RFP Questions That Help You Win

  |  May 15, 2018

Tim Birdsell

Whether you are bidding GTACS II, SDI-NG2, FBI IT SSS, or any other program, this article will help you ask questions that let you score higher and your competitors score lower.

The art of asking questions about an RFP is a science.  We have all been there, a new RFP is released, and there’re lots of things that are unclear, conflicting, or missing. Do you ask the question, or do you let it go?  Let’s start with what not to ask.

Don’t do it!

Formatting:  On occasion the Government will release an RFP that is missing some or all of the formatting instructions. You know, those things like font size, margins, and page count. They just gave you a clean slate; why would you ask them to restrict you?

Extensions:  Once in awhile you will find yourself up against a wall in getting your documents ready and you need an extension.  Asking for an extension just because you need more time is not a justification.  But you can formulate a question on the technical requirements that will take some time for them to research.

Past Performance: Frequently you will come across a Section L that doesn’t specify whether you can use a Subcontractor’s past performance.  If you need your teammate’s past performance to meet the requirements, don’t ask for clarification, because you may not get the answer you hope for. However, if you have the past performance required to get a high rating without your teammates, this can be a great question to ask to block the competition.

Yes do it!

Inconsistencies:  Inconsistencies are often plentiful. This can be the result of different authors or copy and pasting from other RFPs. For example, a common one is in Section L, it states that you are to submit using a portal and, in another place, it will instruct you to submit hard copies. You better ask this one.

Page Count:  How many times have you seen an RFP that has 50+ pages of technical requirements, and Section L requires that you respond with your understanding and approach to each element; yet they only give you 20 pages.  I haven’t found a fool proof way of getting the Government to understand that it typically takes twice as much room to address understanding and approach, as it does to write-up a technical requirement.  Regardless, this question should always be asked under these circumstances.

Technical Requirements:  The technical requirements are frequently written by more than one person.  This often results in missing, outdated, or conflicting information.  Any ambiguity in the technical requirements should be clarified through your questions.  I would advise against multipart questions.  Often, when someone asks a multipart question, the Government answers only part of the question.  There’s an exception to asking for technical clarification.  If you are the incumbent, you never want to ask for clarification that will do nothing for you but will help your competition.

In summary, the true measure on whether to ask a question or not, can be summed up in the old saying….  “Don’t ask the question if you can’t stand the answer.”