I am in charge of events at my company (I’d prefer to remain anonymous, but let’s just say it’s a very large technology company named after a fruit). We do quite a lot of business with one hotel chain, and I’ve become good friends with our sales rep there, Amber. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Amber used to always take me out to lunch, or invite me to concerts and other cool events. Once she even flew me out to the Academy Awards where her company was a sponsor. I know that’s her job, but we also became close. We rarely talked about business; she knew everything going on in my personal life.
About a month ago I booked a huge conference at a competing hotel company. My internal client really wanted it there, and to tell the truth, they gave us an amazing deal. I had Amber bid on it, but they blew her away. Since then, I’ve gotten the cold shoulder from her. If I call her about personal stuff, she doesn’t seem to have time. It’s like I have to dangle business in front of her to get some attention now.
How do I know if she’s really a friend, or just wants my business?
CONFUSED IN CUPERTINO
What are you, twelve years old? Sorry, that was a bit harsh. But think back to high school or college where people were sometimes very nice to you because they really liked you, and sometimes they were nice just so they could get you into bed. Sometimes, if you were lucky, they’d be nice to you after they got you into bed. We called those people boyfriends / girlfriends.
Well, the same is true for vendors. Some of them just want your business, and others do become genuine friends. It’s hard to tell which one Amber is without hearing her side of the story. Could be that she really does like you and was hurt that you went to a competitor. She might say “if Confused was really my friend, she wouldn’t give business to a rival.”
On the other hand, chances are you just woke up to smell the coffee. Salespeople are good at fostering relationships, and the really good ones get clients to buy mainly because they like working with the salesperson, more so than any love of the product they’re selling.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they’re providing great service at a competitive price. It’s great to like the people you work with, provided that you’re able to put the screws to her if she’s not measuring up on the business side. Most friend/vendor relationships run into trouble there, where the client gets soft on the vendor.
To find out if Amber is a keeper, ask yourself if she’d still be your friend if you changed jobs so that you no longer wielded any potential business for her. Odds are the answer is no, though it does happen sometimes. I hate to break it to you, but that’s usually how it works.
That said, there are many of what I’d call “situational friendships” that all operate the same way. People become friends working in the same office, and don’t always stay friends when one of them leaves. Parents become friends because they have kids on the same soccer team; students taking the same class, etc. A small portion of those relationships continue when the situation changes, but most don’t.
And if you feel you’re being “used”, do what you have to do to make it a two-way street. If you guys are friends, then she should never put you in a position where she’s charging you more than her competitors, her response rate should be better, her customer perks should be better, etc. So call her out if she doesn’t measure up.
Otherwise, don’t hate the playa, hate the game. Amber’s just good at her job, which is getting people to like her. And if her product is good, certainly don’t penalize her for that.