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Elise Torske

Episode 33: How to Use Centers of Influence (COIs) to Build Client Relationships, with Elise Torske

Elise Torske is the Marketing Manager and Strategic Partnership Director for Centennial Wealth Management, a private wealth advisory team at Ameriprise Financial Services. She started off as an Administrative Assistant at her firm 8.5 years ago and over the years created a position for a marketing role. Currently, she’s in the midst of a major shift in processes of client acquisition and retention, moving from the outdated “dinner seminar” era that worked for advisors 10-20 years ago to creating a digital footprint and segmenting their book of business to replicate their ideal clients.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How Elise created a position for herself within her company when she saw a need
  • What to do when you realize what your strengths are
  • Why dinner seminars aren’t practical anymore and what has replaced them that is more successful
  • An example of how to use relationship building to communicate with and draw in clients
  • Elise’s process of “dating” her clients
  • What center of influence is (COI) and how Elise uses this concept in her business
  • Using COI to build relationships with clients and making sure their needs are met beyond the scope of what a financial planner can offer
  • How Elise ensures all clients are referred to quality professionals
  • The process for updating clients’ financial plans annually
  • How often to meet with advisers to ensure they stay knowledgeable
  • A system to keep track of progress and keep people accountable
  • A process to effectively reach out to people and gain new referrals
  • How to make sure clients and referrals actually make contact
  • How the use of spreadsheets can simplify and streamline systems
  • The importance of quality teamwork and how to play to everyone’s strengths on a team
  • How to get people to change and wrap their minds around doing things differently
  • The effectiveness of properly implemented systems
  • The importance of delegating to make things happen

Ways to contact Elise:

Podcast eBooks:

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In Episode 25, Vera talks with Heidi Rasmussen, CEO and Co-Founder of one of Inc 5000’s fastest growing companies in America – freshbenies. This eBook highlights part of the conversation to bring out the best lesson in automation and on-boarding for startups.”


Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here we’ll solve your physically, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business. And providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results.

Now, here’s your host Vera Fischer.

Vera Fischer: Today’s episode is sponsored by 97 Degrees West, the brand marketing agency, located in Austin, Texas. 97 Degrees West serves regional and national companies in the healthcare, finance, energy, and manufacturing industries.

97 Degrees West believes that an integrated approach to marketing that involves traditional and digital strategies that fit your customer’s buying journey yields the greatest impact on your bottom line. Go to www.97DWest.com to learn more.

Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. All businesses, no matter the size, relies on systems.

Some of these are physical systems such as a factory, some are technological like project management software, while other are psychological systems such as checklists and organizational charts. Many of these systems will overlap in your business.

Today’s guest, Elise Torske is the Marketing Manager and Strategic Partnership Director of Centennial Wealth Management.

A little bit about Elise in her role as the Marketing Manager and Strategic Partnership Director. Well, Centennial Wealth Management is a private wealth advisory team at Ameriprise Financial Services. Elise started as an administrative assistant at her firm about eight and a half years ago and over the years she actually created a position for the marketing role.

Currently she’s in the midst of a major shift in processes, of client acquisition and retention, moving from outdated quote dinner seminar end quote era that worked for advisors 10 to 20 years ago, to creating a digital footprint and segmenting our book of business to replicate our ideal clients. I’m very excited.

Welcome to System Execution, Elise.

Elise Torske: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

More on Elise’s Background

Vera Fischer: Well, Elise, we really are excited to have you on the show. I’m excited to learn about the system that you want to focus on today. But before we get started, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit more about you and your experience?

Elise Torske: Awesome. So, I started with the firm about eight and a half years ago. I had come from a position in the medical field actually, I was developing X-rays for a radiology company. I was also an EMT at the time, and was really looking for a change.

Someplace that I could actually see myself grow in a company and have the potential to be more than an employee that occasionally got talked to once a year and actually give what my talents were to a company and help them grow as a company as well.

So I started off as an administrative assistant. They had given me tasks such as event planning and kind of found out throughout the first couple years of my employment that my attention to detail was a very, very good quality of mine. I’m somehow able, I feel like I’m a very awkward person, yet I connect with people very well.

