How to Deepen Relationships with Centers of Influence

Teresa Riccobuono

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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.