As many landscape business owners know, leveraging contacts to generate sales leads and close deals is a highly efficient sales approach.

To grow a business, not only must the company replace past customers, but it must also generate new customers from a consistent and constant flow of leads. More leads – qualified leads – can strengthen growth.

A new study by Reachable, a business solution developer, proves relationships may be even more valuable at generating leads than originally thought.

Salespeople who have personal connections with prospects – even an indirect connection, such as an acquaintance or colleague – are five times more likely to get a callback, according to Reachable’s study. “If you have a direct connection with the prospect, the odds get even better: your chances of getting a return call increase 11 times,” points out Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media, a firm that helps entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

“For every 1,000 calls you make, only 345 will get returned if you don’t have a connection,” Lesonsky explains. “But if you do have a connection, 849 calls will be returned.”

Overall, Reachable reveals personal connections of some type can increase sales productivity by more than 240 percent. That’s quite a boost!

And, today, marketing and sales is more of a “self-service operation,” says Sid Smith, lead copywriter and marketing automation specialist for Albertson Performance Group. “Buyers get an estimated 80 percent of the information they need online, well before they speak with a salesperson,” he explains.

Forrester research supports this theory, estimating anywhere between 50 to 70 percent of the buying process happens before a sales representative even gets involved.

As a result, personal connections may be the extra leverage one business has over its competitors.

Here are some ideas for leveraging personal relationships to increase sales productivity.

  • Reactivate old customers: Previous customers already know your business – the work exerted building the relationship is done. Reconnect with customers who haven’t done business with you in the past one to three years and make an offer to get them to come back, Stacey Hylen at advises.
  • Use a customer relationship management tool: An essential part of building customer relationships involves using some type of customer relationship management (CRM) tool – a product like or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet – to catalog leads as they come in and set follow-up schedules for each, shares George Deeb, managing partner with Red Rocket Ventures, a Chicago-based startup consulting firm. “I can’t tell you how many [businesses] simply deal with new leads and forget to follow up with old leads or, worse yet, forget to follow up with repeat past clients,” Deeb explained in a recent Crain’s Chicago Business article.
  • Create upsell opportunities for popular services: Hylen insists “massive opportunities exist for people who just add a few extra questions to the sales process” focused on upselling services to existing customers.
  • Ask for referrals: “Asking satisfied customers for referrals is a great way to build a pipeline of warm leads with whom you have a connection,” Lesonsky says. “Create a system for regularly requesting referrals at a point after you’ve delivered the goods and know your customer is happy with the job you’ve done.”
  • Spread the word: Develop helpful content to help move prospects through the sales cycle. This includes information on your website, blogs, e-newsletters, direct mail, social media, etc. to educate your customers on your services or related information. With the right content, “you’ll gain prospects’ trust, determine their specific needs or interests, feed them the information they need to make an intelligent decision, and hand them the ideal solution on a silver platter,” Smith explains. “Each content piece should have a specific purpose that aligns with its place in the sales cycle, and that content can help you attract leads, capture leads, nurture leads, and segment and score leads.”
  • Beyond the screen: In its research, Reachable studied all kinds of customer connections, including those made by social media or email. However, Lesonsky recommends that, at some point, connections are strengthened when they become face-to-face. She recommends landscape business owners “get and stay involved in organizations, associations and networking events that bring you in contact with the right kinds of prospects and get results for you.”

Nicole Wisniewski is a 15-year green industry veteran and award-winning journalism and marketing professional. She is currently a senior project manager in The Davey Tree Expert Co.’s marketing/corporate communications department. Visit her blog at or reach her at