Are You Trapped In The Friend Zone With Potential Buyers?
Because friends don't buy from friends
Do people seem to love your stuff…but still don’t buy it?
When you send out a newsletter to your mailing list, do you receive stacks of admiring responses but no sales?
Can you hardly breathe on social media without people swooning over your products, and yet orders are few and far between?
If so, maybe you’ve accidentally put yourself in the friend zone.
The friend zone is an idea from the world of dating. It describes a situation where one person in a friendship wants to enter into a romantic relationship, while the other person shows no signs of thinking about their friend in a romantic way.
Now, an important note:
The concept of the friend zone is all kinds of problematic when it comes to relationships because it has strong overtones of entitlement. “I’m in the friend zone” is sometimes used by straight men as shorthand for “She won’t sleep with me even though I’ve decided I want to sleep with her.” It encourages the idea that male desire is primary, it tells men it’s okay to be manipulative and it chips away at the centrality of clear, enthusiastic consent.
In this context, the friend zone can get in the sea and stay there.
But if it’s possible to wash off the slime, having a way of describing this kind of one-sided situation is useful when it comes to selling stuff. That situation is:
You want commerce to take place but actually spending money on your work doesn’t seem to occur to your potential customers. As far as you can tell, they like and trust you very much, but not enough of them are clicking “Add To Cart.”
Well, let’s be clear that you’re not entitled to anyone’s hard-earned cash. Obviously, no-one owes you a living, no matter how brilliant the lovely thing you make.
That said, there are three reasons why you might be in the friend zone, and three ways to fix it. The easiest and most likely is:
#1 – You’re not asking people to buy.
You can inadvertently friend zone yourself by churning out reams of helpful, beautiful blog posts, newsletters and social media posts, giving away stacks of free advice and never, ever explicitly asking your audience to buy.
Do this for long enough and people can come to see you as their charming, talented, generous friend…and buying from our friends feels wrong. Money isn’t supposed to come into it.
Counteract this by repeatedly establishing commercial intent.
Keep creating your blog posts, newsletters and social media posts, but stick a call-to-action button (something that says “Shop now” or “See collection,”) at the end of every single one.
Casually link to your online store in the body of your posts. Write the odd article about the customers you do have and what they think about your stuff. If you often give one-to-one advice, consider offering Office Hours where people pay to speak to you.
And for Pete’s sake run straight-up sales or promotions every once in a while.
Make it blindingly obvious that this is a place where enjoyable buying and selling happens.
Tips to make this easier:
- If you’ve got my Website Words template pack there are dozens of calls-to-action to choose from in there.
- There are also template blog posts that show you how to establish commercial intent without being salesy.
- If you’ve ended up in the friend zone because you feel awkward and apologetic about asking people to buy, read this post and this post.
#2 – You share too much with potential customers.
This is a trickier fix because different people (and different audiences) have different boundaries.
Some are very open about their bodies and physical health, their mental health, their family and other intimate areas of their lives.
They share it all with their audience, blend it with appropriate calls-to-action and don’t even come close to being friend zoned. I follow some people in the body positivity space who pull this off brilliantly.
Others share so much about their struggles that, as potential customers, we start to have “it’s complicated” feelings about them.
As a fellow human being you appreciate the seller’s courage and transparency and you’re rooting for them. You want them to be happy.
At the same time, the “customer” part of your brain quietly pulls on its running spikes and flees for the hills because the seller’s problems and challenges have eclipsed your own.
As the buyer, you’re supposed to be the star.
What you want and need and dream about is supposed to be the seller’s primary concern. When you know way too much about that seller’s financial situation, for example, or other difficult and personal things, the emotions driving your purchase get all twisted.
And no wonder. You’re being treated like their long-suffering shoulder to cry on.
Thinking about your wants and needs and dreams starts to feel kind of selfish in light of their problems. What started out as a simple, pleasurable quest to buy a nice candle / bar of soap / necklace has become this big heavy thing that’s freighted with feelings that don’t even belong to you.
You start to feel weird about buying from this seller. Navigating the purchase burns up too much emotional energy.
So you buy from someone else.
If you think this might be your problem:
- Remember this is a matter of degree. You certainly can and should tell your audience about yourself – just consider whether you’re telling them a good deal more than they actually need to know. Take a step back and ask if *your* point of view is currently getting much more airtime than your buyers’.
- If so, put your audience on a temporary information diet. Pull back from sharing personal stuff for at least a couple of months, as an experiment.
- Talk about your customers – especially what your products do for your customers – instead. Consciously make them the star of every post and newsletter.
- Do the same stuff as before to establish commercial intent.
- Reflect on how you feel during this experiment and make decisions about the way forward. If you do come back to sharing your problems and challenges, aim to talk about your scars instead of your wounds. Scars are things that happened long ago, which you’ve recovered and learned from. Wounds are things which hurt now.
#3 – The people you’re selling to don’t see themselves as your customers.
The third reason for being stuck in the friend zone is that your audience is made up of people who don’t self-identify as your buyers.
They like you and hope you do well but beyond the odd small purchase to support you, they don’t personally want or need what you offer.
One of the ways this can happen is because of a price point mismatch: your branding and positioning say “cheerful and affordable” but your prices say “gold-dipped luxury.”
Or it can happen the other way around, where your products are too *inexpensive* for your audience, and they’re thinking “I like the look of this, but at that price how good can it be?”
This situation is harder and slower to change because you need a new audience. Time, thought and money are likely to be required. We’ll come back to that another time.
When you’re done, however, it can be like a dam has finally broken. All the sales you weren’t getting before can now stream in.
Okay, but what about the people who STILL don’t buy?
Even after you’ve fixed what you can fix at your end, there will always be people who don’t whip out their Visa card in the way you’d like them to. What do you do with them?
You enjoy them.
Maybe they rave about you to their friends. Maybe they like and comment on all your Instagram posts. Maybe they just bask in your glow.
As long as you’re making the money you want to make, people who choose to support you in non-financial ways can still be very welcome in your business.
Hello, I'm Clare Holliday. I'm a shopkeeper who's helped thousands of creative people sell their work to stores, galleries and regular customers all over the world. Now it's your turn.