Advisors must shift the way they think about developing relationships with centres of influence (COIs), according to Julie Littlechild, founder of Advisor Impact Inc. in Toronto.

If you regard COIs solely as part of a sales strategy, then you should be mainly concerned about whether a COI will provide referrals. But your real concern, Littlechild says, should be for your clients.

So, you should be looking for COIs who can deliver a high level of professional service that is appropriate to your clients.

“If you buy into the notion that it’s a client strategy first,” Littlechild says, “then who they are becomes critically important.”

Here are three tips on identifying COIs who would appropriate for your clients:

1. Look for COIs with similar clients to yours
The best way to establish whether you have a common client base with potential COIs is by going straight to that base. Ask your clients if they are working with professionals such as accountants, lawyers or real estate agents. And ask if they are happy with the services those professionals provide.

If you receive positive responses to these questions, it is quite appropriate for you to ask your clients for an introduction, Littlechild says. Explain to the client that you are building a network of professionals to provide the best service for your clients.

Asking your clients’ opinion has two benefits. Clients will appreciate that you think enough of them to ask for their help. Second, they will probably think highly of you for wanting to further develop your network to assist people like themselves.

2. Consider non-traditional COIs
While accountants and lawyers are the mainstream COI options, some advisors are incorporating other professionals, such as life coaches, psychologists, funeral directors and even personal trainers into their networks, Littlechild says.

Being able to offer the assistance of various experts shows that you acknowledge that your client is a multi-dimensional human being with various challenges, Littlechild says.

To determine which professionals would be a good addition to your network, think of your client base and what services they require.

For example, if many of your clients are baby boomers with aging parents, consider developing a professional relationship with the director of a reputable home care service. When clients tell of their difficulties regarding their parents’ daily care, you can connect them to this service.

3. Seek out COIs with similar service standards
A part of providing proper service to clients is establishing and maintaining specific standards, Littlechild says. Clients develop expectations when they experience a high level of service from you and they will expect the same type of service when dealing with your COIs.

When you’re getting to know potential COIs, discuss those standards. For example, do you have a policy of sending a meeting summary to clients following a portfolio review? Your clients may believe this is something many professionals do and may think it strange if the professional you recommended does not provide that same courtesy.

This is the first part of a three-part series on working with COIs.

Next: Learning more about a potential COI.