by Ben Paul
Taking your clients or prospects to the rugby or theatre? Buying them plenty of drinks and having great conversations about sport, the weather, their kids or dare I say it, the Bachelor? You’re getting on great but this relationship is unlikely to lead into profitable work for you or your organisation. In fact, it may even have got to that critical stage where it is now almost awkward to actually ask for the work. There is a real danger that your client has put you firmly in the “friend zone”. As the Bachelor would no doubt tell you, this isn’t a profitable place to find yourself.
Why it hurts in the “Friend Zone?”
Businesses have been investing in client hospitality for many years now, with little real tangible return on investment. In the last couple of decades, it is likely that this return has diminished even further. It turns out that having a good social relationship with your client may not actually lead to great financial rewards. Below are the four main reasons why.
- You’re talking about the wrong things. Most conversations don’t move from: “How are things with you? You enjoying the game? Now how about that next project?” Obviously a direct approach like this would be horrendous and too pushy, but the point is most of us, don’t really like to ask our friends for business. On the flip-side our friends don’t want to be asked either (See point 4).
- You’re meeting in the wrong setting. Your client is relaxed; they may be a big fan of the theatre or really into the game. The last thing they will want to talk about while enjoying themselves is business.
- No-one likes gifts with an agenda. Here’s something nice I have just given you, in return please can you give me some work? It is awkward to give someone a gift and then caveat it with a proviso. It is also very self-orientated and likely to break any trust you’ve built with that individual.
- They don’t want to risk your friendship. They enjoy talking with you about your shared interests. They value your friendship, hopefully you value it too. If they purchase your services it would change this relationship, they probably don’t want that. It may be in the back of their mind that if you mess up or they terminate your services, it will have a negative impact on your friendship.
So what do you do if you’re stuck in the “friend zone?”
This is a tricky one, as at first you have to realize you are in the unprofitable “friend zone” and then you should consider doing the three things below.
- Introduce a colleague. The easiest way to change this relationship is to pass it on to someone else. Brief your colleague to come in and ask questions around your prospects business, what they hope to achieve etc. This will start a new non-social relationship.
- Hold the meeting in a formal place. You’re breaking the cycle, so make sure that when you introduce your colleague you do it at either your office or theirs. This will help make the meeting more focused on business and will get this new relationship off to a non-social start.
- Don’t exit stage left. This person is now your friend, they don’t want you to walk away. Keep up the social interaction, assuming you both enjoy it. While we all need good trusted business contacts we also need friends. Abandon this person now and their feelings will be hurt.
This post first appeared on Ben’s LinkedIn page. If you’d like to comment or join in this conversation, please visit the post here.