Recently, I heard a businessperson’s sad lament over a lost client.

“Oh, I thought we had built such a strong relationship with them that they were our customer for life. We played golf together, we went to dinner together, we sold lots of stuff to them for years. I thought we were friends and then they dumped us for a competitor who took advantage of a little misunderstanding.”

The key word in that statement is “relationship.”

It’s important to realize that a business relationship is different from a friendship.

A business relationship is based on the buyer returning because they understand that the seller is working extra hard to keep the buyer happy. This might mean some or all of the following: Lower prices, extra services, higher quality, extra care of some type, things the buyer can’t get elsewhere, complete trust, etc.

But, if (or when) the seller loses their edge for whatever reason, the relationship falters and a door becomes open to a competitor.

At first that door is open just a crack, but unless the seller realizes there might be a problem and fixes the relationship quickly, the door of dissatisfaction opens a little wider and then a little wider, and soon competitors are hounding the buyer to dump the old seller and begin a new relationship.

It is easy to confuse “friendship” in a business context with “relationship.” But it is important to realize that they are very different and based on different needs.

Your customer might be a good friend on a social or personal level but their business issues have a totally different set of needs, and as a supplier, you must constantly fulfill those needs, and then solidify that aspect of your relationship no matter whether you are friends.

Your friend might keep you as a friend, but if you are not doing your job to always fulfill your part of the business relationship, their responsibility to their company will necessitate finding a vendor who will supply them with their needs… or your friend is not doing his job.

Larry Galler is a business coach and columnist who works with business owners to create marketing and management breakthroughs. He offers Cleanfax readers a free, exploratory phone conversation to discuss overcoming business challenges. To schedule your phone conversation email  Put “Explore” in the subject line.