I have been in sales my entire career. Early on, I remember hearing people say things like “sales are closed on the golf course,” and I thought – “This is great, I like to play golf and would love to close sales playing golf with my customers!” Unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience. I’m sure that there are some sales jobs where playing golf with customers is a common occurrence, but the truth is that I know very few salespeople who make playing golf with their customers a key to their success.
But I still think every salesperson should play golf. Not because they will make their living playing with customers, but because of what golfing can teach you about how to be a better salesperson. Unlike most sports where physical attributes like size, speed, strength, hand-eye coordination, etc., are the key ingredients for success, golf is different. To be successful at golf, you do not have to be gifted physically, but you must have intense focus and perseverance to be successful.
After years of being a casual, mediocre golfer, I finally decided to take lessons because I was tired of playing inconsistent golf and being the worst player in my group. The first question my instructor asked me was “How committed are you to becoming a better golfer?” He then went on to tell me that most of his clients show-up and want a tip on how to tweak their game but were not interested in doing the work to become a better golfer. He then warned me that “it was going to get worse before it got better.” Since I plan on playing golf for a long time, I decided to commit to the process and learn to become a better golfer.
The lessons I am learning to become a better golfer are the same lessons most salespeople need to learn to become better at sales. Here is what I have learned so far from golf that can apply to sales.
1. Pick a target for every shot – The average golfer will hit a golf ball at least 90 times during a round of golf. My instructor told me that before every shot I need to find a specific target to hit towards. Previously, I was happy if the ball landed somewhere on the fairway or near the green. Getting close was good enough for me. At the end of every hole in golf there is a flag to let you know where the hole is on the green. This is your final target for each hole. To hit a good golf shot, you need to have a specific target to shoot at.
If you are going to be successful in sales, you need to do the same thing. Every sales activity, whether it’s a call, email, or meeting, must have a specific target or goal. What am I shooting for in this activity? What do I want to achieve? What is the expected outcome? You need to have a specific target in mind and then shoot for it!
2. Always take a practice swing – In the course of taking lessons, my instructor noted that I would hit a ball, then immediately grab another ball and swing again. He said that most golfers just continue to hit balls hoping that things will improve with very little thought as to what needs to happen to make that improvement. He challenged me to always take a practice swing and think about the shot before hitting the ball – even when I was just practicing on the driving range.
"Are you intentional about each step of your sales process?"
I have noticed that salespeople tend to do the same thing. They go from one activity (shot) to the next without thinking about it, believing that more activity will lead to better results. The “practice swing” in sales should include moments of reflection after a sales call or meeting. It should also include spending time preparing for the next activity from simple things like making sure you have business cards, to taking the time to review your proposal or presentation before sitting with the customer. The purpose of the practice swing in golf is to bring focus and purpose to your game. The same discipline applies to salespeople. Are you intentional about each step of your sales process?
3. The obstacles make it fun – It is somewhat amazing to think that the average golf hole requires you to hit a ball more than 300 yards and land it in a 4.5-inch cup in 4 shots. If that wasn’t hard enough, each hole presents the golfer with obstacles they have to navigate around including trees, lakes, and sand bunkers. Golfers know that it’s not a matter of if, but when they will encounter these obstacles. The challenge is to not let the obstacle defeat you. There is nothing better than hitting out of a green side bunker and landing the ball softly on the green within putting distance of the hole.
Like golf, the sales process is full of obstacles and challenges to overcome. Finding and engaging new prospects, determining if there is a fit for your product or service, identifying other influencers in the purchasing process, overcoming objections, these are just a few of the obstacles salespeople face. Knowing how to overcome these obstacles is the difference between average sales performers and top sales performers. The best golfers spend more time practicing and developing the skills necessary to successfully navigate and overcome these obstacles. Unfortunately, most salespeople do not invest the time and energy necessary to overcome the obstacles they typically face in their sales process.
4. Have the memory of a goldfish – I must confess, this one did not come from my golf instructor. I was watching the series “Ted Lasso” about an American football coach that goes to England to coach soccer. After losing a tough game, he encouraged the team to “have the memory of a goldfish” which apparently lasts for only 10 seconds. He was making the point not to dwell on the losses and disappointments – forget it and move on.
Every golfer has a “blow-up” hole where one bad shot leads to another and before you know it you’re posting a bad score for that hole. As frustrating as this can be, you must let go and start fresh on the next hole or you risk repeating the experience. The ability to overcome setbacks and get back on track requires mental toughness and perseverance. What’s done is done, brush it off and move forward.
Unfortunately, I have seen too many salespeople invest a lot of time and energy into a single deal hoping that it will close. If they lose that deal, frustration, anger, and disappointment creep in. Adopt the memory of the goldfish. Spend the time necessary to think about what you could have done differently and commit to making that improvement in the future, then move on. Losing a deal stings, but only as long as you allow it to.
5. Know your weaknesses and focus on improving – If you happen to watch professional golf on TV, you will undoubtedly hear about a player that is working on some part of their game. The best golfers in the world have coaches and are always identifying weaknesses in their game and focusing on improving them. They never stop in their pursuit of mastery of the game. It’s not enough to make it on the tour, but you must be committed to continuous improvement if you expect to stay there for long.
I have worked with many salespeople throughout my career, and I have found very few that are committed to on-going training and development. They continue to show-up and do the same things and experience very little change in their results. They half-heartedly participate in sales training programs when provided and rarely engage in any professional development programs. They may get lucky occasionally, but never develop the skills to be a consistent high performer.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I spent many years playing mediocre golf, hoping that the more I played, I would eventually get better. I finally realized that if I kept repeating the same mistakes and bad habits over and over again, I would never improve. Making the decision to become a better golfer required the willingness to let go of my old habits and learn something new along with the commitment to practice until the new habits became routine.
Having coached many salespeople, there have been only a few that have been willing to commit to improving as sales professionals. Salespeople are the athletes of business. They play their game with everyone watching. Good or bad, people inside the company know how well the sales team is performing because their jobs depend on it. And here is the good news, companies are always looking for good salespeople and will reward them for getting results.
If we have chosen the profession of sales, we must decide if we are content with being mediocre or average salespeople or, are we willing to invest and commit to becoming better sales professionals?