Can Customers Truly Be Our Friends?

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I was smack in the middle of delivering a breathtaking seminar in Texas, when this older gentleman interrupted.

“Excuse me, ” he said. “All I know is that I refuse to sell anybody an insurance policy until they’re my friend, first!”

(I said a silent prayer for him—May he have many, many friends!)

He went on to explain that he feels he has to have a personal relationship with somebody before he can feel comfortable replacing his Stetson with his salesman’s hat.

I found it an odd encumbrance to saddle oneself with. Quickly scanning my customer base, I thought I’d have very little business if I took on that burden.

Customers are hard enough to find, but friends? Well, that’s just asking a whole heck of a lot. If you have a handful of true friends in a lifetime, I think you’re ahead of the game.

So, what’s all this we hear about relationship selling? Are its promoters simply urging us to think and to act as this gentleman did? Is this an efficient or desirable way of going about our business? Can our customers truly be our friends?

I doubt it. Moreover, I think we delude ourselves and waste our time if we buy into this concept. Here’s the logic:

(1) Friendship is a voluntary association between people. You can stop being friends as fast as you can say, “Can you lend me a hundred bucks?” Seriously, when you have a customer or a client, you must live with each other, so to speak, until your contractual obligation is fulfilled. A business relationship is one that a court of law will enforce if one party decides to breach it. Try telling a judge that your friend is giving you the cold shoulder, and see what relief he offers you.

(2) Friendship isn’t about power. Both people in a friendship have equal power to leave it or to enhance it. Buyers and sellers don’t have the same bargaining power. Usually, one needs the other at least a little more, as in supply and demand.

(3) The object of friendship isn’t economy or profit or productivity. It’s a lot of other things, intangibles, such as harmony, trust, identification with each other, laughter, tears and a shared history.

(4) The “whole” of a friendship is much greater than the sum of its parts. With a friend, you can occasionally say the wrong thing, be stupid, yell and emote. Try that with the person who’s calling about his cable subscription or phone bill.

(5) If you lose your job, you’re sick, or you suffer a personal loss, who is it that cheers you up, or comes over and cooks a meal for you?

There is a highway sign in Texas that always makes me smile. It says, “Drive Friendly. ”

Now that’s something you can do in the presence of strangers and customers—you can be friendly, and it’s a great idea.

But a sign saying, “Make Friends, ” could just take us down the wrong road, altogether.

Dr. Gary S. Goodman © 2005

Dr. Gary S. Goodman, President of, is a popular keynote speaker, management consultant, and seminar leader and the best-selling author of 12 books, including Reach Out & Sell Someone® and Monitoring, Measuring & Managing Customer Service. A frequent guest on radio and television, worldwide, Gary’s programs are offered by UCLA Extension and by numerous universities, trade associations, and other organizations in the United States and abroad. Gary is headquartered in Glendale, California. He can be reached at (818) 243-7338 or at:


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