A Request for Information (RFI) and a Request for Proposal (RFP) are two unique business queries proposal management teams encounter. For many teams, they use these document terms interchangeably, feeling that RFIs and RFPs are one and the same. While these proposal documents are similar, they serve different purposes.
In a recent RFPIO client survey, we learned that 87% of proposal management teams are using our response management platform to respond to RFIs. If the teams we partner with are focusing so much on RFI response, there is a high probability that your team is too.
Let’s examine RFIs and RFPs in greater detail to help you understand the best approach with your next Request for Information.
What is an RFI?
A Request for Information (RFI) is a document an organization sends to a potential vendor. An RFI is an exploratory step that happens in the early stages of the procurement process. Once the issuing organization has identified a need for a service or product, they begin the vendor selection process by sending RFIs to “request further information” about the service or product capabilities.
This gives the issuer an opportunity to compare different vendors in the market and help them write a more specific RFP. If the vendor addresses their needs in the RFI response, the organization moves forward by issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP).
The second most common RFI response situation occurs when an issuing organization has a pretty good idea of what they want, and they simply need to firm up a few details before they write the RFP.
The goal with this second group is to trim down the final group of vendors they will include on the RFP. They will send an RFI to 10 vendors, narrow down the list, and send an RFP to 5 vendors as the final group for consideration.
What is an RFI process?
The RFI process clarifies roles, responsibilities, and timelines to help an organization meet the issuer’s deadline. The good news is that establishing your RFI process isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
Like any project plan, a successful RFI process starts by establishing scope, milestones, roles, and responsibilities. However, the key to responding to RFIs quickly and accurately is being able to quickly find accurate information. Since RFIs tend to ask similar (or even identical) questions, being able to quickly answer repeat questions is key.
Steps for a great RFI Process:
- Kick-Off: Review requirements, assemble your team, and schedule a kick-off meeting
- Respond: Repurpose past responses and tailor content
- Collect Expertise: Assign technical questions to your company’s subject matter experts to ensure accuracy
- Review and Revise: Review RFI for consistency, tone of voice. Proofread for grammatical and spelling errors
- Submit: Send your RFI to the issuer, along with any supporting materials
- Consolidate: Save your RFI responses in a centralized location that can be used in future RFIs
RFI vs. RFP…How are they different?
An RFP is issued after an RFI. However, sometimes an organization will issue an RFI that reads more like an RFP. This is where responders experience confusion between RFPs and RFIs. Because the issuer mixes up the documents on their end.
An RFP usually includes questions that cover specific company information:
- What does your company provide?
- Where is your company headquarters located?
- How long has your company been in business?
RFIs tend to be set in a more standard format, which then prompts vendors to execute a more standard format with their RFI responses. Whereas with RFP responses, the issuing organization allows the vendor to have a more open response style—or even the ability to submit an RFP in their own format or branded template.
Certain companies have a structured procurement department and specific processes in which they operate. These organizations are more likely to follow the traditional RFI and RFP order.
A lot of times, though, issuing organizations do not operate in such a structured way. The issuer will send out a document that is labeled as an RFI when it’s really an RFP. Then you, as the responder, need to figure out the best approach with your content strategy so you can move onto the next stage of consideration.
The 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management
Learn about the state of proposal management, and see what teams need to do to be successful in 2021
How to respond to an RFI in 3 steps
With response to RFI, follow the same approach as other questionnaires you respond to on behalf of your organization.
- Make sure the opportunity is the right fit before you spend time on the RFI response. Comb through the RFI to understand what this organization is looking for. If you feel like your product or service will meet their needs, begin your RFI response.
- Check that your past responses are up-to-date so you don’t end up wasting time during RFI response content creation. Having an answer library saves a lot of hours because you’re not pulling content from multiple places.
- Know who to bring in from your organization for accurate and impactful RFI response content. Leverage subject matter experts—have an open communication plan already in place for seamless team collaboration.
RFI response is straightforward with RFPIO
Whether you receive an RFI (or an RFP pretending to be an RFI), RFPIO is a straightforward response management solution that helps your team respond effectively in a number of ways.
Analyze your opportunity
How do you know if you should commit to this RFI response? RFPIO offers trend analysis to help you analyze and decide whether or not it makes sense for you to participate in an RFI or RFP.
You will see how long it took for your team to respond to similar RFIs, whether you won or lost the opportunity, and what the cost estimation is. From the beginning, you’ll determine if the RFI is worth going after or if your team should pass on it.
Upload your document
RFPIO’s import functionality supports the most common formats—document, spreadsheet, or PDF. Quickly upload the Request for Information and jump right into content creation and collaboration.
Store your content
Content management capabilities in RFPIO is a huge time-saver for responders. All of your content is stored in one place…the answer library. You organize your best content with tags and star ratings, then use search or auto-respond to fill in relevant responses.
Connect your applications
Our RFP software integrations work with a number of other applications—CRMs, cloud storage and communication applications, and SSO authentication platforms. Let’s say your technology stack includes: Salesforce, Microsoft Teams, and Sharepoint. You can pull in information and data from all of these solutions within RFPIO.
18% of proposal managers audit their responses once per year and 25% never audit their proposal content.
Improve your content
To make sure your content is best-in-class, RFPIO offers content audit alerts. You decide on your auditing cadence (we recommend quarterly) and an automated email hits your inbox when it’s time to review, discard, and improve your response content.
Strengthen your team
Better RFI response is made possible through collaboration. Designed to foster a collaborative environment, RFPIO does not limit user licenses. Our pricing model is based on the number of RFx documents you respond to, not the number of users working in the platform. It’s easy to assign content to internal and external resources, like consultants and writers.