Is it by chance or by choice that you are finding success?

Many agents are great sales professionals but are not necessarily great marketing professionals. As a sales professional, the plan you probably follow targets how many calls you need to make each week to get in front of a certain number of clients or prospects, to ultimately place a certain amount of business to be successful and build your business.

While this is a necessity, especially early in your career, and you can do this and find success, are you building a sustainable business or just generating sales? Even as an experienced agent, are you repeating your first or second year in the business over and over again and leaving your business building up to chance?

Getting in front of the right prospect rather than just any prospect would be a better strategy. It is with the guided approach of a marketing plan that will help you navigate through what you are doing and give you a sustainable track on which to run to get in front of your ideal client.

Evolving consumer market

The evolving consumer market is dictating more and more the need for a planned approach. Consumers have changed and understanding these changes is an important first step before you embark on developing a marketing plan.

Experienced agents certainly recognize that households today differ significantly from those a few decades ago. According to Yankelovich Research, today only 24% of households consist of a married couple with children, down from 40% in 1970. Single moms and dads and people living alone also make up a greater percentage of households than a few decades ago.

Understanding a potential client’s status as a new parent, single homeowner or empty nester gives you insight to his or her potential financial needs.

Not only has household composition changed, the Internet and the ease of access to information has created a new consumer who is smarter, empowered, less trusting, less forgiving, eager to collaborate and more demanding. These are consumers who seek information, and the way the information is communicated is critical to how the information is received.

Essence of a plan: building trust

Sixty-five percent of consumers say they are bombarded with too much marketing and advertising, according to Yankleovich Research. So where does that leave your marketing plan? It gives it better direction. Having this information empowers you to align your business with the specific needs of consumers. The bottom line is these new, smart, empowered consumers need to receive information from someone they trust.

How does a marketing plan allow you to build trust with your prospects? As you develop your plan you need to think about how to best approach this consumer and how to create the right expectations. The structured process of developing a plan with these thoughts in mind helps agents get in front of clients and prospects on a favorable basis and begin the trust-building process. This is the essence of a marketing plan.

The plan: keep it simple

When creating an actionable plan to market your business, start simple. Select one marketing strategy. Include your business vision, goals, objectives, personal business analysis, customer target markets, marketing strategies and tactics, promotional plans and, of course, a budget.

One top agent I know implemented a marketing plan focusing on a fraction of his book of business. He targeted a handful of clients who fit a certain demographic, and approached them in an organized way to discuss the value of a stable, reliable income in retirement. As a result, he was able to help these clients in a new stage of their life and to achieve his business goals through this targeted market plan approach. New and established agents are finding the value of a marketing plan: They are now more efficiently successful by choice.

Execution made easy

Now, just having a marketing plan is not a silver bullet. It is an organizational tool. And just like any new tool there is the challenge of sticking with it and, ultimately, making it a habit. As a first step, translate each of the tactical steps from your marketing plan into your daily calendar to best ensure each step will happen.

A second important component to execution is keeping you accountable. Pick someone to hold you accountable. It could be your manager or mentor who agrees to keep you on track with scheduled ‘check-ins.’ It could even be a fellow agent who also has a marketing plan and you both can be that accountability ‘check’ for each other.

Finding success with a plan

You can make sales and earn a living without a marketing plan. With a plan, you can define your success by choice and build a sustainable business. Having an organized, targeted approach to your career enables you to learn and grow as a person and agent and will assist you in building a successful business.

The nature of the business of being a life insurance agent is to better prepare and help our clients plan for the uncertainties in life. We understand and educate our clients about the need to plan for the financial security for one’s family or business. We don’t want our clients taking chances with their personal or professional lives. Why should you? Take the time to develop a plan that will allow you to meet your objectives and develop a successful practice.

Fred T. DeFilippo is vice president, marketing & sales support, New York Life Insurance Co. You may e-mail him at .