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Sandro Forte – How to Monitor and Adjust Existing Relationships with Centers of Influence

This is the MDRT podcast.

Once you’ve established a connection with the centre of influence, everything should automatically be great moving forward, right? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. 

During a zoom conversation in September 2022, Renee Hanson (private wealth adviser, scottsdale, Arizona) and Sandro Forte (CEO, Forte Financial, London, UK) shared how they ensure that their relationships with centres of influence still feel beneficial long after they’ve been established.

RENEE HANSON

We talk a lot about the value that we provide to centres of influence. If it’s a reciprocal relationship, they have to provide value to us as well. So are they providing value by being able to answer questions directly to us? Are they helping us build our business? Are they helping introduce us to other people? 

Now I’ll give you an example. There was one – she wasn’t fresh out of law school, but she was newer. We had an introduction to her. We met with her for three years and not a single referral. In our last meeting with her, we went in specifically to ask what could we do better, right, to earn her trust. In other words, we were trying to identify what have we done wrong or not done well to be able to earn her trust and confidence to refer people to us. 

She talked an awful lot about how she had moved up in the law firm, how she was working with very wealthy clients and how excited she was. So we had mentioned to her that we had a CPA who was a client of ours that was retiring and looking to sell her book of business. And she said she had two female CPAs that she would connect us with. 

We waited a week. We followed up. We waited another week. And I will tell you that we got all sorts of feedback on how wonderful we are and we’re always top of mind, but it doesn’t seem to be coming to fruition. We elected to remove her from our top referrals. There was just no reason to continue the relationship. She wouldn’t get back with us on an important question. 

And, ultimately, that CPA that’s a client of ours who is retiring, we introduced her to another CPA firm that we work with, and mind you, we refer to a number of different, just like we expect our COIs to refer to a number of different, and it looks like they’re going to connect well and they may be buying her practise. 

There’s value add that we bring outside of just referring a client; it could be referring another professional. There’s also a fear of not letting them know that you’re also meeting with other professionals in their same arena, right, their same specialty. I’ve actually introduced estate attorneys who will refer to one another that’s outside of either their scope, if it’s a same sex couple, or outside of their area that they want to travel to.

So these people are professionals; they work with one another. They know one another. They’re either opposing, or they’re working in court with different attorneys when there’s estate issues. I will tell you that they know one another and they know one another well. You might be introducing people that change firms in a relationship and there’s value add there. So I’m not afraid to remove someone from my list if they’re not providing a measurable level of value to us as a practise or to our clients.

SANDRO FORTE

I agree with everything you just said, Renee. It’s like you and I were separated at birth and yet here we have never met before, but we were talking ahead of the podcast. Just this is what makes MDRT amazing, because we can connect with people we’ve never clapped eyes on before, and you forge a relationship and you suddenly realise how aligned you are with somebody. 

I think the first thing I would say, Rennie, is I think advisers have to decide what their motivation is behind connecting with a sense of influence in the first place. And what I mean by that is, are we looking to add holistic value to our clients or are we looking for a commercial opportunity? And the two things are very different. 

If you go into a new relationship and you treat it as a commercial opportunity, as night follows day, most of those relationships will die quite quickly. If you go in with the right intentions, in my opinion, which is to build relationships with other professional people who are very aligned to the way that you think, act, work, service clients. And let’s be clear; they are few and far between if you are doing a really good job as a financial professional. And so you do have to, to use another expression, you do have to kiss a lot of frogs. You are going to meet a lot of professional people who, after a period of time, you realise they’re flaky; they promise you everything. 

Reputation is the expectation minus experience. We go into a new relationship with a COI, and we are expecting them – because they tell us we’ve got lots of clients. We’re going to introduce you to all our top individuals and business owners, and every matrimonial case we get, we’re going to send it your way. And two years later, you’re still waiting for your first introduction. So only time and experience, I think, tells you instinctively this is a relationship that is going to work or it isn’t. 

And I love the words you use because I think we all struggle with not just approaching somebody in the first place, Renee, but also that kind of periodic check-in where you feel instinctively something isn’t right, but you don’t quite know how to approach that question around, am I doing something wrong? Could I provide a better service?

And I love what you said about maybe it’s just about finding a niche, but it’s maybe just finding an area of specialism. You don’t have to say yes to every opportunity. And you know what? Authenticity and honesty goes every bit as far as academia and experience and knowledge and longevity in the business. 

