Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Makes an Effective Center of Influence?

One of the most important concepts in business networking is the idea of “Centers of Influence.” What is a Center of Influence or “COI”? A COI is a person who is in a position or business that tends to have great influence with prospects in your target market. These people have great potential to be among your best referral sources.

A common example of a Center of Influence for a mortgage broker might be a real estate agent. A real estate agent is often the first professional that a person interested in buying a new house would contact. A good realtor will want to position his buyer in the best possible light when an offer is made, and one of the ways to do this is to have the buyer “pre-approved” for a mortgage. How do you get pre-approved? That’s right… you need to talk to a mortgage broker or bank first! A good real estate professional can be an invaluable asset to other related professionals- and to their clients as well. Most people that trust a realtor enough to hire them to make possibly the single biggest purchase of their life will undoubtedly trust their recommendation of mortgage brokers, attorneys, movers, etc.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that make good Centers of Influence:

  • Trustworthiness: I suppose this is the most obvious of the factors that make a good Center of Influence, but trustworthiness can be a fairly relative term. For example, several years ago I read about a study of the public’s perception of my industry- financial advisors. The trust that the general public has in financial advisors is, in general, surprisingly low. (Surprising to me, maybe not to you!) On the other hand, when the same people were asked how they felt about their own financial advisor, a large majority responded that they trusted him completely! My guess is that you would find similar experiences with many other industries that may have a poor reputation or a low trust factor. Finding professionals who have extraordinarily high levels of trust with their clients or customers is a big key to finding an effective Center of Influence.

  • Relation of their business to your business: There must be some basic commonalities between your business and the business of your COI. Are we looking for the same types of customers? Do we offer complimentary but non-competing products or services? Do people that have a need for my service often also require my COI’s service and vice versa? If the answer to those questions is yes, then the potential Center of Influence may have passed the second test.

  • Timing of their service within your sales cycle: Even if you identify someone who meets the first two criteria, if their service takes place well after yours generally does, they may not fill the bill as a good Center of Influence for you. For example, let’s consider a florist and a funeral home. When a loved one passes away, one of the family’s first visits is generally with a funeral director to help plan with the arrangements. It’s conceivable that the funeral home may well be in a position to recommend a local florist who can supply wreathes or flowers for the service. This would make a funeral director potentially a good COI for a florist. There is a natural flow of events taking place- the family consults with the director then considers flowers for the service.

  • Enthusiasm: This is perhaps the most overlooked of the factors that contribute to making a good Center of Influence. It is not to be underestimated. While anyone can pass out a business card or referral list, the best Centers of Influence are enthusiastic supporters of their referral partners. They are your biggest fans.

We’ve all heard of win-win situations. When choosing potential Centers of Influence and other referral partners, you need to seek out win-win-win situations. That is, it’s a win for you; it’s a win for your partner; and, most importantly, it’s a win for your customer.


  1. Thanks for the insights.

    Coach Charles

  2. Thanks for the post. I think understanding the "center of influence" concept is key to anyone looking to excel in professional services.

  3. I'll focus on the first point, Trustworthiness. It's the same as building a relationship between you and your customers, and building a mutual trust for each other. You have to be good in convincing your potential customers that your product is good and effective.

  4. Thanks David! Great post :)

  5. One issue I have is that businesses especially corporate push this to a level where it is no longer appropriate. Example: COI in an area that relates to the business I do for the corporation makes sense, to REQUIRE that I have a COI that goes beyond that AND to expect that my boss will make contact with that COI to further establish that relationship is just going way to far and is inappropriate.

  6. Thanks for a very well written and informative post.It complements very well the section on joint ventures in my free customer acquisition course.