RFIs Gone Wild!

Ah, the RFI. If you’ve been in business for awhile, you’ve seen the multi-page “request for information” documents prospects use during the vendor-vetting process. Some companies love filling them out, figuring it’s a great chance to showcase their successes and land the client. Other companies dread the time and manpower RFIs take to complete, preferring to opt-out of the process. With questions like, “Share your philosophy about working with clients, ” and “Explain a recent problem you had with a client, and how your firm handled it,” RFIs often feel like job interviews – except everything is done on-paper rather than face-to-face.

Mind you, I’m a big fan of prospect due-diligence. Companies need to make sure that the vendor they hire will meet their needs – and sometimes, you can learn everything you need to know by reading written responses (especially if you’re hiring a SEO copywriting agency – if they can’t write compelling RFI responses, I doubt they could create good Web copy.)

But then, the other day, I received a very unique RFI – and I’m curious to see what you think…

The “typical” questions were there regarding how my firm worked with clients, and and asking about my firm’s writing process. But then, the questions started getting very…personal.  They asked me to name my top clients and their annual spend. Then wanted to know if I’ve worked with clients in certain verticals – and they wanted me to name the clients and engagement scope. And in addition, they asked for two year’s of financial statements.

Mind you, my husband didn’t see my financials until about two weeks before we were married.

Yes, there would have been a MNDA in place – so the information would have been protected. However, I didn’t know anything about the gig. Nothing. Not the scope of work. Not the budget. Nothing. This could be a $100,000 SEO copywriting makeover – or a $1,000 project. And unfortunately, the prospect was prohibited from providing any information until after they received the RFI – assuming, of course, that my firm made the cut.

How did I handle it? I took my firm out of the running. Even with a MNDA in place, I didn’t feel comfortable discussing my current clients with a prospect – not without my clients’ express signoff. And certainly, I did not feel at all comfortable sending over two years of financial documents before I could even speak to the prospect (and truth be told, I would never send over financials to a prospect.) It’s a shame, because I’m sure that I could have helped them. But the RFI process soured me on the gig.

But you tell me.  What types of RFI questions are appropriate – and what feels like “RFIs gone wild?” Am I being stubborn? Would you have provided that information in the hopes of getting the gig (keeping in mind, of course, that you wouldn’t know what the gig was before submitting your information.)

What do YOU think?

5 replies
  1. Nina says:

    Thanks Heather!

    I always learn something new. I didn’t even know what RFI’s were until I read this blog. Is that usually in the B2B market?

  2. Jennifer says:

    Was a third party handling this for a client?

    I can only think of 2 reasons to ask such close to the vest information – 1) they want to see how much information you’ll divulge (hey, maybe you’re desperate) and/or 2) they’re CRAZY.

    I’d never provide that information unless I knew who the client was, the scope of the project, the gig was mine AND I’d actually had a personal conversation with said client in which I felt comfortable.

    As I client, I’d never ask for that info upfront — I’d be afraid I’d miss out on great potential partners who’d take themselves out of the running (just like you).

  3. Kerry says:

    I’ve seen very “personal” questions of this nature on many RFIs, including numerous requests for detailed financial information and customer contact details. It seems primarily to be a (lazy) way for potential clients to try to get as much information out of service providers as possible. With tools like Hoover’s and ZoomInfo (not to mention simply Google) within easy reach, there’s little excuse for making companies do your research for you.

    A successful business arrangement needs to be a collaboration built on mutual trust and respect, not a way for clients to suck as much information and resources as possible out of a service provider (or, conversely, for the service provider to dupe the client).

  4. Imogen Moore says:

    Probably a little late with this comment, but I’ve only discovered your site today.

    I agree that RFIs are little more than thinly disguised job interviews. The mentality of employer/employee seems to persist in the US (and to some extent in the UK & Australia), as opposed to the business partnership this really is.

    It is tempting to ask these intrusive potential clients for their tax returns and examples of their previous dealings with freelancers – both positive and negative – to help illustrate that an RFI is intrusive at best and a request for free work at worst.

    • Heather says:

      Imogen – welcome to the site! :)

      Yes, that particular company with the RFI request was…interesting. :) I completely understand how companies need to do due diligence. That’s OK. At the same time, it seems like someone on the “inside” would say, “Hey, a lot of companies don’t want to give up their tax returns. Good companies. Perhaps we should rethink this….”

      It would be funny to turn it around and ask for freelancer references. Wish I would have thought of that.

      Thanks for your comment! :)


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