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French philosopher Voltaire once wrote, "Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers." Turns out that when it comes to writing requests for proposals, truer words were never spoken.

According to Todd Simon of Perfect Pitch Productions LLC, exhibit managers issuing RFPs often get caught up in the closed-questions game – and lose. "It's not so much that exhibitors ask the wrong things, but the way they structure those questions results in answers that don't provide the information they're looking for," he says. "Closed questions result in poor, sometimes unusable answers, and those responses can't be compared or contrasted to other answers – a crucial step in the vendor-selection process." That's because closed questions often elicit mere "yes" or "no" answers with little context. While those types of questions are the easiest to ask and the simplest to answer, they won't get you very far in terms of selecting the best supplier for your needs.

So how do you get the kind of answers you can actually use to choose a vendor for your next big project? Simon says it's all about the phrasing. Here, he takes five commonly asked RFP questions and edits them to generate valuable information that will lend itself to apples-to-apples comparisons when responses start rolling in.



Financial Stability
Most, if not all, companies will answer "yes" when asked if they are financially stable. Using time intervals in questions will show long-term trends that can be easily compared with answers from other proposals.


Client Base
The number of clients a supplier has doesn't have much bearing on your needs without context. So instead of asking for a number, ask whether their client base is growing or shrinking. If a firm responds that its base has grown, ask how its staff size has changed to accommodate the increase.


Industry Experience
An exhibit house might have 20 years of experience but zero clients in the health-care industry, for example. Different industry sectors come with their own set of aesthetics, regulations, trends, etc.


Service Charges Stability
Some questions, like this one, can be used for negotiating services up front. Plus, if a supplier says "no" to something you're angling for, you can consider eliminating that company from the running.


Customer References
A time limit is imperative when it comes to client references. It reduces the chances of a supplier influencing its customers prior to handing over contact information, and is also an indicator of whether it will comply with your time-sensitive requests in the future.
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