Sometimes, participating in an RFP process is like eavesdropping on an awkward first date. You can tell everybody is trying to say the right thing, but nobody really understands what the other person is talking about.

Here are a few questions to incorporate into your conversations with vendors, so you can better understand what you’re buying before you sign a contract:

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You and your vendors come from different worlds. Vendors love to work with large companies that have deep pockets and teams of experts to guide the project along. When they look at financial services, they see a vast opportunity representing one-twelfth of the entire U.S. GDP. What vendors don’t realize is that they aren’t dealing with 300,000 advisors in a single market, but 300,000 small businesses, each operating in its own market. Advisors’ needs vary widely, their budgets are tightly managed, and they may not have a fully dedicated internal contact to teach vendors the ropes.

That’s why your most important goal in your due diligence and selection is to make sure your vendors understand your business. Do they know the difference between a broker and an advisor? Between fee-based and commission-based business?  Are they aware of the regulatory, sales and marketing review you are subject to? Do they even know how you get paid? If vendors don’t understand these basics, how can they possibly offer you anything useful?

I’m going to come out and say it: You should only use vendors who have worked with advisors before.

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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.)

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At FiComm, we attend conferences with a certain passion that can only be explained by our fangirl/fanboy like view of the independent wealth management community. We love the energy, the people, the networking, the content, and the access that we get at the conferences we choose to attend every year. But we often hear from fellow industry vendors a different tune. Generally speaking, hard working sales teams show up at conferences tired from all the travel, completely disenchanted, and wondering why they bothered to show up in the first place. They ask us questions like, “Why do we keep wasting our money, year after year, expecting different results but getting the same-old same old?” One answer to this question, as the Millennials say, is FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. We worry what might happen if we don’t show up this one time. People will talk! Or what’s worse, they won’t talk. They’ll forget about us. And so, once again, hope triumphs over experience, and back to the conference they go, setting out the collateral, putting on lanyards, and smiling.

There is a better way. Here are some ideas to make your next event pay off:

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In the Navy, I fixed combat aircraft.  F/A-18’s and F-14’s primarily, with some EA-6B Prowlers and S3 Viking sub-hunters sprinkled in occasionally to keep it interesting.  I spent 9 months at Naval Avionics school and finished 2nd in my class, so by the time the Navy was done training me I was pretty good at fixing electronics equipment.  I was also once very good at creating tiny plant dish gardens and because I worked in sales for a fine wine shop, I know my way around a crushed grape.  We’ll save those for future posts.

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I know you love your product. I probably do too. But advisors just don’t.

I understand how you feel. It’s frustrating for a vendor who works day and night to stay on the cutting edge of technology to realize advisors aren’t interested. When I worked as the right-hand person for owners of advisor firms, I was the one coming back from conferences excited about something new and cool. And the advisor would say, “Why should I care?”

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