Most financial professionals know the importance of forming relationships with CPAs, attorneys, and other centers of influence, but most have difficulty making these relationships productive. They meet with CPAs. They take them to lunch. They even send them referrals–yet nothing comes back. Why is this? There are many reasons this can happen, but it usually boils down to two major categories: (1) referability; and (2) formalizing the relationship.

For anyone to give you referrals, they have to really understand the work you do, how you help your clients, and that they can trust how you will handle referrals they send your way. It’s all about trust. And it’s hard to establish trust quickly. Many financial professionals are unable or unwilling to take the slow approach necessary to building these relationships.

Formalize the relationship

Too many financial professionals assume that CPAs and others know when and how to give referrals in the most effective manner. They assume that when they give a referral to a CPA or attorney, that party will naturally reciprocate. The problem here is that financial professionals assume too much–take too much for granted–and never speak to their potential alliance about what the relationship will look like.

Here, then, is a three-phase approach to meeting and forming relationships with CPAs and other centers of influence. I’m going to use the CPA relationship as a way to explain my approach, but this will work for other alliances as well. Remember, it’s all about them understanding your work/benefits, trusting you, and knowing how to give you referrals.

Phase 1-Service to our common client

The best way to meet CPAs is through your clients. This is an easy referral for your client to give and it gets you meeting the CPA in the way they would prefer to meet you. They will return your calls when they know it’s about service to the client you have in common. Talk to all your clients about their relationship with their CPA. Is it an ongoing working relationship or merely a tax-time relationship? Do they like their CPA and why?

There are two ways to ask your clients for referrals to their CPAs. First, you can approach it from a perspective of working together with your CPA to do the best job possible–a team approach to their situation. Or, you can ask for a “professional” introduction to another financial professional. The first approach is better, because it allows the CPA to really see the work you do and how your clients benefit. Phase 1 is critical to building your initial referability.

Phase 2-Service to the CPA (or other professional)

Now we want to look for ways to serve CPAs and their practice. You can supply articles for their newsletter, deliver seminars to their partners and/or their clients. You can team up with them for educational events to your clients.

Anytime you see an article that you think CPAs will find helpful, send it to them. Be a resource of ideas related and unrelated to what you sell. In this phase, you are enhancing your referability and building trust–without approaching them for referrals. If you bring up referrals too early in the relationship, you may damage trust.

Phase 3-Structuring the relationship

Once you have established a trusting relationship with the CPA, attorney, or other professional, through service to them and service to others, it is now time to approach them for referrals. The relationship may be a reciprocal referral relationship, but need not be. It just depends on what the professional wants and expects from you. The key to a results-producing relationship is to not take anything for granted.

Don’t take your referability for granted. Ask the other professional something like, “What else do you need to know about me and the work I do to feel comfortable introducing people to me?”

Talk to them about how they will introduce people to you and, if appropriate, how you will introduce people to them. You don’t just want them creating word of mouth for you. You want introductions.

The best way to meet a new prospect from a CPA is to be in the CPA’s office when the prospect walks in. Now you are perceived as part of the team. Short of that, you want to know that the client is expecting you and open to your phone call.

Also, always keep your referral source in the loop. Let them know the progress of their referrals. Take them to a thank-you lunch/dinner from time to time or send them a thank-you gift every now and then. And finally, make sure your new client thanks the CPA or other professional. That simple act really enhances your referability.

If you want to meet more affluent prospect and small business owners, you need to have CPAs and attorneys in your corner, making introductions. Sometimes they are the only way in. These strategies do not usually produce overnight results. This strategy takes time. However, when you create the right relationships, the rewards can be bountiful.