How to Deepen Relationships with Centers of Influence

Building a reliable network of centers of influence (COIs) is one of the surest ways to engage with new prospects and grow your practice. Here’s a step-by-stop process to expand your list of COIs – including some who you probably didn’t think were potential referral sources.

Let me start out by providing some definitions that I use. Note that I will use the term COI for the majority of this article.

  • Advocate – refers without benefit to oneself; usually a client, friend or family member
  • Typical COI relationship – casual referral arrangement, non-competing business
  • Strategic Partner or Alliance – exclusive reciprocal referral arrangement, sometimes includes revenue sharing

Why develop relationships with COIs, in particular CPAs and attorneys? Here are some staggering statistics provided by Invesco, in partnership with Prince & Associates.

  • If you want wealthy clients, you must go where the rich go to look for you. Among the affluent, 68.9% find their primary financial advisor through their attorney or accountant.
  • If you roll out the numbers for the people in this study who had greater than $10 million in assets, the percentage that rely on their attorney or accountant for a referral rises to 89%!
  • If the wealthy find their primary financial advisor through their attorney or accountant, why would you not focus your attention on developing relationships with attorneys and accountants?

Not a referral

When it comes to growing your business through attorneys and accountants, “referral” is a destructive word. The word “referral” causes financial advisors to misperceive the situation and potentially destroy their partnership.

Here’s why. Embedded in the definition of a referral is the idea that a client is being given to the financial advisor. This is precisely the case when a client is given to you by another client. They are handing this person over for your care. “I trust you. Here’s someone I care about. Take care of them.”

However, in the world of strategic partnerships, attorneys and accountants are not giving you a client. From their perspective, the individual remains their client. What they are doing is hiring you for products and services that they do not provide. You are a subcontractor. “My client has a problem, and I need your help with it.”

By avoiding this simple error of perception, in the eyes of an attorney or accountant, you will begin to separate yourself from the majority of advisors seeking to do business with them.

Treat the professional like a client

If the attorney or accountant is in a sense your “client,” be sure to engage in the kind of relationship management you would with a top client. In other words, do all the things you do with your best clients for attorneys, accountants and other COIs and strategic partners. For example, for your top clients, you probably know:

  • Spouse’s name
  • Children’s and grand children’s names
  • Where they went to school
  • Hobbies, volunteer work
  • Favorite vacation locale(s)

Yet many advisors cannot answer these basic questions about their COIs. Get to know your partners as you would a top client.

Finding strategic partners is not just about selling them on you as the best resource for their clients. Rather it is about finding someone with whom you click, someone you feel comfortable putting in front of your clients. Strategic partnerships are marriages, not dates.

Other COIs to consider

Although the statistics are compelling as to why you want to develop relationships with accountants and attorneys, I often hear that it is difficult to find accountants whose work is accurate. I also hear that attorneys, estate planning attorneys in particular, are unwilling and unable to refer a financial advisor.

If estate planning attorneys receive most of their referrals from advisors, it is not appropriate for the attorney to refer out a client they received from one advisor to a different advisor.

Estate planning attorneys who are newer to the business may offer an opportunity to engage in a reciprocal referral arrangement.

Taking this information into account, here is a list of alternatives to accountants and attorneys I have compiled from discussions with advisors.

  • Business or property valuation specialist/broker – when a valuation is done, it often means that money is going to be in motion
  • Psychologist/marriage and family therapist – may be more of an advocate as you may not be able to refer to this person often
  • Funeral home director
  • Grief counselor/bereavement specialist
  • Clergy
  • School principal/university leader
  • Hairdresser
  • Tailor
  • Elder law attorney
  • Divorce attorney – consider becoming a Certified Divorce Financial Advisor
  • Lifeline – firemen
  • Day trip planners
  • Travel agent
  • RV salesman or dealership owner
  • Handyman
  • Home healthcare provider
  • Geriatric care manager/anyone related to the healthcare industry – healthcare is the number one concern for aging clients
  • Senior living facility (in particular, the managers of the top two facilities in your area)
  • Mobile notary
  • Fund raising counselor/charitable foundation specialist –; Google search for charitable foundations in your state
  • Event planner
  • Photographer
  • Jeweler
  • Third-party administrators/employee benefits manager
  • Career transition coach
  • Sports agent
  • State lottery commissioner
  • Local news anchor
  • Newspaper columnist/magazine editor
  • Immigration specialist

How to meet centers of influence

Warm lead:

  • Someone who your client patronizes and likes. Track contact information in CRM or Excel to make it easy to search information, including searching for multiple clients who may utilize the same professional.
  • Networking groups and events. Some advisors have created a networking group on their own, consisting of a dream team of professionals who support one another.
  • Other groups. You may be a participant or member of a group which comes together for something other than networking. Toastmasters, cycling club, book club and charitable endeavors to name a few.
  • Someone a non-competing COI works with. Each of your COIs has their team of professionals they use. There may be someone on their list who could be a resource for you.
  • Someone who is connected to a close connection of yours through LinkedIn. Ask for an introduction.

Cold lead:

  • Search local registries and seek out anyone you want to meet.

No matter how trustworthy the referral source, be sure to research anyone with whom you are considering a COI relationship.

Two important questions to ask the potential COI

Before you go too far down the road with any potential COI, ask these two important questions:

  1. Are you taking on new clients?
  2. Do you already have a trusted financial advisor to whom you refer your clients?

If the COI answers no to question number one, ask the COI if he or she can suggest an alternative.

If the COI answers yes to question number two, find out more about the relationship the COI has with this financial advisor. You may find that the relationship is not very strong or you have a particular specialty or niche that would be of value to the COI. If the COI says that she refers all of her clients to his brother-in-law, move on. It is better to know at this early stage of the game that there is no possible way you are going to receive referrals from this COI.