Sometimes you have to say, this doesn’t work, whether it’s a client introduction, whether it is a new commercial opportunity. However attractive it might be, if it doesn’t fit, then be honest enough to say – because you will get more traction and gain more credibility and you’re much more likely to retain a long-term relationship with a centre of influence if you’re very transparent about things. 

So I think probably the answer to this question is I think we all instinctively know when something feels right and when something feels wrong. I grade my clients in a slightly different way. And the exponential growth of our business has come actually from client grading. We take a general view that our A clients, and you’ll see where I’m going with this in a second, Renee, so our A clients are the clients where there is future opportunity. Put simply, they’ve got more money to invest, but the relationship with them is really strong. They love us; we love them. Both parties know it. And they, for me, are the A clients, because not only do they present good opportunities for the future, but they are going to become advocate clients as well.

The B clients, and this is where a lot of advisers, when they hear this, are surprised, because my B clients are not the next batch of wealthy clients. They are actually ones where there may not be any future opportunity, but they love us and we love them. In other words, the best clients we have in our business is where the relationship is the strongest, not where they are the wealthiest. 

And the reason I say this is because when you build relationships with centres of influence, if the relationship is really strong, and you only get one introduction, bet your life that is going to be a fantastic introduction. So from my perspective, it’s better to have one really good introduction a year, let’s say, if that’s your measure, than it is to have half a dozen, because they feel obliged to give you those introductions.

Because that is not the way we grow our business and it’s not the way we’re going to add value to those introductions either. So, again, I agree with everything you’ve said. A couple of thoughts just to kind of overlay on that particular topic.

RENEE HANSON

Sandro, in evaluating relationships, I liken it to dating. Okay. And early on, you should set expectations, right, so that you know if you’re going to go on a second date or a third date. There’s nothing wrong with being authentic to your style and your personality and your business. 

By setting expectations and asking your centre of influence what type of clients do you work best with allows you to say, these are the type of clients I work best with as well. And to be able to say openly you’ll probably look for not only professional expertise, but you’ll also look for a personality match similar to how we’re getting along so well today, and you’ll get along with your clients that love you and you love them. 

You’re expecting a relationship that will start partly on personality, so don’t be afraid to be authentic and be who you are. Tell them the things you do well, the type of people you work well with and understand what they do so that you can have a mutual relationship and have that second, third and fourth date.

SANDRO FORTE

Well, I would say two more things, Renne, if I may. One is I’ve never been good at dating anyway, so I’ll have to bow to your better judgement and expertise on that one. But in terms of – I’m a lover, not a fighter, let’s be clear. 

So building new relationships comes a bit more naturally to me than ending a relationship, but there was one particular case where having that difficult conversation doesn’t come naturally to me. But it was lady, a matrimonial lawyer, that introduced some lovely cases. it was a very, very equal reciprocation arrangement; it just fell that way, no particular intention either way, and the relationship was great. 

However, there was an issue because I found out that she was kind of playing one person off against another, and that doesn’t sit well with me. That, to me, isn’t a very genuine way to go about building a relationship, and I had to have a tough conversation, because on the one hand, this lady was responsible for introducing about half of one of my years, around about 2018 – half of the production that year came from this matrimonial lawyer, some substantial cases. 

Walking away from that relationship was not an easy thing to do. Commercially, it made no sense, but for the future of my business and the fact that I could sleep at night, and I could ascribe to all the things that are important to me, which is high standards: transparency, honesty; it was a tough conversation. And, for me, it was nothing more straightforward or complicated than simply saying this isn’t a relationship that works for me anymore, I’m afraid. Here are the reasons why. It was a painful divorce, if that’s what you want to call it, excuse the pun, but it was the right decision, and we’ve all, I think, to a greater or lesser extent, been in a situation where the left-side of our brain, the logical side of our brain, is saying it’s the right thing to do, and yet the emotional, the right-side of our brain, is clinging on for dear life, saying but I don’t want to let go. 

Ultimately, I would counsel anyone to listen very closely to the left-side of the brain, the logical side. If it makes sense, it’s probably right for the future of your business.

RENEE HANSON

Well said as always, Sandro, and I think that whole making sure that relationships are healthy, just like with our clients, that they must be healthy with our centres of influence. They will feel it just like we will feel it. And they’ll want to move forward when we’re in a healthy relationship and they’ll want to part when we’re not.

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