Sales Coach Christine Harrington
Develop Business Relationships

How to Develop Business Relationships the Right Way

How to Develop Business Relationships the Right Way

Do you struggle to find the right balance when creating a friendly business relationship with a prospect? Have you ever crossed the line into a personal friendship? Some experts say treat prospects like cultivating a friendship, and others say keep it strictly professional. One sales manager told me when making sales calls, NEVER ask a prospect anything of a personal nature…NEVER!

It can be confusing.

In this article, you’ll find tips on how to balance friendship and business so the prospect doesn’t put you in the “friends only” category.

How to Develop Business Relationships the Right Way Develop Business Relationships

You may be thinking your prospect isn’t buying because you’re now his buddy. If you missed last week's article, you can read it here: When the Prospect Puts You in the Friends ONLY Category. 

Over and over we’ve heard, people want to do business with their friends, not stuffy professionals. While this is true, it’s still imperative to maintain a business relationship in order for your prospect to move forward as a client. There is a fine line, especially at the beginning of a business relationship. The truth is when people see you as a “friend” early on, they stop seeing you as a professional.

Yes, I have clients that turned into friends…but that was over a period of years being their trusted advisor. I first became their trusted advisor, and in turn, they became loyal clients, and over the years…a natural friendship evolved. I didn’t push the friendship in the beginning.

SO what’s the solution?

You need to learn the balance.

Here’s what to do.. Develop Business Relationships

Do find common ground and interests.

A prospect’s office can reveal so much about their interests. Just recently, when meeting with a small business owner, I immediately noticed she was using the same Michael Hyatt, Full Focus Planner that I use. We had a lively exchange of ideas on how important goal setting is to grow a business. My training was one of her goals for 2020. She’s now a client.

Did using the same planner nail the sale…No. Finding a common interest simply served as an ice breaker thereby suppressing the initial awkwardness of our first meeting. Plus the conversation bridged from the Full Focus planner to how I could partner with her to meet her business goals.

Be smart about the common ground when you achieve to develop business relationships. If golf becomes the common ground, you may end up as a golf buddy only. 

Do include the prospect in “client” entertainment. 

If you’re a sales professional with an expense account take advantage of providing client entertainment. One of my prospects (during my insurance career) who turned into a life long friend and client, had a passion for NASCAR. When I first met him, my intent was to develop a business relationship. However, when our business meeting began, and he knew I lived in Indianapolis, he asked about the upcoming Brickyard race. He and his family came to Indianapolis every year for the Brickyard race. Eventually, over the years, they turned into friends and stayed at my house. I watched his children grow up and they watched my son grow up. One summer, they invited my son to spend a few weeks with them when I was on a business trip to Iowa. We still talk and laugh about those NASCAR days, but it all started with the first invitation to be my guest at a NASCAR Race.

Here’s the negative side of an expense account; the prospect who’s only interest is in your expense account.

In my insurance days, a prospect (I’ll call Tim) became aware that I had access to Colts football tickets. This was during the Peyton Manning years and the tickets were a hot item. One Sunday morning, at 6:30, am I got a call from Tim asking if I had extra tickets for that day’s game. Tim had promised me business over the previous months but never came through. I turned him down. He went to my boss to complain about it. My boss later told me if I had given Tim the tickets, he would have been upset because my boss had given Tim Pacer tickets a few weeks earlier and still no business.

LESSON:   Only entertain those prospects that are sincere in developing a business relationship with you.

Develop Business RelationshipsDO know some personal information about each prospect.


Knowing prospects birthdays, anniversaries, etc, just shows you have an actual interest in the prospect and it’s not all about the sale. In Harvey MacKay’s book, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, he shares a 66 question customer profile (called MacKay 66) that he keeps for every customer! He believes it's more important to know your customer than it is to know your product. Check out MacKay 66 PDF by clicking here. Harvey generously gives this PDF out for free!

DO know what is personally important to the prospect.

Is your prospect a board member of her favorite charity? Does your prospect support a particular foundation? Knowing what is personally important to the prospect helps you to pass on information of value.

Here are the don’ts…

DON’T pretend you have a common interest in something that you don’t.

Pretending you like golf when you can’t tell a putter from a driver, your insincerity will shine through like a sliced drive. If you can’t find common ground or interests, work on getting to know the prospect through breakfast or lunch invitations, and eventually, you’ll find an interest that syncs. Lunch and breakfast aren’t all about business, but it’s an opportunity to strive to know the man or woman behind the business you’re prospecting.

DON’T step over the line when your intent is to develop a business relationship!

Inviting your prospect to your house for a cookout or graduation celebration. Don’t push the business relationship too soon in the process. Let it unfold naturally.

DON’T disclose personal information that you’d reveal to a close friend.

Basically, avoid becoming too open because the prospect will not take you seriously. A saleswoman I coached years ago believed by revealing personal information, would create trust and respect, because of her willingness to “open up.” I cautioned her not to do this. BUT she plowed forward treating the prospect as a girlfriend instead of a business relationship. When the prospect bought from the competition, she was floored. “We were so close”, she said.


Do you have a situation you’re in right now with a prospect and unsure how to move it forward? Feel free to comment below and I’d be happy to help.

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