If you’ve been in sales for even a
little while, you’ve most likely run into the scenario or possibility of doing
business with friends. As a sales person you may feel like it is your lucky
break or a guaranteed close. But, more than any other type of sale, one with a
friend can be the most dangerous.
I was in a meeting with a client
recently, the VP of Sales, and she asked me for some personal advice. She had
recently entered into a consulting engagement with a new client of her own, and
one in which the president of the company was a personal friend of her
husbands, and things weren’t going so well. She was running into a situation
where this gentleman was calling upon her to bend her company rules, do more
work without being billed, etc. She needed some guidance on how to best handle
the conversation with the client and to set the record straight on what is to
be deemed their personal relationship and their professional relationship.
Having run into this scenario myself not
too long ago, I shared with her the approach I took, and she seemed rather
Having too close of a relationship with
a client can cause communication issues at any point in time, but it hits even
harder when the client is a personal friend first and becomes a client second.
The likelihood is that this person has heard you tell stories (possibly horror
stories) about the office or clients. Without realizing it, they may try to change
your approach to business because of something you shared with them in the past,
in an effort to better suit their own needs.
Moreover, your friend may also take an
entirely different tone with you because of your relationship, which may skirt
the bounds of professionalism. And, what’s worse, they may want you to give
them preferential treatment over other clients.
So how do you avoid these issues?
Well, this easiest answer would be to
not do business with your friends. Of course, that may also be easier said than
done. So, my recommendation is to have a very open and honest conversation
about the rules of engagement. Set the record straight up front about how your
company operates and works with clients. Make absolutely sure your friend is
fully aware of these rules, and whatever you do, make sure you have a witness
to this conversation both from your company and from your friends company.
And, to ensure that the business
relationship is handled smoothly, and with minimal interference to your
personal relationship, assign someone else as the point person in the business
relationship. It may be a subordinate if you’re in management, or it may be
your manager, or it may be a peer. You should find someone that can handle this
scenario in a professional and confident manner and your friend must accept
that you are making the introduction and then stepping aside.
You should never allow a friendship to
be diminished due to a concern in business, and you certainly do not want your
career to be jeopardized by a bad decision in sales. A true friend will not
only agree, but will expect nothing less.