We’ve all been there.

The dreaded Friend Zone.

That uneasy, undefined state of purgatory, where one party has a set of expectations and the other party has a totally different perception of the relationship altogether. She laughs at all your jokes. He gladly drops what he’s doing to help you move that new piano into your fourth-story apartment. You go on walks together, have intimate hour-long phone conversations and even nearly held hands once! Yet, deep down, you both know the truth:

This relationship isn’t going anywhere. You’re. Just. Friends.

Unfortunately, Friend Zones are also all too common in the world of sales. We’ve all worked on that one prospect who we have great conversations with when we check in every month. We’ll see them at local events and share inside jokes over a beer. They email us asking for consultative guidance and advice, under the guise of, “I would love to know more about your [product feature X].” Yet, after months of being in the pipeline, the prospect remains at an early sales funnel stage, unable – or unwilling? – to progress down the funnel.

You are firmly in that prospect’s Friend Zone. It’s not a good place to be, wasting lots of time spinning your wheels with no promise of a deal on the horizon. It’s time to get out – and stay out! – of the sales friend zone, once and for all.

Admit you’re in the Friend Zone

The first step is admitting it – if you don’t acknowledge the problem, you can’t fix it. You also have to accept responsibility for the actions that led you to where you are today. This is your fault. True, it takes two to tango – even if it’s just a dance between friends – but you allowed this relationship to get here in the first place. Whether it was not being firm enough in your expectations, not setting the right agendas, or asking the wrong questions – you sent the wrong message and it was received by the prospect.

A big part of admittance is also avoiding denial. Don’t keep telling yourself that things will change if you just keep hanging on to the status quo; you have to make an active change if you want to alter your relationship.

Define how your Prospect-Friend sees you

There’s a reason your prospect has kept you around in the Friend Zone. Is it because you provide great consultative advice on how she should run her business, with only tenuous tie-ins to your product? Is it because you are connected to some other people the prospect might be more interested in doing business with? Whatever the case, you have to be clear about how the prospect specifically sees you. This is also a good time to start being more brutally honest about what you want out of the relationship. You’re not asking how many sales reps the prospect has at their company just to make conversation; you’re gauging for potential users of your product.

Make them Jealous

People, by nature, want what they can’t have. Want to get out of a real Friend Zone? Start dating someone else; your “prospect” will feel a tinge of jealousy and start looking at you in a way he never did before.

The same thing applies in sales. Drop casual hints about other prospects you’re working on that have recently become customers. Send them case studies about recent customers who’ve enjoyed great success and prosperity with you. Provide lots of evidence that the customers you’ve been “dating” are very happy in their relationship with you.

Attitude Matters; Change Yours!

You know the best way to ensure that you’ll be entrenched in the Friend Zone for eternity? Complain incessantly about it! Mope depressingly in the corner. That will let any and all prospects know just what a catch you are!

How about trying something more positive instead? When it comes to the sales Friend Zone, you want to shift your attitude from one that is overly aggressive and pushy, to a more “pull” mindset. Sit back, be unavailable and mysterious, and draw the prospect in. Desperation – in sales and in love – can be sensed a mile away, and is a very unattractive trait.

Make the Tough Decisions to Spend Less Time with Them

You’ll never find true love and happiness if you’re spending all your time chasing after your Friend Zone crush like a lovesick puppy, instead of making yourself available to the plenty of remaining fish in the sea.

Time is one of the most valuable currencies a sales rep has to work with. You can’t afford to devote hours whispering sweet nothings to prospects on the phone if that relationship isn’t progressing. Be firm when you say you can’t fit this Friend Zone prospect into a meeting on your calendar because your schedule is booked solid talking to other, much more promising prospects.

Focus on Closing – but Keep the Friend Zone Active!

This might seem conflicting, but allow us to explain. To get out of a Friend Zone mindset, you have to change your thinking to emphasize closing; what other prospects can you close on immediately? Spend more time with those “hot” opportunities and you will see your overall confidence rise, impacting your other relationships.

Just because you’re stuck in the Friend Zone and trying to get out of it doesn’t mean you should just drop prospects to show them that you mean business. Keep nurturing the relationship – putting them in a marketing drip email campaign, for instance. Who knows? That “Friend” might just start looking at you with more genuine interest.

Know the Line Between Being Nice, and Being “A Nice Guy”

You know what they say about nice guys and finishing last? That adage was (probably) created specifically to address the Friend Zone.

Sales reps have to be nice and helpful. They have to be consultative. They have to provide value to the prospect. What they don’t have to do is feel like they owe anything to the prospect; the relationship has to go both ways. Sometimes, it’s ok to be selfish, to stand up and ask, “What’s in it for me?”
You’re tired of living in the Friend Zone, with good reason. Getting strung along by prospects is no fun, and will leave you wasting lots of time and productivity. You have to decide, once and for all, if you’re taking this relationship with the prospect to the next level, or if you’re going to stay as just friends.

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