Receiving an RFI (Request for Information) from a potential prospect is often the first step in a sales process. Knowing how to respond to an RFI in a compelling way can help your team stand out amongst your competition and reach the next phase of securing a win.
Read on to learn the purpose of RFIs, the difference between RFPs and RFIs, and best practices for responding to an RFI, so that you and your team can gather the information needed to exceed the expectations of the issuing organization!
What is an RFI?
RFIs are primarily used by organizations to help inform their search for a new partner or vendor. RFIs are typically the first and most broadly cast of a series of requests and questionnaires, which can include Request for Quotations (RFQs), and a Request for Proposals (RFPs), to narrow down a list of potential vendors. RFIs allow the issuing company to learn about the players in a given market and explore the technology or services they have to offer.
As an often overlooked step in the sales process, it is crucial for your team to understand the purpose of an RFI and how it differs from an RFP.
RFI vs RFP: So, What’s the Difference?
As mentioned, RFIs are a preliminary document sent in the sequence of RFPs and RFQs. This means that they are issued at the very beginning of an organization’s due diligence process, while they are still exploring the market.
Since an RFI is a preliminary questionnaire, the questions/prompts will often lack details that you would find in an RFP. As RFPs are sent after an organization has decided to move forward with potential prospects, their requirements are more defined, including questions around cost, etc.
Now, knowing how to craft winning RFP responses is extremely important in securing the overall win. But putting your best foot forward in your RFI response is the first step in winning the business!
Here are five more important steps for working with SMEs to compile the best RFP response and sales proposal content possible.
5 Best Practices for Your RFI Response Process
- Review RFI Requirements
The first step when you receive an RFI is to gauge the value that this partnership could potentially bring to your organization and decide if you’re going to respond. You must determine if this opportunity is a right fit for you, just as they are trying to determine if you are a right fit for them. Knowing exactly what they are looking for at the start of your process can help you make that decision and give you, and your team, the confidence in knowing that your product or service is fully capable of meeting their needs.
If you’ve decided to move forward with the RFI, start by performing an initial comb through with your core team members so that everyone is aware of the type of information that your response will require. Becoming familiar with the various questions that the RFI contains will cause your team to spend less time digging for information and more time choosing the most impactful content to include in your response.
- You want to eliminate any surprise questions that would cause you and your team to waste time scavenging through files or waiting for an SME to respond to a quick question.
One of the biggest requirements that come with an RFI is its deadline for submissions. Taking on the responsibility of performing an initial comb through at the start of your process, is the first step to ensuring that every second spent on forming your response, counts!
- Assemble Your RFI Team
Uniting a team with members that have the capabilities and skillsets of handling the task at hand, is best practice for any project, and is especially important to your RFI process. If your company does not have a dedicated response team, you may have to bring together colleagues from various departments (such as sales or marketing), and identify subject matter experts (SMEs), who can help assemble the content you’ll need to respond to the RFI.
- If you have the option to choose from a variety of team members, select ones with experience in the industry of the issuing company. (They can provide great insight early on in your process!)
Once you have selected your team, be sure that everyone is on the same page about your RFI process: identify roles and responsibilities, establish the scope, and set key milestones to keep you on track to meet the issuer’s deadline.
Responding to an RFI is a collaborative effort, so you need an open communication plan in place for seamless teamwork.
- Gather Content
Since RFIs tend to ask similar (or even identical) questions that are in an RFP, the ability to quickly respond to repeat questions with accurate, up-to-date information is key. Storing all of your content in one source can save you and your team loads of time, eliminating the work of finding and pulling from various sources that give insight to the same subject.
If your organization has response software with features dedicated to content management, your team will have a leg up on staying organized and complaint in your RFI process.
- Manage SMEs
Like any other questionnaire, your RFI may require information that your core team members do not have expertise in. This is where having available, ready, subject matter experts (SMEs) come into play! Though you may only need them for a question or two, it is critical to take the necessary steps to optimize your SME process, especially for how valuable they will be to you once you receive that follow-up RFP!
The best way to encourage participation of your SMEs is to simplify the process by which they respond to questions. You can do this by:
- Clearly communicating requests
- Making it easy for SMEs to respond to questions
- Have a system for storing SME responses so that you don’t have to go back to them over and over again
To streamline your RFI process, decrease your response time, and meet the deadline, your organization needs a proper answer library with features dedicated to your success!
5. Remember, Put Your Best Foot Forward
From a library of up-to-date, complaint information, you want to be sure that your team incorporates the most impactful content in your response. Keep in mind, this is your first introduction to the issuing company, they’ve cast a broad net in search of a unique solution that features the exciting new thing in the market, and better yet your industry. Your RFI response should highlight your credibility, capabilities, and present your company as a professional, forward-thinking organization. You want to stand out amongst your competitors, while still staying true to your identity and brand.
Ultimately, you want your organization’s strengths to be showcased in a way that the issuing company is compelled to send that follow-up RFP, providing you with a critical edge over the competition. Yet, be careful not to give away too much information upfront. It is more likely for the issuing company to send an RFP if they are impressed and intrigued by your RFI response. You want to be able to provide new and even more compelling information in your RFP so that most of that response doesn’t just consist of your team copying the same information twice, creating the possibility of letting your competition outshine your organization before the final decision is made.
Nonetheless, an RFI Response can be one of the best introductions your organization could make in its efforts to get in front of a potentially important client or profitable partner.
6. Review & Revise
Always, always, review your work before sending it off. With the time, effort, and collaboration needed to form your RFI response, you would be doing your organization a misfortune to not check for:
- Missing/incomplete information
- Consistency in formatting
- Tone of voice
- Grammatical errors
- Spelling errors
These errors that can easily be spotted by the issuing company speak to your organization’s professionalism. And with the weight that an RFI carries, reviewing and revising accordingly can be the deciding factor in whether your organization secures this small victory and reach the next phase of securing the big win.
You’ve Come to the Right Place
Lucky for you, all of the tips and software features mentioned here are fully supported by RocketDocs 2.0. We developed our software for the sole purpose of streamlining all of your questionnaire processes. From RFPs to RFIs, and DDQ’s, we’ve got you covered and protected. So why wait! Schedule a demo today and experience a faster way to form your responses.