Exhibit-marketing pros 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 exhibitors 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. So to take the mystery out of RFIs and RFPs, EXHIBITOR issued the 2017 RFI/RFP Survey.
To help compare and contrast the perceptions and realities of exhibit managers versus custom exhibit-house reps, we surveyed both groups on everything from per-RFP costs and vendor-selection criteria to the role of procurement. The results affirmed that, in many ways, clients and vendors are on the same page. But the data also identified disturbing disparities. For instance, exhibit managers estimated that custom houses spend an average of $4,971 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 $6,404, a difference of 29 percent.
While some of the gaps between perception and reality might have little impact on the course of a new build, others have more direct implications. For example, 85 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 inquiries 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 37 percent of the time, a reality which – if communicated – could result in a more collaborative experience.
But it's not just custom houses that seem to have slightly skewed views of new-build procedures. 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 2017 RFI/RFP Survey, along with a handful of participants' quotes in response to open-ended questions regarding their experiences throughout the new-build process.