RFI vs RFP vs RFQ? Use This Cheatsheet to Crack the Code (And Respond Right)
What exactly is an RFI, RFP, or RFQ? Simply put, these are all requests that companies send out to gather more information about potential vendors when they need to manage projects. But when you are on the receiving end of one of these requests, it can feel anything but simple.
There are so many hoops to jump through. And if you’ve never encountered one of these requests before, it can be confusing even knowing where to start. Should you respond the same way, whether it’s an RFI vs. RFP vs. RFQ? Absolutely not. 🙅 They may look similar at first glance but require distinct responses.
By knowing what all three documents are explicitly asking for, you can focus on submitting a winning response no matter the request–instead of getting lost in translation of industry jargon. Read on to learn:
- The Cheatsheet for an RFI vs RFP vs RFQ
- The Basic Definitions of an RFI, RFP, and RFQ
- How to Tailor Your Response to Each Request
- What the Supplier Vetting Process Looks Like
- Frequently Asked Questions About RFIs, RFPs, or RFQs
The Surface-Level Differences Between an RFI vs RFP vs RFQ (Steal This Cheatsheet)
Although an RFI, RFP, and RFQ look similar upon first glance, there are major differences between the three requests. To make sure you submit the best response for each, it’s important to remember what a company is explicitly looking to learn more about during the bidding process. Luckily, the answer is in the name: request for information (RFI), request for proposal (RFP), and request for quote (RFQ).
Or, you can refer to this RFI, RFP, RFQ Cheatsheet the next time one of these requests comes around:
(request for information)
|Asks for: More information about your business and solutions|
|Your Goal: Establish expertise through informative answers|
|Style: Standardized format|
|Remember to: Answer all of the information needs (within limits)|
(request for proposal)
|Asks for: A full-blown proposal to win a particular contract|
|Your Goal: Tell a story about why your solution is the top choice|
|Style: Formal (with design liberties)|
|Remember to: Create a content plan based on your win themes|
(request for quote)
|Asks for: Pricing information and product specifications|
|Your Goal: Give the best quote possible without sacrificing profit|
|Remember to: Leave a little wiggle room for negotiations|
RFI, RFP, RFQ: Diving Deeper, Starting With Their Different Definitions
If you’re new to the world of project management, the jargon can be a little confusing. IFB, PPP, SOW, and BOE are just a few terms you may hear casually floating around in meetings. Whether you ask for clarification or turn to Google for translation (perhaps how you wound up here), the best acronyms to learn right away are RFI, RFP, and RFQ.
Why? Because they fall under the umbrella of RFx–the “x” stands for all the different requests you might respond to during a vendor selection process. Let’s look at the key differences between these key documents more closely:
What is a Request for Information (RFI)? The One With All the Questions
A request for information (RFI) is a questionnaire-style document which asks vendors to submit detailed information about their business. Typically, this document arrives early in the selection process because a company is putting out feelers for what’s available in the market to revise project guidelines before they jump into the RFP phase, where they’ll request a proposal next.
What is a Request for Proposal (RFP)? The One to Win the Ultimate Bid
A request for proposal (RFP) is a document which asks potential suppliers to submit proposals, in order to win business for a particular contract. The procurement team may also refer to it as a tender; this request includes a detailed overview of the project (like a construction schedule), what the company is specifically hoping to solve or achieve, and a list of questions and requirements to help pinpoint the perfect vendor for the job.
What is a Request for Quotation (RFQ)? The One That Gets Down to $$$
A request for quotation (RFQ) is a document which asks vendors to submit pricing details and payment terms for a product or service. While an RFP often requires a price proposal for a cost estimate, an RFQ is more approximate, seeking a list of prices for quantifiable items, like equipment and supplies. RFQs are often sent alone or in tandem with an RFP.
Are You Submitting an RFI, RFP, or RFQ Response? Follow These Pro Tips
You may receive an RFI, RFP, or RFQ independently, all at once, or one after the other. Each of these requests play a big part in the procurement process and serve the same overall purpose: to ensure both parties make an informed decision before moving forward with a deal.
