuroscience of winning2 by creating a constant flow of small positive experiences, or micro-engagements, that move others toward their goals. Doing so makes it easier to build and strengthen relationships with colleagues, partners, and clients.

When we do something that helps us thrive, our brains release dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. We tend to do more of the things that generate that good feeling. It’s absolutely natural that we strive to work with partners and vendors we can trust to help us achieve our goals.

Research3 shows that small wins have a powerful ability to create momentum, foster engagement, and encourage continued progress.

The surge of dopamine our brains generate from reaching a small goal (found my car keys or got the kids to school on time) is almost the same as we get from reaching a big goal. For instance, winning that contract, becoming a certified federal contract manager or buying a house.

Anyone involved in contract management is interested in hearing more from someone who’s got a way to lower risk.

The most successful contracting professionals do three things superbly. They understand the roles and goals of their counterparts, consistently give each counterpart a sense of momentum toward their unique goals, and they create trust.

Big wins are few and far between. If we’re constantly focused on and rewarded for only big wins, we miss out on a mountain of opportunities that smaller wins give us. It’s the small wins that build momentum and trust.

Small wins make it easier to try new things – working with a new vendor, meeting a new person – and course-correct to build greater success. Small wins also involve less risk than big moves.

That’s a great place to start any new conversation. Anyone involved in contract management is interested in hearing more from someone who’s got a way to lower risk.

Research by Charles Feltman4 shows that trust is built one small interaction at a time. Brene Brown refined that work to reveal seven principles that resonate most with people in trusted relationships. See Figure 1.

When we deliver small wins that combine momentum with the elements of trust-building, we’re on track for success.

Goals to win a new contract, launch a new project, or stand up a new team seem urgent. But mapping out small steps that build trust will enhance the relationships with the people we need to succeed.

Judy Bradt has more than 35 years of experience as subject matter expert in federal contracting: 20 years as founder and CEO of Summit Insight, a professional services consultancy; preceded by 15 years as Trade Commissioner for the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C.

She is creator of the proprietary PALM – Players and Layers Methodology® for Federal contracting success and author of Amazon #1 Bestseller, “Government Contracts Made Easier (Second Edition).” Clients credit her advice for their success in over $200 million in federal contract awards. Learn more at and connect with her on LinkedIn.

A nationally renowned speaker and trainer, she has served organizations including Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association; National Veterans Small Business Coalition; Veterans In Procurement national faculty; Women’s Business Enterprise National Council; Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers; and the National Minority Supplier Development Council.


  1. 83d350caefff5003de98d0912580fb3c. 1680286834715.1680286834715. 1680286834715.1&__hssc=238111519. 1.1680286834716&__hsfp=1303152361

This work in based in part on an article that originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of Contract Managementmagazine, published by the National Contract Management Association. Used with permission.

Tackling GovCon’s #1 Challenge: Getting in front of the right people sooner

Learn more about the Federal Business Intensive

  • A Custom Federal Sales Growth Program
  • Over $200M of New Business Won
  • 10 Times Return on Investment Guaranteed
  • Earn While You Learn
Scroll to Top