Evaluating international vendors and suppliers can be a daunting and overwhelming task, especially since there are so many factors to be considered. Some companies issue an RFP (Request for Proposal) for a single exhibit project while others issue an RFP for an entire international program. However, since there is such a wide range of suppliers and so many variables in the global marketplace, it is important to ensure that you are actually evaluating the “right” criteria in the process in order to make the best decision.
Some buyers fall into the trap of letting price make the all-important, final decision. Don’t get me wrong; price is important and must be part of the consideration. However, most companies rarely compare apples to apples in the pricing evaluation. More often, they compare apples to oranges, and then select the cheapest one. A company focused only on price will ignore other important considerations which will also impact long-term cost, but they may not realize it before it’s too late.
The savvy international shopper will ask the right questions in order to bring to the surface the real differentiating factors which need to be considered, whether you are issuing an RFP for a single project or an entire program. This approach brings balance to the overall consideration between the quoted price, total cost of ownership, and the quality of the execution. It will also help you to identify and avoid potential problem areas.
I have found that these are the five most important questions to ask, and the “why” behind each one:
1. 1. What Is Your Depth of International Experience? Many companies tack-on the word “international” to their name or simply claim that they are international. But, few companies have the depth of international experience in-house which one might expect.
The world is a big place, and relatively few companies in this industry have done substantial work outside of certain regions. Since shows and events happen daily, all around the planet, things are done differently from place to place. The most effective company to manage or produce your exhibit or event program will be one which understands the global marketplace as well as the specific local environment. They should provide a level of international expertise equal to or above that of your company. You don’t want to pay for their learning curve! You will want to work with a company who “knows the ropes” in each environment, has multi-lingual staff, is accustomed to working across borders, and can help you to avoid costly mistakes. It isn’t always necessary to only use a company who has worked in a specific venue, but it certainly helps. The company should at least have some experience working in the specific city and country where your event will be held. The supplier with more international experience working with recognizable brand names is generally the best option.
2. 2. What is Your Process for Managing International Projects? Project Management is one of those terms sometimes applied loosely in many situations. Often companies do not manage the things which they should, and therefore operate in an inconsistent manner. When working internationally in the trade show or event industry, you will quickly discover that every company has its own unique way of working, and it is probably different from your way! These different methodologies, styles or ways of working can create many significant problems, cost you more money, and greatly complicate your program. Some companies will try to force you to work their way, rather than adjusting to fit your needs. This factor is more important for program management versus a single project. Therefore, select a company which has a comprehensive project management methodology which fits well with that of your organization. This company should be able to integrate the wide variety of work flow processes around the world, and bridge any uncertainty gaps.
3. 3 Where Are Your Local Resources? Understanding the local environment is just as important as understanding the global big picture. When it comes down to the local delivery and quality of work, it is critically important to have reliable resources on the ground and at your disposal. Many companies today are finding local partners or vendors on the Internet and “hoping” for the best. But, this is undoubtedly a risky approach! There are also networking groups or associations who have lists of local resources. However, association memberships rarely provide a guarantee of quality, or assessment of capability.
In the trade show and event industries, few companies have more than a couple of international office locations. Some do have multiple locations covering a certain region. Few really cover the world. In today’s market, the best international agencies have a combination of either local partners or local offices, with a strong track record of performance. Evaluate their specific coverage locations to determine if they fit the size, complexity and scope of your program. The key factor here is to ensure that your supplier has an advanced understanding of, and the ability to truly deliver in, the location (city, country) where the show or event is taking place.
4. 4. How Do You Ensure Global Brand Consistency? Many companies struggle with achieving brand consistency around the world, both from a pure marketing approach and an architectural branding perspective. Locus of control is a factor which can either harm or help. Local or regional offices are often in conflict with “corporate” over who is making decisions for a particular trade show or event. When local offices are operating independently from corporate, only using local suppliers, brand inconsistency normally increases.
Suppliers can help strengthen your global brand using a consistent delivery approach. The most effective way to achieve global brand consistency is to manage it from a central location, using a variety of tools and techniques. But, this level of centralized management cannot operate in a vacuum. Consideration must be given for the local requirements, culture, customs and situation.
Ask your supplier to give examples of how they have effectively achieved this with other companies.
5. 5. How Does Your Company Demonstrate Value? Value is quite subjective, can be demonstrated and measured in many ways, and too often goes unnoticed by senior management. Companies are often looking for different kinds of value in service providers or vendors. Value can be demonstrated in the level of service provided, the cost of the tangible items, and the perceived worth of the intangible creative or strategic solutions provided. Therefore, a company may demonstrate value to you by managing a myriad of details and working across various time zones, freeing some of your time. Or, they may be able to provide an inexpensive booth property for a single use, demonstrating value for money spent. Value can also be demonstrated in the fact that your supplier has an in-depth understanding of the local culture.
Since the world is so diverse, a single approach rarely works in every situation. Ideally, you will choose to work with a provider who understands the various dimensions of cultural value systems and how those impact marketing, branding, and operations. They can help tailor your messaging to the local audience in both tangible and intangible ways. This perspective can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your program, especially as it gets focused into the local markets.
Value sometimes goes unrecognized in the prevention of major problems by experienced and thorough project management. Therefore, select a supplier who demonstrates a depth of proficiency across broad regions, cultures, and industries. You will need to evaluate the answer to this response based on the type of value you seek.
Apart from these questions, there are others which you will need to include in your international Request for Proposal. However, these questions are designed to help you identify the most important criteria which should be considered when choosing an international partner or supplier. If these points are carefully evaluated, you will have more confidence in your final decision, a better experience in the process, lower total cost of ownership, and a more effective project or program.
Please visit our website at www.nuanceintl.com/learn for more information on this topic or to find other international educational resources. For in-depth educational briefings designed for trade show managers, event planners and marketing professionals, please email us at email@example.com. You can follow Jeff Hannah on Twitter: @jeffnuance. Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nuanceinternational
© 2013 by Jeffrey S. Hannah