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Requests for information (RFIs) and requests for proposals (RFPs) are often as perplexing to exhibitors as they are to custom exhibit houses. So to help demystify the new-build process, EXHIBITOR completed a two-part research initiative examining the opinions and experiences of both vendors and clients. And according to the data, there are some significant discrepancies between perception and reality. By Travis Stanton
xhibit-marketing professionals already know that the vendor-selection process is veiled in confusion and, in some cases, wrapped in a procurement conundrum, leaving exhibit houses unsure how to effectively court clients and win new business. Furthermore, since most companies handle each new build on a case-by-case basis, little standardization exists, forcing exhibit managers to reinvent the wheel every time they issue a request for information or request for proposal — and requiring exhibit houses to adapt their procedures to accommodate the array of differing wheels being thrown at them. So to take a little of the mystery out of RFIs and RFPs, EXHIBITOR issued a two-part research initiative dubbed the 2013 RFI/RFP Survey, sponsored by Brumark Total Flooring Solutions, Cort Event Furnishings, Octonorm USA Inc., and Optima Graphics Inc.

To help compare and contrast the perceptions and realities of exhibit managers versus custom exhibit-house reps, we surveyed both groups on everything from intellectual property and per-RFP costs to vendor-selection criteria and the role of procurement throughout the new-build process. While the results reaffirmed that, in many ways, clients and vendors are on the same page, the data also identified disturbing disparities as well. For instance, exhibit managers estimated that custom houses spend an average of $4,622 responding to a typical RFP for a new exhibit with a budget of at least $100,000. However, custom houses reported average per-RFP costs of $6,318, a difference of 37 percent.

Similarly, there appears to be some confusion between vendors and clients regarding the number of companies invited to participate in the RFP process. Custom houses believe clients invite an average of 5.5 firms to bid on each build, but exhibitors report an average of 3.6.

While some of the gaps between perception and reality might have little impact on the actual new-build process, others have more direct implications. For example, 73 percent of custom houses believe that any questions they ask during the RFP process (along with the subsequent answers) will be shared with other firms bidding on the job. That fear, according to several exhibit-house reps, makes firms reluctant to ask the kinds of probing questions that might result in a more personalized, custom solution. However, according to exhibit managers, questions raised and answers provided during the RFP process are only shared with other bidders 36 percent of the time, a reality which — if communicated — could result in a more collaborative experience.

Furthermore, custom houses seem to be overestimating the role procurement plays when it comes to vendor selection. In fact, respondents representing custom houses indicated they believe procurement plays an active role in 89 percent of RFP-related selections; whereas, exhibit managers reported that procurement only has a say roughly 52 percent of the time. That misunderstanding could easily translate into exhibit houses spending more energy addressing the concerns of procurement than developing innovative solutions to help solve exhibit managers' challenges.

But it's not just custom houses that seem to have slightly skewed views of the new-build process. When asked which factors are most important in evaluating bidders' responses to RFPs, exhibit managers ranked "personality of custom house" and "personality of account executive" as two of the top-five criteria. Yet nearly a quarter of exhibitors report that they only accept "mail-in" responses to RFPs and do not allow companies to present their proposals in person, forcing custom houses to wonder how, exactly, they can showcase their personalities without the luxury of any in-person contact with clients.

The following pages contain key data points culled from our 2013 RFI/RFP Survey, along with a handful of participants' quotes in response to open-ended questions regarding their experiences throughout the new-build process. For additional information on RFIs, RFPs, and vendor selection and management, visit www.ExhibitorOnline.com/Jun13.E


METHODOLOGY
EXHIBITOR magazine's 2013 RFI/RFP Survey was sponsored by Brumark Total Flooring Solutions, Cort Event Furnishings, Octonorm USA Inc., and Optima Graphics Inc. Custom exhibit houses and exhibit managers received email survey invitations, which resulted in more than 50 completed responses from exhibit houses and more than 100 completed responses from exhibit managers (one-fourth of which represented Fortune 500 companies).
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