One perk of working in sales is forming relationships. Aside from a competitive advantage—clients are more likely to buy from salespeople they like—it’s gratifying to find you have a similar background or share interests with a client, and it can be rewarding to form friendships with those you meet professionally. This also happens in reverse, like realizing someone you know personally can benefit from your products, services, or expertise. In many ways, sales is the perfect profession for building such relationships. After all, part of the job is getting to know clients and uncovering their needs and desires. However, as most salespeople know, it can also be difficult when the lines between your personal and professional lives blur. Here are a few tips to help you navigate when a client becomes a friend or a friend becomes a client:
Maintaining the balance between the personal and professional can be tricky. As much as you enjoy each other’s company, and it can be a much-needed break from a hectic day, too much time devoted to gossip, sports talk, or stories about your kids means you’re not fulfilling your professional obligations. Of course, it is not always easy to strike the right balance. Still, trusted advisors know when to cut the chitchat and get down to business, and a friend will always understand.
Leveraging Relationships Without Losing Friends
Another difficult aspect can be asking for introductions or referrals. Of course, if clients/friends have benefited from your service or expertise, there’s nothing wrong with it. However, even amongst friends, the approach is critical. Be sure to gain agreement on the referral and find out if your friend has any preferences in terms of how you reach out/interact. They will want to know you value their relationships, and you will take care of whoever they pass along.
A Friend of a Friend is a Prospect
A challenge for sales professionals is not seeing everyone as a potential client. Be careful of bombarding your friends will constant efforts to be referred to more and more contacts. If this begins to overwhelm the relationship, then the referrals will likely stop. Be thoughtful about the opportunities and approach each with a genuine desire to help people.
Expand Your Network
One good thing about being friends with a client is meeting their work friends. When Joe, from your friend/client’s procurement team, is grilling burgers at the backyard barbeque, an introduction is a great opportunity. In addition to his duties as grill master, Joe knows every product used by every department in their four-story building. He knows who’s happy with the salespeople they deal with and who is not. He knows which products and services work great and which leave something to be desired, which could be something you can rectify. “Hey, Joe. Let me grab you a cold one.”
Generally, good salespeople know when to seek out opportunity. They also know to recognize when it presents itself. When it comes to clients who are friends or friends who are clients, a good rule of thumb is to act in everyone’s best interest and set guidelines. Hitting up everyone you know to get in touch with everyone they know will quickly turn people off. However, a chance encounter with the IT Director at a large tech firm who stops by your lunch table to say hi to your friend, well, that’s opportunity knocking.