Driving a dimpled ball down the fairway can be good for business — as long as you know what you’re doing. Here’s a guide to business golf that can help you build relationships and open the door for more sales. Just remember: The course probably isn’t the place where the deal is clinched.
Golf has its detractors but one thing is clear: The game is a valuable way for companies to bring in revenue. Many executives believe golf is an essential business tool. “Eighteen holes of match or medal play will teach you more about your foe than will 18 years of dealing with him across a desk.” — Sportswriter Grantland Rice
Strategic golf isn’t the same as recreational golf. Courting business on the course means keeping your business purpose in mind and focusing on your customers. You need to shift effortlessly between business and the sport.
Golf can be expensive but it’s widely viewed as a profitable investment. According to some estimates, businesses bring in more than $1,500 in business revenue for every dollar spent on strategic golfing. That may explain why the golf course outscores the hockey arena as a venue for business. (It comes in second place just below restaurants.)
But, like any other business investment, you want to maximize the return in terms of the amount of money and time spent.
1. Assess your corporate goals. Prepare for the day as you would for any business or board meeting. Think about what you want to accomplish, whether it’s to network, lay the foundation for new business, or strengthen a customer relationship.
2. Know the game. New golfers should have played at least five rounds of golf and have a few lessons before attempting to play business golf. If you score higher than average, let the rest of the group know in advance to save yourself some embarrassment.
3. Stay professional and polite. As a representative of your company, show professionalism in the way you play and adhere to dress codes. If in doubt, call the club to get the policy. Never wear jeans or tee shirts.
Obviously, don’t criticize how others are playing, don’t give advice unless asked, and don’t brag about your performance. In addition, don’t lose your temper, swear, or show rudeness. People who cheat at golf are often seen as likely to cheat in business.
And forget the cell phone. Many courses ban them and even if they don’t, turn yours off. A sure way to lose a sale is to have your cell phone ring or play a song just as your prospective customer is taking aim at a putt that’s going to win the round. Checking your e-mail messages on your phone? That’s probably considered rude on the course.
4. Find the right mix. Put together a foursome with similar golfing abilities and temperaments. Ask if they prefer mornings or late-afternoon tee times. Introduce everyone so they feel at ease and consider providing a short advance bio of the players.
5. Let the client bring up business. Tolerance levels for business chat on the course varies widely, so follow the lead of fellow players. Don’t put business ahead of relationship building. Formal business discussions will follow on another day. If the conversation turns to business, keep it light and brief.
6. Don’t forget the 19th hole. After the round is over, make sure to allow time for some food, drinks and socializing. This is the time to talk business. Mix the discussions with talk about how the game went. Focus on the highlights, not the bad shots. If the game went badly, this is also a good time to smooth things over.
Remember to follow through after the round. Make a phone call or arrange a visit and, with any luck, secure a signed contract. Otherwise, you haven’t finished the game or maximized your investment.
If you really hate golf, don’t bother with it. Pretending you’re having a great time when you’re miserable probably won’t work. The time and mental investment involved in golf is too great and the return will likely be too small. There are other ways to entertain prospects that everyone will enjoy.