Better RFP Responses & Management
Asking Clearer Questions

Asking Clearer Questions

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.

The example

“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.