The process

After a preliminary meeting or conversation with the COI to determine if a reciprocal relationship makes sense, invite the COI to meet with you at your office.Explain to him or her that you will conduct a meeting similar to the one you conduct when first meeting with a prospect.The purpose of doing so is threefold.

  • He or she will be exposed to the same presentation that anyone he or she refers to you will experience. By doing so the COI can clearly articulate your process to the referral.
  • You would like the COI to audit your presentation, looking for opportunities for you to improve. Prospects will not typically provide this type of helpful feedback, even if you ask them. A COI who has agreed to refer prospects to you has a vested interest in you being the best you can be. The COI wants to make sure you are referable.
  • You can determine if there is a good fit between you and the COI.

Consider having the COI audit your complete process, from appointment setting, to receiving the initial prospect meeting packet and completing the homework, to the appointment confirmation, to a review of staff and office first impressions.

Be sure to walk through the menu of services and ideal client profile documents. Refer to earlier articles on these subjects.

Schedule the COI initial meeting in such a way as to allow time to discuss any questions he or she may have and opportunities he or she sees for improvement. Use the COI agenda to conduct the review/evaluation portion of the meeting.

Don’t be surprised if the COI decides that he or she should be working with you. It is great to have a COI as a client. What better third-party endorsement can you receive?

Offer to go through a similar process for your COI. It is invaluable to have a fresh set of eyes and ears evaluate your/his or her process.

Add the COI to your DRIP marketing program so that the COI is aware of what you are sending to clients.

Add the COI to appropriate groups in your contact management system.

Invite the COI to your client events as an attendee or even better, as a speaker.

Discuss possible joint meetings with clients that you currently share or should share.

Make sure the COI leaves the appointment with the following

  • A scheduled “touch base” call in a few days to go over any additional questions or opportunities he or she may have identified.
  • A few of your introductory packets to hand out to prospects.
  • A clear and simple value proposition from you.
  • An understanding of your ideal clients and how you help them.
  • The next scheduled quarterly appointment (you should be meeting at least on a quarterly basis). If your COI decides to become a client, then put him or her on a schedule appropriate for the engagement type, separate from your meetings as a COI.

If you are both part of a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly networking group, consider scheduling the COI appointment for a time just after your regular networking meeting since you are both scheduled to be at the same place at the same time.

COI agenda

Consider one agenda for existing COI relationships and another for new relationships.

  • What is on the agenda
  • Personal updates
  • Update on referrals received and given

Still in the pipeline

Have met with

Are now working with

Having trouble connecting with

  • Discuss the relationship (expectations)

If it is working well

How it can be improved

If we should continue with the relationship

How we can best help each other

If we both have a clear understanding of each other’s value proposition

How best to follow up with a referral once they have connected with you, but have not agreed to meet with you

      • Learn about COIs that this COI uses as resources
  • Updates to:

Menu of services

Ideal client profile

Contents of introductory packets

  • Updates on advanced education:

Designation(s) – what the current ones mean

Attainment of a new designation

Due diligence meetings attended

Compliance training

Industry conferences, firm conferences, FPA meetings or conferences attended

  • Updates to product and service offerings
  • Discuss DRIP marketing materials that have been sent
  • Review upcoming marketing events or presentations
  • Discuss partnership opportunities and joint meetings
  • Provide additional introductory packets (if needed)
  • Make sure you both have enough of each other’s business cards (in case she runs out of your intro packets)
  • Schedule next appointment
  • Review advisor and COI follow up items (To Dos)

External version of ideal client profile

In a previous article, I shared information on developing an ideal client profile. The majority of the information in that article regards an internal version of an ideal client profile, which is typically a longer, more detailed version with focus on qualitative aspects.

When sharing your ideal client profile with COIs, the information must be simple and easy to remember and identify.

  • Minimum investment of $250,000 and/or significant discretionary cash flow
  • Between ages of 55-75
  • Retired person, recent widow/widower or divorcee, business owner or suddenly wealthy

For example, when discussing opportunities with a mortgage broker, ask her to look at the client’s tax return to see if she works with a CPA or does her own taxes. If she does her own taxes, she may also be a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to investments and is likely not an ideal referral candidate. If she works with a CPA, she is open to paying someone for their expertise, such as a financial advisor.

If you are speaking with a CPA, have her look to see if there are significant gains without offsets or if the client receives a large refund each year. If either is the case, there may be an opportunity for better investment and cash-flow planning.

These are just two examples of what you can ask the COI to look for.

COI tracker

If you have ever had a COI relationship not go as originally planned, you will understand the importance of keeping track of referrals given to and received from each of your COIs.

Keeping track of specifics is important when you think to yourself, "I have sent my CPA so many referrals over the past year, and I haven't received one in return." Instead of this vague conversation, you can offer specific information to your CPA. “Sam, I sent you three referrals last quarter: Cordes, Kamp and Thomas. I believe at least two of them, if not all three of them, became clients of yours. If my records are correct, I believe you have referred just one prospective client to me. Can we revisit our original conversation about establishing a cross referral relationship?”

I’m not saying that the reciprocal arrangement should be one for one, but if you can illustrate that the arrangement is one-sided and can provide specific information to the COI, it is easier for you to broach the subject.

Most CRM systems will allow you to keep track of necessary record keeping. For each COI, you should track the names of their referrals and that person's status (e.g., prospect, client or no interest). Please email me if you'd like an example of what this might look like.

Whether you decide to focus on accountants and attorneys or other suggested centers of influence, determine the process that is best for your practice, including which items to select for your introductory packet, which ideal client attributes to share, which agenda items are important to discuss and how best to keep track of referrals coming in and going out.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about the information provided, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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