By: Leslie Crowley on October 17th, 2022
Understanding Requests for Information (RFIs): What they Mean for GSA Contractors
Government Business Development | 4 Min Read
If you are a vendor and looking to do business with the government, how do you get started? One way is to pay close attention to budding opportunities. When a Request for Information (RFI) is released, it’s an indication that the government is conducting market research. RFIs are a great opportunity for you to get your foot in the door before a potential Request for Proposal (RFP) is shaped, and to make sure government agencies are familiar with your name and capabilities. In this blog, we’ll cover why the government issues RFIs, what RFIs can look like, and how they are useful for contractors.
Why Does the Government Issue RFIs?
Government agencies have a process to determine if there is a resource for a new product/service that they could potentially need. First, they will conduct market research to “test the waters” with the commercial industry. Then, they’ll release a Request for Information (RFI) based on Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) Part 10, which reads: “This part prescribes policies and procedures for conducting market research to arrive at the most suitable approach to acquiring, distributing, and supporting supplies and services.”
The main purpose of an RFI is to provide a market research document for forecasted requirements. RFIs are released early in the acquisition process to gather information based on an agency’s need. It helps the government strategize and identify the market’s potential vendors based on capabilities. By gathering information from RFIs responses, the government agency will be able to determine what requirements to include in a formal request for proposal (RFP). As we mentioned above, early engagement by industry results in better procurement outcomes.
What Does an RFI Typically Look Like?
While RFIs can vary greatly in length and content, RFI templates generally consist of five sections:
- Project description – introduction and purpose of RFI
- Company information – brief Introduction/About your company
- Vendor requirements – Scope of Work (SOW)/Statement of Need
- Submission instructions – adhere to or be eliminated
- Requested information – make sure you provide information being sought
How Do You Find RFI Opportunities?
To determine which agency might need your offering – you the vendor will need to do some market research of your own. You can start with the System for Award Management or SAM.gov to search for upcoming government opportunities. In addition, there are multiple opportunities to network with an agency (attend tradeshows, agency events, pre-bid conferences), consider joining a government bid notification service, or work with the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTACs) for help in public sector marketplaces.
Another way is to check out the strategic plan of agencies you are interested in working with to view their pre-forecasts. It’s best to start by selecting three target agencies who would purchase your solutions – find out what opportunities they are forecasting and how they purchase. If you research Acquisition.Gov, you can find Agency Recurring Procurement Forecasts.
Building a relationship takes time – reach out to the particular office and introduce yourself. Be prepared to send a capabilities statement and a link to your website.
There are a few types of government customers to focus on who are involved with the decision-making process. Procurers include Contracting Officers (COs) and contracting specialists, assist program managers obtain the products/services they need and how to purchase them. It’s the CO who’s responsible for selecting the contracting process. Program Managers are the individuals who produce the contracting requirements, implement RFP preparation and organize program development. The End User is the staff will have input on selecting the vendor and will be using your product or service.
Pursuing RFI Opportunities
Now you know why agencies release RFIs, as a vendor, should you pursue an RFI opportunity? Do you want your feedback and capabilities to be included in an upcoming RFP? Your RFI responses could help the government learn what they are looking for is available in the commercial market space. But is their request practical, or is it cost prohibitive?
Let’s plan a strategy on how to do business with a government agency. Here are some things to consider:
- What are your core capabilities?
- Do you know which agency might need your product or service?
- Who is your competition and what separates your offering from theirs?
- Are you able to handle the business?
- Can you work with another business to provide the government a complete offering?
When responding to an RFI, your response could emphasize your value proposition. In essence, RFI responses are a way to “market” your company to the government. How should you respond to a government RFI? Do not respond with generic answers. We suggest you respond to their specific questions with concise and clear answers regarding the benefits of working with your business. Do some research and offer solutions that align with the government’s needs.
As a small business, there could be a potential set-aside, which could be an advantage in a competitive bid for small, veteran, minority, and women-owned small businesses. The program limits competition to only that particular set-aside. It requires government agencies to obtain two or more bids from qualified and certified set-aside businesses that meet the criteria.
If you have a GSA Schedule contract, highlight how your solution is easily ordered, meets all applicable regulations and competition requirements, emphasize that your pricing is fair and reasonable and offers discounted pricing.
Keeping Up with GSA Schedule Business Development
The advantage of being a GSA contractor is it prequalifies your business for any government work you’re interested in pursuing. You also have access to unique procurement sites where government agencies go to search for solutions. For example, your products or services can be listed on GSA Advantage!, an online shopping and ordering site only for GSA contractors.
However, you need to be proactive about your GSA Schedule business development to take advantage of the government marketplace. Market research, specifically RFIs, are a great place to start, but there are other steps you can take. Check out our blog on GSA Schedule Marketing 101 for detailed information on how to market your GSA Schedule.
To learn more about market research, check out our webinar “Understanding Government Market Research” or if you have any questions about your GSA Schedule, feel free to contact one of our Winvale subject matter experts for GSA Schedule Assistance.
About Leslie Crowley
Leslie Crowley is a Lead Account Manager for Winvale’s Public Sector department where she manages partner accounts under Winvale’s GSA MAS Large Category F contract. Leslie has vast experience building new business, securing customer loyalty, and forging strong relationships with external business partners.