There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics – Mark Twain
If you’ve ever initiated an RFI/RFP process, those words probably hit pretty close to home. The simple list of pointed questions that you sent out a month ago returns to you with glowing generalizations that make each respondent sound like the guy who invented sliced bread. How do you sift through the fluff?
Ask the Right Questions
It’s very tempting to ask a lot of statistical questions. Some statistical elements are critical: who are you dealing with, where is their headquarters, do they have any large debts or judgments that may affect your future relationship? Those are excellent questions to ask and they are very difficult for even the most Pinocchio-like respondent to fudge.
Where you get into trouble is “interpretable” statistics. How many offices do you have? That’s a seemingly easy question to answer. After all, you know that your company has an office where your desk is located as well as a satellite office and 2 warehouses. But how does the person at the other end of the RFP interpret that question? “Well, if I count my brother-in-law’s basement where I keep a box of paper clips and the hotel in Berlin where I left a stack of business cards, the answer would be...”
It happens. People fudge. Some outright lie. Ultimately, you are left with a question that doesn’t really tell you anything at all.
To eliminate the opportunity for puffery, ask for a street address and telephone number for each location. Visit the location. Call the phone number. Perform due diligence to assure that your answer is correct.
But practicality soon sets in. You don’t have the time. You don’t have the budget. So you give in and just believe what everyone says. What else can you do?
Independently Audit Your Results
Surprisingly, this is easier than it sounds. The Exhibit Designers + Producers Association (EDPA) implemented an RFP Certification Program in 2014 where they asked the tough questions and then leveraged an independent third party auditing firm to assure the answers given were spot-on. Obtaining EDPA Certification is not easy. Participants have to provide a wealth of data about their company, processes, financials and more. It’s exhaustive AND exhausting. And that is probably why only 12 exhibit houses in the United States have received that certification.
What EDPA RFP Certification means to you is that someone outside the relationship has verified how many locations your prospective vendor has; they know if your vendor is committed to industry policies and best practices. iCompli, the third party auditor, receives no benefit from stating that a vendor is in compliance. They just make sure every “I” is dotted and every “T” is crossed.
Ensuring your RFP is sent to EDPA RFP Certified companies is one way you can ensure your potential vendor stands behind what is says.
How far a vendor is willing to go to demonstrate their allegiance to you and your company tells a lot about how successful your relationship will be years or even decades down the road. As you seek your next trade show and event marketing partner, ask the one question that truly matters: Are you EDPA RFP Certified?
Challenge us with your next RFI/RFP Package. I look forward to answering your questions because I believe great experiences aren’t relegated to the show floor alone. They begin with the cultivation of a new relationship at its earliest stages. That’s why I love my job – and my company. MG is truly committed to you.
Jen Borucki is a Marketing Communication Specialist for MG Design, a global full service experiential marketing partner with complete turnkey design, fabrication, marketing, service and labor offerings to successfully create experiences that enrich our clients, our team, our community and our world. In addition to answering your RFI/RFP questions, Jen also provides copywriting services through MG’s internal marketing services agency, magnify™.