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Working with centers of influence

Paresh B. Shah, CFP

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How to get introductions to their clients and maintain long-term relationships.

I am the worst prospector in the world. I found it hard to ask social acquaintances for business. To get past my prospecting reluctance, I tried to do various things — cold calling, mailings to those who just got a mortgage, seminars about retirement, etc. An incident changed all of this.

I cold called a CPA for business, and he was looking for a change of advisor. I was able to impress him with my investment knowledge, and he began with transferring one account to me. Soon, he gave me all his business.

During review meetings, I educated him on other planning ideas — pension plans, estate plans and college education funding. One day, after two years, the phone rang. He introduced me to a client who needed pre-tax benefits. The case was complex. I went with my senior partner, and we closed a case with $50,000 of premium.

Until then, I was doing small cases. This $50,000 case (which was shared with my senior partner) gave me my first MDRT qualification. I learned that working on tax strategies with business owners gave me large cases. Also, if they were introduced by their CPA, the cases moved faster with better closing ratios. I was hooked and have worked in that direction for the last 10 years.

Who is a center of influence? And what is the challenge? A center of influence (COI) is a person or professional who is considered trustworthy by their clients. Clients will follow the recommendations of their COIs and are willing to trust the people they recommend.

Prospects trust COIs, COIs trust you, and you walk into the meeting with the trust factor already in place. This leads to faster closes and a better closing ratio. CPAs, attorneys, property and casualty brokers, pastors and wealth managers all qualify. For me, the CPAs are the best source of introductions. For others, it may be another category or one from each category.

The challenge is that all COIs want to guard their influence. If they recommend someone who does a shoddy job, it reflects badly on their judgment, and that is the last thing they want. I had an awesome relationship with a young couple. I had helped them save for their first home. At purchase time, they asked me to recommend a mortgage broker.

A few days later, I got an email: “Paresh, you really do great work for us and so we ask you never to introduce Joe Bloke to anyone. He is nowhere near your service and is actually causing us a loss.” Fortunately, the client stayed with me, but they never asked me for another introduction. My influence with them had gone down.

The process of building relationships with COIs can be divided into four parts, though there is quite a bit of overlap:

The first step is to make lists of COIs. Depending on the rules in your country, you may be able to divide your list into those you can or cannot pay a referral fee to. Choose which market(s) you want to work with. Make a list of all those you know in that field you can contact.

Sometimes you may not have names and numbers of professionals. The simplest way would be to ask existing clients.

Make a list of four to six names of professionals you want to approach. You may also add four to six names of clients you want to approach to get the names of their COIs.

Getting the first and the second meeting. When you make the first call, you may want to position it this way: “I want to understand your business and see if I can refer business to you, and I want you to understand my work as well.”

The first meeting should be focused on the COI. You should ask about their business and ideal client. This will give you great insight into the type of client and market they work in. It helps you decide if you want to work in this market and, if you do, how to position your side of the story to the COI.

Take a minute here to note the markets you would want COIs to introduce you to. At the end of the first meeting, you want to set up a second meeting to tell them about what you do to help clients like theirs.

Keeping in touch. Connect with COIs on social media and forward them articles you think will be of interest. With CPAs, I organize continuous education seminars and invite them to attend. They get credits at no cost, and I position myself as an expert.

Invite them to golf outings or events to help build the relationship. Note all the things you already do that you can get the COI involved in to make touches after your meeting. Make a list of additional things you need to do to keep them engaged.

When the phone rings. When COIs give you an introduction, make sure to thank them. After you meet the client, ensure you keep the COI informed as you go along your process. If the client permits and if the COI wants to, go over the recommendations with the COI before making them to the client. After you do this in the first couple of introductions, the COI will let you fly solo. Even then, ensure you keep the COI in the loop.

Paresh Shah is a 13-year MDRT member from Hicksville, New York. Contact him at pshah@pareshah.com.

 

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