What kind of an advantage does being able to play golf provide in the business world? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
Years and years ago, I thought that golf for business reasons was completely ridiculous. I played golf "for keeps." I had a 3 handicap that I was defending. All this screwing around with drinking and chatting and stuff put me off my game. Eff that. Anyway, life happened, and I stopped playing enough to compete at that level, and typically only took my clubs to the driving range when I needed to think hard about something, not really playing much at all.
Then, sometime in my 30s, after I hired my first VP of Sales for my consulting and staff augmentation company and he was just killing it in terms of bringing in new business, he asked me over lunch, "Is there any chance you'd be willing to learn to play golf?"
I broke out laughing, assured him that "learning" wasn't an issue, and asked why. He said "I've got a huge contract on the line, and the client wants to play golf to discuss it."
Crap. I'm stuck. I explained my previous stance, that I wasn't sure how the experience would be for me, and he assured me that it was all good, as long as I could actually play. So, he set the date.
A week or so later, I'm sweating my way through 18 holes on the Pecan course at thewith a VP from a Fortune 50 company, one of his technical leads, and my VP of Sales. It was an interesting experience -- a huge learning experience for me. Pat, my VP of Sales, did this all the time. He managed the conversation in many ways, going from what do you think about brand X balls to how 'bout them Astros to why building a in-house was a better solution given the parallel I/O requirements of the supercomputer cluster that the company was using.
It kept things casual, but made room for getting in key points. It also gave us all a chance to meet in a no-ties, no-press-of-business environment. We literally got nearly four hours, un-interrupted, together. And then on to happy hour afterwards for another couple of hours.
Nothing "happened" that day. No contracts were signed, no deals were made. But it was significant in a very large number of ways. The VP got to see me in action, got to hear me think on my feet (which frankly is my strongest suit), got to see me deal with frustration and things not exactly going my way. I got to spend time with him and see what he valued and prioritized, whether he was a "go for it" guy, or a "let's keep this in the fairway" guy -- which is really important to know, when you're pitching a deal.
Most important, I got nearly six hours of his time, without interruptions, on one day. That's ... that's frigging GOLD. It doesn't get any better than that. I couldn't have done that in a dozen meetings spread out over a couple of months. It established a relationship that wouldn't have happened otherwise, and economically, created a couple of million of dollars worth of business, because I was now a "known quantity."
Completely changed my opinion on the matter.
My experience at Enron Broadband amplified that. My VP of Sales there made a huge point of letting me know that doing multi-tens-of-millions of dollars' worth of deals meant not just face-time on the golf course, but actual entertaining. So, we didn't just rip over to(which is admittedly pretty entertaining) but we were sending corporate jets to pick people up to play at and and (admittedly much closer to home). For all the same reasons previously noted, but also to get their attention. "Hey, how about we discuss this over golf" doesn't sound quite as drop-what-you're-doing-and-go as "Hey, how about we discuss this over golf AT PEBBLE BEACH?" When the stakes are higher, you up the ante.
So, when someone in my BD or sales organizations asks about playing, I have no problem with it. Sometimes, I even look forward to it.
Do note, this only applies if you're in a world where playing golf is valued. In the past, that was true for most businesses. These days, your mileage will vary. It's not something that you can count relevant to modern C-level execs. In some industries, it's still normative. In others, it's as obsolete as buggy whip polish.
But the principle is still the same: what can you do to get non-business-setting face time with the decision makers, in a way that lets all parties really get to know each other, without interruption? In tech, particularly in startup-land, I'd get more traction asking if someone wanted to play this insane new mod I built for, or team on , or participate in a weekend of go-kart racing, or have an epic paintball battle, or ...
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