An RFI, aka request for information, is often used to collect information of your suppliers’ capabilities or perspectives before you further engage with them. Usually the first step in the process, an RFI can be seen as an exploratory step to see if suppliers can meet your needs.
Some might think that RFI is a way of saying that you’re too lazy to do your homework. A bit harsh, and unfair. You might find it surprising, but true though, some companies don’t usually post everything on their websites. And you should be the one that take the initiative to turn your idea into reality. So, shrug off the burden and send out the RFI.
Best practices to write an effective RFI
In a word, an RFI asks quite a number of suppliers for specific information that you find helpful to make the decision.
That said, it’s important that you ask the right questions from the very beginning, because no one wants to send out a second or even a third RFI asking for further answers to questions that have been missed in the first RFI. What a waste of time and energy!
So, how to ask the right questions in an RFI to get the timely, accurate and complete answers? Here are 5 of the proven practices that can help you get started.
#1 Start from high level
As the first step in the process, RFIs is like sending your prospective suppliers a “Hey, how you doing?”. It tests the water for you and neither of you need to promise anything at this stage. So it’s better if you:
1) State your goal and challenges clearly.
Tell them who you are, what you want to achieve and what are the challenges you’re facing now. You don’t have to be very specific, but such information sure does give your potential suppliers a chance to decide whether to further engage with you.
2) Pay more attention to their perspectives, not capabilities.
The response you get might show you the expertise and capabilities that they have now. But things change rapidly, and the potential ability to tackle new questions or the perspectives to grow rapidly is what you need to focus more.
#2 Follow an established format
Good forms and templates get you the right information effectively and efficiently. If you don’t have such a format now, start building one. You can of course use some software application to help you create one. But be sure to modify it to your unique needs.
#3 Address your questions clearly and concisely
Keep it in mind that you’re asking for information that helps you decide. And the potential suppliers can’t give you an answer if you don’t ask them a question. Here are some tips that you might find helpful:
1) Keep the question simple.
Don’t ask compound questions. Try to ask one question at a time. Meanwhile, try to avoid jargon or lingo, to make sure that the question is understood correctly.
2) Keep the question professional.
Respect your potential suppliers, and do your homework first before you open your mouth. Avoid asking questions that you can easily find the answers to online.
3) Define an adequate response.
Don’t make your potential suppliers guess what information you need, just tell them. This is especially true when you have complex issues. What requirements, product or service specification, or other qualifications are where you can start.
4) Provide enough information.
Make sure your questions have enough information for people to answer. For example, you might need to provide drawings or images for them to understand your challenges.
The clearer you make yourself, the more likely you are to get a timely, accurate response.
#4 Make it easy to compare
One of the goals for RFIs are to get enough information from suppliers you barely know, and decide if you need to move on to RFQ or RFP based on what you get back. So it’s utmost important that the answers can be compared on your side.
#5 Be considerate
It never harms to groom a positive, sustainable supplier relationship. And being considerate and respectful of the time and effort from the other party is a good starter.
1) Limit the questions.
RFIs should provide you with enough critical information for you to move on to the next step. Too many questions in an RFI would trigger questions like if it’s necessary, or how related are the questions to the potential partnership.
2) Include an appropriate due date.
You should always include a time when you expect the RFI to be sent back to you. The appropriate time frame varies, basing on the urgency of your project. But you should take the amount of questions and possible time the potential suppliers need to reply into consideration when deciding the due date.
In all, RFIs are the first step in the process, and they play an important role in risk mitigation and cost reduction. If you need any assistance on RFIs, feel free to contact us, or leave us a comment here. We’d be glad to help.