What NOT to Ask–and What Not to *Not* Ask

Sometimes, the most important question may be the one you don’t ask. And sometimes, the most important question is the one you thought you shouldn’t ask, but did anyway.

You might be thinking: What does this mean? I’m glad you asked!

When an RFP comes out, one of the key tasks for the proposal team is to analyze it, identify issues or problems (ambiguities, inconsistencies, missing information, and whatnot), and draft questions to submit to the customer. That’s not as simple as it sounds–there’s both art and craft in it. (Contact us for a quick lesson!)

After you’ve drafted your questions, but before you submit them to the customer, you’ll need to consider which ones to ask–and which ones not to ask. How do you decide?

The questions you ask should be in support of only one goal: enabling you to prepare and submit a complete, compliant, compelling proposal—NOT for any other reason. The following circumstances would dictate *not* asking a question:

  • If the answer to the question will not have any material effect on proposal preparation—i.e., it won’t impact your technical/ management solution or our price. (Why bother asking such a question?)
  • If there is a reasonable possibility that the answer to the question could be counter-productive to your proposal strategy—i.e., you might get an answer you don’t want.
  • If the question is designed solely to mislead competitors—this is unethical!

You may be surprised by the absence of one category that isn’t included in the list above: questions that “might reveal our strategy to our competitors.” That’s because those questions fall into the “what not to *not* ask” category. There are three rules to keep in mind in these cases:

  • Rule #1: Forget everything you’ve ever heard about this subject.
  • Rule #2: If you need the answer to be able to submit a complete, compliant, compelling proposal, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ask the question, regardless of how your competitors may interpret it. Here’s why:
    • The reason to ask questions is to help yourself submit the best possible proposal. If you don’t ask, you won’t have the information *you* need.
    • If there is any ambiguity in the RFP, and you don’t ask the question, you will lose the ability to protest an award on that basis later, if it comes to that.
    • Your competitors will not know which questions came from you anyway, because the Government will strip out offeror identifiers before publishing the Q&As.
  • Rule #3: If a competitor changes their strategy based on the answer to your question, they’re in more trouble than you are!

So, there you have it: What not to ask, and what not to *not* ask. Need more guidance? Just ask!

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