Large corporations and government agencies don’t shop around for the best contractors and freelancers the same way a SaaS company or a small business might.
Rather than relying on word of mouth, a quick Google search, or a Facebook ad, these organizations follow a procurement process that ensures fair business practices and quality results.
As a preliminary step in the procurement process, an RFI gives a company or organization the information it needs to move forward with an RFP and RFQ. But what exactly is an RFI and what does this acronym stand for?
What is an RFI?
An RFI (Request for Information) is a tool used by procurement teams (buyers) to understand the options available for solving a problem or completing a task. Suppliers (sellers) respond to RFIs with information about their products and services.
RFIs are important because they reduce blind spots and empower your team to make better decisions. With more information at your disposal, you can understand the marketplace and get a better sense of the questions you’ll need to ask as you move forward in the procurement process.
How does an RFI work?
Step 1: The buyer develops the RFI.
RFIs are written documents with the goal of collecting information from sellers. This information can be used to help buyers make a purchasing decision. The questions that are included in an RFI are specific and straightforward so that the sellers understand what the buyer is asking for.
Step 2: Sellers draft responses to the RFI.
Once a seller finds an RFI, they have a window of time specified by the buyer in which to complete it.
The information that is collected in the RFI is organized in such a way that it can be compared and contrasted against the information that other sellers submit.
Step 3: The buyer reviews all the sellers’ responses.
After the deadline for RFIs closes, the buyer reviews all of the responses submitted by the sellers. In this step, the buyer is looking for information about the companies, the products or services they offer, its history and background, and other factors that can impact how well the seller can deliver on the project.
Note: Price, budget, timeline, and other specific information aren’t covered in an RFI since it’s a part of step one in the overall procurement process.
Step 4: The buyer moves onto the next stage in the procurement process — the RFP.
After the buyer has determined which of the RFI submissions meets the preliminary qualifications for the project, they’ll move on to the next step in the process which is an RFP (Request for Proposal).
RFI vs RFP
Both RFIs and RFPs are tools used when procuring new tools, services or vendors. However, a Request for Proposal (RFP) is different from a Request for Information (RFI) in a few ways, including the timing and the type of information required.
An RFI is the initial step a company takes to solicit information from potential sellers, as described above. Its main objective is to obtain information, not to make a final decision. Once the RFIs are submitted, the company will review them and shortlist the best options, armed with more insight. Then, they’ll send an RFP to that short list of sellers that satisfied the requirements of the RFI.
A Request for Proposal is a formal request for the selected vendors or sellers to respond to a specific contract opportunity. The document specifies the scope and price so potential sellers can put together a bid for the work.
These bids are then compared to understand each seller‘s strengths and weaknesses, and the best fit is chosen. RFPs are a decision document, so the questions are more targeted and specific.
After an RFP, the company may be contacted with an RFQ or Request for Quote that breaks down the project even further into specific cost structures and deliverables.
Request for Information Template
And RFI is similar to an RFP, but with less detail. Download the template below and use the short, one-page version of the request for proposal to draft your RFI. Once you’ve downloaded your free copy, follow along with the steps below to learn how to write an RFI.
How to Write an RFI
Creating your first RFI can be overwhelming. What should you ask for? What information does the seller need to know? To help answer those questions, use this simple guide to get the most out of the RFI process.
1. Draft an overview or statement of need.
Outline your goals and objectives, along with some general information about your company. This section should be short and provide an overview of your project to someone with no background information.
2. Add context about your organization.
Including additional information about your organization can help the seller tailor their response to your needs. You may want to mention which department is leading the project, who your customers are, and what your company values are, among other things.
