Some Thoughts on Selling to Friends

A while back, I wrote an impassioned column about the dangers of selling to your friends and family. My feeling was that selling stuff directly to friends and family was a very poor idea.

Recently, I had an interaction with an old friend that made me re-think this stance a little bit. This friend of mine had decided to make a life change. He quit his job and decided to move overseas.

In doing so, he needed to sell off many of his possessions, as he couldn’t ship an apartment full of stuff elsewhere. Plus, it never hurts to have plenty of cash when making a life change like this. His goal was to reduce his possessions to two suitcases, so that meant a lot of selling.

He was a long-time tabletop role playing game fan and, over the years, he had accumulated a lot of books associated with his game of choice. He decided he wanted to sell these books to people that would use them, particularly his friends that had children that might play such games with their parents or even borrow the books for their own games during their teen years.

So, a few weeks ago, he sent several of his friends a list of his books. Because of his desire to see his friends have those books, he trimmed the price down significantly from what he might have been able to get for them anyway, selling books that retailed for $40 for $10 and others that retailed for $15-20 for $5.

I bought an armful of them, mostly to support an old friend, but also because I’ve enjoyed such games over the years and I hope to encourage my children to play such imaginative games.

Anyway, the whole experience left me thinking deeply about selling to friends.

There have been times in my life where buying items from a friend felt like an obligation of the friendship. For example, one of my older friends has asked me many times to buy Pampered Chef items from her.

I’ve never liked that type of arrangement. To me, it feels as though my friend is trying to cash in on the friendship. In some ways, it diminished that friendship, in my eyes at least.

On the other hand, when my other friend sold me the role-playing books, I didn’t feel as though he was trying to cash in on our friendship at all.

What was the difference in the two experiences? I think I’ve identified a few things.

First of all, I never felt like I had to buy one of his books. This was the big difference maker, I think. He came to me once, long after I knew he was leaving the country, and told me about some of the stuff he was selling and asked me if I wanted any of it.

He made it abundantly clear that he did not expect me to buy any of the stuff. He was basically just offering it to his friends before he took it elsewhere to sell – likely a mixture of eBay and a local gaming store who was willing to buy his used books. If I turned it down, it would not affect our friendship one iota.

Second, the prices he offered to me was substantially lower than through other sources. I can get the same prices on Pampered Chef stuff no matter where I buy it (unless I’m buying some secondhand stuff off of Craigslist or something). I would not be able to pick up those books for the price he was selling them for.

Third, he would not have kept asking or bringing up the items after I said “no.” He all but specifically said that when he first mentioned the items to me. On the other hand, I have had friends who sell other items repeatedly ask me to buy from them, even after I declined.

In the end, I realized that my book-selling friend valued the friendship more than the books. While he obviously did want to sell his books, he used the least intrusive possible technique for selling them to me.

Why? He identified me as a friend and not as a customer. That’s the key difference.

In the end, I realized that sales techniques that pushed me away were techniques that a salesperson would use on a client, not that a friend would use on a friend.

Repeated contacts are likely to generate more sales than one-time contacts if you’re selling to your clients. Repeated contacts are more likely to generate annoyance, though, which is not the result you want with your friends.

Pricing strategies should be designed solely to maximize your profits if you’re selling to your clients. On the other hand, pricing strategies should not leave your friends feeling like you’re trying to scam them.

High pressure will generate more sales to your clients overall, but high pressure on your friends will just make them feel less comfortable around you.

To put it simply, if you treat your friend like a sales client, you’re tapping that friendship for sales. This might be your goal, but it’s hard to maintain a long-lasting friendship if you do that – especially if you do it repeatedly.

Your friendships are not the foundation of a business. If you view them that way, they’re clients, not friends, and you should expect a salesperson-client relationship from them and not necessarily a friendship.

There are many, many ways to make money in this world without using your friends as sales clients.

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