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A New Way to Build Strategic Alliances

A more formal approach could work wonders.

C. Marie Swift, 04/03/2008

According to Susan Bradley, CFP and founder of the Sudden Money Institute, building strategic alliances--inter-professional marketing relationships--is a no-brainer. "Having an allied professional whose work aligns with your work, who knows the type of clients you work best with--a professional with whom you can easily collaborate--is one of the stronger legs of a business growth plan," she said.

Virtually all professionals are familiar with the business development strategy of developing referral sources. Make no mistake: That is not the model we are talking about here. In the referral model, professionals--financial advisors, attorneys, CPAs--get to know each other and find counterparts with whom they can develop a good connection. For example, a financial advisor has a client who needs an estate plan. The advisor knows a good estate-planning attorney to whom to refer the client. When these referrals are reciprocated, both professionals benefit and the client is well-served.

Here, however, we're talking about "consilience," a new paradigm in which allied professionals work more formally, as a team, on the client's behalf. In his book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge Edward Osborne Wilson defines consilience as "the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor."

Bradley, who was a practicing financial advisor for more than 20 years, says that this type of collaboration is especially important if the client is experiencing a major financial transition--divorce, inheritance, financial windfall, etc. According to Bradley, who trains advisors and allied professionals in the art of managing client's "sudden money" events and life transitions, in these types of situations, the client is transitioning from a familiar routine to a "new normal." It is not business as usual and the client needs a team of trusted advisors who not only understand the ramifications of this type of change but can also help the client navigate through it.

This model requires a greater level of commitment on the part of the professionals, both to undertake the due diligence necessary to identify "good fit" alliance partners and to engage in effective collaboration with them. When it works, the result is true synergy.

While this is the ideal, there may be professionals whose concern is "what happens if it doesn't work; if one's client isn't well-served by the other professionals, or worse yet is hurt by them."

"The fact is, successful collaboration requires both attention and intention," Bradley said. "It's essential to have a good match with another professional, to identify people who share your values and your sense of client service and care. This may take some time and several conversations to ascertain whether there really is a match."

Bradley said that these initial conversations should be done as part of a structured discovery process. "You're learning more about them and you're also telling them what your unique abilities are, what kind of clients you work well with, what your staff is like, what your capabilities are, etc.," she said.

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