So over time as we grew as a company they were able to hire more administrative assistants, and gave me the free reign to come to them with suggestions on what I could do to particularly focus on getting referrals into the company. Not just from our clients, but from our centers of influence as well. And that’s what got me here today.

The “Old Fashioned Way” of Doing Business

Vera Fischer: I love that story Elise, it’s fantastic. And it’s very difficult to create a role for yourself where there wasn’t one before. But one thing about your bio that’s intriguing that I’d love to hear a little bit more about, is that you referenced this old way of doing things, which was a dinner event way of doing things.

Give me some information about that.

Elise Torske: So, 20 years ago, even up to 10 years ago and right when I got hired to start with this company, people, especially financial advisors, were doing dinner seminars. I’m sure you’ve gotten, or people have gotten, direct mail invitations for these things that say, “Hey, come on out to dinner. We’re going to teach you why a Roth IRA is important. Or we’ll teach you about why having an annuity is a good option to add to your portfolio.”

But we found more and more, especially in the last couple of years, that people’s lives are busy. I’m a mom, I have two young kids, and you’re going to have to offer me more than a free dinner in order to get me to get a babysitter. We have two branches I guess that we look at expanding our client base. One of them is the COIs which I referenced earlier, and then the other one is focusing specifically on that top segment of clients that are in our book of business that we want to replicate.

For example, we have a client that absolutely loves to golf. You will find him on the golf course every weekend. You’re not going to pull him away from his life during the week to get him to come out to dinner with buddies of his.

But say I hire a professional golfer to meet with him and two of his buddies that he works with and one of my advisors for an hour. Teach him some strokes, how to better their golf swing or their golf game, and then actually shoot or I guess putt a round of golf with them.

That’s going to be an experience that the client is going to want to get out of the house for, that the client’s going to want to bring their friends and family and our prospective clients to.

So really focusing on doing personalized events towards these ideal clients. Hobbies, their interests, what they like to do. That’s what’s going to get them out of the house, to get them to get that babysitter if they need to, or rearrange their schedules.

Vera Fischer: Well, Elise, that’s awesome because that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that idea of for those prospective clients that love to golf and then hiring a professional golfer for a one hour lesson. That’s pretty cool.

Elise Torske: Oh, awesome. This part of my job really excites me. I tell people frequently when they ask what I do, what my job entails, I tell them I date our clients, essentially. I find out what they like to do, what their interests are. If there’s a special event of theirs coming up or a life milestone, that’s something that I’m looking into to create that wow factor for them.

We have a client of ours who runs a fan club for the Washington Nationals at her retirement home. She’s a big Nationals fan. And she had a big birthday coming up, and obviously these are people that have money, people that have spent their lives saving, investing, and responsibly preparing for their future, but I wanted to get her something for her birthday that she wouldn’t typically get herself.

So I ended up getting her an autographed jersey of her favorite player on the Nationals team. This got us, we received a letter, a handwritten letter back from her with a play by play of the game, a picture of her wearing her jersey at the Nationals’ stadium, and you could tell it really, really meant a lot to her.

So it’s not just the event planning then, it’s the personal touch in their personal lives. To reach out when it’s not time for their service meeting. When you’re not trying to say, “Oh hey, something’s going on with the market, we want to touch base with you.” This is just a just because we appreciate you and this is something that we thought you would like.

The COI Relationship Building System

Vera Fischer: So that is a great segue into what I believe is the system that you want to talk about. And I’m excited Elise, because we haven’t had a guest that has spoken about this particular system.

So I know our listeners are going to be really excited to hear about it. But you had mentioned that the system that you are really, really good is what you call COI relationship building. So let’s start there, and tell us a little bit about what COI means.

Elise Torske: So COI is short for centers of influence. Obviously in my field we are financial planners. We are not the people that are stock traders, we’re not going to be taking calls all day long about this stock or that stock. We’re helping you plan out your financial future whether you’re 20, you’re 30, or you’re 60, we’re helping you plan this out. And the approach we take to financial planning is a collaborative approach.

