Today’s tough economy might seem like a big obstacle in your prospecting attempts. There is no doubt that, in the wake of the recent housing and financial crises, rising gas prices, and widespread job cuts, consumers across America are concerned and uncertain. You can, however, turn the current economic situation on its head by using it to give consumers a reason for purchasing supplemental coverage — and by using the Internet to help target potential clients, you can position yourself for success.

Use the economy to your advantage
In today’s challenging economic climate, many people are living paycheck to paycheck without much or any savings to provide a cushion. In the past, savings accounts frequently provided individuals or families with asset protection and financial support for lost income in the event of an illness, accident, or even death. When talking with your prospects, it’s important to let them know that many people today are actually purchasing supplemental insurance coverage because of the bad economy, not in spite of it. You can tell them that, now more than ever, consumers need the safety net that insurance policies can provide.

Internet 101
For agents prospecting in this tough economy, the Internet is an effective add-on to more traditional prospecting methods, such as referrals and networking. By using the Internet, you can help supplement these activities by obtaining information on businesses within a specific industry or geographic area you wish to target.

Agents prospecting for specific business types can use search engines such as Google and YellowPages.com to create a list of targets per region. For example, if you market your products and services to auto mechanics, construction companies, and trucking firms, it’s as simple as going to the site, typing in “auto mechanics” and the town or region, and watching a list of potential prospects pop up.

If you are new to a geographical region, chamber of commerce sites or Web pages developed by individual communities can also be used to learn more about the types of businesses clustered in the towns within your territory.

To add to what you find on the Internet, you can also build your prospect base by simply driving through the territory to collect the names of small businesses that might not advertise much. This information can easily be used to further develop your database.

It’s also a good idea to periodically revisit the Internet to update your prospect database before making a trip to your territory, as small-business locations, ownership, and employees often change and new businesses open all the time.

Building on your referral base
“Name dropping” of individuals or businesses who have already purchased insurance from an agent can help in building credibility among prospects — with a client’s permission, of course. If agents are calling on a small business such as a beauty shop, restaurant, or retailer, they can use policies sold to similar businesses to help build credibility. By reporting a fact such as, “Our insurance company represents 9 of the top 10 retailers or auto mechanics in town XYZ,” agents have a greater chance of success with prospects.

Don’t alienate prospects — keep it simple
Once you have identified businesses or individuals who are good candidates for the coverage you offer, keep breakdowns simple and easy for the prospects to digest. For example, when meeting with prospects who are considering life insurance policies, take the amount of coverage the prospect currently has or feels is sufficient, and then actually “spend” this sum for them on paper.

For example, let’s say a prospect has a $200,000 life insurance policy and a 2-year-old child and feels this amount covers their needs. Many people wish to provide support through replacement income for their children until they are 18 years old. In this example, the 2-year-old would need 16 years of protection. When it’s broken down that way, a $200,000 policy only provides $12,500 per year. Then, walk them through the necessities that amount would need to cover each year, like clothes, food, school supplies. With the significant price increases in food and consumer goods these days, and $12,500 goes fast.

While prospecting may be viewed as a “necessary evil,” it is the life blood of success in the insurance industry. By using the current economic situation to your advantage, deploying “Internet 101″ techniques to build your database, and keeping discussions with prospects simple, you will achieve a winning formula for success.

Shawn P. Barry is branch manager of Combined Insurance Company. He can be reached at shawn.barry@combined.com.