Increasing Center-of-Influence Referrals

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I’m frustrated by the lack of success my advisors are having with centers-of-influence (COIs). I know all of the supposed tips but nothing works in practice. I was led to believe that if we follow the right process we will get referrals from them. It doesn’t work this way. Do you have any ideas for increasing COI referrals?

Susan S., Indiana

Dear Susan,

This is one of the areas I hear about most often from advisors. There is an implicit assumption that if an advisor introduces himself or herself to a COI, and even potentially refers a client to that COI, that the quid pro quo is for the COI to do likewise. But COIs tell me that they are inundated with visits and calls from advisors looking to them as referral sources. They can’t discern the difference between one advisor and the next. One COI told me that the last advisor who calls him that week is the first one he thinks of when talking to a client! It isn’t always that random, but this anecdote gave me insight into the problem.

Treat COIs like any other prospect. Have a separate marketing and sales initiative focused on them. Use drip marketing tactics with them, incorporating education and articulating sincere interest in their business.

COIs are people, too! They want to be courted and fed information so they can turn around and look smart and knowledgeable to their clients. If you don’t arm them with the material, they aren’t going to extend themselves on your behalf to a valued client. Think about how long it takes to cultivate a prospect and client in your business; it isn’t that different for an attorney or an accountant. Respect their position, listen to them, and keep in touch.

Dear Bev,

I work in an investment management role in very large firm. Often, at the last minute I’ll be surprised and told I need to prepare some data on our clients – it might be the compliance department or a senior person who needs it for a marketing update. I am typically working with clients want to focus on them. But half the time I don’t know what’s going on and what to tell them, and the other half of the time we are in fire-drill mode urgently trying to get the information we need to make someone happy. What’s the secret to getting the people who run this company to communicate more effectively with us?

Name Withheld

Dear Frustrated,

If I had the answer, I would be a very wealthy person. It is a refrain I hear over and over again from individuals in large organizations (and small ones, too!). Sometimes when we survey staff and ask about obstacles they will say “lack of communication” is number one. But when we talk to management they say, “We communicate often and effectively!” So there is a disconnect.

Here is a general approach that might help. Most management communication is in written form – they send all of the important information via email. Unfortunately employees receive hundreds of emails a day and many get lost. In addition, few people can learn new material solely by reading. So, when we get a lengthy email, we might get lost half way into it and not have full comprehension about what’s being communicated. When it’s something important, it’s critical for management to have multiple communication approaches to ensure they are “heard.”

But management often say they don’t get the information they need. They might know what staff knows and what they need to know. Be sure you are looking at this as a two-way communication process. Not all of the responsibility is on management’s shoulders.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal,, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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