The RFP is the celebrated driver of many large purchasing projects, but the RFI is the underutilized secret to success for sourcing good vendors.
What is an RFI?
An RFI, or Request For Information, is a process by which organizations gather and compare written responses provided by suppliers.
The Difference between an RFP and an RFI
Purchasers who use RFPs may think of the RFI as a waste of time when the RFPs they issue typically cover many of the same topics. This is because many purchasers have unknowingly combined the RFI and the RFP into a Frankenstein-esque sourcing document that is just as painful to complete as it is to score. A well-run RFI should drastically reduce the amount of work for an RFP and might even add some excitement to your vendor hunting expedition.
RFIs are considerably shorter than RFPs, consisting of a fraction of the questions you would find in its larger sibling. Purchasers should use an RFI as an initial investigation into what’s available in the market and what options are available to address their company’s need. For example, if you had only a cursory idea of the capabilities of marketing automation software, but you know that your marketing team needs help with automating certain processes, you could write a quick RFI asking for brief descriptions of what functionality is currently available with marketing automation solutions today.
Armed with that short document, you can reach out to dozens of vendors and collate their qualitative responses into a packet that looks more like a magazine than a phone book. (Of course, we’ll note that if you’re manually collating at all, you should chat with us about how Vendorful can save you loads of time.) With this summary of information, you not only know get insights into the breadth of offerings available in the market, but you also have some idea of which vendors can deliver which solutions.
In addition to being smaller in qualitative scope, an RFI also has significantly fewer stakeholders compared to an RFP. This is because an RFI does not result in an immediate purchase decision, but instead, may be setting the stage for the follow-up RFP.
RFIs are generally used for one of two things.
- As a “market check” where the prospective buyer is simply gathering information for a purchase that might not be imminent
- As a prelude to an RFP, but where the buyers want to narrow down the pool of vendors that will be invited to bid
It’s good practice to let suppliers know whether you are looking to move forward with a purchase, or if you are just performing a market check. If you are looking to make a purchase, then you should follow up with an RFP, but either way, you should thank each supplier for participating in your RFI.
By using an RFI as part of your purchase process, you can use the information you’ve acquired to winnow down the number of vendors that you invite to your follow-on RFP. Not only will this improve the value of the RFPs you receive, but this process will reduce the time investment — by vendors and your colleagues — by excluding suppliers that don’t have a relevant product for your need. If you plan to run a two-stage request process, it might be helpful to think of the RFI as the step you take to shortlist leading companies that will be invited to participate in your RFP.
How RFx software affects RFIs
Although RFIs are considerably shorter than RFPs, they still benefit from the same RFx management software. Manual RFI processes involve wasted time such as emailing, collating, tracking etc., which would ordinarily represent a large percentage of the total time involved in an RFI. And while a Request for Information might be small in scope, they typically involve more suppliers, making auto-collation and apples-to-apples evaluations key features. Indeed, the ability to view all the information supplied by vendors side-by-side and in context is invaluable for any kind of evaluation. Plus, good RFx software should simplify the response process for vendors. Remember, your RFI is only as good as the vendors that respond and the quality of their responses. Providing a great experience for your vendors by reducing work and frustration can drastically boost your response rate.
Learn about the different methods of managing your RFIs and RFPs with our ebook here.
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