For buyers, there are often many stepping stones to navigate before reaching an agreement with a supplier over a purchase. The process of gathering information on the goods, for example, is an important stage many companies in professional services industries begin with before starting any form of negotiation on price or volume.
Research alone won’t cut it. For businesses, there’s a procedure in place for soliciting information about a vendor’s products or goods. It’s known as an RFI (request for information), and for many companies, it signals the first step on the road to making a purchase.
What is an RFI?
An RFI is a formal request for information buyers send to suppliers or vendors. The procurement team of a company, responsible for buying inventory, will issue an RFI when stock is low or when there’s an anticipated demand for a particular product.
Typically, the RFI is a term often mentioned in the construction industry for sourcing raw materials for new projects, but an RFI in project management is also very common.
What is an RFI document?
A company will draw up an RFI document after a need for a particular product or service has been identified. It helps those making the purchase decision figure out which supplier to buy from based on information such as the characteristics and dimensions of the product and other key factors.
What is an RFI in construction?
An RFI’s meaning in construction is a document that helps source the right materials and labor for a new project. By sending out RFIs to prospective contractor companies, suppliers, and vendors, construction companies can accurately assess which options would best fit their budget and other specific project needs.
Once the company has received the information it requested in the document, the key decision-makers can sort through the options and estimate how much the project is likely to cost.
There are standardized formats for RFI documents in the construction industry, making it straightforward for all parties involved.
RFI vs. RFP vs. RFQ: What is the difference?
Acronyms come thick and fast in the world of business, so it’s important to stay abreast of all the important ones that could apply to your company sooner or later. RFIs, RFPs, and RFQs are all formal procedures that can shape a buyer-seller interaction and streamline the process from initial interest to final purchase.
The RFI represents the first step in the process of procuring products or services for your business, followed by the RFP and the RFQ. After issuing these three formal documents, you’ll be able to make an informed decision as to which supplier offers the best deal.
An RFP is a formal request issued once a company has all the information it requires about the product or service from the RFI.
After qualifying the products, the company will ask the shortlisted suppliers to submit a proposal for the specific job or project.
For example, if a company requires a branding refresh, it would first send out an RFI to designers or brand consultants to solicit key information about what they could deliver. Then, that company would shortlist three to five candidates or agencies and draw up an RFP document providing specific information on the task and asking these candidates to submit a proposal.
The RFQ is the final stage of the procurement of goods or services process. This is where you find out how much each candidate will charge for the products or services they deliver.
To use the previous example, this is when the branding candidates would let you know how much it would cost to undertake the branding overhaul project, including material expenses and labor costs.
When should you use an RFI?
You should use an RFI whenever you need goods or services that you don’t already have access to. If you already have an agreement with a supplier for raw materials and you’re content with the terms of the deal, you wouldn’t need to issue an RFI.
But if you’re seeking something new for your business, an RFI kick-starts the formal procurement process that will give you the best chance of finding the best deal.
How to write an RFI document
Drawing up your first RFI document can be an intimidating process, as you want to be sure you receive the right information to get the best deal. There is a step-by-step formula you can follow, though, which will help guide you through the process.
State your needs
First, state your needs for the project you’re trying to complete. Without this information, suppliers won’t have much to go off when they try to fulfill your RFI, which could result in confusion and the wrong type of product suggestions.
If you’re drawing up an RFI to find contractors for a job, this is where you should outline what skills and traits the ideal candidate should have, as well as the scope of the project.
Add your company info
To receive information that’s relevant to your company’s needs, you should provide an overview of your business. This will help the suppliers find the right product or service for the job.
Include key details
As well as company information, you should also detail important aspects of your business, such as your customer demographics and psychographics, the department in charge of the project, and anything else that can be useful for sourcing the right products.
Attach a response section
Don’t forget to attach a section at the bottom of the RFI where suppliers can respond with information about their product or service. This template can include details such as how long suppliers can expect to wait for a response after they issue the information and the criteria by which you’ll judge the responses.
Let’s flesh out the previous RFI example about branding, so you can build a clear picture in your mind as to what an RFI looks like.
You’ve been put in charge of a major new project: to oversee a new direction for the company branding. This isn’t uncommon since brands change their identity and appeal often to adapt to the changing market and shifting consumer demands and pain points.
So, you’ve determined that you need to outsource some of the work to designers, as you don’t have an in-house design team.
Your first responsibility is to draw up an RFI document in which you specify exactly what you’re looking for and what skills the designers must have to complete the job to your expectations.
Here’s what that document might look like:
Company name: (your company name)
Company address: (your company address)
Project name: Branding design
Contact information: (your company email address and phone number)
Date issued: (when you sent out the RFI)
Date due: (when you expect to receive a response)
Overview and objectives: Company X is a SaaS company operating in the project management space. We’re undergoing a brand refresh, and we need designers to come in and oversee the creative process to solidify our new brand identity, factoring in our company values and customer needs.
Information to supply:
- What does your creative process look like?
- How long would you need to complete this project?
- What do you need from us to complete the project successfully?
