Being Friendly or Becoming Their Friend?

Peady’s Selling Engagement

Recently I was working with an experienced salesperson who told me he didn’t run “discovery” meetings with his top customers any longer, as he knows them and their business really well. In fact, most are friends.

When I pressed him on some of their top business challenges and priorities he struggled; so, I dug deeper and found his understanding of these customers was superficial at best.

I challenged him to immediately commence a series of meetings and find out what was really going on, but he was stuck and asked: “how can I have those kinds of discussions with my mates?”

Welcome to this week’s post on sales and selling success.

I spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to develop trusted business relationships with customers. But building a trusted business relationship doesn’t mean that you have to be their best friend; it can mean you are friendly, there’s a difference.

Over the years I have seen too many sales people confuse the two. And that poses a problem and exposes them to a “competitive takeover” of that customer.
Why? It’s because they take their new “friends” for granted and expect to receive all their business. They forget to do regular reviews or discovery meetings, looking for issues, recognizing new opportunities and solving new problems. They get lazy and start focusing on the social side of the relationship and neglect the real work. Ultimately, they pay a penalty.



Five tips for staying friendly and professional

  1. Remain professional. When we work closely with people, we forge a bond. While it’s important to be cordial, it’s also essential to note that in many cases a customer liaison is distinctly different to a close friendship. 
  2. Set boundaries. Keep the business relationships the same for all major customers. Don’t allow your personal relationship to be an excuse to slack on performance or put off a deadline for something that comes up at the last minute.  
  3. Avoid oversharing. It’s easy to discuss topics that can harm a business relationship. Complaining about your boss, company policies or your office dress code can strongly influence a customer’s opinion of you and your company. 
  4. Remember the bottom line. We are in business to earn a living. Close friends might feel uncomfortable charging for services, but both sides should understand the value of supporting each other’s business and charging to do so.
  5. Avoid doing or asking for “favours”. Asking for or giving special treatment can inevitably require a payback at some time in the future. Once either side trades in this area it can set a dangerous precedent for the future business relationship.

Key point
Perhaps the situation can be summed up this way “Friendship is friendship, business is business

​Until next week, good selling!

About the author 

Stephen Pead is a media industry veteran of 30 years with significant experience in direct sales, sales management and general management. He is based in Sydney and specialises in helping SME’s market their businesses more effectively and providing training for salespeople and sales managers.

He can be contacted at [email protected]