Golf: Is it a required sales skill?

Even today, this is a stereotype of sales people. I’m posting this short story to debunk the myth and I hope you get some learning and laughing, at my expense.

The Stereotype

I occasionally play guitar for some church bands. At a rehearsal, I was asked what I did to which I answered sales. We finished practice and someone said, “You must be a good golfer.” I asked why he would think that. He said, “Don’t all sales people play golf?”

Many people believe this stereotype and yet I know many sales people, including myself, who choose social past times other than golf. For me it’s cycling and fly-fishing. I also know many sales people who enjoy golf and are good at it. The key… they enjoy it and are good at it.

Practicing the Stereotype

Years ago, I had the fortune to get the role of GM Asia for Microsoft’s OEM Division. One of the first instructions given me was that I had to learn to play golf because, “It’s a religion in Asia.” I was 48 years old with a very successful sales career and other than a handful of rounds, in my early 20s, I had not learned the game. Even so, I bought clubs and started going to a driving range after work.

I found that hitting a couple hundred balls at a lighted range, was a relaxing end to the day. I got to where I could hit balls OK so when my team scheduled my first golf outing with Samsung executives in Seoul, I thought I could do it without embarrassing myself.

My first customer round was with a Samsung VP at their private course. It is one of the most beautiful courses in the world, and while I was nervous, the day started well. It turns out, the only thing on a range, that emulates real play, is teeing off. The ball sits up on a tee and you’re on flat ground. My first drive went 252 yards down the middle of the fairway. (I remember because the ball landed next to the 150-yard marker and the hole was 402 yards long.) Happy moment!

Executing the Stereotype

After that first drive, my caddy and I (everyone gets a caddy in Korea) spent the day hiking in the woods, putting my shoe back on after the caddy dug it out of the mud, fishing balls out of ponds, and raking almost every sand trap on the course, some twice. All this time, my playing partners, had to wait while we explored every inch of that property looking for golf balls. That nature experience finally ended, when I ran out of balls on the 12th hole. I had a much better time walking the course, on the fairways, with my customers, albeit with my squeaky, muddy shoe.

Over the next five months, I played another customer round, which had similar results. Back in the US, we were getting ready to host a visit by that same Samsung executive. Since that first golf outing we had negotiated a contract and had a couple of dinners, beginning a great friendship, which continues to this day. The team was determined to make me golf and had scheduled us a tee time in Seattle.

Relief from the Stereotype

We played my third round of customer golf, and while I did better than that first day, it wasn’t pretty. But, I was lucky that my now Korean friend, was looking out for me.

At dinner, with both teams in attendance, my friend raised his glass of wine, looked across the table at me and said, “We shouldn’t play golf anymore. I’d like to learn how to fish.” He went on to tell me how Korean executives spend a year taking weekly lessons before they play golf for business. He said he appreciated that I tried but that it was painful to watch me.

We laughed so loud the waiter had to quiet us. I held that job for another three years without playing another round of golf. I still had a very successful run and developed lifelong friendships.

Real Life

Golf is a great way to get to know your customers and for them to get to know you. However, it’s not the only way. The reason many like golf is for the opportunity to spend 4-5 hours with customers. The problem is when those 4-5 hours become 6, 7, 8, etc.

Conclusion: Golf is not a required skill for sales people. Focus on natural ways for you to develop relationships with your customers. It may or may not be golf.

Let me know how you feel about golf as a sales and business skill.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities™ LLC


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