Forging Stronger Alliances
Working effectively with centres of influence is a tricky process.
Centres of influence (COIs) are people who may never become clients but have the ability to introduce you to people who can. In a U.S. study of financial advisors and certified public accountants (CPAs), 90 per cent of the 500 financial advisors polled wanted to ask for introductions from CPAs, but were uncertain about how to proceed. Out of the 63 CPAs questioned, 73 per cent wanted introductions from advisors but, again, weren’t sure how to ask.
So, each group of professionals wants the same thing but isn’t sure of the decorum around how to do so. Here Business Coaches Patricia Giesbrecht and Kim Poulin provide both a seven-step guide to develop stronger relationships with centres of influence, and a roadmap on how to best network with this specific group.
1. HAVE AN INTRODUCTION MINDSET
In nearly all things, thought and attitude breed success — or lack of success. This is particularly applicable when asking for introductions. We have to examine our own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and experiences about introductions before we can effectively market our services. We can overcome introduction aversion by reminding ourselves that affluent people want to benefit from meeting financial professionals.
How does your next client want to meet you? From a cold call, direct mail, or phone book? Not likely. From a trusted advisor? Absolutely!
A healthy mindset includes knowing that you provide a valuable service to clients and that you are worthy of an introduction. If this is an issue for you, take stock of your value. Seriously reflect on all the services, expertise, wisdom, time, and effort that you put into your work with your clients. Recall the ways that clients have expressed their gratitude for your work or prepare a client survey and ask questions about satisfaction. If you’re uncertain about any aspect of your work process, improve it. Most importantly, learn to think about introductions as a way to help people, not you.
2. HAVE A SOLID UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR IDEAL CLIENT PROFILE
Your ideal client profile (ICP) refers to a collection of objective, factual, and statistical data related to clients with whom you do your best work. They have similar issues, concerns, desires, and life or business situations. They also may communicate with each other. Having an ICP is important for targeting your marketing initiatives to achieve better results. It’s important to know your COIs’ ideal client profiles and that they understand yours. Speak in specific terms as you describe your ICP and the types of circumstances in which you would like to be introduced to their clients.
Your COIs may not have identified their ICP, so ask them, “How can I know if someone I’m talking to would be a good prospect for you?” Be sure that the COI knows what kinds of financial events or circumstances would trigger the need for them to introduce you to people. Many COI relationships are reciprocal, so it is important for both parties to recognize good prospects for each other.
3. DISPLAY CONFIDENCE IN ARTICULATING YOUR VALUE
Since gaining the confidence of COIs is an important part of your marketing process, you need to be able to concisely explain your services and value. Don’t leave COIs with any questions about your practice and its services.
In the book, Mirror Mirror on the Wall Am I the Most Valued of Them All? authors at Pusateri Consulting and Training, a binational company that works with advisors and financial institutions, say that you need to answer these Value Ladder™ questions to differentiate yourself.
1. Who are you? (personal and professional background, credentials, and experience)
2. What do you do? (services provided, value proposition, and area(s) of expertise)
3. Why do you do what you do? (business beliefs)
4. How do you do what you do? (systematic process by which you define your client experience and provide layers of value throughout a new client relationship)
5. Whom have you done it for? (individuals or market segments with which your organization has done business and had success. Present client successes that “prove” your client success)
6. What makes you different? (knowledge used to set your organization and your products/services apart from the competition)
7.Why should I do business with you? (the ultimate emotional and logical connection you make with COIs and clients that align your value to the value that they are seeking)
Pusateri now adds an eighth question: How much does this cost? Be prepared to discuss how you are compensated, including how you will be paid for advice, transactions, and any other services. The Value Ladder™ is a tool to reduce vulnerability and uncertainty for COIs and turn them into confident advocates.
4. IDENTIFY WITH WHOM TO NETWORK
Accountants, lawyers, financial planners, and investment advisors are the “influencers” and “counsellors” who no doubt are great potential COI sources. But why stop there? Many other possibilities exist so do not limit yourself to the obvious. Consider approaching some of these individuals:
• real estate/mortgage brokers professionals, particularly for exclusive properties
• property and casualty owners/advisors
• retired business people who are still active in the community and may be sitting on a board or two
• members of your golf club, community organization, or social club
• people who boat at your marina
• exclusive car dealers
• professionals in the not-for-profit world
• presidents of community charities
• human resource professionals and executive outplacement firms
• travel consultants
The quickest way to identify potential COIs is by asking your clients, who else provides your professional services? Who is their accountant, investment advisor, real estate agent, etc.?
If they don’t have one, do they need one? Refer one!
5. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS BY NETWORKING
When making a new connection, start with small talk and try to hit upon a topic that is of interest. Ask, “Do you go to a lot of these events?” If the answer is yes, then they likely do have a significant network. After five or 10 minutes of chatting, ask, “Would it be OK if I give you a call to continue our discussion and learn more about one another?” If they agree, call them the next morning. In the process of getting to know them, try to figure out if their network caters to the type of people that you want to meet (your ICP).
The best way to build relationships is to ask questions and listen intently to the responses. Ask how you can be helpful to the COIs. What do they need? What are the problems you can help them solve? Remember non-business areas as well. Find out what’s important to them and their family members. Show them you care about their success.
Goodwill gestures go a long way. Find out the COI’s busiest time and offer some stress-relieving perks like care packages or pizza sent to the office. It will build goodwill and nurture the relationship.
6. DEMONSTRATE YOUR VALUE
Encourage the COIs to experience how you work. This will help alleviate any fear of introducing you to their contacts. Invite the COI to participate in meetings with mutual clients. You want them to see you in action ... or become their client. If your COI is a lawyer, get your estate work done, or if it is a mortgage broker, go to them the next time your mortgage renews. This allows you to interact with several different professionals, thus broadening your network. They won’t get to experience your process or services, but they’ll get a better feel for who you are as a person.
Be sure to ask your COIs if they have clients who would benefit from the work you do. If they do, ask them to identify one client you could introduce your process to. After COIs see the quality of your work, they will likely give rave reviews about your services to other potential clients.
7. COMMUNICATE YOUR VALUE THROUGH MARKETING
Market yourself by publicizing the value that you provide in meeting the needs of the clients that your COIs serve. You can do so by:
• using your marketing tools (LinkedIn, newsletters, brochures, marketing emails)
• accepting speaking engagements and seminars designed specifically for the niche (lunch and learn sessions, etc.)
• writing articles in the media of interest to your profile (i.e., trade magazines)
• requesting that the COI write an article for your own marketing publications to advertise
• sending regular e-communications on subjects you believe are of interest to the COI or to their clients
Have a contact and relationship strategy for each of your COIs. Just like how you have a strategy for your own clientele, if you have a strategy of developing COIs, then this will help you maintain your focus. You’ll want to stay in regular contact with them in order to nurture the relationship and remain top of mind. Be proactive, create an annual plan, and make sure you follow through!