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Professional tactics

Tony Solomon Marketing communications director,Zurich Financial Services

IFAs should team up with solicitors and accountants. Financial services are a natural extension to the professional practitioner&#39s role and IFAs have the expertise and credentials to respond to a client&#39s needs for independent financial advice.

But while we all recognise the wisdom, benefits and profitability pros pects, linking up with a professional practitioner takes time and commitment.

At one of its recent business development initiative workshop, the IFA Professional Development Found ation – a service from Zifa – not only explored how IFAs can benefit from a partnership with a professional practitioner but also provided a step-by-step guide for IFAs to develop a sustainable, interdependent relationship with solicitor, accountant and actuarial firms.

Sofa past chairman Robert Reid, and Aifa chairman Lord David Hunt, attended the workshops, providing a valuable insight into how IFAs can make the first approach through to a satisfying long-term commitment.

Preparation

Before making your approach, preparation is key. From finding out where the firms&#39 offices are based to what kind of work the practice undertakes, it is essential that the IFA is properly prepared.

Partners will often have specialist areas. You should not only focus on the senior partner of a practice but also target individual practitioners where your own specialist skills can add value to their own.

Make sure you know your stuff. Your credibility and professional integrity are critical to building trust and managing the ongoing relationship between you and the professional firm.

As well as your financial services expertise, be aware of the value of your other skills and knowledge – for example, awareness of the local business community is a valuable commodity that the IFA can bring to the relationship with the professional firm.

Making the first move

Many IFAs will be members of chambers of commerce, breakfast clubs, rotary clubs and the like but do not be lured into embarrassing your contacts with a pitch at these occasions.

Once you have done your homework, do not be afraid to cold-call the firms you want to do business with even if you know another IFA is already associated with the firm, after all, they may be looking to widen the panel of IFAs they deal with and through.

Your strategy has to extend way beyond this first approach. After the initial contact, you need to find ways to demonstrate your value to that firm. Do not do this with phone calls badgering for meetings, take a more creative approach.

A faxed copy of a relevant newspaper report with your views on how this could make an impact on your chosen firm&#39s clients could be a superb door-opener.

It demonstrates you know their market and proves how your skills and expertise can add value to the service they are already offering.

A more creative approach is to learn a skill that can be used in other environments, give you greater exposure as an authority in your chosen firm. For example, train to be a facilitator and offer to facilitate a partners&#39 meeting.

Once you have established links into your chosen firm, build on these. A round of golf takes several hours – a great opportunity to get to know your chosen partners.

Sign on the dotted line

The relationship with your chosen firm needs to be set out in a formal agreement. It keeps things clear. Both the IFA and the partnership or individual partners will know exactly what the relationship entails.

Your first client should be your chosen professional firm. After all, the best kind of testimonial is for them to say to their client “Oh yes, he sorted us out”. The choice is yours but we recommend you charge for your advice. It keeps matters on a professional level.

How to generate leads

Once you are in, you can just sit back and wait for the leads, right? Wrong. Firms that have not dealt through an IFA before will find it difficult to build you into their process.

If there is already an association with other IFAs, the professional practitioner may just refer their leads to the people they are used to doing business with.

While you do need to give the relationship time to develop, you do need to set, measure and reset your goals. It takes time to build trust – partners are not going to hand over their cli ents to you on day one which is why, as part of your initial research, you need to assess how much time to invest on nurturing the professional connection.

To help partners recognise opportunities for generating leads, scripts in perspex frames to sit on the partners desks is a novel approach.

Also, letters and faxes highlighting relevant legislation, news coverage, and regulatory developments let the professional practitioner know that you are still out there, and have their clients&#39 interests in mind. But it is not a one-way street. Instead of expressing your view of the impact of the news you are sending through, you can equally ask for the professional&#39s views on a particular topic.

One of the family

Finally, it is very easy to be hugely enthusiastic at the start of the relationship, only to find it going stale over time. You must take responsibility for keeping energy levels high. Get involved in the partners&#39 meetings. Create league tables for partners to inject a competitive element to the relationship.

Make sure the relationship is rewarding for the firm too by generating leads in their direction.

Solicitors, accountants and actuaries may be suspicious of you and your motives for wanting to get involved with their clients. It is your relationship management skills which will shape whether the IFA-practitioner-client affiliation is a successful alliance.

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