How to Stay Out of the “Friend Zone” in Relationship Sales

Oct 29, 2019

The “friend zone” – the worst zone to be in when you were hoping for more. If you’ve ever unintentionally ended up there in a relationship, you know how difficult it is to get out of.

While we typically associate this dreaded zone with romantic endeavors, it can happen in relationship selling as well, which can ruin your chances of gaining a new customer.

Relationship selling focuses on building a strong connection with your buyer, rather than persuading them to purchase your product. Because humans are driven by feelings and 95 percent of purchase decisions are subconscious, relationship selling is extremely effective.

However, this tactic has some pitfalls that can land you in the friend zone, in which your buyer may enjoy your interactions but is not going to buy your product. In this case, they usually end up purchasing from a competitor, and you get a, “Oh, you’re really great, but this product is just a better fit for us. Friends?”

How can you stay out of the friend zone in relationship sales?

  1. Establish yourself as an expert. A key component of relationship selling is trust. Your buyer needs to trust not only that you’re honest and have their best interests in mind, but also that you’re an expert on the subject and capable of guiding them to the right decision. Use social media and other mutual networks to offer educational content that serves your buyers regardless of whether they use your product or not. You need to be one step ahead of them in terms of knowledge and prioritize sharing it.
  2. Court the right customer. Create a profile for your ideal customer, based on analysis of your best current customers, and only court individuals with that profile. You can spend a lot of time and money building relationships with prospects, who aren’t a great fit. Be disciplined about attracting and pursuing only ideal customers. Of course, it is valuable to develop relationships with people in your industry, who are not ideal customers, but your goals are different for those relationships, so adjust your expectations and actions accordingly.
  3. Challenge their status quo. Relationship selling is not all about getting your buyers to like and trust you. When the timing is right, it’s your job to challenge them to make a change. How you approach that depends on your personality, your buyer, and your relationship. You could ask them questions, which will help them realize they need to change on their own, or be more direct and tell them what their problem is and how they can change it. Either way, if you’re not helping them uncover their problem, presenting a solution, and challenging them to take action, they may never do it – at least not with you. However, to get your buyer to listen to you, they must respect and trust you, which comes from having a genuine relationship.
  4. Don’t break up post-sale. If your relationship with your buyer ends when they make a purchase, you’re doing it wrong. You’ve created a transactional, not a genuine relationship. Follow up with your customers post-sale, continue to be a resource and a guide in your area of expertise. Look for ways to add value on an ongoing basis. Your strongest leads are going to come through referrals, so think of following up with customers as your most important lead generation activity. This is easier said than done when you’re under pressure to produce, with multiple demands on your time. You can automate routine check-ins and have a dedicated monthly or quarterly time to check-in personally. Even if it’s technically the job of Marketing or the Customer Experience team, continuing to build relationships with your customers beyond the sale is critical. It keeps you in the guide zone and out of the friend zone.
  5. Focus on serving. What can you do to serve your buyers every time you interact with them? Changing your focus from selling to serving enables you to build genuine relationships. Your number one priority should be to add value. If they’re ideal customers, purchasing your products will be in their best interest, and you won’t feel like you’re selling. Serving your buyers extends beyond educating them. You can serve them by listening to them, encouraging them, or making them feel special. As long as it’s genuine and appreciated, it will help you stay out of the friend zone and in a position to gain a customer.

Relationships unlock your true potential. It applies in selling, just as it does in any other facet of life. However, if you want your relationships to result in sales, you need to be cognizant of the kind of relationships you’re building. Prioritize being valuable over being likable, and present yourself as a guide, rather than a buddy. You can be friendly, but use the techniques above to stay out of the friend zone.

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