4 Lessons That Golf Can Teach Us About Selling

If you don’t like or don’t play golf and have no interest in selling this blog may be of no interest to you.

I have a passion for golf and have watched my handicap drop by 100% over the last 10 years – despite getting older and losing flexibility.

Yes, I’m still not a great golfer – but that’s not the point – I’m playing to have fun and be the best I can.

Having a love of golf and being someone who helps individuals and organizations sell better, I’m always fascinated by the game and what it can teach us about life and selling specifically.

1.  “Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect” – Bob Rotella & The Melt Down at Medina

Golf guru, coach and author wrote a popular self-help golf book with this title.

Anyone who has played golf knows that over 18 holes – you are going to have some less than perfect shots. You may in fact, even if you are very good, have some perfectly awful shots.

A recent memorable example would be this year’s US Open champion Web Simpson with that infamous shank at Ryder Cup 2 weeks ago. Professionals of that calibre are not supposed to have shanks – ever!

Speaking about a bad attitude and the 2012 Ryder Cup, I felt the US captain, Davis Love, showed little graciousness in defeat after the “Melt down at Medina”. His team looked like they were at a funeral while at the award ceremony and I can only assume his team must have been playing under the Vince Lombardi mantra – “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!”

Returning to Rotella, he says there are 2 ways to react when things like a particularly bad shot occurs.

Let’s suppose you have just driven your drive into the bush…

One way to react would be to smash your club into the ground and curse. Lots of amateurs, with only their ego or pride at stake, react in this way – the rest of the round sometimes ruined.

Rotella suggests a better response would be:

“How interesting – that ball I just hit in the bush is going to require some real creativity to get it out – this could be fun!”

The Message:

Keep your eye on the end game, don’t take yourself so seriously and don’t get frustrated by short term set-backs

In selling you are going to have some awful days where nothing goes right. You may not be performing at your best but that’s OK, sometimes you just need to be a little better than the guy or gal you’re selling against and it’s why selling is sometimes referred to as a “game of inches” just as in golf.

2.  “If you don’t bring your game with you   – you won’t find it here” – David Sandler

David Sandler tells the story of pitching-up at a golf club before a tournament with his shag bag full of practice balls. He’s out there on the practice range whacking away furiously when he notices the pro pitch up to hit only a few balls before being ready to t-off.

Sandler looked at the pro quizzically and asked – “what gives here, how come you haven’t warmed-up?”

The pro’s response was “Sandler – if you didn’t bring your game with you – you won’t find it here?”

The Message:

Frantic last minute preparation won’t do you any good if you haven’t put in the hard practice days before.

Boxing icon Muhammad Ali may not have played golf, but he spoke of the importance of preparation when asked for his success formula he said

 “First I run on the road before I dance in the ring”

The Message:

As in golf – success in sales and negotiation are just as dependent on preparation well before the “big day “arrives. In fact, there is a saying that “90 % of success in negotiation is dependent on preparation”.

“Debriefing” yourself immediately after a round of golf or a sales call is just as important, to gauge what you did right and where you need to improve.

3.  “90 % of success in golf is dependent on having a positive mental attitude and the other 10 % is having a positive mental attitude!”

This tongue in cheek message talks to the critical importance of keeping cool under pressure if you want to play golf competitively.

Tiger Woods has been working on his swing for the last 18 months and keeps telling us “it’s a process and it’s going to take time to groove my new swing”. True Tiger – but you’re probably working on the wrong problem. Bottom-line, you’re still one of the world’s best golfers technically. Your problem is more than likely to be a function of what’s going on between your ears and not your technical prowess.

All 120 of the very top players on the PGA tour have amazing golfing skills in the technical department. The winners win because they have exceptional attitude and belief in themselves.

For those of us who are simply “weekend hackers” – playing for a beer or 50 cents a hole – we too can sometimes put too much pressure on ourselves and fail to enjoy the journey as you walk around the course, where the objective should be to have fun and to enjoy a good walk and not worry about your score.

The only person who really cares about that is you!

The Message:

Selling skills are important but attitude will always trump skills

4.  Perfect practice makes perfect & the importance of commitment to goals

Dr Gary McPherson, a professor of music education at the University of Illinois, asked 157 children picking-up an instrument for the first time a simple question: “How long do you think you’ll play your instrument?” He then tracked their performance over several years.

McPherson discovered that progress in learning the instrument wasn’t dependent on aptitude, but by the goal set by the child. With the same amount of practice, the kids who voiced a long-term commitment out-performed those who intended to play only through the school year by 400%!

Although the benefits of goal-setting haven’t been extensively studied in golf, the McPherson data and research with other motor skills suggest that they’ll translate very well to what you do with a club in your hands.

For many amateur golfers – practice means going to the driving range repeatedly smashing 100’s of balls with their driver and having no noticeable improvement in their game. It’s more of a macho thing – how far can you hit the ball – don’t worry if it’s not straight!!  How about the short game that accounts for at least half your score – oh that gets about only 5% of my time! Daah!

Sam Snead’s warm-up: His wife was once asked how he warmed-up for a big tournament and she replied:

“He always bangs his balls against the living room wall”!

The Message

So Sam Snead’s warm-up routine might not be for all of us! That being said, many sales people are like macho men smashing 100’s of balls on the driving range with their driver before a game. These are like the people who will tell you they’ve been through the sales training from the entire great sales guru’s out there – Tom Hopkins, Zig Ziegler, Brian Tracy, Xerox PSS, Spin Selling – you name it – they’ve done it!

Some might be very good – but most have had no noticeable lasting improvement in their sales beyond the level they were at before.

Why is that? Probably because they know the material but they don’t own it. True success in sales skills comes from slow incremental improvement over time – one day sales training boot camps or books typically don’t change much.

True success in sales, as in golf, comes from a comprehensive, on-going, incremental improvement program. This involves just as much time focused on attitude as technique and this leads to sustainable long- lasting behavioural change.