Insurance agents are like any other salespeople – they want great leads that they can turn into more sales. In the old, purely offline days of 10 years ago, the best customers tended to be the ones who were serious enough to seek out help first, not wait for someone to solicit them. That usually meant customers referred from word of mouth, or walk-in business.

In today’s online world, an inbound customer means something very similar: someone has come to a search engine, found a Web site with helpful information, then filled out a form to ask to be contacted for further help.

Unfortunately for the agent, most people aren’t searching for an agent in their geographic area at first – they may just type in a generic phrase like “life insurance quote” or “life insurance rate” or even just “life insurance.” When it’s time to get down to seriously considering a policy, they may feel comfortable enough to talk with someone in a call center a thousand miles away. More likely at that point, however, they would rather talk to someone locally who they assume will be more responsive and accountable.

But how will a local agent get a customer if they’ve gone to a national site? The answer is to be buying leads from a lead service that attracts these inbound customers and has local agents in their network follow up.

The dilemma in picking a service

Many services exist to fill the need for leads, and invariably they all trumpet to agents that their leads are the best. Clearly agents want the best return on their investment, but almost always lack real data or knowledge on what the differences are in lead quality between companies. They may try a company a friend has used, but still can’t judge how their experience will compare to others. Just like buying a new stock, they struggle with the conflicting forces of fear (of potential loss) vs. greed (of potential return).

So most agents, especially ones newer to buying online leads, tend to discount the competing claims and decide which service to try based on the only difference they can see easily: Price per lead. They figure that they’re taking less risk to pay less per lead and potentially risk less money. If/when it does not work out well, they may then conclude all online lead services don’t work well, which is just not the case.

Look for quality processes

However tempting a cheap lead might be, more experienced agents (experience usually born from pain) understand that better quality rarely comes cheap. They further know the lead quality side is much more important than price. That’s because aside from caring about cost per sale, they care most about the return on their precious time. And they’re right. Wouldn’t you rather pay twice as much per lead and have just as many closes from half the leads and maybe half the time?

So here are the three major factors the smart, experienced agents have learned to look for:

1. How the leads are generated. This is the most important driver of lead quality – and best proxy for close rates aside from their peoples’ sales ability and effort. As discussed right off, inbound search leads work much better than ones obtained through soliciting,