“All these requests work together to help an organization mitigate risks, strategically source vendors, and evaluate them fairly. For example, an organization may send an RFI in the early stages to understand potential solutions, then follow up with an RFP,” says Aramis Herrerra, CPO at Ivaldi Group.
That said, none of these documents look the same–even if there are overlapping requirements. While you still have to react promptly and provide all the necessary information, how you respond will vary wildly between the three.
Let’s take a look at best practices for the RFI, RFP, RFQ processes:
Pro Tip #1: Respond to an RFI by Answering Questions, Briefly
A prospect that sends an RFI is in fact-finding mode. They’ll send out an extensive questionnaire to conduct market research and learn more about which vendors are out there. To improve your chances of receiving an RFP (the usual next step in business processes), you should respond to an RFI by answering the questions fully and addressing the client’s specific needs.
🥇 Your Goal: Provide brief answers highlighting your business information and available solutions.
Sounds simple, right? Well, these documents can be hundreds of questions long. Not to mention, the timeframe for responding can be around one to two weeks, and in some cases, one or two days. 🤯 No sweat, here are some tips to help you submit an RFI response quickly and easily:
✓ Qualify the opportunity: Since an RFI comes before an RFP, save yourself the trouble from doing more work later by seeing if the opportunity is a good fit from the start. Why spend time answering a bunch of questions if your company won’t likely win (or want to win) a bid down the road?
✓ Automate your answers: If you receive a high-volume of RFIs, you may see the same questions again and again (especially if companies use RFI templates). Make your life a little easier with RFI software by storing these FAQs in a content library so that you can answer them on the double.
✓ Personalize your response: Just because the questions are broad, it doesn’t mean your answers have to be. Do your research and find out as much as you can about the client, so that you can work this knowledge into your answers and show them you understand their pain points.
✓ Don’t skip over questions: There may be a lot of questions, but you have to answer all of them. That said, you can still withhold confidential information or any secret-sauce details you’d like to save for the RFP. In other words, write your RFI response like it’s going to be shared publicly.
✓ Get right to the point: You don’t have to write an essay for each question–in fact, it’s best practice to keep your answers brief and digestible, considering the procurement team will likely skim their large pile of responses. There’s no need to go into extensive detail. Simply provide the information that’s asked, nothing extra.
If You Receive an RFI, It’s Because a Company…
📌 Is in the early stages of the buying process.
📌 Doesn’t know what solutions are out there yet.
📌 Has a broad understanding of their current challenges.
📌 Wants to filter candidates before getting into specifics.
Pro Tip #2: Respond to an RFP by Offering a Persuasive Solution
Of course, prospects won’t always issue an RFI first when inquiring about your business. If they have enough information about the market, they may send a request for proposal (RFP) immediately. “Prospects that issue an RFP are ready to partner up with a vendor,” says Herrera. They just might not know who the best vendor is yet.
🥇 Your Goal: Submit a winning proposal that proves your capability and offers a persuasive solution.
Although this request can be complex and overwhelming, it’s your company’s opportunity to shine. ✨ Unlike an RFI response–which tends to be strict and structured–you will have more freedom to tell a compelling story about why your solution is the number one choice. Think of an RFP response as more of a narrative than a form.
Here are some golden rules for how to respond to an RFP:
✓ Optimize your RFP intake: Create an intake process in Salesforce or your customer relationship management (CRM) software of choice. Use it to capture basic information about the RFP so that the right people can be notified before it even arrives and start pre-proposal research.
✓ Focus on the winners: If you didn’t qualify the opportunity in the RFI process (or didn’t receive an RFI to begin with), it’s now or never to decide whether the bid is worth it. Use an ironclad decision matrix–like this go/no-go decision template–to eliminate the duds or prioritize your RFP responses.
✓ Put the prospect first: A prospect wants to feel like you truly understand their needs. So, read the RFP with a fine-tooth comb, making sure to pick out any special requirements and key insights. Then, use this information to develop strong win themes and create a strategic content plan.
