How Playing Golf is Similar to Sales Cycles

I have been in enterprise sales for many years.

I also have been golfing for just as long.

Unfortunately, my sales skills have exceeded my golfing skills.  But as I wailed away in a sand trap earlier this week, I realized there are some similarities between the enterprise sales cycle and a round of golf.  Each has finite beginning and ending points and many changes in strategies and tactics along the way.  Let’s explore that:

First, enterprise sales and the golf game have a significant beginning point.  In sales, it is when you have qualified the opportunity, and the prospect has agreed to meet with you and consider your proposal.  In golf, it is when you step up to the first tee and get ready to hit your ball.

The goal in golf is to hit the golf ball as straight and closest to the green or hole as possible.  If we have a trained golf swing and hit the ball correctly, it will go straight down the fairway.  In sales, we also want to make perfect contact with all the proper individuals on the prospect’s evaluation team.  If we know the prospects well and understand their needs, we have a better chance of success and closing the sale.

In golf, I may hit the ball in the fairway and have a more routine next shot to reach the green.  In sales, I may have an excellent discovery conversation with the prospect and move to the next stage.  But I will often hit the ball into the rough grass from the tee and have to recover from that nasty shot to reach the green after my next attempt.  Sometimes, it may take me two tries to hit the ball out of the rough to the middle of the fairway or toward the green.

Similarly, often in sales, we find that our initial assumptions about the prospect’s needs are not valid, and we need to adjust quickly to get back on course.  That could mean going back and requalifying the prospect and revalidating the opportunity.

Are they going to buy now?  And will they seriously consider my offering?  And am I speaking with the proper person(s.)

Once I have corrected my poor first (or second) swing, I am ready to take another shot to approach the green and try to place my ball as close as possible to the hole.  That’s if it goes well.  Suppose it doesn’t, then I need to make another recovery shot from the rough, a sand trap, or because I hit the ball into a pond or out-of-bounds, incurring a penalty stroke.

In sales, I may have qualified a lead and started discovery with one person only to discover that she has no power or influence over the buying decision.  So, I need to adjust my strategy, find the appropriate person, and plan my approach.  It may mean that I must start all over or that I can modify my sales plan to incorporate the additional person who has the power to make the buying decision.

A good approach shot in golf can leave me with a short putt to complete the hole.  In sales, a good approach can lead me to a more successful workshop or solutioning meeting that will result in my presentation of a proposal to the prospect I know will be well received.

There are times in golf when we land our ball close to the hole, and our playing partners, or opponents, will not ask us to putt the ball into the hole.  This is termed a “gimme.”  Hopefully, it results in a good score, such as a par or birdie.  In sales, there are no gimmes.  We rarely have a situation where we are proceeding through the sales process, and the prospect says, “Sure, I will buy.  Where do I sign.” (I had it happen once in my career.)  So, the sales professional must be focused throughout the sales process, understand what is happening, and adjust for changes as necessary. Like achieving a birdie or a par in golf because the ball is close to the hole, do not assume you are close to the deal until it is signed.  You will always need to adjust.

There are 18 distinct holes in golf, like sales cycles, which can result in different tee results and outcomes.  By the time I complete the round of golf or game, I will have navigated through all 18 holes, some successfully and some unsuccessfully, and the result will be a score that I like or dislike, depending on how many shots I took for all 18 holes.

The typical enterprise sales cycle is very dynamic.  There will be many changes in direction, priorities, people on the evaluation team, and even decision-makers.  The contract negotiation is often a complete cycle of its own, with many changes in directions and outcomes.  And the result of the sale is never inevitable until the very end.  And the only conclusion I would like is one in which I close the deal for my company.

What about a “Hole in one” in golf?

According to the Professional Golfers Association, the odds of an amateur golfer making a “hole in one” shot is 12,500 to 1, making it rare.  (It is 3,000 to 1 for a professional golfer.)2 Similarly, the odds of a salesperson closing an enterprise sale on the first call are approximately the same, or even worse.  So, don’t plan on either.  If they happen, buy a lottery ticket because you are skilled, fortunate, or both!

Here is the truth in both golf and enterprise sales.  If you are adequately prepared, have the proper training and coaching, and participate regularly, your chances of success are higher. Your golf game and sales process get smoother, less complicated, and more routine.  The more time you put into preparation and practice and your willingness to be coached and learn, your success in golf and sales will increase.  And in both golf and sales one needs to always work on the fundamentals to achieve your goal.  In golf, that is your posture, grip, and swing.  In sales it is focusing on lead generation, qualifying your opportunity throughout the sales cycle, building trust, and managing your pipeline.

In summary, golf and enterprise sales have defined beginnings and endings, but what happens between those is often an exercise in constant adjustments.  Failure to properly adjust, in either case, will result in a personal disaster.  Actions and events do not always go as planned in golf, sales, and life. Every sales cycle is different. In golf, there are par 3s, 4s, and 5s.  And the high performers excel at constantly adjusting to the circumstances.

This was published in the TJB American Business Magazine –