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What Are the Differences Between RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs? Blog Feature
Julien Cannon

By: Julien Cannon on April 20th, 2022

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What Are the Differences Between RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs?

Government | 5 Min Read

When you are looking for contracting opportunities, you can run into a lot of different acronyms. At first glance, your head might swim trying to figure out the difference between Requests for Information (RFI), Requests for Quotes (RFQ), and Requests for Proposal (RFP). While all three are involved in the solicitation process, each one has its own role in shaping the government’s procurement process. In this article, we will break down the difference between RFQs, RFPs, and RFIs, provide tips on creating an effective response that stands out from the crowd, and how to avoid the easy mistakes that get your proposal in a Contracting Officer’s waste bin.

What is a Request for Information (RFI) or a Source Sought Notice (SSN)?

Before releasing a formal RFP/RFQ, an agency’s Procurement Officer will post an RFI to survey the industry response. RFIs are a market research tool used by government Contracting Officers to probe the capabilities of the industry to complete a task. While an RFI is not a solicitation, it does help shape the way the solicitation will be developed. RFIs serve two main purposes: identifying sources and improving the performance work statement based on comments from the industry.

Similar but different are Source Sought Notices (SSNs), which are designed to shape the scope of a procurement and identify any opportunities for small business participation. It’s important to note that Source Sought Notices are not bids or solicitations, but rather help lead to them. When government agencies post a notice, they are not looking for work currently, but they are seeking possible sources for future work.

Responding to an RFI/SSN

When responding to RFIs or SSNs, be sure to follow the format outlined in each notice. There may not be a set format, but you should complete your response as directed. In your response, you should include whether you are interested in applying to the offer, your business size, the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code which you are registered with under, the relative experience of your company, and if there are any conflicts of interest.

You might be tempted to wait and respond to the potential future RFP or RFQ instead of taking the time to respond to the RFI, but we suggest you submit it. Your response will be incorporated into the future proposal decisions of the Contracting Officer. In addition, responding to government RFIs, Sources Sought Notices, or Q&As often help shape the requirements listed in the RFPs and RFQs. That means it’s a prime opportunity for you to shape the future RFPs and RFQs to your benefit and make your company name recognizable.

What is a Request for Quote (RFQ)?

A Request for Quote (RFQ) is a document issued by a government agency asking for pricing and inviting contractors to join the bidding process. GSA Schedule contractors should respond to RFQs with full pricing quotations. An RFQ is also used to communicate government requirements, but quotations submitted in response to it are not offers, and consequently may not be accepted by the government to form a binding contract. An RFQ may also be used when the government does not intend to award a contract based on the solicitation, but wishes to obtain price, delivery, or other information for planning purposes. It's important to note that being the lowest bidder in the pool of respondents doesn’t necessarily make your offerings the most attractive.

Some contractors may think that Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and RFQs are essentially the same thing. “RFP” and “RFQ” are not interchangeable, they differ in when offers and acceptance occur.

What is a Request for Proposal (RFP)?

A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a formal request for a government solicitation. When government agencies have a need for a certain product, project, or service, they will release a solicitation document used to communicate the requirements and parameters of their request. An RFP often requires contractors to convey the technical aspects of the proposal and address how their company will address the government’s needs while offering the best value. Your response to the RFP needs to be highly detailed and precise as RFPs are considered formal requests and will result in contract award.

Responding to RFPs

Contracting Officers stare at proposals and responses all day long so when yours comes across their desk, make sure it stands out. Contracting Officers receive proposals from several vendors, so you need to write a clear narrative and specify your company’s capabilities in relation to the proposal.

The best place to start when making your proposal stand out is to read the instructions to offerors, the scope of work, and evaluations criteria thoroughly so that you better understand what the agency is asking for. Don’t be afraid to contact the requesting agency to ask questions. Contracting Officers want the most complete proposals possible and clearing up any conflicting or confusing information ensures the proposal process will go smoothly.

You can demonstrate your comprehension of the requirements of the request by providing thorough answers to how your company can address each of the stated tasks in the request and offer the best value to the government. Government agencies will often state in the evaluation criteria section how they will weigh each proposal against the others. Pay attention to this section, and make sure you are directing more focus on the sections that are more important to the agency.

Best Practices for Responding to Any Government Solicitation

There are certain things to stay away from when filling out your responses like not lowballing your bid, simple grammar mistakes, simply restating the requirements, or making assumptions about the RFI, RFQ, or RFP. Cookie-cutter responses will not get your proposal to the next level. This means you shouldn’t just restate the requirements in the solicitation, the officers know the requirements, they want to know how you will fulfill them. It also means you can’t just reuse old responses you may have submitted in the past.

Contracting Officers want to read detailed responses that are detailed and specific to all facets of the solicitation. However, be careful not to add any additional information or sections the agency did not ask for. They are only interested in what they outline in the solicitation. When you think you are done with your response, look back and self-evaluate the package you are about to turn in and ensure that all instructions are followed, and your responses are feasible and honest.

Are You Ready to Respond to a Government Solicitation?

Using these tips above will help you successfully respond to a government RFI, RFP, or RFQ. If you’re interested in finding out more about GSA government contracting or if you have any questions about GSA Schedules, one of our consultants would be happy to help you. You can also check out our blog or subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more government contracting insights.

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About Julien Cannon

Julien Cannon is a Consultant for Winvale’s Government Contract Services Department. A Marine combat veteran and native of New Market, Virginia, Julien earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA.