Developing Alliances with Centers of Influence

 How to build a network of trustworthy and credible professionals

By Jim Pittman, CLU, CFP, CLTC

Mr. Pittman is a 38-year member of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), with 14 Court of the Table and four Top of the Table qualifications. He is president of Insurance Consulting Services and a licensed insurance consultant. He has been a frequent speaker on developing centers of influence for referrals at MDRT.

Why should you consider taking the time to develop a marketing plan targeting a “center of influence (COI)?” In my experience, it is because the investment you make to align yourself with trustworthy and credible professionals can make a significant difference in the lives of your clients.
A COI is a person in a position or business that can have great influence with prospects in your target market. A single connection made through a new referral partner can amount to multiple clients in the future.

Identifying a Center of Influence

1. Ask your best clients to introduce you to their CPA and/or attorney. Try to learn as much as you can about their background and specialty.
2. Contact the local estate planning council, CPA association and bar association. Request they send you a list of members.
3. Contact a licensing agency to obtain a list of all licensed professionals who are currently practicing in your area.
4. Conduct a search via the internet or Yellow Pages to obtain a list of local CPAs and attorneys.
Once you have made the decision to form an alliance, you must identify what factors you are looking for in that partnership. You need unique individuals, who are proactive and see the value in aligning their clients with experts to solve problems beyond their area of expertise. This takes enormous amount of time and energy. Whether your target COI is an attorney, CPA, fee only financial planner, property and casualty agent or a banker, you must spend time with them, one-on-one. The goal is to become a resource for presenting better solutions to their client’s problems, than the alternatives.

Establishing Relationships

Once you have gathered a list of potential COI’s, you must begin to asses them. You will use the same skills and techniques you do when qualifying prospects.
To determine the ideal COI, it’s essential to meet one-on-one and determine if the chemistry is right between you. The first meeting should be primarily social. Your goal is to ascertain if there is a potential match between you and your future “center.” Questions you should consider asking:
– How big is his/her firm?
– What is his/her area of expertise or specialty?
– Do they have a niche area of focus or concentration?
– Does he/she have a relationship with any other producer?
– What is his/her educational and professional background?
– What are his/her partners’ specialties?
– What have they liked/disliked about working with other advisors in a similar field to you?

Then, ask yourself the following questions to evaluate your COI:
– What is his/her type of personality; analytical, expressive or amiable?
– Can you and your organization be of any help to him/her and his/her clients? n Can this individual consistently refer high quality prospects to you on a regular basis?
Once you have determined this person meets your criteria, it is time to begin the process of trust and relationship building. There are three goals to accomplish over time:
1. Educate the CPA or attorney about insurance solutions;
2. The CPA or attorney associates you and your firm with having expert knowledge and viable solutions for their clients and;
3. Become a trusted resource.
These goals will only be accomplished if you spend time with the COI. You may want to consider prioritizing “centers” by groups. “A’s” are seen every other month or six times a year; “B’s” once each quarter or four times a year; “C’s” are seen three times; and “D’s” twice a year.
Cultivating Relationships with Centers of Influence
You want the COI to view you and your firm as a valuable resource, one that is experienced, knowledgeable and here to stay. It takes time to truly develop solid relationships with your COI, and it is important for your brand to stay top-of-mind. You can accomplish this through a variety of ways:
Advertising. An image-building program may be enhanced by placing ads regularly in professional journals and magazines. This type of advertising is designed to position you in the “center’s” mind as a well-established credible firm. These ads should be designed to build name recognition. In addition to professional journals and magazines, consider advertising with other outlets such as your local community publications.
Drip Marketing: Newsletters, E-Blasts, Mailers. Use “mailers” to keep your name, face, firm logo, expertise visible on a monthly basis. Feature summaries of relevant newspaper articles, CLU Journal articles and the AALU Washington Report. Personalize these communication vehicles with a note to each alliance.

Custom Website. Your website is an electronic brochure and online resource for a COI to learn more about you and your firm.

Once you have made the decision to form an alliance, you must identify what factors you are looking for in that partnership

Third-Party Public Relations. One of the best ways to enhance your image and reputation is to be quoted as a knowledgeable source in the business section of your local newspaper, business journal, state CPA or Bar magazine. By cultivating relationships with editors and reporters you can offer insight and position yourself as an expert in articles regarding life insurance, disability, estate planning and more.
Write Articles for Industry Journals. Contact the editor of the State Bar Association magazine and volunteer to write an article on a subject of interest to their readers. Seek assistance from your home office advanced underwriting or marketing departments if needed.
Speak at Meetings. Volunteer to speak at COI local and industry meetings.
Exhibit at Annual Meetings. Attend the State Bar convention or CPA association annual meeting as an exhibitor, if allowed. This is a very unique form of promotion. Be sure to maximize your presence by taking advantage of all the marketing opportunities offered to exhibitors. You may consider enlisting in the help of an expert to get the most from the meeting.
Estate Planning Council. If your town has an estate planning council, consider joining and becoming active. A typical estate planning council is made up of attorneys, CPAs, CLUs and trust officers. It is an excellent way to meet other professionals who are involved in estate planning.
Briefings. Invite a CPA or attorney to join you for breakfast or lunch. Encourage them to bring other partners in his/her firm who work in the same or complementary areas. Introduce yourselves, present your firm’s capabilities and ask how you can be of help to them or their clients.
Teach CE and CLE. Contact the state associations for a list of classes available for CE or CLE requisites and volunteer to teach one in the areas which you are knowledgeable. Often the class will have an outline, textbooks and all the material you need already in place. Teaching classes is one of the best ways to meet new professionals. Instructing classes gives you status and acceptance as a knowledgeable professional.
In my professional career, this strategy has helped me qualify for the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT). Working with a COI can enhance your reputation and credibility in the community; generate prospects; build your business and help you stay current on industry news and trends. It takes a great amount of dedication and time, but the relationships you develop can have a positive impact on your business success.