At any time prior to RFP release, a customer may or may not release an RFI.
- Customers request RFIs for different reasons and call them by different names.
- Knowing how to respond and what the impact is on the process depends on what the customer is trying to achieve by releasing the RFI.
When the Government is considering a procurement, but is not sure about specifications, methodologies, or potential bidders, they may issue an RFI. An RFI may provide you with an opportunity to:
- Make suggestions regarding what they should include in the future RFP if it goes forward.
- Show that you are qualified, responsive, and helpful.
- Influence the procurement.
- Provide information about your company to the customer.
You should take advantage of these opportunities, if possible. Sometimes, responding to an RFI is required if you want to respond to the future RFP. When this is the case, it will say so in the text of the announcement. There are other documents that are similar in nature to an “RFI” that customers sometimes release. Two of these include:
- Sources Sought Notice. Usually used when they know what they want, but do not know who can provide it.
- Market Survey. Used to learn about a market and its suppliers.
If the Government thinks a procurement is a candidate for release as a small business set-aside, they may release a Sources Sought notice to see if they get sufficient interest from small businesses. If enough small businesses respond that they are capable of fulfilling the requirements, the Government may be obligated to make the procurement a small business set-aside. If you are a small business you should take advantage of this and include a recommendation and rationale for making the procurement a set-aside. If you are a large business, you should be on guard against this, and include a rationale for why the Government should not make the procurement a small business set-aside.
If you have questions about what they are trying to do, you should call the contracting officer. In fact, you should look for an excuse to call, if only to make contact and boost name recognition. Because it is not (yet) a procurement, you may find them willing to talk and to discuss options, trade-offs, intentions, and other critically important concerns that they will not be willing to discuss once an RFP is released.
When responding to an RFI, there are many things that you can try to influence, in order to give you a competitive advantage. These include:
- Technical scope. Try to include requirements that will limit the field of competitors.
- Specifications. Make recommendations that you can comply with, but which will be difficult for others.
- Contract Type. If you have a preference, here is your chance to make a recommendation.
- Contract Vehicle. If you have a contract vehicle that you think is advantageous, recommend its use. Provide sufficient detail (POCs, procedures, contract numbers, etc.) so that they can implement your recommendation.
- Small Business. If you are a small business and think you can do the work yourself, recommend that it be released as a small business set-aside. If you are not a small business, you may want to point out any aspects of what they need that would be difficult for a small business to provide. Then state your willingness to team with a small business if required.
- Pricing. Choices made early on can have a big impact on the price. Here is your chance to influence those choices.
- Past Performance. If you don’t have any Government project past performance, make sure you recommend that they consider relevant commercial experience.
- Certifications. If you have any relevant certifications, recommend that they become requirements to limit the competitive field. If you don’t have relevant certifications, recommend that they not be required because they would limit the amount of competition, really are not relevant, would increase the price, etc.
- Methodologies. If there is a particular approach you would take, describe it so that they can make it a requirement.
Make sure that you describe your recommendations in language that can be included in the RFP. Keep in mind that if you make a recommendation and it ends up in the RFP, everyone will see it and bid accordingly. Sometimes this will level the playing field and you will lose the competitive advantage. These recommendations are better to save for when you are responding to the RFP, so that you can keep the advantage and stand out from the crowd.