Influential Advisors: Your Key To Consistent Referrals

How do you methodically and consistently receive at least 2 qualified referrals each week? The key is to build long-term relationships with other influential advisors.

It is important to distinguish these people from centers of influence. An influential advisor is a person who can give advice to others. A center of influence is a person who can persuade others to talk to you or provide a worthy introduction.

Influential advisors include A clients, accountants, attorneys, other financial services professionals and referrals from A clients. They also include individuals you meet at your local estate planning council or doing volunteer work for the community. Lets look at each.

A clients

A clients may include not only accountants and attorneys, but also physicians, consultants, salespeople, etc. Because 70% to 80% of our production ultimately derives from our A clients, it is crucial to develop them into influential advisors who can give advice. Review your list of A clients to discover which people have the potential to become influential advisors.

Accountants

It is critical that you target accounting practices. I separate them into 3 types: solo practitioners or partnerships with 2 to 3 principals; mid-size firms with 3 to 10 principals; and large firms with 10 or more partners.

My efforts are focused on sole practitioners and small accounting partnerships of 2 to 3 principals. Over the years, Ive tried to develop relationships with mid-size and large accounting firms but had no luck doing so.

My hometown, the greater New Orleans area, is comprised of numerous small to mid-size, closely held family businesses. Many of these firms work with sole practitioners and small accounting partnerships. Because these clients see me and their accountants as advice givers, I have had the greatest success partnering with small accounting firms.

Attorneys

I strive to develop relationships with tax and estate planning attorneys who can refer their clients to me. I also have had success with attorney clients who have become judges. In certain cases, they recommended me to defense and plaintiff attorneys.

Plaintiff attorneys can be an excellent source of referrals. They are influential advisors to their clients when monetary settlements are involved. By strategically positioning yourself “next to” the plaintiff attorney in settlement proceedings, you can become the influential advisor of choice.

Other Financial Services Professionals

Some of the best influential advisors are other financial services professionals, who often will refer business they do not or cannot engage in. During the last 5 years, this source has generated quite a number of referrals.

Many of these professionals are fee-based financial planners who have referred their clients to me for individual health insurance and individual long term care insurance needs. We do not work together in situations involving products and services they provide to their clients. And we do not split commissions.

I developed my relationships with these fee-based planners through local industry association work and volunteering. They know they can trust me not to speak to their clients about anything except that product or service for which they are being referred. For me, the ultimate compliment is when a peer professional refers their client(s) to me.

How do I meet other influential advisors? How can I be introduced to them? Here is what I have done and continue to do today:

Referrals from my A clients

Who are the advisors that my A clients work with? Who else do my clients know who might be a giver of advice? The best opportunities to obtain referrals from these clients is during an annual or periodic review or while we are having a meal together.

Local Estate Planning Council

I have been a member of the New Orleans Estate Planning Council for more than 15 years. The council consists of life insurance professionals, attorneys, accountants, trust officers and planned giving professionals.

At each of our dinner meetings, we average 80 or so attendees, so the opportunity to network is easy. All you have to do is show up. The key is to attend meetings regularly.

Volunteer Work in the Community

I have developed important relationships with influential advisors by volunteering my time with community and religious organizations, educational institutions, and industry-related organizations, such as the local Rotary Club.

I dont remember soliciting anyone I met through my volunteer work. Rather, individuals asked me if I could help them. If you volunteer for the right reasons and work hard at the chosen activity, you will get back as much or more than you have given.

“Being Out There”

Ten to 15 appointments per week typically keep me out of the office. That activity, if sustained for the 45 or so weeks per year that I work, will consistently produce 100 to 150 cases per year and still allow time to work with influential advisors.

Developing Long-Term Relationships

How can you develop long-term relationships with advisors who will consistently generate referrals over time? The first step is making telephone contact and asking for an appointment (usually for breakfast or lunch).

During our initial get-together (I always buy the first meal), I determine if the person is an influential advisor, and if so, if there is chemistry between us. Assuming there is potential to work together, I refer a few prospects or clients to get their attention.

A second strategy is to have follow-up meetings with your influential advisors. I schedule a quarterly breakfast or lunch meeting with each.

I also try to see my A clients who are centers of influence on a quarterly basis to discuss things of interest to them. The objective is to develop a relationship based on trust and appreciation for one anothers professional expertise.

A third strategy is to e-mail and fax articles of interest from varied publications to influential advisors. This is a terrific way to keep your name in front of them. These articles can refer to business or tax issues, insurance or investment issues, retirement and estate planning or other topics of interest.

(The correspondence does not solely focus on business. I always call the influential advisors I work with on their birthday.)

A fourth strategy is to become a professional resource to advisors in your area(s) of specialization. I tell advisors to call me with questions they have relating to areas in which I have an expertise, including life insurance, disability insurance, long term care insurance and investments.

A fifth strategy is to use advertising to market your business. Ive used audio-cassette business cards for a number of years until my primary companys compliance made it unwieldy to use them effectively. (Today, a CD-type format is just as effective.) I also hand out mouse pads with my contact info, plus copies of 2 National Underwriter publications, Tax Facts and the Field Guide.

Continuing education and informational seminars are also great vehicles for developing and maintaining relationships with advisors. I have spoken to local CPA association meetings, tax institutes and hospitals.

Referrals

How should we ask advisors for referrals? Here are a few ideas that work for me.

First, I ask for referrals to individuals and businesses that naturally fit with my practice. Historically, these prospects have been attorneys, real estate entrepreneurs, architects and technology entrepreneurs.

Second, I talk with advisors about their families, hobbies, businesses, retirement goals and other topics of interest to them. After awhile, they begin to visualize themselves or other family members as potential clients.

When an influential advisor becomes an A client, you have cemented a great relationshipand created a potentially great referral source.

A third way I ask for referrals is to describe client fact patterns to an advisor (while of course maintaining confidentiality). I review cases that Ive recently been involved with to help stimulate their thinking.

A fourth technique is to do phantom prospecting (i.e., prospecting for referrals by asking questions that deflect from their true intent). Questions, for example, that inquire about the health of the advisors family members can naturally lead to a discussion of long term care insurance, special needs planning, disability income insurance and life insurance.

In closing, it is important to remember that an influential advisor is the advice giver. We all need to cultivate relationships with advice givers.

They buy your enthusiasm. They buy your integrity. They buy the peace of mind you provide. And thats why they like you and want to work with you.

Julian H. Good Jr., CLU, ChFC, CLTC, is senior financial services executive at MetLife Financial Services, New York, N.Y. He can be reached at jhgood@metlife.com. This is an abridged version of a presentation he gave at the MDRT meeting in Anaheim.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 18, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.