✓ Make it a team effort: Responding to an RFP doesn’t fall squarely on your shoulders. Remember to get input from multiple stakeholders early on in your RFP response process to make sure you’re on the right track. And enlist the brainpower of subject matter experts (SMEs) to help you answer more niche questions accurately.
✓ Triple-check the proposal: One little oversight can lose you the entire bid. Even if the deadline is looming, take the time to proofread the proposal (pass it through someone with fresh eyes) and confirm you’ve made the best case for your company. Ask yourself the four C’s: is it consistent, compliant, clear, and compelling?
If You Receive an RFP, It’s Because a Company…
📌 Plans to facilitate a more informed buying decision.
📌 Wants to save time researching by having vendors do the leg work.
📌 Hopes to increase competition in the bidding pool.
Pro Tip #3: Respond to an RFQ by Demonstrating Your Value Beyond Price
A procurement team that sends a request for quotation (RFQ) typically has one criterion in mind: the lowest price. They’re less interested in a packaged sales pitch and simply looking for a breakdown of how your product or service fits within their budget approval. Although this request can be more of a cost shoot-out, it’s a good idea to still quantify your value in other ways, like having the fastest delivery.
🥇 Your Goal: Demonstrate the value of your solution by providing price quotes and specifications.
Of course, each organization will have slightly different RFQ processes. Sometimes you’ll have to provide a capability statement to prove you can fulfill the order. Alternatively, you may only have to plug prices into an excel spreadsheet. Either way, here are best practices when submitting an RFQ response:
✓ Prove your commitment: Look over the delivery schedule, budget, and other requirements. Do you have the capability to deliver as promised? Do you have a proven track record? Can you be flexible if the requirements change? Answer these questions in the letter you supply with the quote.
✓ Think like a negotiator: Instead of providing the lowest price from the get-go, submit a quote with a 10% higher gross margin to allow wiggle room for negotiation (in your favour). That way, you won’t have to sacrifice profit to win and they’ll walk away feeling triumphant that they negotiated a lower price than the original quote.
✓ Get the inside scoop: What’s the real reason a company is issuing an RFQ? Is it to discover your pricing before they’re even ready to buy? Or perhaps, justify their budget with another vendor? It’s important to build a relationship with a client before putting all of your cards on the table.
If You Receive an RFQ, It’s Because a Company…
📌 Wants to dig into the cost, payment terms, and specs.
📌 Knows what they want and doesn’t need all of the extra details.
📌 Has a budget in mind and is ready to make a purchase.
📌 Plans to quickly choose a vendor based on price alone.
Is the Supplier Vetting Process Fair? A Look Behind the Curtain of Evaluation
While it’s not uncommon for companies to have a winner in mind (like the incumbent), the supplier vetting process is typically designed to level the playing field.
In an ideal scenario, all vendors have equal opportunity to compete for business because the organization strives to make the process fair, unbiased, and transparent. They might:
Stick to a Standardized Template
Whether you receive an RFI vs RFP vs RFQ, you’ll see the same request documents as your competitors—no one gets off easy with fewer questions. There will be clearly defined criteria for all suppliers to meet and a structured evaluation framework to minimize potential biases.
Follow a Sealed Bidding Process
In a sealed bidding process, an organization opens all bids simultaneously (and often reads them aloud in a public forum). While you see this more in the public sector, some companies follow it to avoid the exchange of inside information before submission (a.k.a bid rigging).
Negotiate Supplier Payment Terms & Pricing Details
The cheapest bidder doesn’t always win. Many organizations recognize that price is not the sole determining factor in starting a successful partnership and will negotiate favourable payment terms that benefit both parties—only after they’ve selected a vendor based on the best fit.
Let’s Recap: Answers to Your Questions About RFIs, RFPs, or RFQs
Should You Respond to an RFI vs. RFP vs. RFQ?
Download this Go/No-Go Decision Template to decide whether the opportunity is worth it before putting in the work of responding to one request after the other.