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Don’t Make Friends!

Apr 7, 2021

Why what you think works does not… and what to do instead

Practical sales advice based on conversations between experienced training consultants Fred Copestake and Clare O’Shea

Clare:    Nice to see you again Fred.  The next DON’T is ‘Don’t Make Friends’.  This is one that you’re typically keen on, tell me more.

Fred:     Yeah, I am keen on this one.  Let’s just put this in context.  People who know me have probably heard me have a bit of a rant about the whole ‘people buy from people’ concept, and that it’s just a load of nonsense.  

Clare:    What’s wrong with the idea of people buying from people?

Fred:     Let me just position this then. It is still very much a human interaction that we need, but do we actually have to be friends with people?  As in best friend forever, go to the pub together, go on holiday with each other?

It’s just that it doesn’t make any sense to me at all. People think it’s a good idea, because they’ve heard that people buy from people and they’ve made that assumption that the closer we are on that kind of interpersonal level, rather than more of a business level, that’s what’s going to give success. This advice is bandied around a hell of a lot.

Clare:    What you’re saying is that most salespeople think when they hear people buy from people. That means they got to be best mates or friends.

Fred:     Yes. They also they hear that, if people like you or they know you, then they’ll start to trust you just because you are now liked and known.

Trust can be built in different ways. It doesn’t have to be that it’s your best buddy. Actually it’s quite sad and I hope they aren’t listening to this but some of my mates, a couple of them, I wouldn’t trust them too far! (In a nice kind of way if you are listening guys).

I think there’s another element to it why people think is a good idea.  It’s that people are going to share better information just because your mates.  I don’t think that’s a prerequisite for sharing good information.  You can earn the right to do that from your professional credibility. For instance, I wouldn’t talk to my mates about financial issues.

It’s that kind of thinking that we need to get over. That’s where we start to see the flaw in this thinking.

Clare:    I do see it and I actually quite like it.  I agree with it as well.   

I often use an example of an IT Director mate of mine.  I know salespeople have been trying to approach him and I know his style, he’s really busy, he’s got a full social life.  What he says really annoys him about salespeople; is they are constantly asking him out for lunch or dinner.  He doesn’t want to socialize with the salespeople. He’s got a full life, but that doesn’t mean to say he won’t spend millions of pounds of the money he is responsible for with a salesperson. People then think, just because he says no to lunch or dinner, he doesn’t like me, therefore, I’m not going to sell to him, which is crazy.  So I do agree with you.

Fred:     The time and effort is spent on trying to build this very personal rapport rather than more of a business one.  People often don’t  want to have a personal relationship with salespeople.

Clare:  You’re differentiating between business and personal rapport.  Tell me why the thinking is flawed?

Fred:     That’s one element, not being a lifelong bosom buddy, doesn’t make you any less credible.  It might help, but actually there are other ways in which you can do this. Trust and friendship don’t necessarily have to be that closely intertwined. We can build a business rapport because we have earned the right and we do things which make people think, ‘He’s good, I want to work with this person.  I don’t want to go out for beers with them, I don’t want to go on holiday with them but I do want to see them at the office’.

Clare:    Interesting.  They have to like working with you, they want to do business with you, make it easy to do business with you.  We don’t have to like the person as a friend.

Fred:     Yeah, liking the idea of the business relationship and helping the customer tick that box.

 Another reason I think its is flawed is, I think there is a danger that we end up focusing on one person and really trying to build this friendship rather than realising that in a more complex, sophisticated sale in a business to business environment, there are a lot more people involved.

If we’re trying to build those levels of relationship like that with so many people, it’s really going to slow us up.  Quite apart from the fact that it doesn’t necessarily work with the personality styles across that broader group so it isn’t going to be relevant to them all anyway.  That’s where the thinking is flawed for me and where we want to be looking at going about it differently.

Clare:    I think that’s interesting.  If we look back at people you done the most business with.  Some of them I would want to go out for a coffee with, however lunch or dinner, probably not. Although I’ve worked some of those people for 10 or 15 years. 

