Let’s face it. If you don’t have a living, breathing, reasonably healthy person to talk to, you don’t really have a shot at making it in this business. But, LIMRA tells us that there are plenty of prospects out there. In fact, 63% of people have never had a life insurance agent, yet 60% say they would prefer to buy from someone they meet in person. Our job is to get in front of those people.

You can have a great selling system, great products and the greatest sales ideas, but without a prospect you don’t have a business. So our business boils down to our ability to prospect and market ourselves to the community. With that premise, let’s look at 10 basic principles of marketing and prospecting for life insurance agents. But first, let’s make sure we all understand the true meaning of marketing, prospecting, and selling:

Marketing is the process of attracting people to you, your services and your products.

Prospecting is generating a flow of names for you to contact.

Selling is getting someone to say yes.

Selling isn’t the problem in most cases. It is our experience that if you put an agent in front of a qualified prospect, at least half of the time that agent will make a sale. The challenge is getting in front of qualified prospects. And the way you do that is through marketing and prospecting. Here are five marketing and five prospecting principles to consider to bring you closer to the sale:

Marketing

1. Branding — You are constantly building your own brand in the community whether you know it or not. So don’t let your brand happen by accident. Build a specific action plan to market your business. It should be the backbone of your business plan with these sections:

Your vision for your business — What do you want your business to look like from all different perspectives? What do you want other people to say about your business? For example, your vision might be: “ABC Financial is recognized as a leading financial services agency in the Birmingham Metro Area in terms of professionalism, customer satisfaction, and life insurance sales.”

Business Analysis — This is a basic SWOT analysis. What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and outside threats? You need to ask yourself these questions and know the honest answers.

Target market — What is your target market or markets? A market is a group of people with similarities who communicate with each other regularly. What are the markets you like to work in? What people do you like to do business with? Where do you have a connection? Where do you have experience? What is the right target market for you? I was an engineer before becoming an agent. I thought engineers would be a great market. Then I found out the hard way that I don’t like selling life insurance to engineers. So that’s not a target market for me.

Marketing and Promotional Activities –What will you do to promote yourself in the community and in the target market you have chosen? Ideas abound: sponsor children’s sports teams, conduct seminars, or hold a “kids’ day” in conjunction with others.

The last might include photo-taking, fingerprinting and other fun stuff for the kids, plus financial info on college funding for mom and dad (be sure there’s an info card to fill out with a place for their e-mail address). And don’t forget: Create a Web site for your business. In today’s world you must have a presence on the Web to be successful.

Budgeting and expectations — Nothing’s free. Decide how much you can spend on a regular basis to build your business. That’s what we’re talking about here: building your business. Marketing isn’t optional for a successful business; it’s a requirement.

2. Educate yourself — Bob Krumroy has written several outstanding books with great, specific ideas on marketing. Read them all. Go to any of the online book stores and search “marketing” and you’ll find a huge assortment of marketing books, any one of which will give you excellent ideas.

3. Word of mouth marketing — Networking is what many people call it. This also fits in the prospecting category. It is a method for gathering names, but it’s also a way for you to be more visible in your community. In the past we even called it “social mobility.”

If you are not involved with several groups where you can meet people, you are making it hard on yourself. Join your local Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Lions Club, Optimists, Toastmasters, the local historical association, committees at church, or any other groups you have a genuine interest in. Then start meeting people.

They will ask what you do; your job is to be ready to tell them in a short concise fashion that you help people as a resource in financial matters. Or, tell them you’re a life insurance agent and be proud of our industry. The objective is to get their name and contact information, permission to call, and then get back to the reason you’re at the meeting in the first place. You’re not going to make the sale at that club meeting so just concentrate on gathering names to contact later. Network all the time.

