Not a month goes by that I don't speak to a bank advisor about his great new marketing plan. He'll usually begin by saying that many accountants have clients who need his services. And he feels that once these accountants learn more about his business, they will gladly provide referrals.

I rarely hear the end-result version of this plan from an advisor who says he is getting a lot of referrals from these types of professionals. Maybe an occasional referral here and there, but nowhere near the numbers initially anticipated.

Do you want to know what the problem is? The way that bank advisors are asking for referrals from other professionals is fundamentally flawed. There is no way to close the loop after the initial discussion. They simply wait and hope, with no sense of urgency. Referrals may come in occasionally but there is no control over how many and how soon.

Advisors can offset this, however, with a honed strategy of using centers of influence. All advisors should know what exactly a "center of influence" is, how to make introductions easy, and how to get referrals from multiple COIs.

A center of influence is a professional who does business with your target market and has the ability to refer potential clients to you. Traditionally, advisors have limited themselves to accountants, lawyers, and real estate agents. I would expand that circle to include any and all professionals who do business with your target market. For example, if you live near the ocean you may want to meet the person who is selling large boats. The people buying those boats could be ideal clients.

Maybe the captain who takes people out on private fishing charters. Or what about the travel agent who arranges cruises for people from the local port?

Can you imagine a real estate agent who doesn't need resources for mortgages? And the local golf pro most likely knows people who like to discuss investments.

To start, reach into your contact list and connect with potential centers of influence you already know. And remember, they're going to have busy schedules. That means if you make this relationship difficult for them, it will likely never happen.

Another problem with the approach that most advisors take is that there is no way to close the loop and no sense of urgency.

When you call a COI, she will often say something along the lines of, "I talk about you all the time, and as soon as someone says they want to meet you. I'll call you."

That may be true, but what good is it if you are still not getting results? What you need is an incentive to make things happen. You need to seamlessly create a sense of urgency.

Did you ever notice the thing that all tickets have printed on them? A date and time. You know what that means? With a ticketed event, you have a built-in method to close the loop.

The tickets can be to any event you like. Or more to the point, any event they like, whether it's a baseball game, concert, show, ballet, recital, lecture and so forth. Buy multiple tickets and talk to your COI about her clients to see if they would like to attend the event. You should end with a direct question, such as "How many tickets shall I set aside for you?"

If they hesitate, continue to create a sense of urgency by offering to hold them for a day or so while they think on it. That should at least get an appreciative response and, hopefully, you've created the urgency needed for them to make those calls now.

To be sure, I have seen this system used with dinner events, golf reservations or cooking lessons. But I feel that ticketed events are the best way to go. The urgency is built in and if they decline, you can simply remind them later how nice the event was. Next time, they just may be more receptive to your call.

Still, the question remains: How do you get referrals from multiple COIs?

Start by reviewing your network and identifying potential COIs that you know. What types of products do you think their clients would be interested in? I have found that great potential COI partners that are often overlooked are independent property and casualty insurance agents.

The best way to meet P&C agents is either through your LinkedIn connections or by getting introduced to the agents your clients already work with. As for attracting and retaining them, I would simply explain about the opportunity to cross refer and try to determine what they think about it. The vast majority of them — 90%, I would guess — will typically like the idea and will try and get the event marketing going.

Remember to include business owners or professionals who do business with your target market.

Here are some examples I've seen. An exclusive jewelry store had a wine tasting and seminar jointly with a financial advisor. When the advisor proposed the idea, the firm acknowledged that it had enjoyed great success with one of the advisor's competitors, but said it would be happy to work with him too.

I know another bank advisor who teamed up with a travel agent for a ticketed event. They both invited clients, and a cruise line wholesaler even came along.

I know of another advisor who is a sponsor of the local minor league baseball team. COIs and their clients get the VIP treatment when attending games with the advisor.

In his case, sponsoring the team entailed getting his firm's name printed in the program. Of course you can also get season tickets or your name printed on the outfield wall. And many teams have special picnic type events they allow you to attend as well.

Find out the pricing and then decide your level of comfort.

Team sponsorship may feel out of reach, but I would suggest you simply start a conversation. Teams are recognized in their communities, so don't worry if it's not a major league club. That said, it will require a certain level of success on your part to consider even a minor league team. I would say at least $300,000 in production as a minimum threshold.

In summary, a center of influence is another professional who does business with your target market and can refer qualified people to you. You can have multiple centers of influence working with different types of clients that may be a good fit for many of the products and services you offer.

And remember, don't spend money on a big promotion until you have maxed out the free ideas.

Todd Colbeck is founder and principal of Colbeck Coaching Group, a subsidiary of General Business Center. He can be reached at

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