by Bryce Sanders

You sell something. It’s a product or service used by the majority of the population.

“Go after your natural market.” “Ask family and friends to do business.”

You’ve heard it all before. Conceptually, it makes sense, but it often falls down in practice because one size doesn’t fit all.

Should you have different approaches for different kinds of friends? Absolutely.

Seven stages of friendship

You know a lot of people. According to The New York Times, the average American knows 600 people. Here are two other ways others have told me to arrive at a number:

  • How many contacts in your smartphone?

  • How many people attended your wedding?

Here’s the challenge: You know them on different levels. The relationship you have with your brother-in-law is different from your relationship with your barber.

Many friendships deepen over time. Others stay at one level, often called “ nodding relationships.”

Consider friendships developing over seven steps. How would you bring up business at each one?

1. Strangers — You just met at a party, networking or alumni event. “What do you do?” is a standard question. If you are in banking, real estate, investments or insurance, a standard answer is: “I already have a banker/broker/adviser/agent.”

Strategy: Change the dynamic. “I’m an adviser at (firm). You probably work with an adviser already.” The likely answer is yes. Draw them out about the quality of the relationship. When people tell you what they aren’t getting in a relationship, they are telling you what they want.

2. Acquaintances — You see each other on the commuter train regularly. Each time, you say hello and chat briefly. Over time, you gather little pieces of information. You have children. They have children. You are car shopping. They are car shopping.

Strategy: Identify an issue you both face. The solution is within your area of professional expertise. Bring up the subject. Confirm you are in the same boat. You needed a solution and found one. How are they addressing their similar issue?

3. Share similar interests Friendships often develop when two people discover they have interests in common. You both work out at the gym on the same schedule.

Strategy: You want people to know Who you are, What you do and Why you are good. You want to know Who they are, Where they work and What they do. Often polo shirts or hats with a company logo gets the message across. Wear yours. Pay attention to theirs. When you see a logo, ask questions.

4. Friendship — Your shared interest in wine or football has turned into a friendship. The spouses and children have met. You know where they work and have a vague idea what they do.

Strategy: During some spontaneous one-on-one time, mention your vague idea about their profession. Ask for details. Take a sincere interest. They will likely return the favor. Sum up what you do. Ask if they know anyone who uses that product or service and is dissatisfied with the current relationship.

5. Trust — It develops over time. They know what you do. They have mentally asked themselves, “Would I do business with him/her?” They arrived at an answer already.

Strategy: Everyone should have the opportunity to say no. Bring up business. Be respectful of their current relationship. You would like to work together if the opportunity presents itself. They’ve already made up their mind. This is an ideal time for them to tell you the answer.

6. Close friends — identify a key issue. You’ve known them since you served together in the military. You sense something is keeping them awake at night. The problem doesn’t neatly fit into a compartment. They don’t know where to turn for advice. You can help, but they don’t see you in that role yet.

Strategy: Let them know you sense something is bothering them. You think you have identified the issue. Your firm has experience helping others towards good outcomes in similar situations. Sell the firm, not yourself.

7. Close friends – asking for business. They use your service frequently but elsewhere. They know what you do. Years ago, they explained they have this service covered. Circumstances change.

Strategy: We live in a competitive world. Wireless companies compete for your business. Ditto car dealers and airlines. Most businesses review vendor relationships annually to determine if they will stay or go. They are probably involved in this process at work. Ask when they review the relationship with the people providing your service in their personal life. You would like to compete for the business. Be professional.

Different friends at different stages of relationships need different strategies. Find one that’s right for the people you know.

If the average American knows 600 people, even a 1 percent success rate means you have the potential of getting six new clients.


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