Who is Your Frienemy?

Thinking about all the contacts you have in your personal and professional life, you have positive relationships, some negative ones, and those that are neutral.

In our sales profession, we often refer to those persons in our accounts with whom we have a positive relationships as sponsors, champions, advocates, supporters and the like. Similarly, we often refer to our negative relationships as adversaries or enemies.

But what about those persons who deceive? Those persons who betray our trust are the frienemies. They pretend to befriend us in the course of our business relationship only to abuse your trust for their own or another’s personal gain.

I want to discuss how three items: first, how to recognize frienemies before they betray and second, how minimize the impact of frienemies and third, how to move forward in spite of frienemies. I welcome your ideas and feedback.

People say many things – some they mean and others they don’t – the challenge for sales professionals is differentiating truth from fiction. Personally I have little regard for what people say – I am more interested in what people do. Here’s a common example you may have experienced for yourself in which the client exposes himself as a frienemy:

Your contact whom you deal with regularly tells you in no uncertain terms that you are not to “go above his head” and that everything comes through him. After all, he places all the orders and has been a loyal client. By going beyond him your actions could jeopardize the relationship – he has been your friend (or so you thought) but he threatens to become an enemy.

It’s best to uncover the frienemies before this type of scenario unfolds. Always remember that your goal is not to win their friendship. Your goal is to win their business. If in the course of business, a friendship ensues, great! If not, that’s fine too. You need to get over it.

Among the best ways to uncover the frienemy personality is to ask questions that require the prospect to think in order for you to get into his or her head. Here are some examples:

Thinking about this project, who else needs to be involved in the process and how?

Projecting forward, let’s say these opportunities really are possible, what would you do then? Who else needs to be involved and how?

In your opinion, what else needs to happen in order to move this forward?

It’s important to test to see if 1) the person knows all the steps and individuals involved in the buying process 2) the person discloses those steps and persons 3) the person takes action to move the opportunity forward. Sponsors take initiative with any of these questions, and outright adversaries will block you immediately. Often salespeople mistakenly categorize frienemies as supporters. Supporters are those persons who provide intelligence or other insider information to you but are unwilling to take a risk in providing you direct access to other persons – it is this fine line where salespersons can fall into this frienemy trap.

Much like a champion chess player, sales professionals must focus several moves ahead, anticipating and forcing their opponents moves. Remember, it’s not just what this person says, but more importantly what s/he does to either move the buying process forward or impede progress.

Minimizing the impact of the frienemy requires tact. Indirect approaches work best so as not to alert him of your awareness. Here are a few tactics:

Misdirection: If the frienemy is feeding information directly to your competitor, provide additional unimportant information to the frienemy that will cause him and the competitor to chase a lower priority or false issue or solution.

Fall Back: If the frienemy is unwilling to move forward with introductions and stalls, the best solution for you is to stall as well. Remember there are two winners to every sale, don’t commit time energy and resources if you won’t win.

End-Around: This works best with the misdirection and fall back tactics. Keeping the frienemy occupied while you and your team positions with other contacts (other supporters and sponsors).

Let me be clear on two failed tactics: calling out your frienemy will not help you nor will trying to win him or her over to your favor. While I favor “winning friends and influencing people”, and you may eventually win over the frienemy, but you are unlikely to have the luxury of the time required in order to win both the deal and his favor. To summarize, limit your exposure to frienemies.

Moving forward requires going wider and deeper within the target organization in order to establish new relationships, finding new supporters, sponsors and beneficiaries for your products and services. You and your team need to identify and quantify measurable business impact and value to offset the frienemies tactics. Focusing in value will help change the game to focus on numbers and facts versus hearsay and opinions.

In summary, continually assess your relationships – not just in terms of frequency of meeting, but more importantly in terms of their level of support and sponsorship – to uncover the frienemies. Limit your exposure to the frienemies. Take action and go find other unbiased persons with whom you build mutual trust and value. There is no beating the frienemy at his game. Change the rules and focus on value with the persons who matter most.

Sell smarter today and everyday and have more fun in the process.