So we’re making sure that we’re looking at things that are huge aspects of your financial life that we might not necessarily see every day. So we’re looking outside of your accounts with us here, we’re looking at your 401k that’s held at your place of employment, making sure that’s rebalanced and within your risk tolerance. We’re making sure that your wills and your power of attorneys are updated. That you’re happy with your accountant.

Say there’s, you’re a little rocky in your marriage, you guys want to talk to a certified divorce financial analyst, which is somebody who does financial planning but for the sake of a divorce, to see how things would work out for both parties in the long run.

So we realize that we are not professionals in each and every one of these areas. We are professionals in financial planning, but legally we can’t give you advice on your will or on any of the laws, on tax laws.

So for me it was important to make sure that we were building relationships in each and every one of these areas that we look at for our clients to make sure that we were able to refer our clients to people that were not only professionals in the area but that we knew would take care of our clients to the same standard and level that we do.

So relationship building with these COIs is imperative for us to make sure that our clients are taken care of, but it’ll also help to build a referable relationship back and forth.

How to Grow Referrals Using the COI Relationship Building System

Vera Fischer: So this center of influence relationship building system, is this something that you created within your organization?

Elise Torske: The process as a whole, I would imagine a lot of professionals work on relationship building with other professionals in other areas or other fields. But so far as within my practice and my company, this is definitely something that I have taken on as my project and as my baby essentially. To make sure that we’re nurturing this and that we are able to get this program going. This is something that I’ve really made sure that I have started to focus on this year.

Vera Fischer: So how do you educate everyone in your company about this particular COI relationship building program?

Elise Torske: When we are going through a client’s financial plan, we are updating this once a year for them. Reassessing their goals, account balances, whether they’re short term or long term goals. We’re reviewing all of this annually with our clients.

And as a part of that they are checking all of these areas that I mentioned earlier. The estate planning, the taxes, life insurance, health insurance, all of this, they’re evaluating it all.

So for me to provide the advisors that are meeting with these clients with a list of people that they we have a relationship with that they are able to refer these people to, is imperative. The advisors don’t have much to do when it comes with building the relationships. That’s really on me and one of the advisors that I bring with me when we are meeting people and trying to build and nurture these relationships with the COIs.

But educating the advisors on who we are referring our clients out to, I will meet with the advisors once a quarter. I will give them an update on potential relationships that I am working on and make sure that they are knowledgeable of the lawyers or the agents that we have partnered up with in the last couple of months. So they’re aware and they are able to then refer our clients to somebody that we know and trust.

How to Keep Advisors Accountable to the System

Vera Fischer: So how do you keep all of those folks within the organization accountable to this?

Elise Torske: I have created, I just created a marketing meeting packet insert. We are, obviously everybody’s trying to move away from paper anything. Everybody’s pushing digital. But for me I’ve noticed that some things are a lot more effective when they’re in paper.

So in order to keep the advisors top of mind on things like referrals, be it a professional referral or a client referral, having something in front of them in their meeting packets for each client meeting, especially these planning meetings, is something that I’ve found to help me hold them accountable.

So I’m keeping track of weekly who they are seeing and then who I need to get information back from them on. So if they’ve met with John Smith, I’m saying, “Okay, well did you refer John Smith to A, B, or C? If you did, then I am then logging that to make sure that the referral has gone through in the appropriate way, just so I am aware.

And then I can bring that up with the COI when I meet with them every quarter. Every quarter I’m holding a meeting with all of these professionals that we are working with to follow up on the referrals that we’ve sent them. To follow up on any referrals that they’ve sent us. To make sure that everyone is calling everybody and getting the work done that they need to get done, but also make sure that that’s going to be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Vera Fischer: Okay, this is so cool. Because just the whole idea that you have and this process you have for referrals is just amazing. I have never heard anybody be so systematic about it. So I bet you’re getting incredible results.

Elise Torske: We are. And the fact that this is something that we have completely revamped starting the beginning of this year, I can say that we haven’t seen the snowball effect yet, but we are starting to see results. And there is nothing more encouraging than seeing results come from your hard work.

