Referred leads are qualified leads.

“If your customers aren’t selling for you, you won’t have customers.” That’s what  Steve Silver, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said when making his 2025 predictions. No, I didn’t pay him to say that. Every successful sales leader knows that asking clients for referrals is the best way to generate, qualify, and convert sales leads.

One of the first things I ever wrote about was enrolling your clients as part of your sales team. How do you do that? By asking clients for referrals to their peers. After all, who knows the value of your products and services more than the people who are already paying for them? They know what you have to offer and what types of prospects can benefit from it. They’re perfectly positioned to introduce you to qualified prospects and sing your praises while they do it.

A growing body of research backs up what I’ve been saying for decades: At least half of those referred prospects will convert to customers. In my experience, it’s more like 70 percent.

What’s the catch? You have to actually ask.

You’re Not Top of Mind for Your Clients

If you deliver on your promises and provide a quality product or service, most of your clients will happily refer you, but this won’t happen unless you’re actually asking clients for referrals.

Clients aren’t mind-readers. They don’t always know we want more business. (Yep, that’s for real.) And let’s be honest: Your clients don’t spend much time thinking about you and your business development. They’re busy thinking about their own businesses. If you want to be on their radar, it’s your responsibility to put yourself there—by asking clients for referrals.

(Image attribution: Kindel Media)

Stop Neglecting Your Best Lead-Gen Channel

Lead generation and pipeline conversion have always been the #1 priority for sales leaders. But most sales teams continue to neglect an underutilized, high-value revenue stream that can generate significant qualified opportunities: Your existing clients.

When you ask clients for referrals, you expand your sales team far beyond your literal sales team. And in today’s hyper competitive sales environment, you need that kind of reach if you want to meet or exceed your quota.

Salespeople can no longer depend on traditional sources of business, marketing leads, social media, or artificial intelligence to get enough qualified leads to actually fill your pipeline. That’s what everyone else is doing. It doesn’t make you stand out, and it doesn’t get you qualified sales leads.

Qualified is the key word here. Like most things in life, quality trumps quantity every day of the week. We need to focus on the initial qualification process as well as the efficiency of late-stage processes. Otherwise, we’re filling our funnels with lame leads and wasting time trying to convert people who don’t want to hear from us and will probably never buy from us.

Referred Leads Are Qualified Leads

When you’re introduced to your ideal client, your lead is as qualified as a lead can get. Not only are you more likely to get these people to talk to you; you’ll breeze through the late-stage sales activities. It works like this:

  • You receive a referral introduction to your decision-maker.
  • You get in early—even before your prospect knows they have a need. (Or thought they didn’t)
  • Your initial contact introduces you to others in the company.
  • You get great intel that no one else gets—you learn how decisions are made, who the influencers are, who to watch out for, the make-or-break budget, timeline, etc.
  • You’re in the #1 position to win the deal.

(Image attribution: Prasong Takham)

But … you need to orchestrate the activities leading up to the close and ensure they are seamless and client focused. This isn’t about you. This is about what the client gets by choosing your solution—the quantified, positive impact on the business.

There are many moving parts and a variety of people in late-stage processes—some of whom are new. How will you gain this group’s trust? It’s up to you, the sales leader, and your sales team to coordinate, communicate, and manage this moving target.

Once you win the deal, you need to manage the handoff process to customer success so that your client feels appreciated and well taken care of. They must feel confident they made the right decision at every stage of the buying and implementation process.

Change Your Lead Generation Strategy, Change the Game

Change doesn’t just happen. If you truly want more qualified leads, you must invest in referral sales and marketing programs and train your people. Build their referral lead generation skills so they know how to go about asking clients for referrals, how to manage handoffs, and how to stay connected to their clients. Then set referral KPIs so you can hold them accountable and measure their success.

Selling has changed a lot in recent years. What hasn’t changed a bit is what sets you apart from the rest and gets you in front of decision-makers; it’s still a personal connection and a referral from someone the client trusts.

Want to know how to get qualified leads in your pipe? Send your question to, and I’ll schedule a 15-minute call with you.

(Featured image attribution: Benis Arapovic)

(This post was originally published on March 5, 2020 and updated October 26, 2023.)