How to Create a Request for Information


Tasked with creating an RFI/RFP?

We know how it feels. Creating a Request for Information (or Request for Proposal) is a big job. You’re comparing solutions that have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of features. So, how do you boil all that down into a spreadsheet? Answer: you don’t.

Want to outsource the hard work? Try our RFI Creation Service…

Just like a Product Description you want to focus on benefits not features. That does not mean you should exclude features from your RFI – far from it. But think about what you are trying to achieve with your new technology.

For example, if you are an ecommerce “e-tailer” selling socks on Amazon and your webstore you know you need features like listing products and downloading orders. But what is your goal? Do you want to increase sales? Do you want to be a brand leader? Those objectives define your RFI.


7 Tips for Crafting the Perfect RFI (and one sure fire trick to separate the wheat from the chaff – See #5 below)

Now that we have our goal firmly in mind let’s create an RFI that helps us compare multiple solutions and their ability to help us achieve that.

1. Choose a Format

RFI’s are usually spreadsheets created in Word or Excel or, better, a collaborative online tool like Microsoft 365 or Google Docs. However, there are many RFI creation tools out there that generate RFI’s in PDF, online editable forms or web pages.

We recommend one of the online formats as it allows everyone to see progress and make changes without exchanging clumsy email attachments. Whatever format you choose be sure to give your vendors a deadline to reply and then close access to the online form until you are ready to allow edits.


2. General Information

Provide your vendors with details about your company pertinent to the RFI. The common categories are:

  1. Your company name, address etc. and the product(s) you sell
  2. A short description of your Primary Objectives (your “goal”)
  3. Your Features “short list”
  4. Your desired timeframe
  5. Your budget
  6. Any relevant demographics (e.g., Total Sales per year, # of employees etc.)

Vendors look for qualified leads. They want to know how much you are willing to spend and how quickly they can close the deal. This is not a bad thing! Many RFI’s are intentionally vague on topics like budget thinking they will be able to negotiate a better deal. That wastes a lot of time and energy. Give your vendors the details they need and early in the process you will knock out the ones you can’t afford or that don’t have the features or scalability you need.


3. Feature Requirements List

Yeah, we know. We said not to focus on features. But you do need to list the main features you need. In the example above we would create an RFI with headers for Order Management and Listing Tools and under those list the features we really care about. You can list more too, but don’t get carried away. A lot of vendors will not answer lengthy RFI’s or worse just enter “Yes” for every entry.

To avoid the “Yes” syndrome do not ask straight yes/no questions. Instead devise a simple Scoring System and ask the vendor to enter the appropriate score in the RFI. You can also include a Ranking System where you score the importance of features you list. For example:

NOTE: “Rank” key is R = Required, N = Nice to Have, W = Wish List
Requirements Rank Score Est. Cost Comments
Order Entry        
1. Order Modification – We need to change orders in the process of being input (may be input over several hours or days), to change prices, the Bill-To name and address and items ordered. R      
2. Address Correction – For US addresses, auto-entry of city and state from entry of the ZIP Code. System must also verify the address with USPS for accuracy. R      
3. Customer Search – Search for customer by ZIP Code, phone number, last/first name, and account number. The search must also be case insensitive. R      
Please use the following Scores in the Score column for each requirement listed:
0 = NO, this is not an existing feature and cannot be added.
1 = MAJOR CUSTOMIZATION is required, such as an entirely new module or major new system component (even if this will be integrated from another system)
2 = MINOR CUSTOMIZATION is required, i.e., we already provide similar functionality, and can accommodate this request either with that approach or with minor additions to our standard package
3 = PARTIALLY, this is an existing feature but we cannot support all the requests. See Comments.
4 = YES, this is an existing feature and we can support the requirement as described

An advantage of the scoring system is the you can total the score to get a quick comparison of solutons. For example, a perfect solution would have a 4 in every requirement and an abysmal one would have all zeroes (or 12 vs. 0 in the example above).

You can’t avoid Yes/No completely but you can allow vendors to qualify their responses. That is what the “Comments” box is for. Honest vendors will score a 3 when they can offer some but not all the listed requirements and enter in the comments what is missing. Alternatively they may offer customization and an estimated cost as well as a descriptive Comment.


