If your referral network isn’t working, check your connections -Dlight News


It’s axiomatic. If you write articles for life insurance brokers, estate planners, accountants, trustees, investment advisors, and financial planners, you might hear from some of them. And I have. Across the spectrum of advisors, I hear a common theme that is often expressed in frustration that borders on bewilderment. “Why don’t other counselors pull us into cases? Why don’t they introduce our products and services to their customers? Why don’t they get it? What can we do against it?”

It might be helpful for these consultants to work through the self-diagnostic questions I’m about to ask. But first, let’s set the stage.

Communicating but not connecting

I interact with consultants from all disciplines. So, of course, when I hear a consultant raise concerns about another type of consultant, I evoke the reaction of the “Part Two” party. For example, I hear from life insurance agents who are frustrated with estate planners who, despite their networking and collaboration on cases, do not refer clients to them. And even if this is the case, they are only used to meet the liquidity needs determined by the estate planners without the involvement of the brokers. Agents are not called in earlier to cater to all clients’ insurance needs. As these agents speak, I hear the estate planners retort, “Most of our clients already have agents.” Or, “We do the planning and then bring in an agent for the remaining liquidity needs.” That’s the role of life insurance, right?” I’ll leave the agents’ response to your imagination.

On the other hand, I hear real estate planners complain that they don’t have a crowd control problem because of agent recommendations. And they themselves are only called in for estate planning after the agent has determined the insurance need and initiated the process. To which the agents respond, “Please note the above…”

When I listen carefully to what each side is saying and how they are saying it, it becomes clear that neither side gives the other the basis needed to confidently involve the other in the cases, let alone fully and timely. They communicate, but they don’t connect.

The same applies to the life settlement business. Some life insurance providers are at a loss as to why advisors generally don’t present the transaction to their clients and them. But these advisors tell me that life insurance providers will not move from the “why” of life insurance to the “how,” which would include the advisor’s role in the transaction and address the advisor’s concerns.

And the escrow business? Some trustees wonder why they don’t appeal to certain estate planners, that is, estate planners who are not also in the trust business. When I listen to these fiduciaries, I think of estate planners who are actually reluctant to make recommendations, although I can understand that given the risks associated with recommendations. But they also don’t have a lot to say about what their clients should ask fiduciary interviewers for. I do not understand that. When I tell trustees what I hear or don’t hear, they get confused. But hearing trustees answer the questions you see below is far from puzzling.

What is causing this problem, this lack of real connectivity? It is poor communication, ie a type of differentiated, tailored messaging that directly addresses the needs, expectations and concerns of the other types of advisors. Here is a set of suggested questions that advisors can use to check their connections.


Before beginning this exercise, Consultants should read my article, Getting to Your Prospect Through a Gatekeeper. The guidelines for dealing with internal gatekeepers also apply here. My articles on networking, interviewing estate planners, trustees and investment advisors, and working together on planning projects may also be helpful.

A second step in advanced preparation is for you, as a consultant who will be going through these questions, to note the names of some consultants in different disciplines with whom you have difficulty contacting, noting what type of consultant it is what market you are in, what market you are in, what challenges you face in that market and in what context such a consultant would typically see the need for your services. Ask yourself, “If I were that type of consultant, what would I need to know about someone in my organization before I take the risk of a recommendation?” Take a look, because platitudes like “You are looking for a qualified professional to work for does a good job for his customers” are not enough. You are looking for much more than that!

The questions

Feel free to adjust both the wording and the order of the questions to suit the type of Consultant you are and the type of Consultant you wish to promote. Yes, there’s a bit of redundancy here, but that’s very purposeful. I read somewhere that repetition can be the source of enlightenment.

  • Start with the advisors you identified one at a time. In your opinion, how would you describe what you do and what added value you create? What would they do right and what would they do wrong? Which critical elements would you not mention at all, and why not? Of course, if you are affiliated with an organization that is an important part of your service offering, include that in the question.
  • Virtually every advisor tells their clients, “We work with your other advisors.” What does that really mean? Suppose you’re sitting across from another type of consultant who says, “Tell me exactly how you work with someone like me on a case.” Explain your process, your communication, and the resources you devote to a case that might be of interest to me. What will I hear that I have never heard?”
  • Why will your customers benefit from working with you compared to a competitor?
  • How will this consultant benefit from working with you? This question continues to take you beyond the value of your product or service itself and describes how you work with other consultants and why they are a better fit for this experience. You should be able to describe concretely how a consultant who interacts with you can expand their services to clients, improve their marketing or whatever. The point is not just to talk about the principle of the thing. Talk about the money i.e. increased billable time, practice efficiency etc.
  • Even if they understand your business and your value proposition, do they know when and how to engage you? For this reason, it is important to identify consultants from different disciplines and to be aware of the context in which everyone should see opportunities to engage you.
  • Do they know how working with you is supposed to work, what role they play, what their reward is and of course what risk they are taking and how you mitigate that risk? Here I expressly refer to the Gatekeeper article. I would also like to note that the consultants who are most “confused” are the ones who simply cannot or do not want to answer this question. Why? Because they have no process to describe.
  • If they know and appreciate everything they should but still don’t hire you, why not? Is it your product or service, or is it you?

get feedback

Now ask an experienced, trusted colleague (but not someone who reports to you) to listen to the introductory speech or other introductory speech you give for each type of consultant. If you don’t have a version for each advisor type, you’ve identified part of the problem right there. Your colleague should pay attention to two things. One is the content, meaning what you cover and whether it gives a meaningful message given what you think the consultants don’t understand. The other aspect is context, ie how well you tailor the presentation to the type of consultant you are presenting to. Then ask for feedback, and give your colleague the freedom and freedom to openly share with you what you did and didn’t notice in your presentation. If you don’t have such a colleague, perhaps do this exercise with your study group.

That’s it. The ideal outcome of this exercise is to help the advisor create a strategic assessment and action plan for their core connectivity issues.

Fewer mutual recommendations

While that’s a topic for another day, I’m hearing more and more advisors expressing concern over an issue just as devastating as connectivity. They fear that the pool of traditional sources for mutual referrals is drying up. Why? Because many traditionally “single-discipline” consultants branch out into other areas. be it by founding life insurance, investment or fiduciary subsidiaries or by forming alliances. The point is, these traditional mutual referral sources are now trying to keep the business in-house. That too is a topic for another day.

Charles L. Ratner is a life insurance and estate planning commentator based in Cleveland, Ohio.

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