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Why Sales Is Like Golf

Why Sales Is Like Golf

Despite the many hours of frustration, golf hooks us with such magic moments of elation as a double-breaking 34-foot putt or a miraculous chip in for a birdie. These flashes of brilliance keep us coming back.

"Golf is an endeavor that offers intermittent reinforcement," says Dr. Richard Coop, professor of educational psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Golf Magazine's mental game consultant. "That is, its rewards don't come with every shot, every hole or even every round. And psychological research has found that behaviors that are acquired on the basis of intermittent reinforcement are the behaviors most resistant to extinction."

It is intermittent reinforcement that costs us strokes on the course and sales in the marketplace. And blame intermittent reinforcement for the fact that there are relatively few scratch golfers -- or salespeople.

The problem is fundamentals. High-handicap golfers and salespeople lack them, but occasionally perform beautifully without them. Flukes fool high handicappers into thinking success can be earned without instruction or practice. Pros know better.

"Week in and week out, the great players you see shooting the lights out on TV are working on the mundane stuff out on the range, the run-of-the-mill fundamentals that hold their game together.... Golf demands that respect," wrote David Leadbetter, the world's most recognized golf instructor.

So does any profession. But a common complaint executives have about salespeople is they don't put as much effort into mastering their career as their hobbies.

These salespeople always have excuses why they didn't make the sale. More problematic is that when they do make one, they often can't tell you what they did right. In other words, they don't have a repeatable, measurable sales process they can repeatedly execute.

But even high-handicap salespeople bring in some business. It may be profitable, but it may not be long-term. They may land it by making promises that put undue strain on the rest of your operation.

They do make sales -- big deal.

I was in a twosome once in which a guy made a hole-in-one after an eight and followed that with a triple bogie. He shot 103 for the round. Unfortunately, I was the guy.

Flukes happen. There are happy accidents, in both golf and selling. Even on tour, there is a difference between the top players and the pack. "A lot of people accidentally win tournaments on the tour," said Johnny Miller of Senior PGA Tour fame. "The great champion wins tournaments... You just go out and win because you have the formula.

Good news: There's a formula.

Bad news: Not many golfers or salespeople know how to find it.

You can't find the winning formula without a formulaic approach to learning either game. Learning is a process, not an event.

Here is the truth: High-handicap golfers take golf lessons symptomatically instead of systematically. And high-handicap golfers also take lessons sporadically instead of continually. You won't see continual improvement until you change the way you try to improve. The sporadic, symptomatic approach to training costs you strokes on the golf course.

What is the sporadic, symptomatic approach to sales development costing your company in lost sales? Most companies view training like high-handicap golfers approach golf instruction.

Symptom: "We're getting hammered on price."
Idea: "Let's investigate a program on negotiation."

Symptom: "We need more new business."
Idea: "Let's find a prospecting program."

These are natural reactions even if they aren't the correct ones.

"Be Bikini Thin by June," is a cover story in Shape magazine. "Great Golf in 10 Minutes," promises the cover of Golf Digest.

There are plenty of people peddling magic pills. But, in reality, there are none. To be successful at sales, train a little bit every day instead of a lot once or twice a year. Train on prospecting, getting the appointment, pre-meeting planning, asking questions, listening, writing and making proposals, confirming the order and managing expectations. Then repeat the process over and over again.

When Tiger Woods quits traveling with a coach, you can back off on making continual improvements and refinements to your sales game.

Learn more about sales careers.

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