As you look toward 2012 and the hope of increased business, the same old issue may dog you: how to keep the pipeline full of new prospects. We feel your pain, and offer this assembly of 52 excellent prospecting tips to help you on your way in the New Year. Some are intuitive, some are inventive and some buck conventional wisdom; we just hope they help you set the path for more success.

1. Warm up the call

One of the best tools shows up every week – the Sunday newspaper. Job postings will sometimes show the benefit packages employers are offering and let you identify shortcomings in the package like not offering dental or vision. Becoming familiar with a company’s hiring strategy enables agents to warm up a cold call by congratulating the employer for hiring in today’s tough market, which can open the door to discussing new insurance products.

David Roth, Baton Rouge, La.

2. Going your own way

Hiring my own telemarketers and proving them and an auto-dialer. I put ads out on Craigslist for home-based telemarketers with current or recent cold calling experience. I paid them a flat per hour rate of $10 to $15 per hour depending on performance. I would then buy and scrub a list, import it into a web-based dialer that they could access. I had them use a rather simply script just designed to generate leads. I did the qualification. They would generate 2 leads per hour on average which, even at $15/hr rate of pay, meant I was generating exclusive leads for $7.50 a piece.

John, courtesy LinkedIn 

3. Know your market

Certain client ethnic groups tend to have little exposure to investments and insurance, and require more guidance and more product information. But they are very loyal, and will often refer family or friends to an advisor they trust. If you take time to develop a solid relationship, it can lead to many things.

“Diversity Marketing”

4. Throw a bash

Client appreciation parties are a time-tested strategy, though some reps like to make them client-only events, while others encourage inviting friends or colleagues (aka prospects). The parties solidify relationships with clients and stimulate a significant number of referrals.

Bill Cates, “The Client Appreciation Event”

5. Good, better and best

When talking with a client at a first LTCI meeting, show them three basic options: good, better and best. They’re not necessarily your recommendation, but a guide to let the client see how affordable coverage can be. That avoids sticker shock and establishes a foundation for the appropriate policy, with budget in mind.

Brian M. Johnson, “A Product for the People”

6. Beware of prospecting time-wasters

Don’t be bogged down by the One-Upper (always angling for a better deal), Irrationality Experts (“what if” questions that drain you like mental quicksand) or Bored-And-Nothing-Better-To-Dos (“plate lickers”). Focus your energy elsewhere.

Corey Weiner, “Red Flags in Prospecting”

7. Build your business partnerships

Consider developing a business partnership with a larger company that can add voluntary benefits expertise to existing practices. This is a simple, straightforward way to broaden your expertise, and can help smaller companies stay competitive in a market that has changing client needs.

Ron Agypt, “Embracing a New Market”

9. Become an expert source

One very effective secret sauce is writing articles or serving as a source for articles. While you can’t necessarily count on publicity yielding a high number of prospects, your reputation as an expert source will be mightily enhanced by this added exposure.

Marilee Driscoll, “The Foolproof Lead Generator”

9. “Liking” on Facebook

The Facebook “Recommend” button has gained more clients for our internal sales staff and our broker base than most other tools we have created. It allows a client to click “recommend” within email and web tools and pass that agent’s life insurance business page to their base of Facebook friends. It is generating tons of referrals for us and for our agents.

Nic, from LinkedIn

10. Really follow up on the Web leads

ASJ’s recent survey of agents found that not a single respondent named their own website, an Internet quote engine or social media as a key lead-generation tool. Maybe it’s time to invest some more research into these tools.

11. So …

Join and learn how to get mileage out of your presence on both LinkedIn and Twitter. They’re not just for kids.

12. Go to the source

The most effective way to reach Gen X prospects is to go through their parents. The multi-generational approach may be the most successful.

David Port, “Blue Skies Ahead”

13. Seek a mentor 

Agents can reap great rewards from finding a mentor with more experience in the business. Newer agents tend to lack focus when it comes to prospecting, but senior agents provide a wealth of expertise and field experience that can help guide prospecting methods to a more fruitful conclusion.

 “Prospecting Pitfalls and how to Avoid them”

14. Get in focus

Conduct  a “focus group” with existing clients. By asking them questions about your business and how to improve it, you can try something different among people with whom you already have a good relationship.

“Prospecting Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them”

15. Find an underserved market

Find a prominent group in your community that is being underserved by your industry. By showing a desire to learn their culture while demonstrating your expertise, you can help serve a specific market, earn strong referrals and pursue new business that other agents ignored.

