Creating Strategic Relationships with Centers of Influence

If you’ve built a solid reputation among your professional network, you already have a head start on the path to growing your independent advisor business. The more you demonstrate your exceptional service and enterprise, the more your business speaks for itself—creating a perfect environment for referrals.

When you begin creating strategic relationships to increase referrals, it’s also important to consider trusted professionals outside your circle. Known as centers of influence (COIs), these professionals may include estate planners, tax advisors, real estate agents, loan officers, and any other professionals who can help you reach individuals and families in your target market.

In fact, according to a recent study of more than 1,500 advisors, personal referrals provided an average of nearly 70 percent of new business, but professional referrals made up only 15 percent. That’s a huge opportunity, and by focusing on referrals from these noncompeting professionals, you can expand your network and secure additional sources of business for your practice.

Here are five tips for creating connections with COIs and keeping them strong.

1. Think outside the box.

COIs include attorneys and accountants, but they’re not the only professionals with contacts in need of financial advice. Think about your ideal client, and then reach out to professionals who have them within their network. For instance, if your desired clients are:

  • Entrepreneurs: Contact the leaders of venture capital and private equity firms.
  • Tech professionals: Talk to talent recruiters. You can also contact your existing client base to see if you already have relationships with the parents or grandparents of these workers.
  • Widows or widowers: If you help clients who are caring for elderly relatives or those who’ve recently lost a spouse, build strong contacts with managers of senior care centers, geriatric care providers, and support group leaders at churches and hospitals. Clergy and funeral home directors can also point you to families who need financial guidance when dealing with difficult transitions in their lives.
  • Other niche clients: Think creatively about who could benefit your network. Gym owners, women-owned businesses, executive coaches, jewelers, real estate agents, and even editors of local publications may help you connect with clients you might not otherwise have reached.

2. Add value first.

Before you jump right in and ask for referrals, focus on what you can do for these potential partners—not what they can do for you. If you send an email or letter that simply introduces yourself and asks for business, it’s likely to be ignored.

Begin your outreach by starting a dialogue. Ask questions about them and their clients. For instance:

  • What are your clients most concerned about? Understanding the needs of clients of COIs will put you in a better position to meet them. Promoting a collaboration to address client needs together may be an effective way to sell the partnership.
  • What are your frequently asked questions? Learning which questions COIs hear most often can give you ideas on how to help their clients and solidify where you fit in.
  • Who is educating your clients about these issues? Show COIs you can be a direct resource to educate people about these issues and share the financial planning measures you’d take to support them.
  • What are your concerns as a business owner or professional? This question can help you refine how you can help as a professional collaborator.
  • Then, explain ways you can collaborate for the benefit of both of you: Once you have a better idea of the needs of the COI and their clients, share your thoughts on how you could work together. Establish your credentials and show how dedicated you’d be to serving their clients’ best interests. Make it clear that you are committed to being a mutual source of referrals, too.

3. Make networking and outreach a regular part of your schedule.

To ensure that your COIs don’t forget about you or your service, you’ll want to develop a strategic plan. The goal is to find meaningful, authentic reasons to reach out. Here’s how to start your plan:

  • Set regular reminders: As an independent advisor, you’ll be busy building your new firm and assisting clients. To ensure that you don’t forget to reach out to important connections, set calendar events so you can dedicate time to connecting with COIs.
  • Do your research: Understanding your COIs can go a long way toward tailoring the right message. For instance, their website can provide insight into their business and professional philosophy, their LinkedIn posts may indicate the industry topics they care about, and their Facebook page may reveal personal hobbies and interests. Use this insight to create strategic relationships and deepen connections.
  • Promote working sessions: Host informational sessions on relevant or timely topics that might affect or help clients of your COIs, such as how to manage taxes effectively or tips for retirement plan distributions. These events are a marketing opportunity and a chance for you to demonstrate your expertise. Providing resources or brochures with your contact information can help ensure that COIs can easily share your name with clients. If live events prove challenging, consider virtual sessions, which may be easier for busy professionals to coordinate.

4. Market with COIs.

Once you’ve established a relationship with COIs, producing shared marketing materials is an excellent way for you to gain exposure to each other’s client lists and followers. If you’re marketing their service on your end, be sure to ask that they return the favor. Here are a few ideas for joint marketing:

  • Invite them to be guest speakers: Consider holding a client seminar, podcast, or live social media chat on related topics. If your clients are soon-to-be retirees, for example, you could focus on the subject of transitioning into retirement, a loan officer could cover the pros and cons of reverse mortgages, or a real estate agent or builder could provide information on new adult communities.
  • Post COI highlights: Consider picking one day per month (or another schedule you can stick to) when you highlight your top COIs. You can ask them to write a guest post or simply highlight what they do and how clients can reach them if they need their services.
  • Cobrand client communications: If you send print or email newsletters, postcards, or other marketing materials, consider highlighting a relevant COI who your clients might want to contact.

5. Treat COIs like highly valued clients.

COIs can help bring you valuable business for years to come. Treat them the same way you serve your most treasured clients and share your appreciation.

  • Be an active partner and friend: Recognize important milestones in their personal and professional lives, such as birthdays, work anniversaries, significant achievements, or any awards or special recognition.
  • Treat them to something special: Consider taking your most valuable partners out to dinner or holding appreciation nights. Depending on compliance guidelines, you may also consider inviting them to shows, concerts, or sporting events as an expression of your gratitude.
  • Maintain a two-way street: Be sure to reciprocate by continuing to refer valued clients to them.

The Beginnings of Beautiful Partnerships

When you establish yourself as a trusted advisor and partner to COIs, it goes a long way toward creating strategic relationships—and helping grow your business and theirs. As you make connections with other professionals, take every opportunity to showcase your trustworthiness, credentials, and ability to work effectively alongside them. Once you’ve demonstrated your professionalism, they’ll have the confidence to refer their valued clients to you.

If you’re looking for a good place to start building your professional network, a partner firm can help. Here at Commonwealth Financial Network®, for example, we have the Commonwealth Alliance Program (CAP) that allows professionals in multiple disciplines to refer investment advisory clients to Commonwealth advisors for investment advisory services—and those associated professionals are compensated for their referrals by receiving a portion of the advisor’s advisory fees.

To learn more about Commonwealth and the CAP program, contact us.

Please consult your member firm’s policies and obtain prior approval for any sales ideas or marketing materials you would like to use with clients.

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