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Posted: December 06, 2010

When your customer becomes your pal

Watch out -- blur the lines, and they'll get crossed

Gary Harvey

We already know that our demeanor and our communication style create an image with prospects. In our prospect's mind, that image is a reflection of our company. We don't treat a brand new prospect the same way we would treat a member of the Saturday night bowling team we've been sharing beers and bad jokes with for five years.

The value of having a professional demeanor with new prospects is obvious. But, what about clients with whom you have developed a long-term relationship? What about the people with whom you have developed a friendship? Is it all right to let your guard down with them?

Becoming friends with a customer may change the dynamics of the relationship, but it doesn't change the nature of the relationship. You and your customer may be more comfortable communicating with one another. That's good. However, regardless of how comfortable you two become, you still have a "buyer-seller" relationship to maintain. And if you are a professional, that relationship takes precedence over the friendship.

Why? Because becoming chummy with your customer blurs the relationship. Becoming chummy opens the door for "little favors" - price or delivery concessions, for example, that become, in the customer's mind, nothing more than a friendly request. The "favor," if granted, holds little significance, even if the salesperson had to go out of his way to grant it. After all, isn't that what friends are for? To look out for each other?

Similarly, the salesperson may feel that it's okay to make a change to the customer's order - and justify the decision with an explanation like this: "It was only a minor change - I didn't think you'd mind."

In both cases, both the friendship and the business relationship will be compromised.

You can be a friend to your clients and customers - lending a sympathetic ear when necessary (but never seeking one), offering advice when appropriate - as long as the friendship doesn't overshadow the business relationship. A professional cab driver doesn't turn off the meter, no matter how good the conversation is with the passenger; similarly a professional salesperson doesn't do personal favors that conflict with his professional priorities.

You are a salesperson first. Keep it that way - or give someone else in your organization the responsibility for handling the account! Be careful: Once the relationship becomes "blurred," it's almost impossible to refocus it.
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Gary Harvey is the founder and president of Achievement Dynamics, LLC, a high performance sales training, coaching and development company for sales professionals, managers and business owners. His firm is consistently rated by the Sandler Training as one of the top 10 training centers in the world. He can be reached at 303-741-5200, or gary@achievemoresales.com.

 

 

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Readers Respond

Great article, Gary. My wife and I are in practice together. We become very close to many of our clients, who are usually top executives. I must say that, while we've had a couple of people try to take advantage of being close and friendly, 99% of the time our closeness and friendship enhances the business relationship, and has not caused them to ask for undue favors. In fact, most of the time, it has made it much easier to counsel and advise them. (We do Executive Coaching and Transition Coaching for Director Level and above executives, and my wife does Life Coaching, as well.) By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2010 12 06

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