Constancy and patience are key elements in setting up and maintaining a successful centre of influence (COI) network, according to practice management experts.
“[A COI network] works but it takes time,” says April-Lynn Levitt, a coach with the Personal Coach in Toronto. “Just like any other marketing method, it’s consistency that’s the key for having a successful centre of influence relationship.”
Maintaining a network is all about staying in contact with your COIs. Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist Business Development in Montreal, suggests inviting your COIs out for lunch or to grab a coffee every couple of months in order to stay top of mind.
As with clients, staying in touch with COIs takes organization. Says Levitt: “You almost have to treat [a COI] like a prospect when you’re building that relationship.” Use your contact management system, suggests Levitt, to keep track of your COI communications.
Michael Newton, portfolio manager, director, wealth management ScotiaMcLeod Inc. in Toronto, keeps in touch with his network of COIs by signing them up for his weekly newsletter. The newsletter is sent out every Friday and is meant to be a weekend reading list for clients and COIs. Generally, the newsletter includes four or five articles covering a wide range of topics, both investment-related and otherwise.
Another way to maintain a COI relationship is by hosting joint events, such as seminars. “You can have the centres of influence speak at events,” says Levitt, “and they’re often happy to do that because they’ll likely get some business out of it.”
You can also hold a joint client appreciation event with COIs. When arranging an appreciation event, however, Levitt warns that you should be prepared to do the lion’s share of organizing.
Sometimes advisors think that after meeting a COI and organizing events they can sit back and wait for the referrals. However, a big part of the process is sending to the professional clients of your own.
Before working at a large bank with resources, Newton worked for a smaller firm and often had to send his clients to other professionals for banking or legal advice. “I was constantly referring out,” he says, “and it came back in spades.”
Whether you are referring a client or are sent a prospect from a COI, always ask for feedback to make sure the relationship is working out. Newton, for example, always follows up with a COI about how things are going with a referral and says he is “always a little disappointed” when the professional doesn’t do the same.
In addition to asking the COI, it’s also a good idea to get the client’s opinion. Levitt suggests asking clients to complete a survey about the service they received from a COI. “That’s faster then waiting for clients to complain,” she says, “or to say they weren’t really a good fit with that [professional].”
If some of that feedback is negative, those issues need to be addressed right away. It may be that you don’t fully understand the COI’s expertise or ideal client profile, says Levitt. As such, you want to talk with that professional immediately to find out what happened with the client and to clear up any misunderstandings around the COI’s service offerings.
Even after taking all these steps, it’s possible that you will do most of the referring before a COI reciprocates, says Gilbert. However, that doesn’t mean you should wait forever.
“If you see after a year and half to two years there’s nothing [and] you’ve been present, you’ve been adding value to the relationship,” she says, “that just means there’s no interest on the other side. Just let it go.”