The How And Why To Sell To Friends

In sales, it seems the toughest prospects are the ones we know best. Have you ever wondered why? It might be because we think we’re overstepping the lines of friendship. When we know someone well, we never want that friend to question our motives for the friendship.  It’s a troubling feeling if we think that our friends may think we are using that relationship as leverage to sell with.

Given the fact that our friends and family actually want us to succeed, there’s really no logic to that assumption.  So, what’s the holdup?  The answer isn’t contained in the actual conversation you’re looking to have.  The answer is really found in how you transition to the discussion you’re looking to initiate, and how to begin that discussion.

To some extent, I was fortunate; I was taught the answer to this question when I was twenty-one years old selling life insurance.  Like most in that particular industry, I was instructed to bring a list of family and friends to my managers office to target and sell.  I brought the list, but I quietly avoided any attempt to sell them.  Fortunately, my sales numbers were strong, and my manager forgot about following up on that list… that is until I hit my first sales slump. Then, my manager’s memory improved, and we went back to that list.  First, he made an emotional appeal:

“Rob, if you believe in your product, why would you not want to share that with those you care about the most?”

That certainly made sense, but I was still stuck on the thought that friends would question my motives.  My manager then doubled down on that emotional appeal and continued:

“Rob, certain products like insurance need to be sold because most people tend to wait too long to purchase it on their own.  When you’re at a funeral in line to pay your respects to a widow, how would you feel if that widow, on top of that devastating loss, was under financial pressure? What if she said something like this to you: My husband died without life insurance.  Isn’t that what you sell?  How is it that you never spoke to either of us about purchasing it?”

That made even more sense, and yet, I simply rededicated myself to finding new prospects and put that list in a drawer.  Then my manager moved on from the emotional response to a tactical response.  He provided a badly needed transition, from a conversation with a friend to a business conversation with that same friend.  It sounded like this:

“I’d love to find a time we can grab a cup of coffee, or a lunch, and have a conversation about the professional side of what I do. I want to be clear:  The fact that we’re friends is not a reason to enter into a business relationship.  But it’s also not a reason to avoid a conversation about what I do, and how I might help you.”

I tried that approach, but on the heels of that particular statement, I noticed that my friends and family still seemed uncomfortable and confused about what we would be doing in the meeting I was trying to set up.  Because of this, I added a little more to my manager’s tactic and addressed that particular elephant in the room; the clarification of an agenda which sounded something like this:

“When we meet, I’ll want to learn more about what you do, tell you more about what I do, and if see there are any specific challenges, I might be able to assist you with…”

You may be concerned that they will be thinking: “How am I going to get out of this if I don’t want to buy anything?”  Don’t wait for the question, simply keep going:

“… At the end of our meeting, you’ll either find value in what we have talked about, or you won’t.  If you don’t find any value, all I ask is that you feel comfortable telling me so.  I wouldn’t want to take up any more of your time discussing ideas that are of no use to you.  Does that sound fair?

“On the other hand, if you do see value, I ask that you we set a time to meet again so that we can talk further and ultimately create a more detailed proposal customized around any specific needs you may have.”

It’s not enough to understand if you believe in your product or ideas. You have a right and an obligation to talk to your family and friends about it.  You now have a way of doing just that!

Related: Can You Sell And Problem Solve?