You will  never get a single referral from a CPA by acting pathetic!

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There’s nothing I hate worse than when I see a financial advisor chase around a CPA or estate attorney, only to get taken, referring their clients to them with zero reciprocity. Kirk Chisholm is the principal of Innovative Advisory Group and he’s here to talk with us about how to be successful getting referrals from CPAs and other centers of influence.

For those of you who are new to my blog, my name is Sara. I am a CFA® charterholder and financial advisor marketing consultant. I have a newsletter in which I talk about financial advisor lead generation topics which is best described as “fun and irreverent.” 

Sara Grillo, CFA is a highly fun and slightly crazy marketing consultant based in NYC.
I am an irreverent and fun marketing consultant for financial advisors.

It’s pathetic

It is painful seeing the desperate things advisors do trying to get CPAs to send them business

  • Taking them to coffee
  • Taking them to lunch
  • Offering them referrals
  • Offering to share fees

Seeing this drives me NUTS.

Kirk says he did this for about 17 years and to no avail, then he wised up.

Things got better once he learned a few things.

Lack of differentiation

Look at the CPA’s life. They get 5-10 solicitations a week from financial advisors who all sound the same. Although you think you are unique, the CPA can’t really tell the difference between you and someone else. You really have to present yourself as completely different if you want a CPA to give you a referral.

Treat them like a hero

Kirk says you have to treat the CPA like a hero and guide them along their journey and make their life better. Financial plans and financial products won’t cut it. It has to be about THEM not about YOU.

The CPA’s life is a complete disaster.

  • They have 600 to 1000 clients (sometimes more); this is the workload for one CPA. You are trying to jam all of the work for those clients into a 2-3 month window.
  • They have to retain staff all year when they only have three months of work.
  • They are a commodity. 
  • They get paid squat.
  • Clients don’t appreciate them. People only do their taxes because they don’t want to go to jail. You’d be hard pressed to name somebody who is wildly enthralled with their CPA. They don’t have sticky, local clients.

Think about if you could switch that around. What if you could teach them how to get paid two to ten times as much? What if you could help them get rid of half their clients, but get paid more? Kirk says that often the CPA’s client needs more, but the CPA doesn’t lead the conversation the right way to get them to open up to it. If you want to get a referral from a CPA you have to lead the discussion in a way that allows you to gain understanding, have empathy, and be a teammate to them in this uphill battle they are fighting.

The right question to focus on

Kirk says that financial advisors and CPAs make the mistake of assuming that the client cares about their core work as a provider (financial performance, better plans, tax returns). In reality, Kirk says, what they really care about is the question of whether or not you are going to make their lives better and all of the issues surrounding the core work that you do.

Example: “My kid is going off to college and I am really struggling with that.”

Kirk says the big question to teach CPAs to ask their clients is: “How can I make your life better?” It’s about empathy. People want to be understood, and they want to be led. There are no leaders in our society anywhere. We’re drowning in data, information, and junk.

Repeat after me: CPA’s don’t want to share fees with you!

Kirk says it is futile to try to share fees with a CPA, although many advisors keep trying. He says that he has proposed this to numerous CPAs he works with and they have all refused because it is too much work to go get a Series 65 license. This will fall on deaf ears unless you really work closely with the CPA.

If a CPA is going to give you a referral, let it be that. Let it be that they trust you with their clients because you have shown to them that you are a person who is worthy of that alone. They shouldn’t have to be enticed to do so by the allure of fees, and even to suggest so is insulting to many of them.


Here’s a crazy idea.

Make an effort to understand their business by subscribing to their email newsletter and commenting back to them after you read it.

What if they don’t have an email newsletter?

Teach them how to start one!

In either case you are adding value and showing you aren’t just a slick stock broker with a sales pitch.

Be a giver – don’t just talk about how generous you are. Actually BE generous!

But what the CPA is screwing up?

Question from a subscriber:

How to handle lawyers and CPAs who are screwing up with their clients. We are never supposed to argue with attorneys or CPAs, yet many are giving awful advice. How to handle this without alienating COIs?

The risk here is that if you contradict the attorney or CPA, you are undermining the client’s judgement (rightly or wrongly) because they chose that person.

My advice would be to frame it as curiosity rather than criticism. Phrase your objections in as reflective a way as possible.


Usually I see it as the standard deduction in cases like this. (pause, smile) I’d appreciate learning more about why you elected to itemize and what you see as the benefits of doing it this way.

It’s more about how you say it than what you actually say:

  • Humble
  • Reflective
  • Intending to clarify not criticize
  • Positive

Sara’s upshot on getting referrals from CPAs

Are you ready to go hunt down some CPA referrals?

Learn what to say to prospects on social media messenger apps without sounding like a washing machine salesperson. This e-book contains 47 financial advisor LinkedIn messages, sequences, and scripts, and they are all two sentences or less.

This is a book about financial advisor LinkedIn messages which contains scripts you can use to get new prospects.

You could also consider this LinkedIn training program which teaches financial advisors how to get new clients and leads from LinkedIn.

The Sara Grillo membership is a social media program for financial advisors - but only the cool ones.

Thanks for reading. If you are a financial advisor reading this, I hope you’ll at least join my weekly newsletter about financial advisor lead generation.

See you in the next one!

-Sara G


Grillo Investment Management, LLC does not guarantee any specific level of performance, the success of any strategy that Grillo Investment Management, LLC may use, or the success of any program. Nothing in these materials may be construed as an investment, insurance, or financial recommendation. For such a recommendation, consult with a financial advisor.

Grillo Investment Management, LLC will strive to maintain current information however it may become out of date. Grillo Investment Management, LLC is under no obligation to advise users of subsequent changes to statements or information contained herein. This information is general in nature; for specific advice applicable to your current situation please contact a consultant or advisor. Opinions stated by third parties may not be correct and do not reflect the views of Grillo Investment Management, LLC. Grillo Investment Management, LLC may not be held accountable for any statements made by third parties.

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