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A beginner’s guide to understanding RFIs and RFPs

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For any business looking for the next big contract, RFIs (Requests for Information) and RFPs (Request for Papers) are a difficult but important necessity. Organisations use these to let the wider world know what kind of supplier they’re looking for and then to identify the best one for their needs.

If you’re new to the world of RFIs and RFPs, these are long, detailed application forms that can take days to complete. Prospective suppliers submit these to the end organisation or, increasingly, to an independent consultancy that handles the process for the client. 

RFIs are the initial “sense check” stage in the process. If you successfully demonstrate the requisite expertise and capabilities, you may then be invited to respond to the RFP in much more detail regarding a specific organisational need.

An RFIs and RFPs are your shop window for the client, giving little opportunity to demonstrate your company’s personality and engender that all-important chemistry. That only happens if you succeed in getting through to the next stage. Given that hundreds of competitors may be responding, what do you need to do to optimise your chances of being noticed?

Follow this guide to make RFIs and RFPs as easy as one, two, three:

1. Read the brief

Read it again and get someone else to sense check it. If you can’t answer all the questions, then leave it.

2. Question the brief 

RFIs and RFPs are often based on templates designed to find suppliers in completely different sectors so the information asked for can sometimes be irrelevant. By asking questions, you may even help the client construct the RFP in a more meaningful way.

3. Be honest with the client

If the RFP is outside your scale or scope. They will respect you for it and may come back to you when a more relevant need arises.

4. Use case studies

Demonstrate your capabilities, especially when using partners to help you fulfil the brief. Clients don’t want to know that you “could” partner with another organisation – they want to see how successful you have been in doing this before.

5. Demonstrate how you add value

Remember that it’s not just about prices!

6. Be clear…

… about your point of difference from the competition.

7. including other relevant areas of expertise, major accomplishments and awards

Often, there’s a section asking for “additional” information that could be important. Seize this with both hands as an opportunity to make your business come alive.

8. Show how you can deliver value year-on-year

Clients are often looking for a long-term partner beyond the time of the RFP contract, so expand the proposition.

9. Invest time and money in making it look great

Include presentation-style documentation that makes it easier to follow and understand.

10. Ensure you are being asked to respond with things you can actually measure

For example, you can’t say what savings you will make if you don’t know what was spent before!

11. If the RFP follows an RFI, ensure your responses are consistent

WARNING: There are bogus RFP websites out there asking for payment – be careful!

Steve Puttock is MD London at brand-management specialists Schawk.

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