Chicago “Your talk made me uncomfortable,” confessed Terry, with a pained expression on his face, “I know what I need to do – I need to develop better relationships with the CPAs I’ve been targeting, but they’re swamped in the weeks leading up to April 15th.”
Terry’s on point. Many CPAs, like mine run flat out, working evenings and weekends until April 15th. They are tired, stressed, and fully aware that it’s spring every time they glance out a window. As I explained to Terry, we’ve seen advisors use the time before this major tax deadline frenzy to set the stage for strengthening, developing, or initiating (depending on the current status) CPA relationships.
What got Terry most uncomfortable was when I asked for a show of hands from the financial advisors in the audience who have met with the CPAs of each of their top 25 clients. Only a few hands were raised out of a group of 100 plus financial advisors. I’ll state here what I told that group; You should meet with every CPA of your top 25 clients. After all, you are both professionals servicing the same client.
So here’s the simple 3-step process I shared with Terry. It’s been used with great success by financial advisors in building successful referral alliances with CPAs.
Assess your current CPA relationships
This is an exercise in the obvious. However, we all know the “cobbler with holes in his shoes” cliché – the obvious is often overlooked. In terms of assessing each of each relationship, you can begin by answering the following questions:
- When was the last time you communicated? How did you communicate?
- How many clients have you referred? How many referrals have you received?
- When was the last time you met face-to-face?
- Have you ever socialized? If so, when, how and was the spouse involved?
- What do you know about the CPA’s family? Children, hobbies, etc.
- How would you rate your relationship on a 1 to 10 scale? (10 being super strong and 1 bad)
When I posed these questions to Terry, his initial reaction was one of dismay. He’s had minimal communication with his clients’ CPAs other than providing documents during tax season, and that was handled by an assistant. Because he had such little interaction, he’d never socialized and knew nothing about them on a personal level. Ouch.
Essentially, Terry was beginning from square one; he had no relationships with any of his top 25 client’s CPAs.
Contact each for a Celebration Dinner
For financial advisors in Terry’s boat, this step is extremely outside the comfort zone. Here you are making a call to a CPA you have little or no relationship with, directly on the heels of the most frenzied time of a CPA’s year, and offering to treat this professional and spouse to a celebratory dinner for all their hard work. Wow!! I know.
However, for financial advisors who accept the challenge and make this contact, good things happen. At the very least, even if you’re turned down, you’ve planted the seeds of good will. The best case scenario is that your offer is accepted and you’re able to develop a wonderful professional and personal relationship. However, most will fall somewhere in between.
The following is scripting we’ve found effective:
“Hello (CPA’s name), this is (your name) and I want to first thank you for all the work you’ve done with (mutual client(s)) – I know this has been a lot of work –I’ve been meaning to do this for some time – but I’d like to thank you by taking you and (husband or wife) out to dinner to celebrate. No business discussions allowed. What’s your (spouses) favorite restaurant in town?”
Obviously if you already have a relationship with the CPA, this call is much easier.
Develop Rapport & Find Social Contact Opportunities
It’s important that you perceive yourself as a professional equal, both serving the same client(s). Since you initiated the dinner, it’s your treat, you need to take the lead and make everyone feel comfortable. This is all about building rapport – remember – no business! The best starting place is with the spouse.
Doing a little intelligence gathering in advance through a Google search, LinkedIn and the like, just like you would an affluent prospect, should provide you with insight into their interests and spheres-of-influence. Your objective during that celebratory dinner is to develop rapport with both spouses, and if possible, establish an opportunity for another social contact.
Does this guarantee more referrals? Of course not. Will you hit it off with every one of these CPAs? No – maybe a half-dozen if you’re lucky. Your goal should be adding three additional CPAs into your referral alliance network. With three new referral alliances, you’ve hit pay dirt.
CPAs are not much different than today’s affluent prospects – it’s all about relationship management linked to relationship marketing. Last I heard from Terry, he’s still uncomfortable but already has three celebratory dinners scheduled.
Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients. www.oechsli.com