Houston—“I’ve never had much success with CPAs,” groaned Peter, an advisor in a workshop I was conducting. “Even the CPAs I’ve referred clients to—nothing ever comes back my way. Do you think it’s realistic to develop a true referral alliance with a CPA?”
My short answer was “Yes.” But I recognize that many financial advisors feel Peter’s pain. They refer clients to a handful of CPAs in their community, fully expecting the law of reciprocity to engage, and nothing happens. Few if any referrals come back. Essentially, Peter is asking, “What’s going on?”
As I told this group, when it comes to CPAs, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that most CPAs don’t trust the financial services industry and therefore don’t trust financial advisors. The good news is that many elite financial advisors have earned the trust of CPAs in their communities and have developed excellent working relationships with them. Yes, it can be done, and now is the perfect time of year to begin.
With tax season finally behind them, most CPAs are taking a deep sigh of relief and giving themselves some time to relax. What elite advisors are doing is using this period of CPA decompression as a time to organize social outings with the select group they work with. The following are a handful of events that have been used effectively:
- Social dinners: CPA and spouse with advisor and spouse. These are dinners with two couples, with CPAs where a healthy referral alliance is already established, and specific CPAs who are being romanced into a healthy referral alliance relationship.
- Group wine tasting with spouses: CPAs of top 25 clients invited.
- Drinks at a martini bar with spouse: CPAs of top 25 clients invited.
- Saturday afternoon cookout: CPAs and families of top 25 clients invited
- Golf outing: CPAs with a healthy referral alliance, and targeted CPAs (two foursomes; drinks with spouses to follow).
Sure, in some of these post-tax season events you’ll have competitive CPAs in attendance. That’s okay as you’re establishing a blanket of good will. The secret is to follow up and begin building a relationship with every CPA, one-on-one, following the event.
I know what many of you are probably thinking: “How can I call a CPA for a social event when I don’t even have a relationship with him?” And the answer is—easily. This is no different than inviting a prospect you’ve recently met to some fun event you’re hosting, but in the case of CPAs at this time of year, it’s even easier.
First of all, you might find it helpful to think in terms of four CPA buckets:
Bucket 1—These are the CPAs with whom you already have a healthy referral alliance relationship. With this group, you’ll want to make a personal telephone call and invite the CPA and spouse to dinner. The idea here is that they’ve worked hard over the past four months, you appreciate their hard work, and you want to make certain they have a relaxing evening with you and your spouse. It’s important to emphasize: no business, all social.
Bucket 2—CPAs of your top 25 or so affluent clients. For these CPAs, you should plan an event; whether it’s a wine tasting, martini evening or a cookout doesn’t really matter. The key is to make it fun. Here, either you or your assistant (if he or she has a good relationship) calls and personally invites each CPA and spouse to the event. Again, you’re recognizing the hard work they’ve been engaged in over the past four months, you express appreciation for the work they’ve done with your clients, and this is your way of saying thanks. Remember, your objective is to follow up and begin building relationships one-on-one.
Bucket 3—Oh, those thankless CPAs who you’ve given referrals to but haven’t experienced the reciprocity. These rascals in Bucket 3 need a wake-up call over a social lunch. Call and invite them to a lunch with a slightly different twist; now that tax season is over, you simply want to catch up. Yet during that lunch you want to express your appreciation for how well they are handling the clients you’ve referred to them (mention each by name), and after a brief discussion you bring down the hammer by directly asking, “I’m very curious. I’ve sent X referrals to you over the past Y years and I haven’t received even one from you. Why?” You’ll want to soften this to your own personality, but here is where you shut up and watch the CPA squirm. Either you’ll get an apology or an explanation why you’ll never get referrals. This will have one of two outcomes—either you’ll never get referrals and you’ll never give another referral, or you’ll start getting referrals. In which case, this CPA moves to Bucket 1 and it’s time for a social dinner.
Bucket 4—These are those CPAs you’re targeting but have yet to develop any type of relationship. This group requires a bit more homework. You will want to ask CPAs in Buckets 1and 2 if they know these individuals. If so, you’d like to invite them, as their guest, to your upcoming Top 25 CPA event. If not, you should conduct a social media search as you are looking for a connection. If you find a connection with anyone you know, you call the person you know, explain that you want to meet this particular CPA, describe the event, and invite them both, using your connection to invite the CPA you’re targeting.
I recognize that Bucket 4 CPAs are more challenging, but you’ve got nothing to lose. Tis-the-season to socialize with CPAs. Yet, you’ll need a game plan; not all CPAs are equal and not all will allow you to develop a healthy referral alliance relationship.
Yet all you need are three or four good CPA relationships to become a master rainmaker. It will take time, patience, and persistence—but over the next eight months you can significantly strengthen your branding with CPAs.