Welcome to another episode of the podcast  ‘Write Winning Proposals”. This time, we’re talking about questions. Not the ones your client asks in the RFP, the ones you should ask yourself before you answer their questions.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript.

While reviewing the draft of my upcoming book, Win More Business…Write Better Proposals”  I noticed a number of areas where I recommend asking yourself questions, either during your preparation and strategy development or while you are writing your proposal.

While asking questions – mostly “Why” -is obvious to me, it’s like many of the techniques and approaches – you know they work and may use them, but you don’t recognize them as a technique or know why they are effective.

In this case, it is all about the power of asking questions and probing, sometimes probing deep enough to challenge your assumptions and get at the real answer to the client’s question, not just a superficial one.

It first seems counter-intuitive, since you typically answer the clients’ questions in an RFP. But, when you ask yourself questions, you are really probing for answers rather than assuming the answer. If you have a set of probing questions you use for every proposal, you will always get answers you can use to improve your proposal.

In fact, don’t just ask one question. When you get the answer, ask another question about that answer. It’s a variation on the fishbone technique often used in problem solving, and you can even use it in your process to document the key information you need from each of the questions.

First, draw a line across the middle of your page or whiteboard.

Then, ask the first question and draw a line at an angle off the original line and write the short answer on the line. Ask another question, draw another line and write the short answer on that line. Ask more questions and continue to add the lines, with space between them, until your diagram looks like a fishbone.

Then, off each of the fish bones, draw lines at an angle, ask another question about the original answer and write it in on the line. Continue the process until you have probed enough to get details you can use in your proposal response. Go several levels deep if necessary. Be sure to start on a large whiteboard or paper tacked to the wall, enabling you to expand it with more paper if necessary.

Here is an example of the sequential questions, with 5 sequential questions, each one asked about the previous answer:

  1. What is important to the client
  2. For each of the items that are important, why are they important
  3. For each reason they are important, what is the risk of failure? What is the benefit of succeeding?
  4. For each of the risks items, how can they be minimized or eliminated?
  5. For each of the risk items, what do we do to minimize risk that benefits the client?

Once you finish this exercise, you will have strategic information and content you can use to improve your proposal, whether it’s details and examples or a better overall understanding of their needs and how your solution meets those needs.

Our Book "Win More Business - Write Better Proposals". is now available at Amazon in many countries, including the USA , Canada, UK, Japan, Germany and France. You can also order it directly from the author on this website