Q. I need to increase the number of leads and create a better quality of leads to help my closing ratio and productivity. Can you provide advice to help achieve this?

A. A LIMRA survey of successful agents indicated that two of the best ways to generate quality leads are by (1) developing centers of influence (COI) and (2) getting referrals.

For some helpful techniques, I asked Michael Beck, of Exceptional Leadership, an insurance and advisor coach, and David Frey, president of www.MarketingBestPractices.com and the author of the “Small Business Marketing Bible,” to share their expertise. Here are some of the sales ideas I learned. Michael emphasized that it is definitely worth taking the time to generate quality referrals. Referrals are easier to close, make their buying decision faster, are more profitable because there’s no cost in acquiring them and are more loyal. However, four key factors need to be in place.

Key #1: Work With Enough Referral Sources — Most referral-hungry professionals work with too few referrals sources or “centers of influence.” Whenever Michael does a workshop and asks attendees how many COIs they have, the typical answers range from three to six. That’s not enough to produce a meaningful, steady stream of referrals. You need 12 “core” COIs and about 100 potential COIs. He defined a center of influence as a person who sees or know a lot of people, must like you, and is willing to help you succeed. Those core COI people are the ones you’ll take to lunch regularly. Two ways to increase your COI’s are to attend networking events and to ask your current core COI’s for suggestions.

Key #2: Have A Referral “System” — You need regular contact with your COI’s. This may be in the form of lunches, cards, emails, voicemails or letters. Ask clients for referrals on a regular basis. A powerful phrase is “I’m trying to expand my practice and I need your help. Will you please help me?”

Key #3: Differentiate Yourself — Stop using a “vanilla” message. Develop a message that sets you apart from everyone else out there and gives people a reason to remember you.

Key #4: Create A Relationship “Bank Account” — To create a reliable referral stream, you need to make “deposits” into the relationship (emotional) bank account of each of your referral sources. Take the time to get to know them, find ways to add to the relationship and to create a favorable impression. David also suggests implementing what he calls the Referral Lunch System. Make a list of the top 100 most influential people with whom you want to establish or deepen your relationship and send them a “let’s do lunch” card once a month. Send it to them every month for 12 months or until they agree to meet you for lunch.

Margie Barrie is a principal at Hagelman Barrie Sales Training Solutions. Responses and questions can be sent to feedback@seniormarketadvisor.com.