3. Finalize the details.
What problem are you looking to solve? What information do you need? Here’s where you can detail what you’re looking for. Include any additional information a seller might need to know to develop a thorough RFI response. That may include:
- Any necessary skills and credentials the respondent may need to be successful
- Timelines or general scope
- What you’re not looking for
4. Mention information about the process.
Explain how interested parties should respond to the RFI. Attach a response template if you have one, outline any deadlines, and note if and when you’ll reply to respondents after the RFIs have been gathered. You may want to mention any evaluation criteria you’ll use when creating the shortlist for RFPs.
Best Practices for RFI Documentation
The more thoughtful you are about your RFI document, the better quality responses you will get back. Instead of casually emailing a sales rep and asking for information, creating RFI documentation will ensure that you get exactly the information you need. In that document, be sure to:
- Clearly state the information you’re requesting.
- Be specific about how and when you want to receive seller responses.
- Keep an open mind so that sellers can provide additional information that they think is relevant.
- Be brief and respectful of the sellers’ time.
Need more inspiration? Read through the following examples of RFIs for more ideas on what to include in yours. These three RFIs all come from different industries and have different needs, so they are a good overview of the options available to you.
1. U.S. General Services Administration
In 2021, the U.S. General Services Administration collaborated with the U.S. Department of Energy to issue an RFI supporting a project to reduce commercial building greenhouse gas emissions. The overall goal that the GSA and DOE were aiming to reach was net-zero carbon emissions within these buildings and the RFI focused on three specific areas that would allow this goal to be achieved. Sellers who had technology to meet the requirements of this RFI were required to propose measurable success criteria across several categories.
In addition to the RFI requirements on the webpage, the GSA and DOE hosted a webinar, provided an FAQ, and made the presentation slides from the webinar available on the webpage so that all sellers had access to the information they’d need to submit the best response.
What makes this RFI example stand out is that it’s kept up to date frequently. New information is added frequently. When the deadline is passed, that is notated clearly at the top of the RFI so sellers can move on to other requests that are accepting submissions. This is a great example of the best practice we mentioned earlier about respecting the sellers’ time when asking for RFI submissions.
When NASA retires parts of their space shuttles, they like to display them at museums or other educational institutions. To gauge interest and understand the potential options for an upcoming retired part, they opened up an RFI. Here’s a sample of the document:
“This RFI is being used to gather market research for NASA to make decisions regarding development of strategies for placement of Space Shuttle Orbiters and Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) for public display after conclusion of the SSP. NASA is seeking information from educational institutions, science museums, and other appropriate organizations about the community’s ability to acquire and display a Space Shuttle Orbiter after the vehicles are retired from flight status.”
We like this RFI example because it provides a straightforward overview of the purpose of the RFI, and outlines what NASA wants to learn from the process.
3. Government of Canada
Government websites are a great place to find RFI examples because they are required to make all procurement processes publicly available. The following example is from an RFI for financial planning software.
The requirements section of this RFI is a great example of how to explain what you do and don’t need in the responses. While the government of Canada is looking for financial planning software, they will be keeping their CRM and data lake provider.
4. University of Ottawa
In the following RFI except, the University of Ottawa is looking for an ERP integration solution. What’s unique about this RFI is how they want to receive responses. Rather than collecting written responses or documents, the U of O is scheduling strategy discussions with suppliers. This is a unique way to gather information, but helpful when you don’t have enough knowledge in the area to put together a scope of work yet.
“The University of Ottawa (University) is issuing this Request for Information (RFI) to schedule strategy discussions (via a conference call) from interested Suppliers with experience in ERP Integrations.
The intent of these discussions is to obtain feedback from Suppliers to assist the University in developing a more accurate Scope of Work and overall approach for an upcoming Request For Proposal (RFP) for ERP Integration solutions.”
Request for Success
Every RFI will be unique to your organization and the information you require. Use the template above as a guide to creating an RFI that will save you time in evaluating potential solutions.
With the right information being sent your way, all you need to do is read up! You’ll be well on your way to procuring the best solution for your team’s needs.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
How to Use Product Synonyms to Build Use Case Awareness & Scale SEO
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Let’s move back in time to your third grade English class — lesson of the day: synonyms.
