The New Adviser’s Strategy for Working with Circles of Influence

Journal of Financial Planning: February 2013


I will never forget the first time I sat through a training session designed to teach new financial advisers how to be successful. The trainer talked to us about how to work with the relationships we already had—what he called our “circle of influence.” He told us the first thing we should do was make a list of the 100 people we would invite to our wedding if we were to get married today, then go see them to tell them about our business. My thought was, “Aren’t those the people who know that I don’t know what I am doing?”

Without a doubt, financial planning is one of the most difficult professions. “New” doesn’t always mean vibrant and motivated; it can mean uninformed and inexperienced in the eyes of potential clients and those who know us best.

There is a professional approach for new advisers that allows them to confidently speak to any of their friends and family about their business without any of the sales stigma, using newness in the profession to the advisers’ benefit. I call these meetings “interactive surveys.” If you change your approach, you can make your meeting with any circle of influence highly interactive and professional.

Before walking through the process of interactive surveys, it is important to understand why people refer in the first place. For referrals to occur:

  1. Your clients or relationships must have a firm understanding of your business and what you provide to people that is helpful to them.
  2. Your clients or relationships must have a firm understanding of who benefits from your business and what you provide so they can clearly identify those people in their daily lives.
  3. Your clients or relationships have to see true value in what you have to offer and be compelled to talk to others about it.

Interactive surveys are one-hour meetings that you schedule with people you respect. The premise of the meeting is that you are calling him or her to get feedback on how you can accomplish your objectives. Approaching these meetings with a great deal of structure will ensure that your circles of influence understand your business, who you want to grow your business with, and clarify whether they understand or see the value in what you are providing.

Imagine calling one of your circles of influence and saying:

Hi John, it’s Dan Allison, how are you? As you may know, I recently entered the financial services industry and am in the process of building my business. One of my main goals is to go into the profession really understanding what people value and don’t value about the individuals they seek out for financial advice. I also want to get some advice from people I respect. I wanted to see if you would block an hour to sit with me and give me feedback on some of the questions I have about my business model and what people are looking for. It will really help me focus on the right things for the people I want to serve. Do you have an hour next week to give me some of your opinions?

People hate being sold things; they love to give advice. If you call members of your circle of influence and tell them you need guidance on your business and what you are trying to accomplish, they will be happy to give you feedback. The great thing is, for them to give you feedback they have to understand what you are doing. This gives you a great reason to walk them through your business model and clarify the kinds of people you want to grow the business with.

When you invite a member of your circle of influence to meet for an hour, you should have the structure of the meeting prepared in advance. Remember, you want to clarify what you are doing, who you are doing it for, and ascertain whether they feel there is value in the services you are providing.

This meeting should occur in an office setting, not out to lunch or over cocktails. The professional interactive survey meeting has three components:

The Introduction

Take three to five minutes to let each person in the circle of influence know why you asked to meet and what you want to accomplish. An abbreviated example may be:

John, thanks for coming in today. Before we begin, I want to explain why I am doing these meetings and what I want to accomplish. As you know, I have been in this industry for just over a year. It is not an easy industry to be in, but I believe in the service and what I can help people with.
One of the best ways to grow a business is through recommendations. Now, I don’t want to approach any of the relationships I have and bother them for referrals. That’s not really my style, and I never want it to become uncomfortable between us. I do want to ensure that the relationships I have understand what it is I am doing and who I am looking to serve. I also thought I could meet with some people I have my best relationships with and get some honest feedback.

John, I want you to know I did not call you in here to try to sell you something and bug you for more clients. I called you in because I respect you and know that if you have a clear understanding of my service and who I would like to serve, it will ensure that I have done my part to educate the people I respect. I also know the feedback you can give will be helpful. Does that sound all right to you? Great, well let me give you an overview of what we are doing here.

This gives you permission to talk about your services in a way that defuses any skepticism, and it eliminates any “sales” barriers between you and your circle of influence. It should make sense to them that you want to ensure that your influential relationships understand what you do. After the introduction, go into a 10- to 15-minute overview of your service.

Presentation of Your Service

The presentation of your service does not need to be formal, but it should be thorough. Be sure that your relationship leaves the meeting with a complete understanding of what you do and why. You also want to be sure they know who you do it for. Again, this will infinitely increase their ability to identify the right people for your services and what they will say to those individuals. You can create an informed army of advocates by educating your circle of influence about your business and your ideal client.

The Feedback

The third phase of the meeting should last about 20 to 25 minutes and is perhaps the most important component of interactive survey meetings. You should prepare four or five questions on which you want feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask some very open questions. Some of my favorites are:

After hearing an overview of the services we are providing, what do you see as the most valuable service or the best opportunity for us to bring value to people?

What do you see as my greatest challenge trying to get this service out to people?

If you were in my position and wanted to grow a planning practice based on recommendations from people without ever compromising professionalism, how would you approach people about referrals and recommendations?

These questions put your circles of influence in the position of expert. They will talk to you, give you advice, and think about how to approach other people. You will have not just an educated and informed relationship at the end of the meeting, you also will have laid the foundation for future referrals.

These meetings are a professional and effective way to meet with your circles of influence without dancing around the fact that you are new and want to grow your business. They leverage the fact that people in general want to be helpful and love to give their opinions. They are interactive and honest. As you gain quality clients, you will see that the same approach works well with clients to educate them about your business, your ideal clients, and get feedback on your value.

To be successful in this business, you have to have an effective and professional way to ensure that your army of advocates understands your business model and who you want to be introduced to, and that they see value in what you provide and contribute input into your goals. These meetings will take the hesitation out of contacting your relationships and showing them that you are approaching this industry as a service industry, not a sales industry. In today’s climate, nothing could be more important.

Dan Allison is the author of Feedback Marketing: How to Duplicate Clients, Attract Prospects, and Create Advocates … Without Talking. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has published many articles in a variety of industry publications. He uses his background in clinical and behavioral psychology to help advisers engage clients and relationships in their businesses through approaching them for feedback and guidance. See more of his concepts at


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