Fred:     Let’s see what we’ve done with these people. We’ve made it easy to work with them. We’ve made it so they want to work with us because it’s made their life easier. We’re delivering things that they are recognizing as being useful and we’re doing that in a confident way, that they can be confident in as well.

Clare:    So as long as you are confident and you’ve got mutual respect for each other and a good business rapport that’s enough.

Fred:     Mutual respect is a great way to describe it. I talked about friendship isn’t trust, and maybe people heard that and thought, well then, what are you going to do? How can you build trust instead?

Take the ‘Trust Equation’; I’ve spoken about this a number of times, because it’s such a good way to focus in on those things that make a difference.  The Trust Equation is based on a number of things. Credibility;  that’s a knowing your field.  Reliability; doing the things you say you’re going to do and Intimacy; not being close up best buddies, but safe with information that you want to give me. If you want to give it to me, because we need to share that because this is how we’re going to work better. I’m a safe pair of hands with that. As it’s not going to go anywhere, I’m not going to do anything with it, which isn’t right.

When we look at the Trust Equation like a formula those elements are divided by, Self-orientation. In other words you are genuinely doing things with somebody else’s best interest in mind. You’re not doing it for yourself.

If you look at those elements, understand them and start to behave accordingly that is what is going to build trust. That is what is going to work. That’s going to make a good business relationship that people can be very, very comfortable with.

We don’t have to go off partying till the early hours. Ultimately you might do; as a result of how the relationship develops.  I could point to lots of relationships with people I’ve worked with that we are good mates as a result of things that we’ve done.  However, it was never the intention or what had to be, for us to first have to work together.

Clare:    Becoming mates may happen sometimes, but this focus on people buy from people can turn into a focus on being friends and mates with them as opposed to focusing on the business relationship. Using the Trust Equation is a great way of getting people focused; credibility, intimacy, reliability divided by self-orientation.

Fred:     Again, I’m not saying there isn’t a relationship, as there absolutely is.  We make contact, we have conversations, we’re human, we’re personable, we’re all those good things to be able to understand each other better.

What are they trying to achieve? What are their KPIs?  What does their business need to deliver or what did they want as individuals? What are their hopes, goals, aspirations?  We are going to get quite intimate in that way.  We’re going to go quite deep if we can, but can I suggest you don’t have to be best buddies?  Certainly make the effort to build the relationship, to go deep, to understand people, to build lots of bonds and mutual understanding but it doesn’t have to be on that friendship level.  That’s what I’m saying on this one.

Clare:    You don’t have to be mates and, and it’s pretty unlikely that you are mates actually. As in you still can have some good trust and credibility without being mates.

Fred:     Absolutely. Aspire to building a good business relationship if a friendship does happen then great.

I’m not saying ‘No, I cannot be your friend because it is unprofessional’ that’s a bit weird. I am saying don’t go with the objective of being friends, go on the objectives of being useful, or delivering on what they want, what they need and I’ve got to understand that, to be able to do it. That, will be received far better.

Clare:    Absolutely.  All those salespeople need to stop making friends. Don’t make friends focus on what the customer needs. Focus on the things that can build trust more effectively as detailed in the Trust Equation

Clare O’Shea is Founder of Marlow Sales Academy
She was instrumental in the design of the first ever Qualifications in Sales back in 1998 with the first Institute of Professional Sales and continues that interest as Course Director for the CIM Certificate, Advanced Certificate and Programme Director for the Post Graduate Level 7 Diploma in Strategic Sales Practice
Clare specialises in helping salespeople to be more consultative and consultants to be more commercial, by developing the right mindset, process, tools and skills.

Contact: https://www.linkedin.com/in/clareosheasales

Fred Copestake is founder of Brindis, a sales training consultancy.
Over the last 22 years he has travelled round the world 14 times visiting 36 countries to work with over 10,000 salespeople.
His book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’ looks at the evolving world of sales and sets out what salespeople need to do to refine their approach. It explores how to take things to the next level through understanding partnering intelligence and using the innovative VALUE Framework.

Contact: https://linktr.ee/fredcopestake