You can automate systems, but not relationships.

Everyone loves a good shortcut. We live in microwave time—tapping our fingers because 15 or 30 seconds is just too slow. While there’s much to be said for efficiency, there are no shortcuts when it comes to relationships with customers. And without strong relationships, you can forget about getting referrals. You can’t automate referral leads.

Top salespeople know existing clients are their best source of lead generation for referrals to new clients. They put in the time to nurture those relationships and stay in the know about what’s happening with their customers—both personally and professionally.

Clients will always take calls from these sales reps, because they provide insights and guidance. They make themselves valuable, trusted business resources. In doing so, they get bigger deals from repeat customers—and they get the best lead generation source: referral leads.

Data Is Great, But…

Selling today is way more data intensive, and that’s a good thing. Sales teams have access to information that used to take them hours to collect, and now it takes minutes. Sales processes shorten and productivity increases. It’s easier to correlate input with output. Hopefully, sales leaders focus on this essential metric, because this is the metric that matters, especially when it comes to how to track referrals.

You must correlate the number of people reps ask each week and the number of referrals received with the increased revenue for that referral. There are additional markers like the number of meetings conducted and the number entering your CRM as qualified leads. However, “the ask” is the main metric, because if they don’t ask… well, you can figure that out.

You Can’t Build Relationships on Autopilot

Customers don’t buy your technology, your service, or your products. They buy because of the impact your people have on their businesses. People do business with people, not with technology. That’s why lead automation isn’t effective. Yet, too many salespeople forget it’s the quality of relationships, and not the quantity of connections, that really count. They don’t know how to ask for referrals, so they let LinkedIn do it for them.

(Image attribution: Edmond Dantès)

The problem is that our society is getting so comfortable with technology that many salespeople forget how to have real conversations. Technology dependence has begun to shift our values and our beliefs away from what really makes us human. We believe technology is a panacea. We want to automate almost everything. But you simply can’t automate referral leads.

No Such Thing as Referral Automation

Even with AI, we question the lack of creativity and innovation and the power of the human brain. Sales technology might help identify prospects, but it won’t solve your sales execution challenges. For that, salespeople need to know how to have business conversations, how to build relationships, and how to take responsibility for delivering what they promised.

The art of conversation is your team’s competitive advantage. Conversation is the key to problem-solving and building trust, which are critical in sales. In fact, Only 88 percent of B2B buyers will only make a purchase if they see a salesperson as a “trusted advisor,” according to LinkedIn’s 2020 Global State of Sales Report. Unfortunately, relationship-building has also become a unique skill set in the digital world.

What seals the deal today is the same thing that sealed the deal back in the days of the three-martini lunch—having a personal connection to prospects, understanding what buyers want, and delivering results. Winning in today’s business world means leveraging technology and also learning how to keep it in its place. Don’t forget that technology is a tool and that salespeople’s greatest sales asset is—and always will be—themselves.

To learn more about relationship building in the digital world, download my eBook: ”How to Land and Expand.”

(Featured image attribution: Andrea Piacquadio)

(This post was originally published on November 5, 2015 and updated December 16, 2021.)