Pittsburg: “I’ve got a social event planned for CPAs and we have a great list of people to invite.  I’m curious to get your take on the setup. We’re targeting 20 people – do you think that’s too many?”  This was the beginning of a conversation we had with Drew, an advisor dead-set on building more alliances.  His heart was in the right place, but his event was doomed before the invitations were printed.

Our next question to him was, “Do you think this style of event might be a little off-putting to all of your potential CPA alliance partners?  Imagine if the tables were turned and a good CPA partner of yours invited you to an event with 20 of your closest competitors.  Would you think the relationship a little less special?”  Sure you would.

Our research has shown that elite advisors work hard at developing alliances, but it’s usually with 2-4 good partners, not 20-40.  When you study the nature of these relationships, you start to see why they narrow their focus.  When professional alliances are working properly, the two parties involved get to know each other on a personal level, they develop trust in each other’s professional expertise, and they feel strongly that their clients would benefit from meeting each other.  This occurs one interaction at a time, over time, and isn’t scalable regardless of how much you may want to speed things up.

In the spirit of Drew’s question, we’re going to share the following five tips for going deeper with CPAs.  This process isn’t for every CPA, it’s for those who have a real possibility of being your good, long-term alliance partner.  A little extra attention goes a long way towards getting more referrals.

Going Deeper with CPAs:

1.     Be creative in your contact.
Have you ever worked with someone who called you on a regular schedule with no real agenda other than “catching up”?  You probably started to avoid their call.  


An occasional check-in call is ok, but we find the best results come with a wider variety of contacts.  Some contacts can be about a mutual client, others can be about a major change in the industry, and there are plenty of getting-social opportunities.  If you see their firm in the newspaper or you know they have a big anniversary coming up, these are also great times for a contact. 

You might even consider creating a relationship management calendar specifically for CPAs that outlines what type of contact you plan to make on a month-to-month basis.  Planning in advance leads to more and better contact.
 

2.     Show them your wealth management process.
We’ve found that there is value in an advisor showing a CPA their process for working with clients.  This doesn’t mean the CPA must become a client; that’s a topic for a different article.  In this walk-through, you’re simply showing what you do for clients.  Explain to them some of the common issues you find in your discovery meeting, the “ah-ha” moments that occur during the planning process, and the points at which you might mention the need for a quality CPA.  Done properly, the CPA walks away with a deeper professional respect for what you do.  They’ve experienced what it would be like for one of their clients to become one of your clients.
 

3.     Teach them how to introduce.
We’ve long been recommending that advisors personally introduce clients when referring them to other professionals.  It makes the client more comfortable and increases the likelihood of the new business actually taking place. 

Every time you get a referral from a CPA, you’ve got a coach-able moment around the art of introductions.  Instead of simply thanking them for suggesting a client call you, ask if they would be willing to personally introduce you.  Explain that you’ve found that it puts the client at ease when the transfer happens this way and that it increases the likelihood of the relationship starting properly.
 

4.     Get to know them personally.
You’ve probably been through exercises of profiling your clients.  What are their passions and family situation?  What about CPAs?  Take a moment and think about one of your current CPA alliance partners.   Do you know their spouse’s name?  How many kids do they have?  Do they play any sports or exercise?  What’s their favorite sports team? 

We’ve heard it straight from CPAs; they’re only going to do business with people they’ve gotten to know and trust on a personal level.  Sure, they want referrals too, but most alliances fail because of poor connection.  Sending a few odd referrals throughout the year is enough to keep you on their radar, but pairing referrals with relationship management can create a rock solid partnership.
 

5.     Go narrow and deep.

Much like Drew, many advisors view the goal as having as many good CPA alliances as possible.  In reality, less is more.  Elite advisors focus on fewer partners, with deeper relationships.  If you’ve previously targeted too many CPAs, look through your list and define the 3-5 that you think have the most potential, then double down with them.  From now on, they get your attention and introductions.  If any of them show signs of not being a good partner, scratch them off your list and look for a replacement.  Over time, you’ll end up with a core group with whom you work well.  If you need a larger pool of CPAs to begin this process, start by going through your current clients. Ask them who they can introduce you to, and if they are willing.

In considering the above, think of one or two ways to deepen your relationship with CPA alliances.  Is there a need to engage them on a personal level?  Would they benefit from seeing your wealth management process first hand? 

For Drew, the answer was “yes” to all of the above.  However, after careful reconsideration, he decided his first step was to reallocate the money he’d set aside for his big CPA social event and spread it out by hosting a number of more intimate one-on-one lunches and dinners.