The Business Development Mindset: How to Navigate the Golf Course and Open Up Business Opportunities

If you are like me, most likely you have been hearing about all the deals that happen on a golf course – why is that? It’s a simple answer; spending time with others, enjoying time away from the grind of work, and relaxing create a shared experience where people will connect and bond – if the “conditions” are right. You might even say that golfing as a business development professional is not about the game. Even a beginner golfer who is not proficient can be hugely successful at an outing.

Recently IBDPros, International Business Development Professionals, hosted a golf outing. The golfers, sponsors, and all who attended had the same motivation – to conduct business. Like a working vacation, you hope to enjoy yourself and build the foundations of a relationship. Following are some takeaways from my view as a business developer – not so much as a golfer!

All who were involved; golfers, sponsors, and volunteers, came excited to enjoy the day out. They all had the same goals in mind; make some new connections, build meaningful relationships and find business opportunities throughout the day.

Golf is Work

Like all other sports, the pros make it look easy. However, you don’t have to be a great golfer to make this work. Be mindful of what you are revealing about yourself. Let’s start by being honest, which includes your proficiency level. Don’t say that you are “not that good” at the sport and obviously be at a much higher level – this is off-putting when someone else is truly a beginner or not proficient. The way you conduct yourself in this game will be reflected by the type of person you are in the work environment – always be a professional. Remember the priority; you are here to make connections first – having fun while doing this is a bonus.

The Game Starts Before You Get There

As with any meeting, the only way to be on time is to show up early – this will set the pace for the day and show you are respectful of others. Be dressed appropriately. Even though this is a day away from the office, be sure that you look the part; there is no reason to show up not fully prepared.

Next, begin with making a personal connection – nobody likes someone who aggressively jumps right into business. Every second you are out there, you reveal what type of person you are; be a good sport – never get angry. As my business partner Guy Cleveland says, “Show up to make a good impression; or don’t show up at all.” Conversations should not be controversial, be sure to exchange business cards and connect on LinkedIn, don’t be too competitive – the goal is not to “win.” It’s to bond.

Honesty Is the Only Policy

Always be honest – be yourself and positive. If not, you will build a case for not doing business together. This is not a game to win against others, (quietly you are actually playing against yourself). Play to beat your personal best; however, that is only going on in your head.

Think of a great meeting you had; you leave feeling positive that you will have a new client – why does golfing deliver this consistently?  You have a shared experience. The perception is that you will let your guard down and connect on a personal level.

Be gracious, don’t gloat if you have a great day, conversely don’t get angry or have excuses – you are demonstrating what type of person you are. Will others want to do business with someone like that? Be supportive and compliment others when possible.

Pace Yourself – Timing Is Key

Be sure to schedule time for a break – that time may be used to begin to touch on business. The “secret sauce” of golf is that you are always being sized up. Think of this as a day-long business interview – there are as many opportunities to come out on top as there are ways to sabotage yourself. Golf is an activity that will reveal something about all playing – for the good or bad

My doctor says everything in moderation.  That goes for drinking and eating, even smoking on the course.  Do not let anything get in the way of the game. In sales, there is a technique called “mirroring.” Do what your prospects are doing. An example is drinking or smoking; don’t do it if you would be the only one doing it and then only in moderation; it should not be a distraction to the game.

How Do You Define Yourself?

People will define you by how they see you treat others, including staff. This is a strong reflection of your character – be respectful of others, especially those who are of service to you.  No matter what you say about yourself, people will believe what they see – not what you say!

The Game

Whether you are a guest or a member of a club, proper etiquette also speaks volumes. Be mindful of the game by repairing divots on the course, removing ball marks on the greens, and raking bunkers. These are some small details that potential clients will notice. These things demonstrate your respect for both the course and the golfers behind you. Stand away from fellow players and out of their lines of sight when they are playing a shot. Finally, be quiet during the swings of others.

If you are new to the game, be sure to learn golf etiquette. A great way to do this is to go out with a close friend or instructor – this stuff is as important as your swing!

Why Are You Golfing?

In business development golfing, the primary goal is to establish the foundations of a strong relationship. You can do this and have fun if you remember these pointers. As Jimmy Newson, fellow board member of IBDPros says, “Whether you golfed well is of little consequence – it’s how you conducted yourself… and as a result how bonds are formed.”

Final Take Away

In full disclosure, I do not consider myself a golfer. Like chess, I know how to move the pieces around but only at a rudimentary level. What I do know, like any business development professional, is how to nurture and cultivate relationships. Golf does this in different ways – mostly by the sheer time you spend letting someone connect with you. You can easily spend the day fishing or going to a ball game; it’s what you do with the time and how you reveal yourself that really matters in opening up the door to future opportunities.

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