At Coley, we frequently receive questions from our clients on whether they should respond to Sources Sought or Request for Information (RFI) notices. But first, lets look at what each of these are.
Sources Sought Notices vs. Request for RFI
An RFI, or Request for Information, is a Government technique of conducting market research. They may be used when the Government does not presently intend to award a contract, but wants to obtain price, delivery, other market information, or capabilities for planning purposes.
A Sources Sought notice is a synopsis posted by a government agency that states they are seeking possible sources for a project. They are used by the contracting officer to “review acquisitions to determine if they can be set aside for small business, giving consideration to the recommendations of agency personnel having cognizance of the agency’s small business programs.” But most important, it is not a solicitation for bid or proposal.
We encourage our clients to respond to both Sources Sought and RFIs for the following reasons:
Provide Buyer with Market Research Insight
The Government issues both the Sources Sought and RFIs for market research purposes—that is to determine whether there are contractors who can provide the desired services. Since they come out at the earliest stages of the procurement process, long before a pre-solicitation is issued, they offer an opportunity for you to introduce yourself and your products and services during the planning phase. A Contracting Officer may even use your response in crafting the Statement of Work that will be issued with the solicitation!
Government contractors are encouraged to respond to applicable Sources Sought and RFIs to open a channel of communication that allows a possible Government buyer to get to know you and your products or services. As such, our recommendations are that you follow the instructions as closely as possible and provide the information requested in a manner that is closely tailored to the agency and its defined needs as is possible. If you have worked with the agency before, it is particularly a good opportunity to build on those successes. You can use these responses to differentiate yourself from the pack of competitors who also may qualify for the potential opportunity.
Get Included on the Short List
Government buyers issue Sources Sought notices and RFI in order to identify potential sources, and most particularly to learn if there is a company that can meet their product or service needs who can also help them meet their small business contracting goals. That is why you often see Sources Sought notices that seek Small Businesses, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses, Woman Owned Businesses, or Small Disadvantaged 8 (a) businesses that can provide the product or service required. If you are a small business in one of these categories and you see a Sources Sought or RFI, this is your chance to get in on the ground floor. So, you most definitely want to put your best foot forward.
The result of a successful Sources Sought or RFI could be a sole-source award for the socioeconomic category listed, but more commonly, the contracting officer uses the responses to determine if there are enough companies in the desired category to post the opportunity as a set aside. You could be short listed on a smaller list, thereby limiting the number of competitors. In that case, your care in compiling a good Sources Sought or RFI response, can put you on a short list of qualified contractors and get your name before potential customers.
How to Respond to a Sources Sought Notice or RFIs
Typically, Sources Sought and RFIs ask basic questions about your company, its socioeconomic status, past performance providing the same or similar products and services, and such basic items as DUNS number, point of contact information, and Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). Some are more sophisticated and request detailed information on your technical abilities, quality control processes, transition plans, and financial capability to perform. They run the gamut from very simple queries for your basic contact information to “dress rehearsals” for an RFP response. Generally, they do not seek pricing data.
Many small businesses simply respond to Sources Sought or RFIs by providing a “one size fits all” capability statement that is not tailored to the questions that the Government buyer is asking in the notice. Your response should demonstrate that you are a credible source capable of delivering the goods/services described in the notice. While both RFIs and Sources Sought are market research to help drive the acquisition strategy for a product or service, typically one finds RFIs in GSA Schedule eBuy and Sources Sought on FedBizOpps; this knowledge may be valuable in how your approach them.
Craft a bid/no bid process for Sources Sought and RFIs, just as you would for any opportunity. Respond to them with care, using them as an opportunity to introduce yourself to new buyers, and be careful to track them. While they do not automatically turn into RFPs, that is the ultimate intent of most of them.