Two of my passions in life are sales and golf, so why not mix business with pleasure? Those of you who are golf fanatics and business men (and women), and you know who you are, probably already know and understand the subtle nuances that the game of golf has in common with the sales process.
The first obvious advantage of taking business associates, customers and prospects on a golf outing is that you can have a captive audience for the 4-5 hours, not including downing a few cold ones in the club house after the round. There is no more acceptable excuse in the business world for spending that amount of time together with your customers than a round of golf. More and more business people are taking up the game and as the average age of this generation of baby boomers continues to age, golf is becoming more and more popular. If you haven't taken up the game yet, you might consider investing in a few lessons just in case. One of the worse things you can do is invite a big customer or a potential prospect who is a serious golfer on an outing, only to hack it around the course for the next five hours. Slow play is a killer on the golf course and there is no better way to try your partners nerves and the nerves of the group of golfers behind you than to take too much time because you can't keep the ball on the course.
One of the best things about golf is that it can tell you a lot of things about yourself and your partners. It's easy to mind your P's and Q's at a business luncheon or in an office setting, but in the heat of battle, when your focus is diffused and your guard is down and your competitive juices get flowing, then how do you behave? Add that to the fact that golf can be a very confounding game. It looks like it should be so easy, especially if you watch the professionals on television, but in reality, golf is probably the most frustrating activity that you can endeavor. For one thing, the pros that you see on TV probably hit between 500-1000 golf balls a day, everyday! And that's just practicing. No wonder they make it look so easy. The average businessman/golfer is lucky if they get to hit 500 golf balls in a year. So the most common golf/business etiquette faux paux is the display of excessive anger. Irregardless of your level of skill of play, you have to keep in mind that you are not a professional golfer, you are a professional businessman. Throwing clubs, cursing, yelling and other forms of excessive anger ruins it for everybody else in your group and sends a signal to that you cannot keep your cool under pressure. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are here to entertain your customer and make sure that he has a good time. After all, you're trying to build a relationship and don't need to come off as an ogre.
Golf is also a game of respect, courtesy, fairness and consideration, in addition to being a competitive forum. The rules of golf involve a lot of informal intricacies that can signal where you fall in the rating scale of all of these aforementioned qualities. For example, one of the common unwritten rules of golf is that once you are on the green getting ready to putt, you are not supposed to walk between the hole and the other balls on the green. The ideas is that because the greens are so soft, and putting is so critical to the game, walking on the putting "line" could possibly alter the path of the ball as it travels toward the hole. Even when you know the rules, this is a common mistake that you can make if you are solely focused on your own game. Observing this rule throughout the round tells your golf partners that you are not only focused on your self, but also considerate of others.
Golf is also a game of honor and trust because in most cases, you keep your own score. I say in most cases, because if you are an above average golfer, it's easy for everyone to keep up with your score because if your ball is always on the fairway, it's pretty easy for your partners to keep track of you. But if you're like most of us, you occasionally hit the ball in the rough, or out of everyone's sight. This gives you an opportunity to "shave" a stroke or two off of your score from time to time, since no one is watching. So if you happen to whiff one while you are in the rough, what difference does it make, right? Well, maybe. After all, it's only a game. But if you get in the habit of shaving a few strokes from time to time, eventually someone will notice and even though they might not say anything to you directly, you just told them a lot about how you might treat them in a business deal. I mean, if you will cheat when there is little or no money on the line, how can they trust you to treat them fairly on a business deal?
These are just a few examples of the way that golf that can provide you an opportunity to either bond with or repel your business clients and associates. There are so many things that golf can tell you about yourself and about your associates that they are too numerous to name here. But that is what makes golf such a valuable business tool. So if you haven't already done so, my advice is to take up the game, take enough lessons so that you don't slow things up, read the rules and more importantly, have fun. Now you only have to worry about whether or not it's more advantageous to beat your boss or your customers. Either way, golf is a great game and great way to do business, to network and to make it all fun. I gotta run, I have a tee-time in an hour.