So it’s very exciting to me to think about where we’ll be at the end of this year and even at the end of next year once everything has had a chance to grow and we’ve been able to nurture these relationships. We’ll know that our clients are taken care of and that we’re also getting to get in front of COIs referrals as well. So it’s really exciting. It’s really exciting what’s happening.

How the System was Created

Vera Fischer: Well let’s dive a little bit further so that we can all really understand the nuts and bolts of how you figured this system out. So what the first thing that you had to do to start systematizing this advantage? So that you’re not making mistakes?

Elise Torske: That’s a very good question. The first thing I did was I initially was like, “Okay, well I’m going to use LinkedIn.” I love LinkedIn. I found though that it was a little harder for me to connect with people on LinkedIn for the sole purpose of getting together to talk to see if this would even be an opportunity that this other professional would be interested in.

So I bought a list. I just bought a list of professionals in the area. And went through and we just started calling them. We’re like, “Hey, we’re looking at doing some business. We need somebody in your area that we can trust with our clients. Would you be willing to get together to have coffee with us?”

All of this is obviously tracked in my massive spreadsheet of reaching out to people. And we’ve actually gotten a lot better results that way. These people are within say 25 miles of our office, so it’s a very short, short radius. We figure people come to Columbia, we don’t want to be referring them out to somebody that’s 60 miles away.

So staying on top of trying to build new relationships and reaching out to new people has been very important in making sure that we are able to keep this process rolling.

Naturally you’re going to have people who may have the best intentions but they’re not willing to or able to work it into their meeting or their meeting process with their clients to say, “Hey, I have this firm that I work with that I refer my clients to if they have any questions in regards to being prepared for retirement, or in taking your in-service distributions,” things like that.

As long as these COIs are able to build that into their script with their meetings with their clients like we have with ours, then it’s going to work.

So we’ve had a couple of hiccups with trying to train our COIs on how we would like them to talk to their clients. Because if you have a client and you say, “Hey, I would really like for you to get your will updated. This is something that you really need to have done. You haven’t done it in 15 years.”

You give the client the opportunity to call the referral, so you’re maybe treating them with baby gloves or baby gloves, however the saying goes. But it doesn’t always work. The clients will have the best intentions but they don’t always follow through.

So having it come from the expectation that, “I work with this company or this firm or this attorney, is it okay if I have them give you a call?” That is not only going to assure that the client will make contact because you’re putting the ball in the court of your COI, it is making sure that you’re having the most accurate information as well as you’re in the process of updating their financial plan, because you can be assured that the contact is made.

The Best Part of the System

Vera Fischer: Okay, that’s really cool. So tell me the one part of this entire process that you’re just so pleased and proud of.

Elise Torske: Wow. I’m impressed with how our team has been able to come together on this. And I’ll elaborate on that a little bit here. As a part of a larger firm we are actually in the top 10% producing firms for Ameriprise Financial as a team practice. We have 12 people on staff, eight of them are licensed advisors and four are support staff.

With that being said, everybody has the one thing that they are the best at. For me to have the opportunity to show them that I am the best at this area and then have them all come together and be willing to work with me on the social media, or on the networking with the COIs, it’s very encouraging and it’s very good for team building as well.

To have everybody be able to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses and then form together as a team to do better by the team and to do best by the team practice as a whole. The teamwork has been admirable and the camaraderie’s great.

Any Downfalls to the System

Vera Fischer: So let’s flip that. So let’s hear what you think were the most not necessarily difficult, but literally some things that failed, and why they failed.

Elise Torske: Some of these processes have been a year and a half in the making, in the works. The segmentation of our book of business being one of them. And part of it I think is the fact that the advisors that I work for have been in the business for 20 years.

When they started their businesses they grew them based on these marketing events, on the dinner seminars. They weren’t really growing organically, they weren’t focusing on replicating their ideal client. So the fact that I am now here and I’m saying, “Hey guys, we need to focus on this, this, and this because this is what’s going to work,” it has been a little bit of a struggle only to get them to change the way they think about things and get their minds wrapped around doing something differently.

