Advisor COI Meetings: Show Up and Shut Up

Aug 20, 2013

August has always been one of my favorite months for business planning. Since the pace in August is a little slower, it is a perfect time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the first part of the year and to begin planning for the last quarter push. To me, kicking it into high gear always makes sense right after Labor Day. Think about it… The kids are back to school, for the most part, vacations are over and the year end is insight, so we tend to have an idea if our goals are attainable or able to be surpassed. Creating short-term plans with goals that are in reach is something everyone can appreciate. But if you don’t plan in August, you won’t be ready and can miss out on that momentum.

Are you getting “the good leads?”

As most advisors reflect on the goals set up for the year, an area that is typically lacking is creating qualified lead sources from Centers of Influence (COI). A referral from a COI is highly coveted, as it usually can speed up the sales process and lead to great clients – yet many advisors have not done a great job of cultivating those COI leads. In fact, one of the most frequent complaints I hear from advisors is frustration that their favorite COI is not doing a good job of giving referrals. Advisors feel they are doing a good job of giving referrals, but not getting their fair share in return.

So what is an advisor to do? Referrals are the lifeblood of our business and COI referrals are typically the strongest. What can you do to strengthen the flow?

It’s about them, not you

Think about the last time you met with a CPA, attorney or other potential COI. Whether you met them at a local business function had a question for them as a part of the planning you’re doing for a mutual client, or you’ve known them for years and even referred a client: What happened at the meeting?

• How much listening did you do?

• Did you ask follow-up questions about how their business is doing or did you launch into your services and how you work with clients?

• Did you discuss their business model? How they are doing vs. their goals?

• Do they have a vision for the future of their businesses?

Been there, done that

Full disclosure: earlier in my career, I spent time with advisors meeting with COIs. I would show up in my fresh blue “wholesaler” suit and 90s power tie and before they could say “Hello,” I would launch into how my offering would differentiate their businesses and grow their revenue stream. All they had to do was to fork over their very best clients. (I think my pitch even had them visualizing themselves losing 25 pounds and/or growing back all their hair.)

After a few tries, a kindly, experienced advisor pulled me aside and gave me a verbal slap down. In short, I had made every mistake possible that a rookie could make, and he let me know it. I hadn’t taken the time to do a discovery to learn about the prospects’ hot buttons or issues. I was so focused on my pitch, I forgot to find a way to make it relevant to my prospect’s business. What I learned is that sometimes we may actually want the same thing for completely different reasons.

The 10% rule

As you are creating your fourth quarter short-term plan to reach your goals, think about meeting with all your COI relationships. Invite them to lunch or for a strategy session. Keep score; if you talk more than 10% of the time, you lose. Find out about what is driving business for them by asking questions such as:

• What is driving growth for your business?

• What kind of ongoing client issues do you face?

• How are you dealing with the next generation of clients and employees?

• What is the single biggest risk your business faces in the next few years or longer?

• How are you planning for succession? Do you expect to be bought out? If so, by whom? Where is the cash for the buyout going to come from?

Don’t offer advice on the spot; don’t try to solve any issues. Just listen, and then set up a follow-up “brainstorming” meeting, where the two of you can try to find workable solutions to his/her business issues. Sometimes the answer will be that the two of you can form a formal partnership with mutually beneficial results. Regardless, you will be more educated about their business for the future. (And you can move on to another COI.)

In the next few weeks, as you are setting yourself up to hit the fourth quarter strong, ask yourself: Am I getting all I can out of my COI relationships and are they getting all they need out of me?


John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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