Courting centres of influence

Centres of influence (COIs) can prove to be an excellent source of referrals for building your practice. Cultivating relationships with various categories of COIs can help increase your chances of gaining new business.

“Selectively try to establish relationships with as many different types of COIs as possible, who can each be a source of referrals,” says Raymond Yates, financial advisor and senior partner with Save Right Financial Inc. in Brampton, Ont.

COIs can be professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, with whom you have a reciprocal relationship. They also can be community groups, charitable organizations or special-purpose associations in which you participate.

“You will find that some individuals, especially lawyers and accountants, already have relationships with other advisors,” Yates says, “and would turn down your offer to establish a relationship.”

However, he adds, some professionals might be willing to have more than one advisor as a COI. Some might be restricted by their respective associations from referring a single advisor, and will refer more than one advisor to a client, who will then make a choice.

Here are some tips on working with COIs to increase your chances of getting referrals:

> Identify COIs
Make a list of all COIs you know or have an existing relationship with, Yates says. Ask your clients to refer you to the professionals they use such as their accountants or lawyers.

Also, find out which community associations your clients belong to. You can expand your list by going through professional directories in your area and by joining associations to which your target clients belong and that interest you. “By getting involved in associations or community groups,” Yates says, “you increase your chances of getting referrals.”

> Contact COIs
Get in touch with the potential COIs on your list. “Try to set up a meeting, if possible,” Yates says, “as face-to-face contact works best.”

You must be well prepared to discuss what you offer, he adds, and be able to highlight your skills, experience, qualifications and successes in a confident manner.

COIs should not see you as their competitor, but rather someone who offers complementary services. Make sure that you learn about their specialties and offer to reciprocate by providing referrals to them. “It should be a two-way relationship.”

> Manage COI relationships
Take care of your relationships with COIs just as you would your client relationships, Yates says.

“Communicate with them regularly,” he adds, “and ask if you can add them to your mailing list.” This strategy will help to keep you top of mind, and make them aware of what you are doing.

It takes time for COI relationships to bear fruit, Yates says, so be patient.

> Provide feedback
Update your COIs on the progress you make with referrals. If you convert a referral successfully, Yates says, “make sure the COI is aware.”

You also should thank them in a personal manner to show your appreciation, he adds. And if you do not convert a referral, tell them why it didn’t work out.

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