Connections Groups

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Tee it UP for Greater Business Success
You’re just 24 hours away from a hole in one.

by: Bill Madonna & Sue Copening
Bill Madonna Golf Academy

Golf has long been a part of business and, those that play "business golf" know it benefits them in their business relationships. But how exactly, and... how much?

In a Golf Digest article it was pointed out that many factors go into building a business relationship but, when golf is used to forge bonds, the path to this mutual understanding is often much easier.

Why is that?

One reason; relationships are key to business success (as well as promotion) within a corporate environment. If your playing partner is sizing up a 20-foot putt, and you are trying to negotiate your way out of a wicked sand trap, you quickly become partners in pursuit of a common goal… a decent score. Later, when it's time to close the deal, or work on a project, you'll have a better understanding of each other and can interact and communicate more effectively.

Eighteen holes will teach you more about your foe than will 18 years of dealing with him across a desk. ~ Grantland Rice

It’s no secret that some of the most important, and long lasting, business relationships are solidified on the golf course.

For years business executives and CEO’s have slipped away from the office during the week. Doctors traditionally took Wednesday afternoons off and could be found at the club.

To outsiders it might look like goofing off. Subordinates might be envious of the time spent out of the office and still “on the clock” but, frankly, their jobs are a lot more secure because the CEO or Sales Manager is on the links with the firm’s biggest client.

Today, in the world of business, times have changed drastically. Company budgets are tighter, more and more start-ups are smaller, leaner, and often run by sharp young entrepreneurs just out of school and eager to prove themselves. Young professionals, however, are often unaccustomed to the nuances interwoven into the “dance” that becomes a long term business relationship.

So do these tightened economic circumstances and new business dynamics make golf more, or less, important?

Let’s delve into that by asking ourselves…

What IS the “LTV,” the “life time value” of a new client to your company or business? How many referrals to additional clients could you expect to get over the years from each client you have a solid business relationship with?

This is the starting point when it comes to determining how much time, energy, and money, you want to invest in each business relationship.

Your company might sell a $6 widget. Your average client might buy 5 a week and potentially remain a customer for 20 years, making them worth $31,200 in sales to your company.

That same client might also refer an average of 3-6 new clients to you every year. NOW what are they worth to you?

But what if your competitor starts selling the same widget for $5.50?

What is the risk that your client will take their business, and their referrals, to someone else for a lower price?

The answer to that question lies with YOU, and you have a great deal of influence over their decision.

Time and time again it has been shown that buying decisions are based more on RELATIONSHIPS than on anything else. Customer service, availability, responsiveness, perks and, yes, FRIENDSHIPS, generally weigh more heavily than price and even features.

This is where how you treat your client, and potential clients, comes into play.
According to a 2002 Compass Leader Poll …

“Business leaders use golf as an important tool in doing business and say that it is extremely remunerative; for each dollar they spend on golf they earn over $1500 in business revenue as a result. Further, only restaurants surpass the golf course as an effective place to conduct business outside of the office."


Each dollar spent on golf has an average
1500% return on investment (ROI).


That golf brings a big return is good news in this economy. The results of this poll were certainly no surprise to me, but it did help clarify something that my wife and I had discussed once about the “glass ceiling.'"

Could it be that the “glass ceiling” is, in part, self created, simply because many women (and young professionals), don’t take as great a part in "strategically socializing;" as in the age old tradition of… “BUSINESS golf?”

Could something as easy, and fun, as playing more golf, and better golf, be the “key” to unlocking more business success?

As a golf instructor for over 33 years I’ve had the privilege of coaching some of the best amateur and professional golfers in the world, as well as some of the top business leaders, and I’ve seen that a dedication to the game can be just as strong in both groups. However, with “business golf,” the rules of etiquette are quite a bit different and the return on investment can be much higher.

Obviously to be effective at “business golf” one wants to start with some basic skills. You don’t want to invite out the CEO of a firm that could be your biggest client and then frustrate them because your skill level is so low that you hold up the game, or worse yet, injure them. It’s hard to get them to sign a contract if they’re laying unconscious on the 5th tee because of your wild swing.

Improving your golf skill can be as fast, and as simple, as a full or half day with a good coach. I’ve learned over the years that one hour spent “here or there,” is not even close to being as effective as total immersion for just one or two days, but for an extended period of time. So the good news is that...


You are just one day away from developing
a skill level that you can be proud of.


On the “etiquette” side, it’s important that you keep in mind that your behavior on the course is a reflection of your business character and ethics.

That is, of course, a two way street.

Someone who cheats at golf might display the same lack of ethics in business dealings. You want to land that client, but a client that expects you to cross an ethical line for them, or one that doesn’t pay you, or live up to agreed upon terms, is not a client you want to waste your time with.

Your clients and business associates are going to be watching you too. So you want to display the same level of professional behavior on the course, as you do in the boardroom or office. Just because you are playing a game, doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to throw a tantrum, use foul, or too casual, language, drink to excess (or at all if they are not), or dress down. How you behave on the course will be seen as a direct reflection of your professional judgment.


Dress and behave in a way that shows respect for
the club you are at, and the people you are with.


Wear a newer golf shirt, and one embroidered with your company logo has the added benefit of being a tax-deductible marketing tool.

Use the game to build RAPPORT with your business associate, but don’t talk business unless they bring it up first. Otherwise, save it for the 19th hole (that’s the bar/clubhouse after the game, for you newbies).

In sales it’s been shown that the first 75% of the time spent with a new client should be used to get to know them, which is why golf is perfect for business relationship building. When you do start talking business, keep the conversation primarily focused on asking THEM questions, not pitching your product or service.

Keep a small notebook in your pocket with your scorecard and you can even periodically write down notes that will be helpful later. Clients love it when you can spout back facts – it demonstrates you were paying attention and that you care.

If you are pretty new to the game, tell them right up front. If they are obviously a good player, you might even ask them for some pointers and advice. They will be flattered and you will get better.

If you are better than they are, don't “throw” the game and lose on purpose to avoid bruising their ego. Unless you are an Oscar winning actor they will probably see though you and wonder about your level of honesty. However a few lines like… “You must be bringing me luck,” or, “I’m always inspired to work harder at the game when I have a good competitor next to me,” will go a long way toward forging a bond.

Needless to say, if you really beat the pants off 'em, gloating is totally not cool.

Make sure you have studied up on the rules of the game, the lingo and the traditions. If you are playing at a new club, call in advance and ask the Club Pro if there are any club traditions, unusual rules, or circumstances, you should be aware of (that alligator in the lake on 12 just might be a club mascot, so find out his name).

Consider inviting your client to join you in playing a charity tournament. The cost of entry is often not much more than playing on your own and you have the added advantage of meeting even more good prospects and helping a worthy cause as well. Additionally there are tax and marketing advantages here that I’ll cover more in depth in a future article (read now).

And finally, the investment you make in playing business golf is obviously well worth it, it’s up to you to keep you eye on the most important goal… not winning the game, but winning the client.



Bill Madonna
is a PGA “Master Professional” and owner of the Bill Madonna Academy of Golf at the Marriott World Center in Orlando. Golf Magazine recognizes Bill as one of the Top 100 Golf Instructors in the United States. Bill is also the official golf coach for the Citrus Club.

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