Synonyms (not to be confused with cinnamon) are words that have a similar or the same meaning as another word.
But, you already know this. What you might not know is how synonyms help you build use case awareness.
It all comes down to talking about your product in multiple ways, all of which are useful to your target audience. By expanding the ways you talk about your product, you attract more users, which in return scales your SEO strategy by giving you more relevant keywords to rank for (ideally even with high purchase intent – yes please!)
In fact, by finding and targeting product synonyms, you can even tap into a new unique selling point for your target market.
Let’s find out product-led SEO with synonyms can slingshot your growth forward.
What is the value of synonyms for SEO?
First off, using synonyms is a common SEO best practice recommended by Google.
SEO guru and webmaster trend analyst, John Mueller, explains how synonyms work, particularly in connection with search intent and context:
“…especially when you’re looking at something like ‘edit video’ versus ‘video editor,’ the expectations from the user side are a little bit different. On the one hand you want to edit a video. On the other hand you might want to download a video editor. And it seems very similar but… the things that the users want there are slightly different.”
So, when it comes to using product synonyms to scale your SEO strategy, the key is to align user search intent with a product use case that helps them.
I’d like to highlight how well this works not just for e-commerce, but also B2B, because those are the businesses that often struggle the most with low product-related search volume, making it seem like SEO just isn’t worth it. To add to that, there’s often a gap between what your audience calls your product and what you call it internally, so this strategy ensures both angles are covered.
Do this over and over again and not only will it expand your brand awareness, but it’ll also take a niche product with low search volume and turn it into a lead and sale generator — all from compounding hundreds of thousands of organic monthly searches (or more, depending on the topic).
Let’s go over some examples.
Examples of product synonyms for SEO
A use case (or a roadmap for how your audience will interact with a product) is a fantastic way to apply product synonyms. If people learn how they can use your product, the more likely they’ll feel it’s relevant to them. The more detailed the use case, the more personal it feels to the reader.
Examples of product synonyms in e-commerce
Product synonyms for e-commerce are pretty straightforward. For example, “occasionwear,” “wedding guest wear,” and “party wear” are all product synonyms that can be found as focus keywords at a made-to-order men’s suits store.
An online sport store may use synonyms such as “tennis shoes,” “sneakers,” and “trainers” to capture all target markets, for different levels of athletic wear.
Now let’s put it into practice.
What product synonyms would you use for “webcam” and “Bluetooth headphones”?
Maybe, “streaming camera,” “e-meeting camera,” or “Zoom camera”?
For Bluetooth headphones, what about “impermeable headphones” or “running headphones”?
It’s all about the use case that matches the same search intent.
Examples of product synonyms in B2B
In B2B, use cases become even more relevant, because one of the most common questions in the buying cycle is: “Is this truly relevant for my particular business?”
Take a look at these phrases:
Conversational AI chatbot
Customer support automation
Product recommendation software
Omnichannel engagement platform
Even though these have vastly different use cases and are semantically different, the technology used produces the same outcome as what each phrase describes. In fact, it’s actually the exact same product (in this case a chatbot), only described with a different phrase.
The trick in this particular example is to talk about how the main product, the chatbot, relates to all the above phrases. Rinse and repeat and now you’ve gone from a niche product with limited search volume to HubSpot level organic traffic — all of which is highly relevant for your target audience.
How to find & rank for product synonyms
Finding synonym opportunities for products requires a deep understanding of the market and the search behavior of buyer personas. In other words, learn what your audience wants and explain how your product gives them that in multiple ways.
Understand your product use cases
Let’s start with your product use cases. Where should you begin?
First, compile all related brand themes and then build topic clusters based on that.
Let’s say you sell eco-friendly swimsuits for all types of bodies and your topic clusters focus on eco-friendliness and swimsuits per body type. All topic cluster pages are connected to the central brand themes and your products, but talked about from different angles.
