I admit it. I didn’t get it for a long time. There I was, working in-house at advisor firms, putting out RFPs to marketing agencies and consultants as part of my daily job responsibilities. The proposals would come back. I’d review them, cheerfully nodding at all the big promises, all the corporate happy talk.

We’d sign the deal. Do the project. And then—nothing. The benefit to the firm, or advisor, rarely outweighed the cost.

Eventually, I realized it was all wrong. The consultants were selling a high-sounding bill of goods that did very little for our business, largely because they didn’t actually understand our business. When I started FiComm, I swore I would never do that to a client, and I’m still passionate about that commitment. (Maybe I’m just mad they had me fooled for so long.)

Watch out for hand-waving vendors.
If you take away only one idea from this post, let it be this: Ask every vendor for specific deliverables.

Why? Because consultants prefer to be vague. They generally don’t like to do heavy lifting. In a typical big-name engagement, an army of professionals descends on your office, asks you a barrage of questions, challenges you, razzle-dazzles you, presents a beautiful 30-page strategic plan, charges you $30,000, and disappears. You never hear from them again.

If you already owned the execution assets internally, you could immediately put their plan to work and succeed brilliantly. But no one ever has those assets. And the consultants never agreed to help you build them, hire them or source them, either. So you put the plan away and close the drawer.

Always ask: What does this deliverable actually look like? A strategy is important, but you also need resources to implement it. If someone gives you a content marketing calendar, they should also identify the person responsible for doing the work. If you can’t think of anything to say, and can’t write, then someone needs to source a writer. Does the vendor expect you to have internal resources already in place? Who will monitor the project on the back end to see if it is working? Who is developing the reports? Who is managing the new lead management process? Don’t leave any stone unturned, and don’t make any assumptions. Be specific.

Spell everything out.
At FiComm, our proposals tend to be ridiculously granular. We spell out every deliverable, and specify our responsibilities as well as the client’s. You can’t expect a vendor to do it all. For example, we may recommend doing a hard news press release every quarter, but it’s the client’s job to do something newsworthy; we can’t just make up a release if they don’t. We also make clear what to expect at each month or milestone, so they can see we’re doing our job. Our goal is to give clients the highest level of certainty.

Be wary whenever someone promises to make you a media star—but never says what the media outreach actually entails. You have to put a lot of things in place to achieve a high media profile. If those things aren’t spelled out in excruciating detail, then it’s nothing more than conceptual B.S.

Let’s make B.S. a mnemonic for something else: Be specific.