An RFI (or request for information) is usually the first step in the procurement process. It is a tried and trusted way to research the potential options available in the market and then narrow those options down to a shortlist. But, how do you run the best RFI process? An RFI that will engage the market and deliver the outcomes that you need? In this article, we look at what an RFI is and what you need to do (and not do) to really get the most out of the process.
What is an RFI?
RFI stands for Request For Information. It is usually a short document that sets out the buyer's need and requests that interested parties respond with how they can help satisfy the need. It's a great way to quickly assess the options that are available to the buyers and to determine a shortlist ahead of a more formal process (usually an RFP - Request for Proposal).
How detailed should an RFI be?
Many teams spend too long on the RFI document and make it overly complex and cumbersome. Not only does this have the potential to delay the issue of the document (as internal teams debate what goes in it or who should have input into it) but it can also dissuade potential bidders from responding - the very last thing that any RFI should do.
An RFI should be short and to the point. It needs to provide enough information for the potential bidders to understand the requirement and no more. A good size might be 5-10 pages.
What information should go in an RFI?
The contents of an RFI should include the basic information that needs to be conveyed to the potential reader. However, keep in mind that the content should be interesting to read and should really sell the benefits of responding. The sales team reading the RFI will have an important choice to make - do they respond or do they 'no-bid'? At the RFI stage, it's absolutely crucial to hear from a broad audience - so encouraging the sales team to take part is vitally important.
Here are the main elements of the RFI:
Company Information - a short summary of your business. What does the company look like, how is it structured and where does this requirement sit?
Project Need - why are you issuing the RFI? What problem are you looking to solve? How important is that problem and who cares about it?
The Process - What process are you going to follow? What is the respondee getting themselves into? If you are going to buy it, when are you going to do this? When are you going to aim to deliver the project and why that date? When will you be letting the companies know if they are selected for the next round (and make sure you keep to this).
Dates - When do you want the document back...and be realistic.
Decision Criteria - How will you select who gets taken to the next stage in the process? How will the responding business know what 'good' looks like?
Response Format - What format would you like the responses in? Remember, make it easy - gone are the days when several printed copies should be needed unless there is a really good reason for this.
Contact Information - Who should they contact if they have a question - and how should they contact them? Keep communication lines open.
Invitation To Speak - Ideally, this should happen a while before the RFI is issued, but if not, make sure there is an opportunity for the sales team to speak to your key decision team. Would you answer a random document without speaking to someone before spending time working on it?
How long should you give suppliers to respond to the RFI?
How long you give your suppliers to respond is very much dependent upon a number of factors. These include:
How much notice you have given them of the arrival of the RFI.
How fast do you need to move to make your shortlist decision?
How much time is reasonably needed for the responses to be assembled?
The time of year and likelihood that the teams can find resources to respond.
The complexity of the product or service that you are looking to buy.
Remember, this is not a test for the supplier. They will not react well to aggressive timescales or difficult demands. Try to be friendly and helpful and accommodate any obstacles that are reasonable to work around.
Ask questions and be open to recommendations.
The time for being prescriptive is further down the procurement process - not at the RFI stage. The RFI is all about seeking options and opinions. We are really looking for the 'art of the possible' at this stage. We should want to hear all the options that might be on the table - then we can decide who might form our shortlist, and from those shortlisted options, what you are really hoping they might be able to provide to answer your challenge.
Try not to fall into the trap of leading the suppliers down one path or another. If you can clearly state the issue you face, the suppliers should be able to demonstrate the knowledge and experience to address the issue in a way that you may not have thought of.
Who should write and issue the RFI?
As mentioned above, an RFI should not be overcomplicated and therefore the project leader is usually tasked with creating and issuing the document.
Who can help write the RFI?
If writing the document internally is a challenge, there are suppliers who can take care of the complete process for you. At Viewpoint Analysis we have a quick packaged service called the 'Technology Matchmaker Service' which takes care of the RFI for you. Included in the package are areas like:
Interviewing the team to understand the requirement.
Writing the RFI document or 'problem statement' in vendor-friendly language.
Contacting vendors that we believe might be appropriate for the requirement.
Fielding the initial sales calls.
Hosting the vendor presentations.
It just needs the team to sit back and listen to the options.
Let us know if we can help or if you have any RFI-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org