Upon my return from the recent NAIFA conference in Washington, I couldn’t help but reflect on the dilemma faced by the agents I saw there, remembering them as they wafted through the sea of booths collecting trinkets and printed materials and hearing praise for the litany of the best products to hit the marketplace.

It started me thinking, as an advisor, how would I ever make an informed decision as to which one of these organizations I should affiliate with? Information overload at it’s best. What should a marketing organization look like in a perfect world? What should it be doing for the brokers who have entrusted their clients and livelihoods to them? I reference here not only the seasoned producers who have finally “arrived” after many years, but also the new generation of young producers who are coming into the independent agent production channel for the first time.

You should not jump at the first organization that gives you 100 free leads or offers you the highest commission, nor should you need more than one marketing organization to assist you. A good marketing organization should cover 100% of your business needs–life insurance, annuities, disability, long term care, premium financing, advanced markets, life settlements, case design, a multitude of competent insurance carriers and even a medical director–all housed for you in a “one-stop shop.”

You must regularly take the temperature around yourself. Do you have a system of checks and balances in place to allow you to measure your professional progress and effectiveness? Has your business increased? Or have you flat lined and become stagnant?

In today’s rapidly evolving market, you can easily be overrun unless your marketing organization empowers you to grow and build your business. Here’s what to look for:

Service and support

What does this mean to you? Have you ever called your organization to ask an important question while you’re sitting with your client only to get voicemail or be told that someone will call you right back, yet 48 hours later you are still waiting? Unacceptable, wouldn’t you agree?

How often have you received a thank you call for your business? Not often enough, I would imagine.

Are your marketing organization’s representatives proactive? Do they regularly advise you of marketplace changes before they occur? Are they keeping you abreast of this ever changing industry?

Do they over-promise and under-deliver? Do they offer advice that they can’t stand behind, or do they have a cavalier attitude–especially towards client suitability issues? Do you have to call them, or do they regularly follow up with you?

A good marketing organization should be available even after normal business hours. Do you have your contacts’ cell phone numbers? Time zone differences are no excuse for lapses in service.

Do you enjoy a strong rapport with your marketing organization? As an agent, whether you’re an independent or part of an agency, the insurance/financial industry can be a very lonely place because ultimately it will be only you and the client. You want to rely on a marketing organization that stands firmly behind you every step of the way, ready to update, guide and support you through every sale, every time.

Marketing experience and expertise

Choose an organization that has been in business for 10-plus years, with 100-plus years of collective experience in case design, estate planning, annuities, long-term care, disability and life settlements.

Do the people assisting you with your cases have actual face-to-face client experience? Are you continually learning from them or are you finding yourself teaching them?

Advanced markets

Does your marketing organization have specialists in life settlements, premium financing and other advanced market areas? Is their “Medical Director” a bona fide medical doctor who really saw patients and practiced medicine? Does the doctor provide diagnoses and treatments? Can he or she offer experienced guidance by pre-screening impaired risk cases to maximize ratings and reduce turnaround time?

Underwriting assistance

The ability to process your business from start to finish requires a wholesaler with structured departments like a mini insurance carrier: new business, licensing and contracting, commissions and supply. The wholesaler should be set up to scrub your applications and overnight them to the carriers the same day they are received. The day you have to pick up the telephone to call the insurance company yourself is the day you should reconsider putting your business in the firm’s hands.

Carriers/product lines

Carriers offer a multitude of products, and there is no doubt that variety and selection are important. But does your marketing organization know which product is right for your client–when and why? Is your wholesaler as concerned about your clients as you are, or is the company more concerned about its overrides?

Lead programs

Though almost half of agents in a recent survey said that providing leads was the number one thing a wholesaler/marketing organization can do to help them sell life insurance more successfully, I disagree. Good leads come from referrals and are self-generated from personal contact via sources such as charitable organizations, churches, synagogues, sports clubs, teams and other community organizations. Exceptional leads come from partnering with CPAs and estate planning attorneys.

Once you’ve found the organization that measures up as I’ve described, hold on for dear life because it is rare! There are hundreds of marketing organizations or wholesalers vying for your business. A little homework on your part will save you many headaches later on.

Bottom line: All that you should need to do is profile your client. A good marketing organization will put the right product in your hands, ask you for a completed application, and take care of it for you from A to Z, then return a policy to you for delivery to your client–allowing you more time for selling!

Tony Steigerwald is president and CEO of Dunhill Marketing & Insurance Services, Inc., San Diego, Calif. You can e-mail him at .