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Keep them or break up?
Keep them or break up?

May 01 2023 / Round the Table Magazine

Keep them or break up?

Set expectations and decide if a COI relationship is worth the effort.

Topics Covered

Once you’ve established a connection with an accountant, a car dealer or an attorney, everything should automatically be great moving forward, right? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. During this MDRT Podcast episode, MDRT members shared how they ensure that their relationships with centers of influence (COIs) still feel beneficial long after they’ve been established. 

Members participating:

Alessandro M. Forte, FCII, FPFS, a 25-year MDRT member from London, England, UK
Renee Hanson, CFP, CDFA, an 11-year MDRT member from Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Hanson: We talk a lot about the value that we provide to COIs. If the relationship is reciprocal, they must provide value to us as well. Are they delivering value by answering our questions? Are they helping us build our business? Are they introducing us to other people? There once was an attorney. She wasn’t fresh out of law school, but she was newer. We met with her for three years and received not a single referral. In our last meeting, we went in specifically to ask what we could do better to earn her trust. We were trying to identify what had we done wrong or not done well to earn her trust and confidence, so she would refer people to us. We received great feedback about how wonderful we are and that we’re always top of mind, but it didn’t seem to be coming to fruition.

She talked an awful lot about how she had moved up in the law firm; she was working with very wealthy clients and how excited she was. We mentioned that we had a CPA client who was retiring and looking to sell her book of business. She said she had two female CPAs who she would connect us with. We waited a week, followed up, waited another week, reached out again and still didn’t get a response. Not only did she not care about us, but she also seemingly didn’t care about her two CPA friends. So, we removed her from our top referrals. There was just no reason to continue the relationship. She wouldn’t get back with us on an important question. 

Ultimately, we introduced that retiring CPA client to another CPA firm that we work with, and it looks like they’re going to connect and maybe buy her practice. I’m not afraid to remove someone from my list if they’re not providing a measurable level of value to us as a practice or to our clients. 

Forte: Advisors must decide what their motivation is to connect with a COI in the first place. Are we looking to add holistic value to our clients, or are we looking for a commercial opportunity? Those two purposes are very different. If you go into a new relationship and treat it as a commercial opportunity, as night follows day, most of those relationships will die quite quickly. Go in with the right intentions, which in my opinion is to build relationships with other professionals who are aligned to the way you think, act, work and service clients. Let’s be clear, those kinds of people are few and far between if you are doing a really good job as a financial professional, so you do have to kiss a lot of frogs. You are going to meet a lot of people who are flaky and promise you everything.

Only time and experience tell you whether this relationship is going to work or not. I think we all struggle not just with approaching a COI in the first place but also that periodic check when you feel instinctively something isn’t right, and you start by asking, “Am I doing something wrong, or could I provide better service?” 

I love what you said about maybe it’s just about finding a niche or an area of specialism. You don’t have to say yes to every opportunity. The best clients we have in our business are ones where the relationship is the strongest, not the ones that are the wealthiest. The reason I say this is because when you build strong relationships with COIs and you only get one introduction, bet your life, that is going to be a fantastic introduction. It’s better to have one really good introduction a year than to have a half-dozen lukewarm connections because the COI feels obliged to give you those referrals. That is not the way we grow our business. 

Hanson: I liken COI relationships to dating. Early on, you should set expectations, so you can determine if you’re going to go on a second or a third date. Setting expectations and asking your COI, “What type of clients do you work best with?” also allows you to say, “These are the type of clients I work best with as well.” You can openly tell the COI that you’re not only looking for professional expertise, but a personality match. Don’t be afraid to be authentic and be who you are. Tell them what you do well and the type of people you work well with and understand what they do so that you can have a mutual relationship and move on to that second, third and fourth date. 

Hear the full podcast episode at mdrt.org/maintaining-coi-relationships.