Your referral network is your net worth in sales. Don’t forget to nurture it.

“How do I ask for a referral from customers I haven’t spoken with in two years?” That’s what a client asked me a couple years ago, and I was baffled by his revelation. How can smart, experienced sales reps let their customer relationships wither?

Now I know why, because I’ve been guilty of it myself. I was over-the-top busy last year with business I hadn’t expected. It was a pandemic, and businesses were struggling with managing remote sales teams and “pivoting” their focus to survive. My phone started ringing in June, and the rest of the year was a blur. Every client had a singular focus: How do we get referrals from our clients? They understood that existing clients were their best source of new business, and referrals would get them the introductions they needed to drive revenue.

In the midst of all this, my husband and I moved. I didn’t have time to catch up with clients and nurture my professional networks. I was busy unpacking boxes and solving problems for new clients.

What happened to me is what happens to so many sales teams. We get so busy prospecting and working heads-down on new client projects, that we neglect our current clients. But that can be a big problem, because customer relationships drive referral sales.

Don’t Lose the Right Once You’ve Earned It

There’s a lesson here. Never lose touch with your contacts at client companies. They are your best sources of referrals—to other divisions of their companies and to their peers in other organizations. And referrals make business buyers 5X more likely to engage with salespeople, according to LinkedIn.

When should you ask for referrals? That’s a common question from salespeople, but more of a reflection of the discomfort many of us feel about asking. We don’t want to appear pushy, or salesy, or arrogant, so we push asking for referrals further and further out in our sales process.

Many think we should wait until we sign a deal, others think when the client implements, and yet others feel they can’t ask until the client sees an ROI. We wait and we wait, and often the relationship with the initial buyer is so far removed, that we never ask. Referrals drive revenue, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Bottom line: It’s never too soon to ask clients for referrals. And it’s never too late—as long as you have continued to stay in touch and nurture those customer relationships.

Which reminds me, I need to get back in touch with some of my favorite people. I’m on it. Are you?

Have you taken the 14 Yes/No question Referral I.Q. Quiz? This is your checklist for referral selling, and your responses will give you specific referral strategies to work on.

(Featured image attribution: Christine Hume)