8 Centers of Influence Tips for Financial Advisors

by James Bode James Bode | March 5, 2024

What do you do when you’re not getting enough referrals from your Centers of Influence (COI)? Or maybe you are getting referrals, but they’re not of the quality you need. In the realm of business, relationships are the cornerstone of success. Whether you're an entrepreneur, a financial advisor, or a professional in any field, the ability to foster strong connections with centers of influence (COIs) can make a significant difference in your growth trajectory. However, cultivating these relationships requires intention, effort, and a strategic approach.


8 Ways to Improve Your Centers of Influence Relationships

I think a little bit of background may help here. My partner, Ben Beck, and I left a large wirehouse to launch our independent firm, Beck Bode, in 2013. Our partnership goes back many years to when we first met right after college and decided to build our book of business together. We knew our clients would benefit from expert tax and legal advice, and so we sought to find experienced professionals to whom we could refer them. We were strategic about these relationships from the very beginning because we knew our time was valuable and we didn’t want to work with people who didn’t share our philosophy. We’ve learned quite a bit from our experiences over the years. In this article we will look at 8 things you can do to improve the quality and yield of your COI relationships.


1: Choose Centers of Influence That Are Right For You

You know you will meet many centers of influence – attorneys, CPAs, mortgage bankers, real estate agents, the list goes on – at networking events, your kids’ after school events, at family gatherings, and just about everywhere you go. Simply because someone is a potential center of influence doesn’t mean they will be the right COI for you.

We decided we would interview – formally interview – several law and CPA firms to see if they would be suitable for our clients. I don’t even remember if in the beginning we had many clients that we could have referred, but we presented to the accounting and law firms as though we did, so that they would take us seriously. It was a strategy that worked out.


2: Create a Foundation for Successful Referrals 

Educate them about your business, bit by bit. It takes time to build a business, and it takes time for you and your COI to learn enough about each other so that you can comfortably refer business to one another. Remember, if you’re worried about how they will treat your clients, chances are they are also concerned about how you treat theirs. You don't want to send a referral and then hold your breath and hope it goes well.

Learn about their business, and make sure they learn about yours. The only solution to this is to take your time. Go visit your COI at their office. Have them visit yours. Meet their team, learn about their process. Invite them to meet your team and to learn about your process. I love to talk about the beer test or the coffee test. Is this someone you’d want to go out with for a beer and have a regular conversation with? You’ll only find out if you spend time with them.


3: Put COIs to the Test with Real Client Scenarios

I remember one of the relationships we set up with a COI had to do with a client of ours who was looking to sell their business. We used that scenario for testing how we might work together with the accounting firm we were looking to partner with. You can take a real client or you can simply use that client’s situation as a hypothetical. Using a real scenario that you’re working with will give you a good sense as to your COI’s subject matter expertise.


4: Position Yourself as a Valuable Partner

Instead of passively waiting for referrals, when we were looking to set up COI relationships, Ben and I positioned ourselves as collaborators worth engaging with. During subsequent meetings, we shifted the narrative, demonstrating why they needed to work with us, rather than vice versa. We expected our COIs to prove that they were a valuable resource to us, and that when we called them up, they were going to be available to us and to our clients. We wanted to know that when Ben and I called, they would sit down with us, as opposed to simply taking our clients’ names and never hearing from them again.


5: Turn Centers of Influence into Advocates

The only way a COI will truly understand what it’s like to work with you, is to experience you as a client themselves. Some of our best centers of influence eventually became our clients. As clients they can attest personally to our knowledge, experience, and commitment to service. I laugh when I think of that old “Hairclub for Men” commercial, where the guy doing the commercial was not only the President, but he also used the product. That’s exactly what you want. Your COIs should be raving fans of your business based on first-hand experience.


6: Build Trust Through Mutual Commitment

Ben and I are still very protective of our clients and our referral sources. Ultimately, it’s a reflection of us when we refer a client to a third party. This means that the ‘dating phase’ with the COI can’t be “next day.” We understand that we can’t rush to get to know each other or to refer business to each other. However, early on, we do state clearly that this needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship for both of us. It can't be a one-way street. I can’t tell you how many financial advisors assume that this is understood, and then they are surprised that they are referring out but not receiving any referrals in return.

Let the COI know that if this works out, it will be a long-term relationship as opposed to just a transaction. We were never interested in just a transaction to get work done. We always wanted an ongoing relationship, and I suspect you do too. We want to know that the people whom we’re referring business know us well, know how we run our business and will be our advocates.


7: Ensure Goal Alignment With Your COIs

Does your COI(s) know your business goals? Do you know theirs? If not, you both absolutely should. They should understand what you're trying to accomplish in the coming year, and you should understand what they are trying to do with their business. Ideally, you should be meeting with them regularly, quarterly would be best. Imagine if you walk into your COI’s office and said, “Hey, we’re looking at bringing in this much revenue this year, this is how many referrals we are planning to get from our clients, and this is how many referrals we hope to get from our COIs… where do you fit in this picture?”


8: Integrate COIs into Your Marketing Efforts

It goes without saying that you will need to meet regularly to keep your COI relationships alive. Book those meetings ahead of time, because chances of them happening decrease as time goes by. But beyond meeting, say quarterly, with your COI, you also need to make sure you include them in your marketing efforts. Ask your COI to write a guest blog for your website, to submit an article for your newsletter, or to co-host a webinar with you! Then ask them to reciprocate so that you can get exposure to their clients.


Investing in Connections: The Key to Sustainable Growth in Financial Advisory

As financial advisors, Ben and I know that our firm does our best work when we include everybody on the team. That means we should have a relationship with every one of our clients’ accountants, and insurance agents. And we want those professionals to know that we are an important component of their team. We were both lucky enough and thoughtful enough to build relationships that helped propel our business. That work is never finished; we continue to look for professionals who would serve our clients well because we know that relationships are the currency of success. By embracing the journey of connection-building with COIs, you too can unlock a world of opportunities for mutual growth and collaboration.

James Bode is Managing Partner at Beck Bode, a deliberately different wealth management firm with a unique view on investing, business and life.

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