In B2B, it’s common to cluster product use cases by industry or method. For example, the “conversational AI chatbot” mentioned earlier might target e-commerce managers, while “customer support automation” is a use case aimed at customer success. In the same way, “product recommendation software” grabs attention from a product team and an “omnichannel engagement platform” captures the marketing team.
With only these few keywords, we’ve described how nearly an entire business benefits from using a chatbot — sales here we come!
Aside from generally making note of words that are being used on their website, it’s helpful to perform a competitor keyword gap analysis. This helps you determine words they’re ranking for that you aren’t (yet), which helps inspire new use cases.
Understand the language of your audience
Do some research to see how your target audience refers to your products in their own words. Often in B2B there is a big gap between their descriptions and yours. Take note of the words, phrases, and any other insights pertaining to the language being used.
Some places to poke around include Slack communities, social media (especially LinkedIn), and Reddit. Don’t shy away from in-person events, too! When you talk like your audience talks, you’ll resonate with them because your products are simple to understand. Walk their walk, and talk their talk!
Pro tip: Talk to your customers on a regular basis! Ask to set up a 15 minute feedback session and record it. It’ll bring you massive insights about how they talk about and use your product.
If your business is big on social media, then social monitoring and listening tools will be crucial for compiling lots of information quickly. Social monitoring obtains information that has already happened in the past, while social listening keeps an ear out for current conversations about your brand. Hootsuite offers an extensive social monitoring tool to “dive deep beneath the surface”, while Talkwalker offers social listening so you can keep up in real time.
Review People Also Ask and related searches
Google SERP features are a treasure trove of synonym opportunities. If you’re looking for “shoes”, you’ll probably see people are also searching for “sneakers”, “tennis shoes”, etc. You can use this feature to understand user search intent (which will help you find more aligned synonyms) and ensure you create the right type of content based on what’s already ranking.
The People Also Ask feature is similar to the “related searches” at the bottom of the SERP, and you can also use this to curate synonyms.
Last but not least, utilize the auto-complete feature that suggests what you might type in the search bar:
Pro tip: Use AlsoAsked to dig a bit deeper into the People Also Ask questions from your potential consumers, and export the data graphically and in bulk. Answer all those questions and that’s a clear path toward SEO scalability!
Do keyword research
Without keyword research, creating your content and optimizing for SEO is like throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping that it sticks. Use a keyword research tool like Moz to find keywords based on use cases. This ensures the keywords are relevant, have search volume, and have relatively low competition. For a more in-depth guide on keyword research, be sure to check out this guide!
Once you’ve finished keyword research, turn the semantically-related keyword groups into clusters to create individual content pieces for each cluster.
Differentiate keyword placement based on your site structure
All websites have core product pages, so the exact match of high-purchase-intent keywords should go on those to maximize the potential for sales.
Product synonyms that are semantically unrelated, but still have a relevant use case, can go in an area like the blog, where you can explain them more thoroughly and then link back to your core product pages to incentivize conversions.
To go back to the chatbot example, “conversational AI chatbot” works best on an evergreen product page, while “product recommendation software” might make more sense in the blog, because you’ve got to give some explanation about how the two are connected.
Let us wrap this up with a quick recap
First off: why use product synonyms? Synonyms for SEO increase the relevancy of your product pages for a specific search query. At the same time, they can also help you scale out content strategies in the future, thus strengthening your SEO game and brand awareness.
But never forget, first you must understand your product use cases. How do your customers use your product? How do they describe it? Go deep into this process to get those granular details. Look around to see what language your customers are using, scope out your competitors for inspiration, and do some extensive keyword research. Review the People Also Ask feature and related searches to gather more information and ensure you differentiate your keyword placement based on your specific site structure.
Now you’ve got the basics of using product synonyms to build use case awareness. Class dismissed!
How to Use Product Synonyms to Build Use Case Awareness & Scale SEO
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