While it’s encouraging in and of itself, the fact that we are able to get new clients now from doing these smaller events and networking with other professionals, it’s good for me too to have that behind me.

I guess whenever they look at the client acquisitions, say, “Ah, maybe she does know what she’s doing. Maybe this is a good step.” Two of my advisors don’t even have Facebook, so it’s hard to get them to understand things like that. But the willingness to learn has been very, very heartwarming to see this year.

Vera Fischer: Well Elise, I think the challenge that you face in getting that level of involvement for folks that have been in that particular field for a while, I think that’s a challenge that spans a lot of different industries. It sounds like you’ve handled it, but it did take some time to get them on board.

Elise Torske: It does, but so long as things keep progressing and our practice keeps going, I think I’ll be alright.

How Elise Continues to Improve the COI Relationship Building System

Vera Fischer: Excellent. So from an implementation perspective how do you, like you said earlier it took about a year and a half as you’ve been evolving this whole process and this on the center of influence targets, so how do you continue to measure this system to make improvements?

Elise Torske: We are big believers in spreadsheets. I have a spreadsheet that one will track the center of influence professionals that I am in contact with. The other one will track client referrals. This will also include referrals that we get from these other professionals. And I’m able to reach out to them as needed. I have a specific column that has the next contact date.

So I’m making sure I’m always staying on top of contacting these people when they expect it. That’s something that I think two people mentioned to me within the last week or two, they’re like, “You are really on top of meeting with me, and I really appreciate that. That’s something that doesn’t come naturally to people.”

And while I believe that, I also believe that even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, if you have a system or a spreadsheet or whatever works for you in place, you are going to be successful, you are going to get those relationships, and you’re going to get those referrals.

The Next Challenges for Elise’s Business

Vera Fischer: That’s great advice, absolutely great advice. So as we’re wrapping up our discussion, we’d love to talk to you about what’s your next challenge for your business?

Elise Torske: My next challenge. I have a personal goal for myself. That goal would be to get 50 new clients in the door within the next calendar year. So while I have that goal for myself, the goal for the practice is to be to reach our GDC goal. I work for a great company.

The guys that I work for, one of them I’ve known for longer than I can ever remember, if we’re able to meet a particular goal by the end of the year in revenue, they take us and our significant others or our plus one away on a vacation for four days and three nights. So that is absolutely at the top of my goal list for next year.

Vera Fischer: That’s a great goal. I love that goal.

Elise Torske: It is.

Vera Fischer: Do they tell you where you would get to go on vacation?

Elise Torske: Yes. So the last time we made goal we ended up going to Punta Cana, so my husband and I got a free vacation just for us doing our jobs really well and working as a team to get new clients, to grow the assets that we have. And it’s a really great goal. People are motivated for that free vacation.

Vera Fischer: Absolutely. Everybody wants that experience, without a doubt.

Elise Torske: Absolutely.

Why You Need to Keep Building Your Centers of Influence

Vera Fischer: So Elise, you’ve shown us again that processes are absolutely needed to get the work done. And you’ve provided an incredible system that our listeners really needed to hear regarding the execution of a successful, in your vernacular, COI referral system.

So before we go, let’s close out today’s discussion with any final advice you want to share. And then tell us the best way that our listeners can connect with you.

Elise Torske: You can connect with me on LinkedIn. You can find me at Elise Torske. You can also reach me by email at elise.e.torske@ampf.com.

And so if you’re looking to grow your practice, if it’s something that you don’t feel as though you have the time to put into, pick a staff member that has either the attention to detail or that has the charisma to meet with new people, new clients, new centers of influences. Empower them, support them, and you would be amazed by what’s going to happen with your business and your practice afterwards.

Vera Fischer: Well, System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took or how often you re-listen to this episode, the key is every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Elise, thank you so much for sharing your expertise and insight to our listeners today.

Elise Torske: Thank you for having me.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution enlightening. For free examples, case studies, e-books, and more, be sure to visit systemexecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at vera@systemexecution.com.

Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.




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