Just like you have to prospect for new clients, you may have to prospect for good referral sources

Just like not every client is a good client, not every center of influence (COI) is a good referral source. However, before we get in to what makes a good COI, let’s define it.

Simply put, a COI is anyone who has established credibility and relationships with the decision makers to whom you want to be introduced. A COI relationship needs to be about much more than just trading names; it takes a commitment from both parties to invest the time and energy to truly understand one another’s value proposition. Because of the nature of a truly effective COI relationship, it isn’t practical to have more than a select few relationships you are trying to maintain. You need to identify the critical few who will provide the greatest return for your time, energy and effort spent.

Where to look
I often hear producers lament that they just don’t know anyone who can be a consistent source of referrals or introductions. It can be a little difficult to just look at a blank sheet of paper and start listing names of potential COIs. Instead of starting with a blank sheet, use the following list to identify potential COIs by type of relationship – you will be shocked by how many more names end up on your list.


  • Family members
  • Close friends
  • Work friends
  • Social friends (associations, church, clubs, etc.)
  • Your professional team (CPA, attorney, etc.)
  • Current clients
  • Vendors and strategic partners
  • Friends of your spouse and parents
  • Parents of kids’ friends
  • Former classmates
  • Neighbors

Knowing what they look like
Now that you have your list of names, it’s time to filter the list down to those who will make for the most productive relationships. I was fortunate to sit in on a presentation given recently by Dean D’Camera, President of D’Camera Group out of Baltimore, Maryland. In his presentation, Dean did as good a job of identifying what makes for effective COI relationships as any I have ever heard. He suggests using the following characteristics as your filter.


  • They are considered best in class (i.e. the best employment law attorney in town)
  • They are considered a leader in the business community
  • They are considered to be a leader in the community as a whole
  • They have access to your ideal client
  • You will be able to help them grow their business
  • They are respected by their peers
  • You share common connections

Know the rules of the game
As I mentioned earlier, COI relationships don’t come without a certain level of mutual understanding. Both parties need to understand the foundation on which to build the relationship.

Foundational requirements

  • More than trading lists – If all you are going to do is trade names, don’t spend the time and energy on the relationship; just go buy a prospect list somewhere.
  • Not a threat to credibility – Before either of you can be confident in making introductions for the other, there has to be a comfort level that credibility will not be jeopardized.
  • Two-way street – Introductions have to be given both ways.
  • Understand value proposition – Spend time to truly understand what the other has to offer.
  • WIIFM (what’s in it for ME?) – Each party has to benefit themselves from making an introduction for the other. In other words, the client to whom you made the introduction will be grateful to you for making an introduction that brought them value.
  • Make the first introduction – Enough said.

How to maximize the relationship
As hard as it may be to find truly effective COI relationships, perhaps the hardest work comes from making that potential value a reality. Don’t just assume that developing a relationship will automatically produce your desired results. Making that happen requires a plan.


  • Be very honest with one another as to why the relationship exists.
  • Have a follow-up plan for every targeted introduction.
  • Set up trusted advisor luncheons for mutual clients. These are meetings when all of the trusted advisors of a client get together to discuss the issues, challenges and opportunities of their mutual client; client is present, of course.
  • Meet formally on a regular basis. This means having an agenda and defined outcomes you want to accomplish with the meeting.
  • Do something for them before asking them to do something for you.

Bringing it all together
Having effective COI relationships should be a formal part of your growth strategy. Just like you have to prospect for new clients, you may have to prospect for COIs. Identify a list of “suspect COIs” in varied niches and start doing the research to identify those who measure up favorably to the characteristics listed above. Once identified, either look for a shared relationship to make a formal introduction or just make the call yourself. Don’t be shy about what you are hoping to achieve. After all, this is a relationship that will be beneficial for everyone involved.

Yes, it will take a fair amount of work. However, when you compare the almost 75 percent close ratio that comes from introductions to the 10 to 15 percent that tends to come from cold calling, the return is more than worth the investment. You just have to ask yourself, “How badly do I want a pipeline filled with introductions?”


Photo by Bruce Dupree.