“Prospecting Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them”

16. Speak your mind

One of the best ways to promote, market and brand your business to a wide range of people in a short amount of time is to seek out public speaking engagements. It can be a tough skill to develop, but something as simple as presentations on the nuances of financial planning can lead to loads of appointments.

Michael Goldberg

17. Be a numbers expert

Being the go-to person on interpreting the Medicare muddle can open you to new prospects. If you can help clients recognize the potential impact of future health care costs, you can suggest different products, reallocate their assets and discuss whether an increase in savings will be needed to address these costs.

Ron Mastrogiovanni, “The New Normal”

18. Rewire your brain

Think of all the referrals you easily and willingly provide: You tell people about a great restaurant, a terrific movie, a top mechanic and the latest app for the iPad. You refer people in your practice to other professionals – CPAs, attorneys, benefits or insurance resources that you don’t represent.

Joanne Black, “The No-Risk Referral”

19. Just ask

You’ve earned the right to ask for referrals with your current clients, but have you asked each one? We often believe that when we’ve done good work for our clients, they automatically refer us. Does that happen? Yes. If you want to build your practice, should you rely on it? No.

Joanne Black, “The No-Risk Referral”

20. Keep it simple

Striking a conversational tone and cutting out industry jargon will help agents trying to market to younger prospects, who generally aren’t as comfortable or familiar with insurance terminology.

“The Ageless Approach to Reaching Prospects”

21. Be transparent

Be yourself. Don’t try to act any younger or hipper than you actually are. Be up front with them and let them know how you can help. Don’t hoard information; instead, divulge and disclose everything.

Cam Marston, “9 Ways to Connect with Gen Y”

22. It’s good, but don’t rely on the Internet

Even with all of the available online options, more than six in 10 of all Gen X and Y consumers bought their individual life insurance policies after in-person meetings with financial professionals. And more than half say they prefer to purchase life insurance through face-to-face meetings with financial professionals.

Nilufer Ahmed, “A Coming of Age”

23. Get in touch and believe in the value you bring to others

Really believe it. When you talk about the work you do, talk about “why” you do it and why you got into this business (other than to make money).

24. If you develop a new process, try it with your friends

Do this even if you don’t expect them to work with you right away. They need to see the value of your work before they will refer you. And they need to feel your confidence before they will refer you.

25. Let your reputation precede you

When they do introduce you to others, especially people older than you, tell them to tell the prospect, “He’s young, but he’s really smart.” This way older folks won’t be thrown off by your age.

26. Be clear about your value

While there’s nothing wrong with asking for help when meeting others, try to make at least 80 percent of the conversation be about your value, not about helping you build your business.

27. Be persistent

Don’t be a pest, but don’t give up trying to demonstrate the valuable work you do. Many of your friends and family just need to see you doing this for awhile. They need to know you;re getting really good at what you do.

28. Be more direct in your approach

Ask, but in a soft and polite way. But be clear about what you’re asking for. Yes, they can say “no.” But they’ll still be your friend (as long as you’re not overly aggressive.)

29. Get the timing right

Start watching for any situation that will allow you to step in and offer value, a great moment to generate referrals. “I should have done this 20 years ago” or “We always feel better after our meetings with you” are great places to start.

Bill Cates: “Hunting for Referrals”

30. Software is great, but …

It isn’t just having the proper software, it’s learning a regimen that allows you to maximize the software’s performance. The problem isn’t too much information, it’s not having it available when you need it and not knowing how to use it.

Jeff Watkins, “How Technology Makes Producers More Successful”

31. Build the website

Websites need not be the complex endeavor they once were. You can even do it yourself with WordPress, a freeware program allows you to quickly and inexpensively build an impressive-looking and robust site. It can be used to design one-page or multi-page websites that do not host blogs, and whose content will rarely change.

Marilee Driscoll, “I Can’t Possibly Start My Own Website, Right?”

32. Return the calls

Whenever a client calls, I’m always there whenever they need me, because some agents ignore phone calls and don’t get back to clients.

“On the Side of the Senior”

33. The old-fashioned approach

Handwritten notes, hand-addressed mailers, and personal visits are all excellent ways to improve business.

“On the Side of the Senior”

34. The annual review

Make sure the client is happy – even the annual review is a great way to get back in front of the client and see if they like what they’re getting and if they believe in the product, and maybe even a great way to get those referrals.

