timeEven when your plate is full, you’ve still got to eat.

“I was so busy this week, I neglected to prospect.” That’s what I heard from Jeff, a frustrated salesperson. But I didn’t let Jeff get away with this lame excuse. What else was he doing that was more important? You know the answer to that question: Nothing.

If salespeople don’t stay in touch with prospects and referral sources, they won’t be able to get referrals and keep hot new leads coming in. Yet, many reps have what’s known as “call reluctance.” They dread the thought of “dialing for dollars” (i.e., cold calling people they don’t know), so they focus on the deals that are currently in their pipelines and dream up every possible excuse for not picking up the phone.

No matter how much you have on your plate, unless you make time to prospect, your sales pipeline will dry up. That’s a nightmare situation for any smart salesperson.

The Magic Meeting Number

Sure, you’re busy. We all are. But you’ve got to eat, right?

One of my clients came up with a great idea to beat “busyness” and get referrals. He asks his sales team to book five lunches and four breakfasts each week with clients and other referral sources. That’s nine meetings a week. It could be 10, but as he puts it, who wants to meet for breakfast on a Monday morning?

Nine meetings a week equals 36 meetings a month. Subtracting four weeks per year for vacation, traveling, and personal days, that’s 396 meetings a year!

To be conservative, let’s say only half of those meeting attendees provide referral introductions. Since at least 50 percent of referred prospects convert into clients, that’s nearly 100 new customers per year!

Do my client’s reps reach this lofty goal? Rarely. But to grow, you need something to shoot for, so why not aim high?

You Must Ask to Receive

Forget the tired, old sales mantra, “Always Be Closing.” Smart salespeople should “Always Be Asking.” That’s how you get referrals and meet your key prospects every time.

Referral selling is the most effective business-development strategy that exists. With a 50-percent success rate, it enables you to eliminate competitors, shorten your sales process, and decrease your cost of sales. Why would you waste time doing anything else?

Asking for referrals is not something you do whenever it’s convenient. Make time to get referrals. Pretty soon, your biggest problem will be finding time to follow up on all the hot leads. And what a great problem to have!

Get Your Priorities Straight

Selling is time-consuming work. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or distracted, and to neglect our sales pipelines. Don’t let that happen to you.

My trick for staying on course and productive? I do what’s “closest to cash” first every single day.

This could mean writing a proposal, following up on a referral, scheduling a meeting with a prospect, caring for current clients, or chatting with potential referral sources.

Yes, I spend a little time checking email and social media, but when my timer pings at 30 minutes, I sign off. I used to clean out my Inbox every day. Not anymore. Unless an activity contributes to building my business, it’s a waste of my prime business hours. I can research, read, and listen to podcasts and webcasts when (or if) I have time.

Want to learn proven strategies for increasing sales pipelines? Check out No More Cold Calling.

Connect with No More Cold Calling

Follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.