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5 Tips for Responding to RFIs (part 1 of 2)

Nov 10, 2016 9:00:00 AM

A Request for Information (RFI) is utilized by agencies, businesses, and government bodies to better understand the current market conditions and to better grasp the specific capabilities of businesses that provide needed products and services. More importantly, though, RFIs are opportunities for the responders to make a great first impression on the requesting organization and show exactly what their business can do.

4-01.jpgBecause RFIs often lead to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and then to new contracts, it is vital that the documents you create are clear, informative, intriguing, and accurate. Below, we have shared 5 tips that can help you respond to RFIs successfully–and help grow your business.

Tip #1: Have a formal process to determine whether or not to respond to the RFI.

Responding to RFIs take a good deal of effort, skill, and time. For this reason, it is important that you do not respond to requests that will not ultimately result in business or other benefits. When an RFI comes across your desk, there should be a formal process in place in which you can quickly and accurately determine if responding to the request is worth your attention. This process should include:

  • Learning about the business, agency, or organization requesting information.
  • Determining if you will likely be able to meet all of their their requirements and specifications.
  • Understanding if a partnership with the business would be advantageous.
  • Determining if there are any roadblocks to forming a business relationship.
  • Understanding your exact objectives for responding to the request.

Skipping this vital first step of the RFI response process can be a significant drain on your resources and result in winning less business in the long run.

Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

It is a mistake to assume that asking questions about the RFI is unprofessional or a bother to the requesting organization. On the contrary, picking up the phone and asking questions can clarify the needs of the RFI author and give you an edge over the competition. It can also familiarize you with the people and faces behind the RFI and familiarize them with you, your products, and your services. A few questions that you might consider could include:

  • How many vendors are you considering, and why are you considering us in this process?
  • Can you go into more detail about your specific requirements or specifications?
  • Do you have any examples of past winning bids that might be helpful as we craft our response?
  • What is most important to you when choosing vendors to continue with this process?
Tip #3: Demonstrate thought leadership.

It is not enough to simply show that your business has the ability to meet the RFI author’s needs. In order to separate yourself from the pack, consider illustrating that you are a thought leader in your industry–and that this fact will be advantageous if they were to work with you. Here are a few ways that you can demonstrate your thought leadership:

  • Offer an in-depth explanation of how your solution meets their requirements.
  • Show your intimate understanding of the business or industry.
  • Discuss your methodologies, best practices, standards, and processes as well as how you developed them.
  • Offer alternative solutions along with an explanation of why these solutions might be needed.

Generally, make certain that your thought processes are apparent and that they illustrate why you are successful and how you can help others be successful.

Tip #4: Consider saving some recommendations for your RFP response.

RFIs are often used by organizations to understand the base of potential suppliers and to help the organization develop a RFP to send to a select number of RFI responders. Anything included in your RFI could be utilized in the RFP, giving the competition the chance to get a glimpse of information you might have shared, processes you might use, and advantages you might have over other options. For this reason, you might want to save some of your important differentiators for the RFP portion of the selection process instead of sharing them too early on.

Tip #5: Avoid too much cut-and-pasting.  

It is tempting to respond to as many requests for information as possible by using a boilerplate response and cut-and-pasting most sections of the document. However, responding to more RFIs is not better than responding thoughtfully to fewer RFIs. When reviewing your response, readers will be closely examining your document to see:

  • If you have a thorough understanding of their business or agency.
  • If you have answered all of their specific queries and questions.
  • If you have mirrored their structure or used their template/outline.
  • If you have followed all instructions for writing and submitting your response.

For reasons of efficiency, it is a necessity to have a RFI response template on hand that serves as the foundation for your response. However, do not fall into the trap of sending a generic response to each request unless you want to lose out on future business.

What are your thoughts on submitting responses to RFIs?  Do you have additional tips for how to best respond and win business? Or do you have a question about finding more success from the proposals you submit? Share with our community by leaving a comment below.

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