“But They Know Me!” How Close Ties Harm Sales Relationships


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The brush-off all salespeople have experienced: “No thanks. We’re completely satisfied with our current provider.” Years ago, a sales trainer recommended this follow-on question: “Would you like to know if your loyalty is costing you anything?”

Logical. On target. Helpful, even. And I couldn’t properly deliver that question to save my life! Many of the answers I received can’t be repeated. I’m sure my prospects heard “would you like to know why you’re an idiot?”—but that’s another story, for another day.

Loyalty numbs the senses in a pleasing way. From The Brush Off, we know people selectively shun facts and information. There are real costs and opportunity costs, but that doesn’t stop customers from craving the loyalty chemistry. Similarly, vendors crave loyal customers, but the costs are less apparent.

My neighbor, who runs a media organization, recently cited a compelling example. He reviewed a sales proposal during a pre-call meeting with one of his salespeople. My neighbor shared that parts of the proposal were poorly written, and he was concerned how that would reflect on his organization. The salesperson’s response? “But they know me!” Does his client sound like one that’s ripe for competitive picking? It happens every day.

Salespeople and prospects work within a web of social-media enabled connections. Outside of sales engagements, we overlap in FaceBook, LinkedIn, alumni groups, kids’ sports, civic organizations, board affiliations, and more. While this social glue tightens sales relationships, an unwanted byproduct can stain the sales process: sloppiness.

When it comes to selling to friends, salespeople are prone to delivering a less-than-best effort. And I’m not just throwing mud. I’ve done it too. “Eeks. I’ve got to take care of another problem right now. Alex’s proposal can wait one more day. He’ll understand.” “The 12:00 lunch meeting with Cathy? I’ll get there at 12:45. Hey—I was never on time for anything in college, either.” The casualness continues. Dave Kurlan highlighted why it’s important not to appear disheveled for a face-to-face sales call, explaining “nobody will ever refuse to buy from you because you are dressed well.” Amazing that he had to point that out.

Earlier this year, over 100 sales professionals responded to the 2010 Sales Risk Survey, conducted in partnership with CustomerThink. Forty-three percent agreed with the statement, “Unexpected situations often cause us to lose sales opportunities.” Another blindside tackle on the sales gridiron. Sideline staff, coaches, and trainers rush out to assess the damage and to offer aid.

One question to ask in the post-decision review: how tight were our connections? The strongest ties are also the most vulnerable.


  1. Andy, Thanks for bring this subject to the forefront. As a long time business development professional in a male dominated field, I was always up against male business relationships that were hard for me to break into. Picture early in my career a 24 year old mechanical engineer talking to Bucyrus Erie engineers designing draglines, versus the “guys” who they played golf with. I had to be on top of my game and watch the details. I couldn’t even get to those close ties. In retrospect this helped me be more successful.

    The social space we participate in are no different in terms of “dressing sharp” and watching the details lest you say the wrong thing to offend, embarrass you or your client. Keep in mind that you are both social and business in these social spaces – be balanced but be careful, its not only the proposal that can get sloppy.


  2. Thanks, Wendy. Projecting professionalism means as much in the social media world as it does in the face-to-face world.

  3. Great post Andy – and thanks for mentioning mine.

    You are really talking about taking things for granted, and when we do that, not only might we make someone less important, put it off until later or be light on details, we take short-cuts too.

    I’ve seen salespeople do this in the sales process where they skip the good, tough, timely questions and zip right by the qualification because, hey, these people know me and they won’t want to answer these questions anyway.

    The way you increase your value to the people you know is to do the very things you should be doing – only better than usual, in more detail than normal, with more passion than typical, with more timeliness that is ordinary for you – to impress upon them that they are fortunate to have a relationship with you.


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