Prospecting for new leads is one of the most important marketing duties performed by health insurance agents. Successful prospecting will generate more leads and potentially more sales.

But successful prospecting requires an effective marketing plan and knowing your target audience. That’s where segmentation comes in.

It’s not enough to say that you’re going after consumers who are looking for insurance. Successful prospecting demands that you get more specific – which consumers, and which insurance products?

Your segmentation will shape the messages you’ll be using and the marketing channels that will best reach your intended targets. For example, toy manufacturers and snack food makers often target young kids who watch children’s television shows. Yes, that’s a simplistic answer, but to effectively generate quality insurance leads for the long term, your prospecting plan must follow these same principles.

So what are these principles, and how do you apply them to selling insurance? Here’s a five-step process for preparing and launching a market segmentation plan that will help you prospect for more leads.

1. Identify your primary products

If you’re like most health insurance agents today, you probably offer dozens of health insurance plans from all the leading carriers licensed in your state. The ability to offer a variety of plans is a good thing. However, you need to find the top products that you want to sell — and that your prospects want to buy.

Take a tip from such stores as KMart and Wal-Mart. They offer a variety of brands for most of their items, but they limit their products to the ones that are most likely to sell or generate the most profit.

That last point is important: Some products may not generate much of a profit, but they can lead to more sales and greater profits. For example, many grocery stores offer discounted prices on milk and eggs. They accept a lower profit margin on these items, and maybe even a loss, because they know that shoppers who buy these items will also tend to buy other products. Similarly, a health insurance sale may lead to more life insurance signups, and closing Medicare Advantage plans may lead to selling Medicare supplement products.

The key goal of this first step is to identify which products deserve the bulk of your time. Your product selection will pave the way for the rest of your marketing and prospecting.

2. Prioritize your product selection

Once you select your primary products, take the time to prioritize them. This is an important step, because this is where you’ll apply the famous 80/20 rule: Almost 80 percent of your effort will be spent on the top 20 percent of your primary products.

More specifically, if you have five primary health insurance products, 80 percent of your time and budget will probably focus on just one of those five products. The remaining four products will have to share the remaining time and budget.

3. Segment through the benefits

For each of the primary health insurance products you’ve selected and prioritized, you’ll need to identify the specific benefits. Go beyond the old standbys of security and value, and be specific with each product you’ve chosen. For some products, it may be the sense of relief from increased hospitalization or prescription coverage; for others, it will be money savings from a plan with lower premiums.

As an added bonus, this exercise will help you improve your sales by providing you with the key selling points you’ll want to emphasize when you finally speak to your prospects.

4. Identify contact channels

Based on the benefits-based segmentation you just performed, you can now identify the best way to reach those people. This may require some market research, but it will be easier to come up with effective marketing channels once you’ve segmented your list to specific groups — especially with today’s tools.

Online marketing in particular actually allows health insurance shoppers to self-segment themselves.

For example, by creating Web pages that highlight the lower premiums of one of your primary plans, you stand a better chance of connecting with health insurance shoppers who are looking to save money on premiums. This is what the nation’s top insurance lead providers do on a regular basis: They tap into the power of the Internet to target shoppers who self-segment themselves by typing “affordable health insurance” or “critical illness coverage” into Google, Bing, and other search engines.

5. Re-evaluate your plan

Today’s health insurance market is more dynamic than ever, and an important part of any effective prospecting plan is to constantly re-evaluate what you’re doing. Examine your program priorities, identified segments, and selected channels. Are there any that are underperforming? If so, continue to look for better alternatives.

Even top producers who rely exclusively on health insurance leads for their prospect generation take the time to re-evaluate their process, analyzing their return on investment according to lead types, program types, and lead providers.

By utilizing market segmentation and understanding the demographics and psychographics of your target market, you’ll be able to understand the who, what, when, where, and how of your marketing plan. You’ll be able to create a marketing plan and program that caters to the needs of your primary target market. And you’ll increase the likelihood that your lead prospecting will generate greater results with less effort and costs.

Rey Villar is the search and online marketing manager for Norvax Inc., a provider of sales automation and web marketing tools for health and life insurance agents. He can be reached at rvillar@norvax.com.