How to respond to an RFI from a large company?


Our startup was recently contacted by a large global company for an RFI (request for information) for implementing an enterprise software solution. We have a great product which on technical merit can outshine products from larger competitors. Large portion of the RFI deal with company information including size/revenues. Are we wasting our time responding to this RFI? Do emerging startups stand a chance with a bureaucratic procurement process? Any one with a success story from the startup world?


asked Aug 24 '11 at 06:43
Ms. Founder
31 points
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4 Answers


It's always hard as a startup to respond to RFIs which ask for in-depth company information.

Large companies often take two opposite views towards dealing with small businesses. Sometimes they'll just be looking for a company that will tick all of the boxes, with a proven track record. On other occasions, you will find that a smaller company is preferred as the larger company assumes they will be willing to work harder to guarantee satisfaction.

If I were you, I'd contact the company by 'phone with some questions (try and think up a few pertinent ones!). Try and build some rapport with the bid manager - perhaps invite him out for a coffee and a chat. Building a personal relationship early can put you in a really good place compared to a larger, more impersonal competitor.

I don't think there's anything wrong with asking what their stance is on smaller companies. Explain your concerns - hopefully they'll tell you if you don't stand a chance!

It's also worth asking how many responses they're expecting to the RFI. If they're expecting a lot of responses, they may end up doing a 'box ticking' exercise to whittle down the candidates before even reading the full detail of the response. You are less likely to get through this process!

Ultimately, responding to RFIs (especially when you haven't done many) takes a huge amount of time (and therefore money) to do properly. You owe it to yourself to do as much research as possible to make sure you're in with a fighting chance before committing yourselves!

On the other hand, you've got to be in it to win it and sometimes these things are worth a punt!

Whatever you decide, good luck with the RFI - hope it goes well!

answered Aug 24 '11 at 07:17
Chris Roberts
1,352 points


We qualify every RFI by checking if we have ever spoken to them before. If the RFI is the first contact we ignore it. Normal prospects will contact us for more information, ask for a demonstration, custom quote etc before issuing an RFI. Another rule I've heard is "If you don't know about the RFI before it is issued then it's too late"

And if 80% of the questions are business/financial (they want to know how viable you are) and 20% technical then you will not win the deal on your technical merit. Most recent document I got was 120 pages with only 1.5 pages of functional requirements, the rest was legal, business, financials.

Can you tell a story of a past success with a big company?

Government is worse, they want to get a minimum number of bids to fulfill their purchasing rules. We've even had phone calls from government depts asking us to respond to their bid when it had clearly been coached by another vendor

answered Aug 24 '11 at 22:37
1,231 points
  • +1 for pointing out that government (and large company) procurement rules often require a minimum number of bids, and sometimes a company will get added to a bidders list just to make up the numbers. Remember that an RFI isn't the same as an RFQ: a cynic might suggest that it was a way of getting potential vendors to fill in a spreadsheet without having to do the work yourself. – Mike 12 years ago


You didn't mention how complex it would be, but I would recommend you reply to their request with a couple of caveats.

Before you send any information, try to set up a face to face meeting with the decision maker(s) to find out exactly what they need. Sometimes large organizations do not choose products based only on the quality of it, but also on other aspects such as maintenance, service and training.

Do not just send a proposal with a price or sensitive information about your product to a mid level manager or random guy in the purchase department; you want to talk to the decision makers. For a start up like yours, I would say that your first objective is to establish a relationship with the decision makers in that company. Then, try to get the contract, but even if you don't get it, at least you'll have the personal contacts.

Good luck.

answered Aug 24 '11 at 07:21
A. Garcia
1,601 points


Just remember that responding is optional and you should only do it if you expect to generate significant return on the time investment. As others have said, make sure you understand precisely what they need by talking to the decision-maker. Otherwise, it may be that you waste time on this and they were just tyre-kicking and not that serious.

answered Aug 24 '11 at 18:12
Steve Jones
206 points

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