Getting in the door isn’t that difficult.

What’s the most powerful sales tool at your disposal? Think it’s your smartphone? Think again.

Salespeople love their sales apps. LinkedIn, Twitter, Salesforce, Facebook … I could go on and on. Each of these social apps and online platforms promises a killer feature that will streamline the sales process and make us all rich.

As if!

The only sales app that’s guaranteed to do all of the above doesn’t require a smartphone, a tablet, or even a computer. Plus, it’s 100-percent free to use by anyone on any platform.

That sales app is referrals. And its killer feature is you. It’s the most powerful business development tool on the planet. Despite what you’ll often hear from technology gurus, your success isn’t determined by the number of devices that connect you to the outside world; it’s determined by the number of relationships that connect you to your prospects.

Some Things Never Change

The digital world, as great as it is, undermines our personal connections. It can also tank our productivity, decrease our focus, and increase our stress levels, according to The New York Times.

Have you tried being unreachable for certain periods of time by turning off your smartphone? Stressed just thinking about it? That’s why Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone, encourages us to take the 7-Day Phone Breakup Challenge. (I’m taking the challenge. Are you up for it?)

Smartphones pull our attention away from our work and our relationships. Studies show that even when a smartphone is face down, it demands its user’s attention, regardless of whether the person is consciously thinking about it. Even if a phone is out of sight in a bag, even if it’s set to silent, even if it’s powered off, its mere presence will reduce someone’s working memory and problem-solving skills. In other words, the smartphone slowly drains their brains.

We’re addicted to technology, but whether your business is ultrahigh tech or low tech, the most important business buying decisions are still based on your personal relationships. Your customers buy from you because they like and trust you and your organization—or because someone they like and trust has referred you.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve seen technologies come and go. Many of them have contributed to the effectiveness of salespeople, but none of them has managed to replace us. There are hundreds of great sales apps that help us work more efficiently—including CRM, marketing automation, social selling tools, advocate platforms, and more. But selling is (and has always been) a person-to-person business. We will never replace real human engagement with tweets, status updates, or any sales app.

Justin Rosenstein, a Silicon Valley engineer who has worked for Google, Facebook, and other technology giants, puts it this way in The Guardian:

“It’s very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences, [but now] everyone is distracted. All of the time.”

Rosenstein is one of a growing group of Silicon Valley “refuseniks” who warns consumers about the addictive nature of technology and social media, in particular. He’s an excellent source on the matter, as he personally developed Facebook’s “like” button.

“One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says.

I couldn’t agree more.

How to Be a Welcome Call

Social media can be an addictive distraction for salespeople. It lures them into being lazy, into scaling back on relationship-building, and into thinking that technology can do their jobs for them.

Nope, nope, nope.

The key to increasing your qualified pipeline is regularly connecting with your prospects, clients, friends, colleagues, and coworkers—not just online, but in real life. Reach out to your various networks. Learn what’s new with your contacts and ask how you can help. You’ll continue to deepen and enhance your relationships with the people who are most likely to provide you with quality referrals.

Once you get to know people and they get to know you, you identify many opportunities to exchange referrals. You might refer someone to a potential client or an alliance partner, or to a person in a similar business. Or perhaps you could offer a personal referral to an accountant, banker, or mechanic—a resource that will help another person. When you connect people through referrals, you become a trusted advisor, and they’ll look for opportunities to send referrals your way too.

Referral selling is based on the power of relationships. That’s why smart salespeople never stop nurturing their networks, meeting new people (in person), and engaging in voice conversations. (No texts or sales app required.) The absence of our smartphone forces us to actually talk to people. (Check out this simple solution. Well, maybe not so simple.)

Referrals Get You in the Door

The sales process has only two parts: 1) Getting in the door, and 2) Everything that happens after that.

This might sound glib, but if you don’t get in the door and meet with your ideal prospects, nothing else really matters. Sure, you can craft spectacular emails or cold call prospects, telling them how other companies like theirs have experienced similar issues. You can reference “trigger events” (boy, am I tired of that phrase!) and try every ploy to get around the gatekeeper.

But why waste your valuable business development time with a cold outreach when you could be a welcome call? Referred prospects expect to hear from you. They actually want to talk to you, because someone they know and trust has vouched for you. Your referral source’s relationship gets you in the door. Then your selling savvy helps you close the deal.

Referral selling is the most powerful business development strategy that exists. Here’s why:

  • You score every meeting at the level that counts.
  • Prospects are pre-sold on your ability to deliver results.
  • Your sales time shortens by at least 20 percent.
  • You arrive with credibility and trust already earned (not an easy task for most of us).
  • Competition? Well, if you have any, you have the inside track.
  • You convert prospects into clients at least 50 percent of the time (usually more than 70 percent).
  • Referred clients are more profitable; their deal sizes are larger; and they are more likely to offer you even more referrals.

Referral selling is your biggest competitive differentiator! You get in early, uncover problems, and your competition won’t know what hit them. But you can’t sell by referral online. Instead, you’ll have to pick up the damn phone and have a real, live conversation.

Bring Back Balance

New technology is alluring. It’s easy to get sucked into the digital universe. But while we’re constantly checking our smartphones to ensure we don’t miss something “out there,” we’re missing out on opportunities to connect with the people right in front of us.

Our relationships are what really matter—in life and business. This is true for everyone, but even more so for salespeople, whose job is to build relationships, which lead to referrals. We cannot lose (or set aside) our ability to connect person-to-person, not if we ever intend to expand our networks and close deals.

So what do you do? Simple. You use technology to facilitate your sales process—to conduct research, find referral sources, organize information, and provide buyers with valuable information. What you don’t do is rely on it to make a sale.

There’s a saying among salespeople that customers buy with emotion and justify with fact. If people don’t like us or don’t feel comfortable with us, they won’t connect or build relationships with us.

You can wow people with your technology know-how now and try to win them over later, once they find out you’re honest and reliable. But the reality is, you need people to start liking you within the first few seconds of your relationship. That’s really all you have to get off on the right foot.

People do business with people. Period. So put down the toys, log out of the sales app, pick up the damn phone, and start talking. Or better yet, meet in person. It takes a bit more time and effort, but I guarantee your results will prove the time was well spent.

Sales is not a one-way street. There is no magic bullet and no wondrous serum that will cure all our ills and solve all our problems. Fancy gadgets and sales apps won’t magically make sales appear. But a trusted referral and a personal connection will. Technology might power the sales process, but people power the close. You make the effort, you win.

Test Your Referral Savvy

I’m conducting research on referrals, and I need your help. Please take my 14-question Referral I.Q. Quiz. The questions are mostly “Yes/No,” and it should take less than four minutes to complete. Once you’ve finished, you’ll be bounced over to a results page, where you can see the aggregated answers from everyone who has participated.

Take the Referral I.Q. Quiz now.

My goal is to get a 1,000-person sample, so please invite your network to take the quiz as well. Participation is anonymous, and I promise you won’t be added to any lists. Thanks in advance for your support!