Professional Development

The Power of Centers of Influence

I’ve talked before about the power and importance of good business referrals and what you need to do to make sure your centers of influence (COIs) know what you’re looking for. Following up on that, it only makes sense that we would spend a little time on how to nurture those referral sources.

What is a Center of Influence? A COI is someone who has the ability to influence the decision making of your prospective clients. In the professional services world these may be accountants, lawyers, bankers, and financial advisors.

Referrals are an important part of any business development strategy and for professional service firms they are especially critical. The “sales” process for professional services is longer and a little bit different than it is for products, and having a client or COI refer a qualified lead to you is the best way to get in front of that prospect. Referrals are often an easier prospect to close since they have been already “warmed-up” by your referral source. This saves a lot of time and energy on your part having to educate them on who you are and convincing them to choose your firm over a competitor.

So, how do you nurture centers of influence so that they refer business your way? Below are a few ways to help keep your referrals coming.

1. Have a solid base of 10-15 sources. These are your core Centers of Influence. You should be in contact with these sources at least once a month. Meet them for coffee, take them to lunch, dinner, the theater, or a ball game regularly. These are where you should be getting 80-90% of your referrals.

2. Keep your COI pipeline full. Just like a prospect pipeline, you need to continue to build your COI pipeline in the event that you lose one of your COIs. This pipeline needs to be managed and nurtured on a regular basis as well. Be sure you are adding new, quality referral sources on a regular basis.

3. Adopt a systematic approach. Nurturing a COI network is just like nurturing a prospect list. You need to make sure you have a system in place to manage the network and your activities. There are a number of CRM-like products you can use. Or, if you prefer, you can always use an Excel spreadsheet.

4. Communicate regularly with your network. You need to stay in touch with your COIs and other referral sources and let them know of new developments within your firm or their industry that affect them and their clients. Let them know how law changes and potential law changes might affect them and how you can help. Run across a great article about one of their competitors? Be sure to share it. You have to be able to show them how you can help or they may turn elsewhere.

5. Make it personal. Make sure you know important event dates for your COIs; birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Make sure you send them cards and notes on these dates as well as when there’s a change in their circumstances such as promotions, awards, and recognitions.

6. Be a Giver! You can’t expect to get any referrals if you don’t give them. That is the golden rule and must be followed. Treat your COI network relationship as if you were married. The more you give, the more you’ll get in return. If you are only a taker you won’t survive.
Building that COI and referral network that will help build your practice takes time and effort. It is easier said than done but it’s not difficult. If you haven’t started to build your network it’s not too late. However, the sooner you start, the better. Put the time and effort into it and you will see the rewards.

Tim Allen is an experienced professional services marketing professional with broad experience in strategy creation, branding and business development. Mr. Allen has held top marketing positions in both large, national CPA firms as well as smaller, regional firms where he has been instrumental in creating and implementing a firm-wide marketing culture. He has written and presented extensively on the intricacies of services marketing and is currently writing his first book on the transition from college to career and creating your personal brand for the millennial generation.

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