A few months ago I was sitting with what you could call my Business Development Manager. He was a sharp suited man blessed with a small watchful face. He was boasting about how he managed to sell a load of life insurance to some rugby players just before they changed the regulations which would have made the whole process more difficult.
I could see that he never had a conversation without agenda. However whimsical his comments might seem, by the end of the talk you would realise why he had made them and you had been quietly shepherded towards the conclusion he wanted you to reach. After a period of purposful verbal meandering he asked me “How many friends do you have” . Several people have said over my life that you can count your true friends on the fingers of one hand. But taking a slightly larger view I offered the number ten. “Well then” he said.” ask to practise your presentation on them. Either they might buy something or give you other names and recommendations you can approach” “Sorry, I thought you said friends” said I and he raised his eyebrows. “I did”. “When I say I have ten friends, I mean people whose company I enjoy and whose values I trust. They are not utilities”.
There followed what we could call a slight stiffening of the atmosphere. “Your just asking them a favour” he said and some of the silky friendliness seemed to have brushed off the edge of his voice.” One of the great things about friends,” I said,” is that you know they’re not using you. If they offer to help that is a different matter. What you’re talking about is networking which is quite another thing. In that scenario both parties know what is going on so anything within reason is fair game”.
The meeting ground to an uncertain close. Of course, to him I was a utility. If I didn’t sell I was replaceable. “I wish you every success with your approach” he said as he ended the meeting. People who think for themselves often make bad employees. It’s not merely the quality of perception you have, you must have the power to express it. Those who forget that do so at their peril.
Yesterday I had lunch with an old friend. He is up to speed on the various dramas in my life and places them in the context of my entire career. Every comment he makes has my interest at heart. We laugh at old times and new and at no point does either of us try to milk the other for useful contacts, business openings or even their secret recipe for carrot cake. It is friendship as I understand it. Warm, loyal and with an enjoyment in each others company that is beyond price or advantage. Long may that continue. By the way if anyone has the secret of a great carrot cake you’ll be my friend for life.