Supplier response: (leave a space for the supplier to respond)
Once you’ve created the document, you have two options:
- Use an RFI tool that will send out the RFI to potential suppliers
- Take matters into your own hands and identify possible suppliers, and email them the RFI document
Tips for writing a good RFI
A good RFI can make the difference between an average deal and an excellent deal, with the latter saving your company money and setting up a working relationship with a reliable supplier.
As such, it’s important to perfect your RFI writing process before you start sending them out. Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll have a template you can turn to again and again for all your big purchase decisions.
So what does it take to put together an RFI that yields the best responses from suppliers?
Provide clear guidelines for responses
If you rush to put together an RFI, you set yourself up to be inundated with responses that take you a long time to wade through and tease out the useful nuggets of information. A generic RFI will lead to generic responses, which is the last thing you need when trying to streamline your buying process.
When you take the time to provide clear guidelines to suppliers as to what you want to see in their response, you’ll save countless hours of sifting through lengthy documents full of information that isn’t relevant to your project or needs.
Do not be overly detailed
There is a balance to be struck. Provide too much detail, and you risk slowing down the whole process. Overwhelm the suppliers, and you may have to endure longer response times and perhaps even rule out some prospective options due to information overload.
Consider the recipient
An RFI is primarily about your business and needs, yet there is another party involved in the process: the supplier. Forget to consider the recipient of the RFI, and your document will read like a cold, corporate solicitation for information.
Think long term: This could be a supplier that you work with on an ongoing basis for the next three to six months or longer.
With that in mind, how would you want your first impression to be? You certainly wouldn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with bloated language laden with technical terms and devoid of any real substance. Remember there’s a human on the other end tasked with reading your request, and this should help you produce a better RFI.
Give a fair deadline
With every RFI, you’ll want to establish a reasonable deadline to move the process along in line with your company goals, but also one which is fair to suppliers. Most suppliers likely receive dozens of RFI a week, so expecting them to respond within a few days is asking a lot.
Depending on the scope and details of the project, a deadline in the region of five to ten days is a good benchmark to aim for.
What is the RFI process?
The RFI process can roughly be broken down into three separate stages, which are as follows:
- The RFI process begins with the buyer drawing up the document, including relevant information pertaining to the project, such as a company overview, an outline of services or goods required, and any additional information. The buyer then sends out the document to prospective suppliers that they anticipate can fulfill their needs or uploads it to a website where sellers can find it.
- The suppliers will look over the RFI document and respond within the time frame specified by the buyer.
- The buyer will then compare and contrast all the responses they receive to draw up a shortlist for the next stage of the process: the RFP.
Common issues in the RFI process
RFIs help companies find the best supplier for the job, yet they can also be time-consuming and eat into company budgets. The RFI is just the beginning of a potentially lengthy procurement procedure that involves several stages. During this process, there’s typically a lot of back-and-forth with suppliers and document creation and exchange.
The RFI process can also drag employees from various departments into the process, which may create bottlenecks and delays. If you’re a project manager tasked with approving each proposal that lands on your desk, the project can be held in purgatory due to all the paperwork.
It isn’t uncommon to strike out when sending an RFI, too, which means you receive no responses from suppliers. This could be because you provided too much detail and suppliers viewed it as an unnecessary use of their time, or simply because the RFI didn’t reach the right people.
How to improve your RFI process
To improve the RFI process, aim for clarity and be concise with your words.
Optimize the document for brevity as this will allow suppliers to read and digest the information in less time, making it easier for them to justify issuing a timely response.
Don’t omit key information in the pursuit of brevity, though, as to receive the best proposals, you need to fill suppliers in on all the relevant facts.
How to respond to an RFI
If you’re on the receiving end of an RFI, it’s your job to assemble all the relevant information about your product or service that relates to the project or purchase needs put forward by the buyer.
Before responding, it’s important to clarify whether this is a project your company is capable of taking on or whether you have the product the buyer needs.
In the best-case scenario, you’ll simply need to enter information into the corresponding fields to satisfy the buyer’s request. Yet, it won’t always be that straightforward as each company will have its own process.
If you’ve responded to a similar RFI before, you can pull information from a previous response to save time and cater it to the buyer in question. Otherwise, consult relevant parties within your company. Talk to the people who know the most about the products or services you offer to mitigate the risk of inadvertently omitting important information.
How to plan your RFI documents and processes with Wrike
With Wrike’s professional services software, you can easily draw up your RFI form and send it to external contributors. The form template allows you to present suppliers with specific fields, so all they have to do is fill them out with the corresponding information.
Wrike’s document management system provides you with a means of organizing your RFIs and filing them away. This gives you the flexibility to reuse RFIs in future and keep a record of this important document for your books.
When you create and send RFIs through Wrike, you distill the procurement process down to one streamlined series of actions. For each stage, you can create, send, and manage the necessary files, so there’s no risk of misplacing them or losing access to them. Plus, your whole team can view or edit them if need be, which minimizes the risk of letting inadvertent mistakes slow down the process.
Get started today with a two-week free trial and see how Wrike can improve your RFI process.