4. Support and Implementation

Oboy, this is a landmine. Reams of material have been written about both and Cleerly will be offering a dissertation on the subject in a future post. In short, be sure to ask how your vendor supports their solution. Many outsource level 1 support to 3rd parties, frequently overseas. It’s unlikely you will find that kind of support acceptable.

The best support is provided by an account representative assigned to you. They get to know your needs and are able to respond quickly and accurately. They can also help you grow your organization with enhancements to their software and recommendations to improve your performance and efficiency. Ask lots of questions on this topic – Where is your support team? What is your Service Level Agreement (SLA)? What is your turnaround time on tickets? Phone calls? etc.

Implementation is a bigger variable. Small solutions have little to no implementation. But if you are looking for a solution to run your business implementation will be critical and could take months or even years. Again, more on this in a future post.


5. Goals

This is commonly excluded from RFI’s but as we mentioned above it’s the real meat of your request. A perfect solution with a “4” in every requirement may still not fulfill your primary objectives. The request for this information does not translate well into a scoring system so simply ask questions and leave plenty of room for vendors to write their answers. Like an interview where you encourage the applicant to talk while you sit silently this will give you the deepest insight into each solution and the culture of the company that provides it.

Let’s look at an example with our sock company again. If your goal is to increase brand awareness you might ask the vendor the following:

Question: How does your solution help us create our brand on Amazon and social media?
Your Answer:

Now that will make any vendor sweat and put some real time into answering your RFI. They can’t answer “Yes” or enter a number. They have to think and respond with an intelligent essay. Place a few of these between your features or put them all at the end (our favorite). Don’t be surprised if  a vendor asks for clarification, but they should do so before returning the completed RFI. A lazy vendor will enter a question here hoping to deflect a response (e.g., “Not sure what you mean. Can you clarify?”).


6. Ask for a Quote

If this is an Request for Proposal (RFP) you are comparing the cost of the system as well. It’s OK to ask for estimates in an RFI too. Just keep in mind that a vendor probably has a lot more discovery to complete before they can offer you a formal quote with a final price. Be wary of any vendor who promises a price early in the game. That usually means their solution either fits you as-is or it doesn’t. That’s ok for many shops, but if you need customization or you are looking at an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution it’s unlikely it will fit you “out of the box”. That means extra costs including labor and custom development.

Negotiation – This is not the time to ask for a discount. You can do that when you narrow your list down to the top contenders. But do let your vendors know cost is a consideration – not the primary one though. You don’t want make a decision on price alone.


7. Don’t Mass Email your RFI

Before you send a vendor an RFI at the very least visit their site and submit a request using their online form or sign up for their demo. Better yet, call and talk to a salesperson. Most vendors will ignore RFI’s they receive without any preamble. RFI’s are a lot of work and many blind RFI’s are sent by a company exec who has already chosen a solution and needs 2 or 3 comparisons to show their boss. Vendors know this and will almost always call to qualify you.


Bonus Tip: Share

This one is tough for some people. You are comparing multiple solutions and each has pros and cons. Ultimately you have to choose one. Don’t do that in the dark. Let each vendor know the names of the other competitors. They can’t offer a comparison/contrast without that vital information. Share your concerns about competitor cons and ask questions. Encourage vendors to be honest and even brutal. This is your livelihood on the line and every piece of information is crucial to your success. Too many times a poor decision is made without the benefit of advice from another vendor in the same industry who knows their competitor’s weaknesses and tactics.




Writing RFI’s is hard, but it does not have to be insurmountable. If you follow our guidelines you can create an effective RFI that will help you narrow your search to the solutions that truly fit your needs. The work does not stop there though. Tally scores, arrange live demos, ask lots of questions and test, test, test. No matter how sincere it is a vendor’s goal is to sell and move to the next customer. It’s your job to ensure they answer your questions honestly and can deliver what they promise. A good RFI with thorough questions and answers gives everyone a roadmap and, if necessary, a reference when things are not going smoothly. Do your homework and be rewarded with a solution that helps you meet your goals.

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