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Why COIs Don’t Refer Business

It’s possible you’ve found yourself in one of two scenarios as it relates to the COIs in your network.

  • Perhaps you’ve had a casual professional relationship with an estate attorney or accountant for several years. You may have had one or two conversations with them about referring business to one another. Over this time, you’ve provided them with a consistent stream of referrals, and they have provided no one in return.
  • Or you’ve had a relationship with a COI who has consistently referred business, but most of the referrals don’t fit your ideal client type.

To build powerful – and reciprocal – relationships with COIs, you must be highly intentional about who you are choosing to partner with, what information you’re sharing with them and how you’re nurturing the relationship. Here are three ideas that can help you get off to a fresh start with a new or existing COI.

Explain what you do in a way that is memorable … and makes sense.

One reason why COIs don’t refer business to advisors is simply because they don’t know how and when to leverage the financial advisor.

It is easy for an advisor to refer business to an attorney or accountant because they offer services that fit specific needs that are easy to identify (e.g., to file taxes, to handle an estate issue, to get divorced, etc.)

On the other hand, the services of financial advisory firms are not always easily understood. To differentiate the modern financial advisors from the stockbrokers of yesteryear, the industry has been using the terms “holistic wealth management” and “comprehensive financial planning” to describe what advisors do. The problem is those terms are confusing and do little to educate people on the client needs advisors help solve for.

Keeping this in mind, when explaining your services to a COI, do not use industry jargon. Instead use language that closely aligns with the way an ideal client might be articulating their needs and challenges to another professional. Here are a few examples:

  • “We help people who are about to sell a business save money in taxes and ultimately make sure the money they receive lasts for their retirement and their kids’ retirement.”
  • We invest money for people and help them understand how much more they’ll need—and what steps they’ll need to take moving forward—to retire when they want.
  • We help people ensure that they’re maximizing their retirement accounts and saving enough for retirement and for their estate planning goals.

Make sure that whatever language you are using matches the language on your website and in your marketing materials. Consider creating a one-pager that clearly explains how you help clients. Include a brief case study or success story as well and make the PDF downloadable on your site and below your email signature.

Have a direct and intentional conversation.

Another common reason potential COIs don’t refer business is because they’ve never been directly asked. When was the last time you had a conversation with an attorney or accountant in your network, and directly asked them if they’d be open to referring business to your firm?

Whether you’ve had that conversation in the past, or never at all, prepare to have that conversation now. If you are worried about coming off “salesy,” shift your thinking. You play a critical role in the life of each family you serve. There is nothing salesy or wrong about telling others that you want to help more people secure their retirement and master their financial situation. Remember that the professionals you are speaking to are in the same position as you in terms of needing to grow their business through referrals and introductions.

When you are speaking with the COI, make sure you clearly articulate the following:

  • That you have had great success over the past few years and are looking to deepen your reach and serve more families, and focus more attention on a few niche groups of clients (i.e., the clientele that you and them both serve).
  • That you are looking to build a small network of trusted professionals who can serve as your go-to resources for your top clients.
  • That you are only looking to build this network with professionals who can see themselves working with you and referring you business too. 
  • That you are looking to bring on a specific number of new households each year from your trusted partners so that you can maintain the boutique, family-oriented feel of your firm.
  • That you would be happy to create and deliver a financial plan for them, free of charge, so that they can fully understand the value of what you do.

Make sure when you are having this conversation you are also clearly explaining the types of clients you work with and the ways they would be able to leverage your work during their engagements with similar clients.

Not every “COI” is actually a COI.

Just because someone fits the traditional professional profile of a COI and has worked with clients of yours in the past, doesn’t mean they are going to be an ideal referral source for you. If you refer business to someone consistently, and you have had many conversations with them about who you serve, and they are not referring anyone in return, it’s time to stop considering them a COI. A COI, by definition, is a person who has access to and influence within your ideal client circle and has the power to refer, promote and advocate for you.

If you are realizing that perhaps you don’t have any strong COIs right now, consider the

professionals who your best clients are currently working with. Conduct an audit of your best clients’ accountants, attorneys, real estate agents etc. Ask for introductions to them. Be open and transparent with clients, letting them know that you are looking to add professionals to your network and would be interested in building relationships with their go-to people.

Additionally, start thinking outside the box about who you consider to be a COI. Consider the people—both personally and professionally—who have influence over your ideal clients. And especially those who have influence over your ideal clients during a time of transition or high emotion, such as when money is in motion, or when clients need to confide in someone over a difficult decision.  

There are lots of people who might fit the bill. Review the following list and add some examples of your own:

  • Mortgage brokers
  • Real estate brokers
  • Business or career coaches
  • Doctors
  • Local politicians
  • House of worship leaders
  • Funeral home directors
  • Divorce attorneys
  • Event planners

The key when building relationships with these individuals is to teach them how to find opportunities to refer you. For example, wedding planners are in the business of helping clients plan large-scale events that typically cost a significant amount of money. They routinely are in conversations with clients about their budgets. A savvy, influential event planner with strong communication skills might easily be able to say the following to a client: “I have a friend who is an awesome financial planner and would be really helpful to the two of you as you continue to think about your budget and merging your finances before the wedding. Do you want an introduction?”

On a final note, once you have identified your potential COIs and have properly set expectations with them, start treating them like an A+ client. Set reminders for yourself to call and check in “randomly” each month. Provide them with value-add material throughout the year. Co-host events with them. Spend time with them just like you would your very best clients. In no time you will find that all you really needed was one or two strong connections to help you move the needle.

Penny Phillips is the co-founder and president of Journey Strategic Wealth. 

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