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5 reasons to avoid the friend zone with clients

Conventional workplace wisdom espouses the virtue of being friendly with clients. While friendliness is a good thing, too often that’s interpreted as encouragement to become the client’s friend. That’s not such a good thing.

The key question is what is the most appropriate and profitable salesperson/client relationship? Having conducted customer service training seminars for hundreds of organizations over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are five things every salesperson should consider as they develop relationships with clients.

1. Not all interactions are fun.

Chances are, clients would rather not go through the process of buying or selling a home. It’s difficult and stressful. They want the benefits of your expertise and services but for today’s busy, distracted client, the actual act of dealing with a sale or purchase isn’t fun. That means when dealing with stressed or rushed customers, if you try to be too upbeat and friendly, you may actually come across to some customers as more irritating than endearing.

2. We pay trusted advisors; friends are free.

There’s nothing wrong with becoming friends with customers – that is if you’re going to be real friends. Friends are people who you invite to your home for a meal. When your clients become your friends, they expect the friends and family discount. If that isn’t in your plan, then you’ll come across as being more authentic by instead working to become your customer’s trusted advisor.

Clients will pay a premium to do business with a trusted advisor. Friends, on the other hand, are free.

3. Service isn’t subservience.

My first job, after graduating university with a commerce degree, was selling one-write accounting systems to businesses door-to-door. For the first few weeks I got turned down more often than a hotel bedspread. It was so hard to get past the receptionist to see the prospect that – if the business owner or manager deigned to grant me an audience – I felt like I should prostrate myself and repeat the proverbial, “I’m not worthy!”

I soon discovered that being overtly grateful for the client’s time implied that my offerings were not worth their time. Not a good message. Some clients like service providers who are obsequious. But they don’t respect them. Again, your goal is not to be the client’s friend – or servant. It’s to become their trusted advisor.

4. Arrogance annoys.

At the other extreme of the status spectrum we find salespeople who know their stuff so well that they come across as arrogant. In that case, clients may respect those sales reps, but they don’t like them. Clients will often not hire haughty people just to put them in their place. I’m sure you don’t walk around with a holier-than-thou attitude. What you may do, however, is be too quick to offer advice. Clients need to feel like you have truly listened to their unique needs. That means in order to avoid coming across as arrogant, trusted advisors need to do at least as much listening as they do talking.

5. Too casual is untrustworthy.

Popular wisdom advocates winning customer confidence by dressing and speaking like your customers. And it’s generally misguided. Imagine walking into a medical specialist’s office to find that the MD is dressed in sandals and a T-shirt and addresses you as “dude”. You’d be looking for a few framed degrees on the wall. It’s a mistake to “dumb-down” your verbal and non-verbal communication to match your client. Instead, dress to suit the job expectations and then speak clearly and articulately. You’ll be perceived as being appropriate and intelligent. That goes a long way towards earning trust.

Bottom line – clients are paying directly or indirectly for your service. They already have their own friends (who are free). What most customers need – and will pay a premium for – are professionals they trust who help them make better decisions. That’s the role of a trusted advisor.