When it comes to selling products and services to small businesses, offline relationships still rule.

A full 83% of 481 service and product vendors polled in a recent online survey said they found most of their small business customers through referrals, according to Small Business Trends, a blog that tracks the small business market.

About half also attended networking events and over 60% sold directly to their customers, rather than through distributors or resellers, the survey found. By contrast, just 73% found customers through online search engines and websites, and less than half from cold calling, direct mail, or trade shows.

The majority of vendors who responded to the survey were themselves small business owners with fewer than 20 employees. Just over half sold services, as opposed to products or products coupled with services, and pursued big-ticket sales of $2,500 and up.

Anita Campbell, who writes the blog and conducted the survey last month, said the results showed it pays to develop strong inter-business relationships with small business owners and staff.