We all know the value of developing profitable and ongoing strategic alliances with other professionals, such as solicitors and accountants. But how many of us do it well?
I have done a lot of research into this market and would like to share with you what I see as a sensible approach for success.
For me it is all about behaviours, and one of the key behaviours is to adopt a consultative approach.
Our profession is excellent at fact-finding and analysis with clients, but this key skill seems to be abandoned when developing strategic alliances.
We try and sell when the key is to consult and listen. At the initial meeting set yourself an objective to talk about their business and to find out how you can add value to them.
To adopt a consultative approach, an adviser will need to have a robust process set in place.
There are eight steps to a consultative approach to professional connections:
1. Knowledge - know your target firm and their market. Know who you're meeting and what their own specialty is. Check out their website or LinkedIn profile.
2. Prepare what to say and how - asking a good open question and staying silent to hear the answer sounds obvious but is critical to success. If you're keen to show your knowledge, ask a question about the topic which engages - don’t tell or present.
3. Avoid the hard sell, so don’t use PowerPoint and avoid handouts. The value is in the conversation about their business, not yours – after all you're after their clients.
4. Beginning the meeting - restate the purpose of the meeting and have copies of the agenda. Get agreement to proceed. If there's a mismatch of expectation you're unlikely to succeed.
5. Questions, questions. These are your tools. Think about a range of open questions that will get the conversation going.
6. Topics to talk about - all businesses have essentially three key issues: revenue, costs and risk. Everything else will ultimately fall under one of these. Ask questions about these key areas and use terminology appropriate to the audience, for example solicitors talk about client ‘matters’, not cases or sales.
7. Areas of stress for the business - if everything is rosy then changing behaviours to refer clients to you does not really help the professional connection. Find out what is not going well for them and find ways you can help.
8. Summarise the issues identified and agree what areas should be taken forward for further discussion.
Get a plan
Anyone, with some effort can establish new strategic alliances, but the secret is to make sure that they last and are profitable.
Here are four simple strategies for success:
1. Have your own clear goals and objectives before you start
Too many businesses establish a business connection before determining if it’s really a strategic fit or whether their business is ready to support the requirements of the alliance.