Sales (and Life) Lessons from the Golf Course

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More than 30 years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote his popular book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In it Fulghum related sixteen lessons learned as a child to how he believes we should live as adults.

I have been playing golf since I was ten years old. Now in my mid-fifties, it is clear to me that there have been many lessons I learned on the golf course that I carried over into my career as a core data processing salesperson. Like Fulghum, inspiration sometimes comes from where you least might expect to find it.

With his book serving as an inspiration, here are ten lessons I learned through golf that lay the groundwork for any successful salesperson, whether in my line of business or another.

1. Know the rules and play by them

This can be summed up in one word: integrity. There are many instances on the professional golf tours where a player calls themself on a rule infraction even if no one witnessed any wrongdoing. And in the cases where there is uncertainty, the player can always consult with others in their group or the Club Pro to get a ruling before moving on. In sales, the rule book is not as well defined as it is in golf. But those who maintain their integrity throughout the process have a better chance at long-term success, even if it might cost them a ”win” along the way. People buy from those they trust and integrity is the foundation for that trust.

2. Stay humble

This one might seem a bit counterculture. Most people would equate success in sales to a salesperson with a strong ego. Certainly self-confidence and a “bit of a swagger” are some important traits in a salesperson. But recognizing there are others who are even better at their craft than you – and more importantly, learning from them –is an equally important trait. It is easy to have humility after you lose a deal. It’s an art to maintain that same humility when you win.

3. Practice, practice, practice

This one is applicable to just about everything you do in life. Only a few gifted people are able to execute at the top of their game by simply showing up. Every professional golfer would tell you that their amount of time spent at the driving range dwarfs the amount of time they spend competing on the course. Whether it be a sales presentation in front of decision makers, a cold call, a “scripted” tele-sales call, or a speech at a large venue, sticking to your well-practiced routines give you the best chance for success. And tweaking those routines over time based on successes and failures.

4. Find a mentor

Most of us have heard some variation of the adage “Behind every good ____, is a great ______.” For my life, I would fill in the blanks with husband/wife or son/father or friend/listener. For a golfer it would be a great swing coach or teaching professional. In sales, or simply in business for that matter, the impact of a mentor cannot be downplayed. Most business leaders would attribute their success to more than one mentor along the way, and the best leaders become mentors themselves. Find a good coach and be open-minded enough to listen and try new things.

5. New clubs can be valuable but don’t guarantee success

If you have been playing golf long enough, it’s tough to fight off the urge to go out and “buy a game” at the sporting goods store or pro shop. While having the equipment that gives you the best chance of success is extremely important, simply having those tools and not learning how to use them effectively is a recipe for failure. Changing from PowerPoint to Prezi will not make you more successful in a presentation unless you are willing to put in the work to get good at Prezi. Master the tools you have rather than assuming new tools are the solution.

6. Arrive early

If you play in a golf league after work, I can almost see you nodding your head. Very rarely does running from the driver’s seat to the trunk to the first tee translate into a good score on the golf course. Arriving in time to stretch, hit a few balls and grab your favorite beverage gives you the best chance of shooting well. The same holds true in your sales role. Get to the meeting early to understand the logistics and test your connections, run through your presentation flow one more time, or spend time networking with your clients/prospects.

7. Play to your strengths

It’s the day of the tournament—now’s not the time to be practicing the weak areas of your golf game. It’s time to manage the course in such a way that puts you in a position to play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses. Maybe that looks like laying up short of the green because you’re more comfortable chipping on than controlling a long putt. The same is true in business. Manage the sales process as much as possible to improve your chance of making the deal. While some things might be outside your control, if you focus on what you do best, you’ll have better results.

8. Be generous in winning and gracious in defeat

I wanted to further elaborate on my comments pertaining to humility because I believe that generous winners and gracious losers have a better chance of success than those who act otherwise. Three of the best golfers to have played – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods – put the good of the sport above their egos, with humility through victory and graciousness in defeat. Not because they weren’t competitive, but because they respected the game. Similarly, every person who has been in sales for a long time will tell you about the customer they were able to win over even though they lost earlier with that customer. The way you lose can be the difference between getting a shot down the road…or not.

9. Maintaining composure through adversity

On the golf course you are bound to hit it in the sand, water, or out of bounds at some point during your round. What separates the pros from the average golfer is their ability to not compound one obstacle with another. Take your lumps and stay focused on the next shot and finishing strong. Even the best of us will be told “no” or come up across an obstacle. Employers/team leaders want to understand how you handle the rejection that you will experience many times during your sales career.

10. A lot of things happen at the 19th hole

The club house, a.k.a. the 19th hole, is where you settle your bets, relive your round, talk about your next round together and hopefully spend some time networking and laughing. From a business standpoint, it can be the place where you get that handshake to secure the deal or earn the opportunity to get consideration as a potential business partner. It can also be the very best place to work on the attributes noted above.

I hope that you found these comparison enjoyable. No deep thoughts or life-changing pearls of wisdom to be sure, but some general observations that I use to try and stay both grounded and effective when working with clients, business partners and teammates. And all this talk of golf has me anxious to hit the links. Fore!

Author


  • Scott Collins is the Executive Vice President of National Sales and Marketplace Relationships at CU*Answers and serves on the CUSO’s Executive Council. He joined CU*Answers in March 2003, where he began his tenure as the President and first employee of Xtend, Inc., a multi-owned cooperative CUSO formed with the sole purpose of increasing the competitive advantage of its owing credit unions through aggregate buying, strategic partnerships, and shared resource services. In March 2017, Scott transitioned to his new role leading the national sales and collaboration efforts for CU*Answers.

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