Q. I know that developing referrals and centers of influence are among the best ways to generate quality leads. Do you have some suggestions for effective ways to accomplish that?

A. Generating quality leads is a crucial part of the LTCI sales process, particularly with the situation we all face of declining leads in the senior market. For advice in this area, I turned to Barbara Franklin, a successful agent in Charleston, S.C. A networking expert, Franklin agreed to share what she calls her “Rules of Engagement.”

Rule No. 1: Don’t try to network with everybody. You develop more effective referral partners when you whittle it down to a more manageable number. I focus on quality, not quantity, and concentrate on developing a dozen referral partners to work with. Half of my business comes from centers of influence and the other half from client referrals.

Rule No. 2: Encourage your referral sources to ask their contacts for permission to have you call them. Telling referrals to call another professional doesn’t work well. So I changed the way I handle referrals. I first work with my centers of influence, building a relationship based on trust, and have them understand what I do and how I can help their clients and referrals. I suggest that they ask the individual for permission to have me place the call. So instead of telling the prospect to call me, they say, “I think Barbara Franklin is the person who can help you. We have worked together. May I have your permission to give her your phone number and have her get in touch with you?”

Rule No. 3: Contact your clients five or six times a year. I send birthday cards, a quarterly newsletter, solicitation for contributions for the Alzheimer’s Memory Walk and newspaper articles where I am pictured, quoted or had submitted a press release.

Rule No. 4: Target a group where you are very effective. I have found I am most effective with women. So I developed a plan to do something fun with the women in my database and encourage them to introduce me to their friends in a non-threatening way. I don’t like asking for names during an appointment; instead, I developed the idea of hosting a tea during their birthday month for my women clients and other women with whom I have connected. I explain that we are celebrating their birthday and ask them to bring someone who would benefit from meeting with me. I found that if I invite 15 people, usually 10 can come and they bring a friend. So I have somewhere between 15 and 20 people attending. I don’t want it bigger than that.

Franklin holds the event at a downtown Charleston hotel that is known for afternoon tea. The hotel provides a package so she knows what the event will cost.

The agenda is low key. She provides introductions, mingles and does have a few brochures at the event. Her clients feel good about attending and do bring a friend.

One of the reasons she feels that this idea will generate leads is she is targeting to baby boomers, knowing they like to be catered and wooed. In developing her marketing plan, she decided that her dollars were better spent on targeting referrals from existing clients than in spending on advertising in the print media.

Rule No. 5: Look for more centers of influence. Franklin is focusing on developing geriatric care managers as a center of influence. She plans to hold a tea for them and other professionals to enhance her networking efforts.