Requests for Information are Your First Opportunity to Make an Impression: The Value of Responding to RFIs

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls, and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

Those that wait for a Government solicitation (RFP) to land at their door miss their chance at giving critical input during the early stages of the government procurement process.  Industry feedback advises the Government’s changes and adjustments to RFPs — PRIOR TO RELEASE, perhaps even customizing the solicitation to suppliers who do the job of responding.

In our July Blog, we posited that the ability to perform on a bid is only one of many important preliminary considerations when deciding whether or not to pursue a Government opportunity.

Before getting to the proposal stage, you want to take every opportunity to shape the RFP to your advantage. One way of doing that is to effectively use Government Requests for Information (RFI) responses. Here we briefly discuss how RFIs work and how they can both help you understand the procurement, as well as help you shape it to make your solution the most likely winner.

Genesis of an RFI: Every Government procurement starts with a need that must be satisfied. The various agencies (DoD, State, etc.) each follow a process of vetting and validating these needs, establishing acquisition and business plans, and preparing competitive solicitations for release to industry. The Government releases an RFP when it KNOWS that their requirements are achievable and linked to authorized funding.

But first, Government agencies typically put out an RFI, effectively ringing the bell for industry to   respond. RFIs serve two major purposes. First, they help the Government determine if, and how many, qualified suppliers are interested in competing for the work.  Second, they serve to meet the FAR requirement to conduct Market Research in its various forms: Sources Sought notifications, Special Notices, or RFIs. These can be released days to years in advance of the actual RFP.

If done well, the Government increases its chances of getting the solutions it seeks.  If not, there is risk that the Government objectives cannot be met. You can imagine that this situation is not career enhancing for your customer – and they need industry support to get this right.

What is in it for you: This is your chance to “shape” the RFP. Shaping is the process of taking what you have learned about your prospective customer’s objectives and informing them about how features and benefits of your solution can improve their approach to meeting those objectives. It gives your Government customer guiding input to adjust their acquisition strategy, specifications, and business plans to ensure they get what they want — all while improving your shot at successfully competing for the opportunity.

Bottom Line: Don’t ignore RFIs. This requires more attention than simply answering the mail: be thoughtful in your response and suggestions. If your solution is compelling enough, the customer might even narrow the specification and put you in the driver’s seat. All before many competitors have had any influence at all.

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