4. Signage — Take advantage of any of your company’s programs for obtaining signs. How many billboards do you see with the photograph of a local agent on them? Are you promoting yourself in your community even with a sign in front of your office? Should you be? How about the little things? Do you have pens, calendars, stress balls, coffee mugs, clocks, desk paraphernalia, and anything else you can give away that has your business’ name on it? If not, you should. People love gifts of any kind.

5. Constant and Consistent Marketing — Never stop marketing yourself and your business. Marketing activities should be part of what you do each and every week. Your marketing plan should make it automatic so you don’t even think about it. As one great company who has a super marketing plan says… Just what? Just do it! Marketing works!

Prospecting

Remember, prospecting is generating name flow. It’s gathering names of potential suspects, someone who is not even a qualified prospect yet. It doesn’t matter whether or not you know the person. You just want to get as many names as you can with contact information and if possible an introduction of some kind.

1. Make it a habit — Prospecting is either a habit or a problem but it’s never both. Make prospecting a daily habit. Just like marketing, you never stop prospecting. So make it automatic: By scheduling marketing into your daily calendar and using systems to make it automatic, you’ll make it a habit — and it won’t ever be a problem.

2. Referred Leads — For years, we’ve all said referrals are the lifeblood of our industry. True. In fact, a referral with an introduction (a “power referral”) is still the best thing in the world for any agent to receive. And in today’s world of ‘do not call’ and technology, it’s almost a requirement to get that introduction if you expect that referral to go anywhere.

How do you get that introduction? You ask for it. The specific words to use vary depending on the person you’re talking to. In my opinion just say: “Ms. Prospect, who are five people you know who are open-minded to new ideas, just like you? If they were standing in this room or if we were walking down the street together and we bumped into them, would you introduce me to them? Thanks. Would you please introduce me to them now?”

Then either ask them to call right then, or maybe sign a note that you have already printed that you can mail to prospects telling them you’re going to call.

The list method also works well. You go see Mr. Prospect and you have a list of 10 people in his company that you present to him and tell him you’re planning to call all of them in the next week. “Is there anyone on this list that I should remove?” and go from there to ask for an introduction.

3. Educate yourself — Bill Bachrach, Bob Burg, Bill Cates, and others have all written great books about prospecting in one way or another. Read them. Remember, you are the person you are today because of the books you read, the people you meet, and the educational experiences you participate in.

4. Electronics — Today we are all connected with electronics in some way. E-mail is the way to communicate, followed closely by text messaging and cell phones. Use this to your advantage. I will reply to an e-mail 10 times faster than I will reply to a voice mail.

Why not find a system that will take your address book of e-mail addresses and start a campaign that will keep your name and ideas in front of those people on a regular basis? What if that system sent holiday and birthday greetings for you? What if it did it all automatically? The systems exist to do this for you. Find one you like, subscribe to it and use it regularly. It will generate name flow for you weekly.

5. Seminar Prospecting — Seminars don’t require many people to be successful. Some of the most successful seminars include groups of five to 10 people. Others work great with 25 to 50 people. The key is conducting seminars on a regular basis. Whatever venue into which have an entr?e to, use it.

Maybe you have a contact in a big business and you can do seminars for the employees at lunch. Maybe you have a contact at a local high school and you can do seminars for the parents on college funding, raising financially responsible children, or general retirement concepts.

Many people will come to your seminar who won’t meet with you face to face. The seminar gives them a chance to “get to know you, and the seminar gives you a chance to position yourself as an expert. If I were back in the field today I would prospect this way every chance I got.

The most important part of your business is creating systems to make sure you have a constant supply of people to contact and that your systems generate more than enough qualified prospects for you to see. Remember, 60% of people LIMRA studied said they would prefer to buy from someone they meet face to face. And 63% have never had an agent.

Chances are good that the qualified prospects are not going to call you. But you know what to do to see them on a favorable basis. It’s all up to you. Plan your work and work that plan and you can’t help but be successful!

R. Morris Sims, CLU, ChFC, is vice president and chief learning officer, agency, at New York Life Insurance Co., New York. You may e-mail him at .