“I was so busy this week. I neglected to make time to call and ask for referrals.” That’s what a client told me. But I didn’t let her get away with this (a lame excuse, in my book).

Always be asking. “What else was she doing that was more important than prospecting?” I wondered. But you know the answer: nothing. My guess is that she hadn’t practiced asking for referrals in the way she had had been taught and therefore had not achieved a comfort level regarding asking. She avoided calling, connecting with her clients and asking for introductions to her ideal clients.

Smart salespeople should always be asking. One of the top reasons salespeople neglect to adopt a discipline of asking for referrals is that they’re afraid. It doesn’t matter whether a salesperson has changed industries, has taken a job right out of school or has been in sales for 20 years, most salespeople feel uncomfortable asking for referrals…at first.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Referral selling is the most personal approach there is to sales. We’re most fearful that our referral source will refuse to give us a referral. We fear the “no” response. So we don’t ask. And if we don’t ask, we don’t get.

Yet, every salesperson agrees that nothing compares to referral business—certainly not cold calling. Referral selling is the most effective and highly leveraged selling system there is. Nothing else comes close.

Everyone is part of your sales team. We all want more referrals. Many of us believe that because our business is complex and sophisticated, only certain people are good connections, meaning that only certain people make good business-development sources. This assumption is just wrong. Everyone knows someone: You just need to ask.

Activity matters. What to do? It’s simple. Make one more call per day. Set up one more breakfast or lunch. These networking activities equate to 20 outreach calls or referral meetings a month. Extraordinary!

Do the math. Let’s assume you ask 20 people for referrals and you receive 10 introductions. When you receive an introduction to a qualified prospect, your conversion rate will be 50 percent, conservatively. Yes, 50 percent will become clients. That’s five new clients. I’d bet these numbers would excite anyone involved in sales.

You don’t have time to prospect? Get real. Get busy. Get those referrals.

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Joanne Black is a professional sales speaker, sales webinar leader, and author of “No More Cold Calling: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust” from Warner Business Books. Visit www.nomorecoldcalling.com. © Copyright 2011 Joanne S. Black. All rights reserved.