“The Recession-Savvy Agent”

35. “Call To Action” ads

They are designed to drive your prospects to action and to produce some type of immediate, measurable result. These ads typically present a life situation or general problem, and provide your services as an aid or solution.

JR Thacker

36. Put the “social” back in social media

Social sites are not for selling. They establish connections, identify ways to collaborate, and provide value. Be recognized as the expert, and build your online presence. Become a trusted resource.

Joanne Black

37. Connect at the right moment

New home purchases, new business startups, newborn grandchildren, changes in retirement plans – they all present opportunities to evaluate prospects’ needs. Much of this information is easily available through list sources and media, and especially referrals.

Chris Bene, “Picking the Right Door Opener”

38. Network at a holiday party

Find a positive corner of the gathering and meet with people who have big plans for the New Year, and offer them help, simply to be a resource. That’s what networking is all about. And plan to follow up with a call or an email in the next 48 hours.

Michael Goldberg 

39. Meeting people is easy

How? When you make eye contact with someone or happen to be in close quarters, simply introduce yourself and maybe follow up with a few questions, again, as appropriate..I do this all the time in airports, on airplanes, in hotel lobbies – even in the diner where I have my breakfast and read the morning paper.

Michael Goldberg

40. Keep the referral source in the loop

One unique quality of a referral prospect is that a third party is helping you bring value to the prospect. When you have trouble piquing the prospect’s interest, the referral source can act as an ally.

41. Keep good records

To “keep the sale alive” we must have enough detail to remember the flow of the conversation. If we don’t remember what was said, we won’t feel comfortable picking up the phone. It will be awkward. We won’t know how to add value. The prospecting process dies.

42. Have a solid reminder system in place

Although paper systems can work, they cannot compete with the efficiencies of technology. After each call with a new prospect, I set an alarm to pop up at the appropriate time for future contact. In this way, I can let go of that prospect for the time being, knowing that no one will drop through the cracks.

43. Set aside phone prospecting days or slots

I schedule time on my calendar and treat it just like an appointment with an individual prospect or client. The key here is to truly honor these appointments with yourself. It’s easy to get distracted.

44. Discover power in numbers

Become a student of products and reform, talk shop with other agents who have the same values and business philosophy as you, take advantage of trade associations and stick together.

45. Consider a hybrid practice

Try a mixture of phone contact and online resources to help to your customers. Certain clients will never talk with a human being as they seek out coverage, especially for health care; if a customer finds their way to a site powered by an actual agent, you can get in contact with them and provide the help they need.

“The Sales Philosophy of the 21st Century Agent”

46. Find opportunities with PPACA

Reach out to existing clients and let them know that one of the health care reform provisions provides young adults up to age 26 the ability to obtain coverage through their parents’ health insurance plans. Those details need to be worked out.

Ron Agypt

47. Consider LTCI at the workplace

Sell as many partnership plans in the worksite as possible over the next five to 10 years. They give employees the confidence to buy what they can afford and know that Medicaid is there as a safety net. Partnership plans allow the private sector to pay for long term care first, and makes Medicaid the payer of last resort, without making people spend most of their money to access Medicaid.

Phyllis Shelton

48. Consider your mission statement

Identify what you stand for and your passion in terms of how you’ll interact and work with others. The way clients and prospects perceive you is the reality, even if that perception is wrong. If your mission seems to be all about you, the reality is that few people will want to do business with you.

Bill Corbett Jr.

49. Get the most out of Internet prospecting

Spread the word through a large permission-based email list. Woven into your email messages are links that run back to pages on your website. Rather than writing long individual messages, you can keep your writing brief and allow those interested in a particular topic to “click” on a related link.

50. Make social media go the extra mile

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter enable those interested in your topics to find you; most include the ability to provide links back to your main site.

51. Contribute where you can

Write and submit relevant articles to websites that are looking for expert contributors. These sites generally allow you to include a link back to your website. If someone reads your article and likes what you have to say, they can then click on your link, bringing you a qualified Web visitor.

52. Test your advertising strategy

Pay-per-click advertising allows you to place ads in a text or image format on various sites. Many services will integrate the content of your ad with its placement on these sites, which can help improve your success rate. Done well, pay-per-click can be very successful; done poorly, it can be a revenue drain. Generally, it requires careful testing to succeed.