By JERRY ACUFF
We tend to do business with those we like. This makes sense – so much so that many of us feel this way almost instinctively. This belief has been validated by numerous experts, articles and research.
However, this often cited phrase has led many in sales to develop friendships with customers. Developing a friendship is not the same as building a meaningful business relationship – and that distinction is important because you won’t get the same results.
Being friendly in business is necessary but friendships in business aren’t. That’s an important concept. We can have a valuable business relationship without friendship. Unfortunately, many mistakenly believe that the first step to building a business relationship is to develop a friendship.
Friends are those people that we socialise with outside of work and are characterised by significant and somewhat intimate interactions. We might be friends with an accountant but wouldn’t hire her as our tax preparer.
This doesn’t mean we think our friend is incompetent. We might deduce that doing personal returns would be outside our friend’s area of expertise. Or it could be another matter entirely. We may have listened to our friend complain about her workload and don’t want to add to her burden. With friendships, we can think of lots of reasons not to do business with each other.
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Investing in business relationship
Our relationship with friends is distinctively different than being in a business relationship as one sales representative, Sue, learnt the hard way. She worked to develop a friendship with one of her key customers and they would often play tennis together.
However, Sue soon discovered that being a friend didn’t lead to getting more business. When she was brave enough to ask why her “friend” wasn’t using more of the product she was selling, her “friend” explained that he makes business decisions based on the merits of the product, not on friendship. That was Sue’s ‘aha’ moment.
Now if she had put the same amount of effort into building a meaningful business relationship that she put into developing a friendship, she undoubtedly would have seen the difference in her sales results.
Providing value to others
Both friendships and business relationships take time and effort. The difference is that business remains at the heart of a business relationship – and the sales results reflect that focus.
So yes, we need to be friendly. We need to be welcoming, sociable, open and pleasant. That’s usually the first requirement to building that valuable business relationship that has business needs as its foundation.
It might make sense to take a moment and consider how you approach your customers. Are you focusing too much on the friendship aspect? Have you been trying to be friends with your customers and expecting them to buy your product based on your friendship?
It just might be the right time to change your focus to work on building business relationships. Focus on how you can provide value and make a difference in how they do their job.
When you help your customers improve their business and/or their patients’ lives, you are no longer just a sales person. You become a trusted colleague.
Jerry Acuff is the founder of Delta Point, Inc. a corporate consulting firm that focuses on building relationships with customers and employees and improving the effectiveness of sales professionals. He is the author of multiple books and has consulted the White House on health care reform. Care to share your experience in building business relationships? Write in to email@example.com. For more Hard Talk articles, click here.
Reposted with permission on Leaderonomics.com.