Selling to Friends

If your job has a sales component to it, sooner or later you’ll step into the question of whether to sell to a friend. The question can be framed by two competing perspectives.

“I always sell to friends. We already have a level of trust, and friends are the easiest people with whom to do business. Plus, it’s more fun.”

“I never sell to friends. I keep my personal life and business separate. I wouldn’t want to damage a friendship because of a business snafu.”

Now, for some of us, our network of friends is our network of colleagues. If your corporate employer moved you to St. Louis, where you didn’t know a soul, at the tender age of twenty-five, your social life might center around your work friends. Your personal network would grow out from there.

And, sometimes you don’t really have a choice. Suppose the universe of possible buyers for your product is only eleven companies. If your friend happens to be the head of procurement for one of them, you really can’t not try to do business with your friend.

Most of us, though, have a network of friends through family, high school and college that is unrelated to our work. We have to decide. Now, if you sell smaller, reasonably commoditized items, like televisions or dish ware or eyeglasses, sell them to your friends, give them a good deal and everybody’s happy. But, for the products and services in the middle, like software packages, training courses, a fleet of delivery vehicles, or advertising, here are three guidelines to consider if you choose to invite a friend to be a potential client.

1) Make sure your friends know what you’re doing. The easiest way to solve the conundrum of how to approach a friend, is for them to come to you. You don’t have to send them the same information you’d send to your prospect list; a personal email, a Linked In message that you might send to Facebook friends too. Even the family holiday card update can do the trick..”Don took a new job in September with Fortitude Insurance based in Springfield. He provides insurance to all kinds of small businesses.”
Guideline #1: Give your friends enough information so they can come to you.

2) Go to lunch with your maybe-client friend. The conversation will gravitate towards work and your shared industry. It’s probably one of the things you talk about anyway. Let your natural curiosity ask about what he or she is doing in an area where you have some expertise. Tell them some stories about what you’re doing. Ask some useful questions and offer some insight; exactly what you’d hope to do in meeting with a client.
Guideline #2- Have lunch, let conversation and your natural curiosity run it’s course.

3) Which gets us to number three. If your friend asks, “Are you trying to sell me something? Say, “Yup, AND I’m not going to ask you to buy anything. If you’re interested in a quote or a proposal, you’ll have to ask.” Don’t push the offer button. Don’t say, “You should really have our software system. It’s just what you need.” Don’t say, “Do me a favor. Buy my product.” And be careful about saying something like, “Do us both a favor, if you’re going to move on this make sure you let me give you a quote?” If the chat goes well, you could ask a follow up question like, “If you’re going to look into this further, would you accept a proposal from my company?
Guideline #3- Be overt about your intention, not pushy in achieving it.

With a client, look for an opportunity; with a friend, wait for an invitation. Let your friend say, “Hey, maybe you could help me here.”

The difference is subtle, but so is friendship.

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