How can you do so well as an advisor or agent and do so poorly as a developer of center-of-influence/professional referral sources? Research shows a high-quality professional referral can be worth up to 20 times the value of a typical client referral. We know this type of referral is valuable, because we’ve seen some of the most successful advisors regularly receiving them.

So what are we missing? We have failed to understand how to successfully serve a center of influence. We have failed to see that we need to treat COIs exactly as we would treat a valued client. So let’s compare how we treat a client vs. how we treat a COI:

Break the ice.

To the client, we say: “We’d like to discover whether there is a good fit between us, and if we can be of service to you.”

To the COI, we say: “We’d like to tell you about our world-class service, our superior products and the valuable referrals we hope to provide you with.”

Make your case.

To the client, we say: “We’d like to ask you some questions about your situation and determine if our products and services are right for you. After you complete this fact-finding questionnaire, we’ll be back with our recommendations.”

To the COI, we say: “Let me tell you why we should work together. We offer great service, have superior products and may (if it’s appropriate) introduce you to others who may need your services.”

Ask yourself: Did you discover what the COI wanted? You have no questionnaire and no idea if what you’ve offered is of any interest to the COI. Do you have a follow-up plan of action?

Develop your mindset.

For the client: Ideally, you will not assume you automatically understand what the client or prospect needs. Start the conversation with “What’s important?”

For the COI: Since most of us do not ask COIs what’s important to them, we rarely find out what we can do to develop a useful and helpful relationship. Consequently, referrals may elude us.

Let’s change this situation. First, let’s not assume we know what the COI wants and ask him directly. Research indicates that COIs are not generally interested in the benefits most advisors offer. What they do want is for us to understand their business models. They want us to understand how we can help them serve their best clients. Finally, they want us to demonstrate how we can bring value to their practices and help them meet their most important long-term business goals.

We need to start treating COIs as we would any other valued client by helping them get what they want and recognizing that it’s all about them—not about us.

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Nick Ray is a business coach who specializes in working with financial services professionals. He is the author of There’s More to Selling than Making the Sale as well as a workbook on target marketing. He can be reached at nick@coachnickray.com.