Friendship and Sales: 5 lessons from bizdev on being a better friend.

May 14, 2020

Posted in  Thoughts

In my former job, I managed relationships for a living.

Business development or bizdev, account manager, salesperson, partnerships manager….

Whatever the title, the core job description is the same:

“I work with People.”

Building, maintaining and nurturing relationships.

This was what I was paid to do everyday for several years. 

And I was pretty good at it.

I recently learned the concept of Frientimacy (as shared by Shasta Nelson) and scored myself on a scale of 1 to 10 against the three areas.

  • Positivity: Do I make the effort to bring joy to my friends?
  • Vulnerability: Am I open with what’s going on in my life?
  • Consistency: Do I regularly stay in touch?

I scored shockingly bad on consistency.

Shamefully, I was probably a better salesperson than friend.

Staying in touch.

The very thing I did daily at work was what I lacked most with the people I cared deeply about. 

With best friends, I regularly forget important dates like birthdays and go radio silent for 6 to 12 months.


I’ve resolved to right that balance by showing my friends the same level of tender loving care (TLC) that business partners used to get. 

5 lessons from my sales life on being a better friend:

1. Prioritize Accounts (or, choose my friends)

As a bizdev, I managed hundreds of accounts simultaneously.

Naturally, not all accounts were equal.

They brought in different levels of revenue to the company and true to the 80/20 rule, a miniority drove the majority.

Accounts were categorized into priority 1, 2 and 3.

  • P1s (10 clients):
    This was never more than 10. Together, these made up 80% of revenue and were critical to business health.
  • P2s (20 to 30 clients):
    As a group, P2s drove the next 15% of revenue and had the potential to one day become P1s.
  • P3s (50 clients):
    This group didn’t drive much revenue but were interesting enough opportunities to keep.

Likewise with friendships.

Dunbar’s number suggests that people can have stable social relationships with only 100 others.

Who, of the 2,000+ ‘friends’ I have on Facebook, do I want in that 100?

The answers came naturally by asking the following questions:

  • P1s:
    Who can I call in an emergency?
    • There are specifically 8 people outside of family whom I know I can count on to show up in a crisis. Need a blood transfusion? Bury a body? These friends would move mountains to be with me, no questions asked.
  • P2s:
    Who are those whom I think “I wonder what x is up to”?
    • These are friends whose well-being I care about. Whenever I think of them, I’m motivated to reach out to see how they’re doing.
  • P3s:
    Who are the people I’ve thought “we could be really good friends if we spent more time together”?
    • We may have met just briefly in the past but had great chemistry. These are the friends whom I don’t encounter much but whenever I do, find inspiring every time.

2. Vary level of investment (or, how much TLC to put in)

With the prioritization clear, the level of investment in terms of time, effort and resource should vary accordingly.

Here’s what I used to do with clients around catch ups and special events like Christmas or New Year.

Monthly catch upsYesNoNo
Quarterly catch upsIn personOn callNo
Annual catch upsYesYesYes
Budget for giftsYesNoNo
Email on special eventsPersonalizedPersonalizedMass

The difference is clear in frequency and level of effort.

Something similar can be done with friendships.

For example, if you’re a gift-giver, the investment can be varied as:

  • P1: $50 budget
  • P2: $20 budget
  • P3: Thoughtful gifts that don’t cost money, like sharing a recommended book

Instead of a mass email on new year’s, I have the birthdays of everyone in my calendar to keep in touch at least once a year in a meaningful way.

3. Deliver on agreements (or, keep my promises)

Following through with clients was a must. Failure to do so invariably led to a breakdown in trust and negative impressions.

With friends, I have to admit I’m pretty sloppy on this.

I forget to text the promised link, leave the promised book at home, don’t make the promised phone call.

“Oops, sorry I forgot!” is an excuse I no longer want to make.

With clients, I kept a conversation log and created reminders in my calendar.

I now do the same with friends.

It just takes 3 minutes to jot down notes in my Evernote on what we talked about.

If there’s something to follow up on, I do it immediately or schedule it into my calendar for later.

The great thing about having a conversation log, asides from following up on promises, is that I’m less forgetful and more present for my friends.

For example if they mention an upcoming event, I schedule a reminder to send a text before to say “YAY!!” or “Good luck!”

4. Set an agenda (or, have meaningful conversation)

Productive conversation with clients was always due to one thing:

Setting an agenda.

Agendas ensure both parties are able:

  • To prepare beforehand
  • To start the conversation with their biggest priorities
  • and walk away feeling heard and satisfied.

This, I have to admit, felt a little weird when I first tried it out.

(Tip: don’t say “hey can we set an agenda?” to friends; I learned that from experience…)

Here’s how I set agendas with friends:

  • I ask:
    “I’m looking forward to meeting up! Is there anything on your mind?”
  • And if yes:
    “would you mind sharing more context with me before we meet? It would be great to have some time to reflect on it, to make sure I can be helpful.”
  • If I have something to chat about:
    “I wanted to get your thoughts on my latest post when we catch up. I’ll send you the link to it if that’s ok!”

However you phrase it, take the time to have an agenda and prepare accordingly beforehand.

The key thing for me in setting agendas with friends is not to have a ‘productive’ conversation.

It’s ensuring that we’ve brought up the most important things weighing on our hearts and feel heard with each other.

5. Have a minimum criteria (or, when to walk away) 

Sometimes, despite all the TLC, a client remains unresponsive or just doesn’t reciprocate.

I’ve had to draw a line with these before the relationship started going into negative returns.

The unfortunate truth is there will be friends with whom we grow apart.

The free-flowing conversation of the past starts to dry up especially as we move on to different stages in life, like leaving school or having kids.

Still, we try to hang on to a relationship out of a desire to preserve the nostalgic good ol’ times.

After one too many ignored Whatsapps or awkward lunch catch ups with nothing to say, maybe it’s time to let go.

Spend that time with people who’ve chosen you to be in their 100 too instead.

Whether its work partners or life partners, people are people.

Relationships in any context take conscious effort at nurturing, and I’m glad to have finally broken down the ‘wall’ between work and casual in my head.

What about you? What’s your take on friendship?

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  1. Love this. Thank you for the examples and breaking it down so clearly. Never thought of categorising them by priority & investment — which makes so much sense now that I’ve realised that!

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