Why unclear questions matter
Bidders submitting unclear questions about RFPs to clients risk getting back nonsense answers or not getting what they actually wanted. But as a simple story illustrates, asking clear questions is hard.
“How much do you want to golf when you’re here?”
On the extension, I thought, “Uh oh, there’s a problem.” What might it be? Let me count the ways it might be a problem:
- It will be expensive for our host to rent clubs.
- It will be hard for our host to book tee times.
- It will be rude to leave behind the non-golfers.
In short, I heard this question as this: How badly do you want to golf when you’re here?
The person who responded, however, heard a different question — to wit: How often do you want to golf when you’re here? — and answered accordingly.
Who heard aright? Not me.
How to do better – Tactic #1
Dramatically improve the odds that the client will hear the question aright by giving some context for the question that explains the point of confusion or concern:
Don’t say this: Please clarify requirement A.
Instead, say this: We see requirement A and requirement H as mutually contradictory, because of such-and-so. Therefore, we ask that you either clarify these requirements to remove the potential confusion between them, or eliminate one of them.
How to do better – Tactic #2
Review your question for words with more than one meaning. Consider the situation when the SOW states that the Contractor must perform a given task every week. If you want the client to reduce task frequency, then . . .
Don’t say this: Would you consider dropping requirement X?
Instead, say this: Executing this task weekly will be prohibitively expensive. In our experience, executing this task monthly is sufficient for safety (or whatever purpose). We therefore request that requirement X be changed to reduce the task frequency to once/month.