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Partnership marketing strategy for advisors: The 3×3 Rule of to get the most from COI collaboration efforts

By July 8, 2023September 8th, 2023Featured, Marketing, Relationship Marketing

Referral partner COI

Veterans in the wealth management industry know that fostering strong relationships with Centers of Influence (COIs) can have a meaningful impact on your firm’s growth. But, if you’ve spent time connecting over coffee meet-ups and longer-than-you’d-like lunches that do not pan out with opportunity, you may be frustrated with the “one-sided” nature of these relationships. To get the most out of COI collaboration efforts to grow your firm, it is time to revise your partnership marketing strategy.

Aligning your audience

Before you can proceed with a partnership strategy, you must be absolutely clear on your target client.  Effective partnership entails strategically aligning yourself with professionals, organizations, outlets, and publications who serve the same audience you do to achieve specific marketing objectives.  Without clarity on your niche or target client, spending team resources on reaching out to COIs is pointless.

As you and your team identify potential partners, you want to evaluate the quality of partnership by answering a few questions:

  • How tightly is their target market aligned with yours?
  • How likely is it that they would have influence over the actions of their following?
  • Do they practice list building and relationship marketing in a powerful way?
  • What are the channels and opportunities for collaboration?
  • In what way is their service complementary to yours?

Keep these answers in mind as your work through the 3×3 Rule to prioritize your efforts.

The 3×3 Rule of partnership marketing

Partnerships comes in many forms with numerous possibilities for helping each other.  When you apply the 3×3 Rule, you can determine exactly how much of your resources should go to each partner and for what purpose.  The 3×3 Rule requires that you categorize the potential partner by one of the three types: referral, content or media, and decide into which of the three tiers the partner fits.  This combination sets the framework for the relationship.

3 types of partnerships

The type of partnership you pursue informs the way you structure the relationship.  How will you share your expertise with their audience?  When you classify the type of partnership, you’ll know how to define your “ask” or expectation.

  • Referral partners are the most commonly referenced in the financial planning industry and often known as “centers of influence.” Typical ones, such as estate planning attorneys, money managers, and CPAs fall in this category along with more creative types like Coaches, Nutritionists, Personal Trainers and Psychologists.   In a perfect world, you send business their way; they send business your way when the fit is right.
  • Content partners consist of speakers, authors, companies, organizations, and publications with whom you can share your content and vice versa. These types of partners can play a major role in your content marketing plan since they provide the outlets for you to expand your reach. Look for partners who have established followings and communication channels that are already working.  Does their web site have a lead capture form?  Are they growing their list?  If not, your message may fall on deaf ears.   
  • Media partners tend to be more one sided, benefitting you. Do your part, and you’ll develop a true partner! Once you’re helpful and willing to talk with a journalist or publication (or direct them to a better source), they will return to you. You’ll be a go-to resource!  You want to find journalists who cover your expert topics for your audience and follow them.  Reach out when you have ideas or comments on their content.

3 tiers of partnerships

Think of tiers in terms of depth of commitment to each other.  If you direct the same amount of resources to each tier, you will impede your growth ability.  Rather, do some research ahead of your conversation to determine into which tier the partner falls.

  • Tier 1: Partners with whom you are mutually committed to help each other grow and expand business. You offer complementary services and have the same target audience. You both provide referrals regularly and with ease. You may share content, host events together, or integrate services into each other’s practices and more.  Importantly, you communicate regularly throughout the year.
  • Tier 2: Partners who are solid connections who occasionally refer clients. They offer valuable services, but the synergy isn’t as strong as with Tier 1 partners. It’s important to maintain relationships with Tier 2 partners without investing a significant amount of time or resources. This could mean meeting or communicating a few times a year, and sharing content on occasion.
  • Tier 3 Partners with which your firm has casual or loose connections. These are COIs that you would contact only for special needs or a distinct perspective. More often than not, these partners benefit more from your referrals than you do from theirs. They are part of your resource network, but keep resources devoted here to a minimum.

Implementing the 3×3 Rule in your RIA

If you or your advisors have been actively pursuing COI relationships, take a step back to ensure that are devoting resources in an optimal way.

Evaluate and categorize existing relationships

Begin by taking stock of the partners with whom you currently have relationship. Categorize them based on type and set the criteria for each tier.  Reflect on the list:

  • Which relationships are not really a fit and drain resources?
  • Which ones do you want to deepen?
  • Which ones need further clarification?

Establish new relationships

When looking to establish new relationships, especially with Tier 1 partners, you need to be discerning. Look for COIs who offer services your ideal clients need, attract a similar target client, and demonstrate marketing savvy.Partnership marketing with COIs

Craft personalized outreach messages to Tier 1 partners that express genuine interest in their business and propose the possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship. Create templates for your team members to use to help maintain consistency in rankings of partners.

Be prepared for meetings

When you secure a meeting with a potential referral or content partner be well-prepared. Set clear objectives for the meeting, outline congruences, and propose ways in which you could work together. For media partners, show up with actionable insights to help their audience.  Craft answers in advance for interview questions (if provided).

Review and re-evaluate regularly

Make it a practice to regularly review and reevaluate your partner relationships. The dynamics of businesses change, and so can the benefits of a partnership. You may identify new or more closely aligned media and content partners that fit the bill. If you firms expands your service offering or shifts your target audience, you may need to make adjustments to gain and provide the right kinds of referrals.  When you build intentional review of these relationships into your firm’s processes, you will keep a network of partners that serve the changing needs of your business.

COI collaboration pays off

The bottom line with partnership marketing is when you find a COI who already has an engaged audience with the same clientele that you serve best, you’re going to benefit on multiple levels.

While it takes energy to seek out and ‘work the partnerships’, you earn a greater return on your energy. Nurturing COI relationships is high-powered work with even higher return.  Add in the camaraderie, entrepreneurial support, creative fulfillment and shared success from the collaboration, and it’s a win-win all around!

Looking for more when it comes to partnership marketing?  Get the guidebooks, tips and tools to help your team with their outreach efforts.  Request your free Growth Acceleration Toolkit.

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Kristin is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. Managing her own firm, she grew it from zero to six figures in less than three years, completely from scratch. In 2014 Kristin transitioned full time into training and coaching, where she now helps independent financial advisors to grow their firms.

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