how often do you answer the wrong question?

When getting feedback from clients on bid or proposal documents a frequent comment made is that the decision makers and evaluators didn’t really understand the solution or service as described or even, in some circumstances, that they didn’t feel that the answers given really answered the question posed. And it’s a criticism or critique given to teams regularly when I’ve been asked to review documents before they are submitted.

There are generally two schools of thought as to why this might be the case. The first is “the client asked the wrong question so we gave them the answer to the question they really should have asked”; the second, “we thought we had answered the question they asked”. Neither response will be satisfactory to your client; both suggest that the proposal or bid team probably need to talk to each other and the client to make sure that everyone is thinking along the same lines.

Answering the wrong question can happen so easily. It happened to me recently when I asked a friend what their plan was in relation to a family situation. The response I got was a list of all the activities that they would be doing over the next six months, what I wanted was dates and a timeframe because that is what I meant and what would affect our ability to do other things. Did I ask the wrong question or did we forget about the context of the response needed? This situation can be easily remedied between friends because we talk to each other and explain when the response isn’t correct, but it can be more difficult when the situation arises between proposal or bid team and the client as you generally only get one chance to offer the correct answer.

How often when you are replying to your client in a bid, proposal or tender do you actually check either what they mean by the question they asked or even better why they asked the question? The answer to both of these questions can make a huge difference to the way in which you respond in your document and solution and satisfy the client’s needs. I’d suggest we never forget that the bid or proposal document we create isn’t for us. Everything should be written to help the client recognise themselves, their business drivers and their specified requirements. To be compliant and client-centric you must always answer the questions as asked (or clarified) by your client and if you have an alternative solution or approach, put that forward as an additional response.

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1 Response to how often do you answer the wrong question?

  1. Rosalind Barden says:

    Completely agree Pat. We are often so keen to share what we know we forget to think about why the question was asked in the first place. If it was an opportunity to waffle on about our own interests then the question would be along the lines of the old style television interview: “what would the Minister like to tell us today?”. Questions in personal life, business conversations and written proposals are never that simple. The person who poses it wants to know something specific and we’d all be well advised to pause and consider what that is.

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