In this podcast, I wanted to discuss the most important part of a successful RFP proposal response other than a good price.

It’s about answering the damned question.

Ok, answering the question is a simple concept when responding to Request For Proposal questions, yet proposal writers frequently don’t answer the question the way the client intended. Since a proposal isn’t a two-way dialogue, you need to get it right the first time.

As I discuss in the book and will include in a future podcast, providing a solid answer with details and evidence that supports what you say is crucial to a good evaluation.

So, there are a number of reasons questions aren’t answered properly.

In some cases the writers don’t want to answer the question because they may not have an answer. They may not be able to demonstrate how they would do something, they don’t have the right information from the operations or field staff to fill in the details, they are confused by the question and mis-interpret it, they feel a detailed answer isn’t likely to satisfy the client, or they may simply have run out of time.

In any case, you need to clearly and effectively answer the question without fluff or weasel words. The client will always see through an evasive answer. The result of not answering the question is a lower score and reduced credibility.

I learned this lesson early. When writing a major proposal, our president reviewed the proposal periodically and provided comments. One key area was revised several times based on his comments, yet we had still not met the mark. His final comment, scratched in red on the draft, was “just answer the ‘bleeping’ question.”

This mantra has stuck with me, and it’s something I look for when helping organizations write proposals. Since I also work on the buyer side developing and reviewing proposals, I have an even better appreciation of what happens when a bidder doesn’t answer the question the way it’s expected.

Even if you need to admit something you may not want to, such as a lack of experience in a certain area, you need to do it. In a future podcast, I’ll discuss how to overcome lack of experience and the importance of admitting issues rather than avoiding them.

Don’t miss the point of the question, either. Try to understand the client’s intent with the question and compare it with the evaluation criteria. If in doubt, ask.

In one example, an RFP asked for the names of individuals with authority to sign-off on specific documents. The bidder provided the names of subcontractor companies involved in the sign-off, not the individuals themselves. In this case, the client wanted to match the names with the resumes to ensure credentials matched levels of responsibility. They didn’t get the answer they needed.

One simple reason the question sometimes doesn’t get properly answered is that the full question isn’t referred to when the answer is written. It may be in a different document and looked at once before the writer started or shortened to become a heading. Reduce this problem by including the actual question right before the answer within the document. You can edit it out in the final draft.

With the full question in the proposal document, you won’t lose sight of the full question that’s been asked. If it’s a long, wordy question, as some tend to be, break it apart into its separate sub-questions. Each of these sub-questions should be answered explicitly within the response with their own heading. This also makes it easy for the reviewer to score your response.

Of course, you won’t be able to answer the question if you don’t have an answer. This is usually a problem when you have a proposal writer creating the material or even using old boilerplate material. The only way to get it right is to have the people who do the work get involved and provide the details, processes, diagrams, facts, benefits and other key information the writer can then work with to craft an effective answer.

This is such a crucial part of the proposal writing process, I’ve written an 8 page Report called “The 9 Deadliest Mistakes When Answering RFP Questions and How To Avoid Them”. You can get it by filling in the form on on our website.


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

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