Why Golf Matters in Business

Last year I had an interesting conversation with the EVP of distribution at one of Canada’s big independent fund companies. He was explaining his firm’s compensation philosophy for his sales team. He explained that his firm compensates its sales team members (wholesalers, in particular) based, in part, on their measurable marketing activity. (No surprise there.) He has specific expectations around the number of “events” that his wholesalers coordinate each month and his team members are shorted on their pay-cheques if they don’t meet these targets. (No surprise there, either.) He went on to explain, however, that golf is an activity that he is happy to see his team members partake in with clients… but it’s also the single event/activity that simply doesn’t count towards the sales team’s activity.

Recently I have picked up this argument with him and I have urged him to reconsider. I think golf is a great time investment in many circumstances. Why golf? Optics-be-damned, there are lots of good reasons for business golf. While you can likely think of many of these yourself, the reason I use to justify golf as a legitimate business development activity was offered by a panel of psychologists who I listened to as they discussed the nature of play in understanding human behaviour.

The Nature of Play

Golf is a game. It’s play… not work. And when people play, they usually become so thoroughly engaged in what they are doing that they drop almost all pretense. They revert, in some respect, to childhood and they act in ways that demonstrate their fundamental character. “It makes me feel like a kid, again,” some people say. That’s because, in many cognitive respects, it actually does make you a kid again! It certainly has the ability to take your head to a childhood state if not animal instinct.

Competition is an important aspect of play that imposes stress on people. Interestingly, people react to play-based stress in ways that are remarkably consistent with the reactions they have to stress in non-play circumstances. It’s true that many professionals are trained to control their emotional reactions to stress. But, visceral reactions can seldom be fully extinguished; they remain a fundamental part of every person’s psyche — their emotional DNA, so to speak. These often exhibit themselves during play.

Observing a business colleague or client in a setting where uncontrolled play — and not highly controlled business — is allowed to reveal their emotional dimensions positions the astute sales person to learn about numerous key triggers that can help them connect effectively with prospective clients.

So, Credo argues that sales team members who are trained in the art of observing others under the stress of play during a round of golf are actually well positioned to better understand their clients and connect with them.

Studying Clients Under the Influence of Play

Credo is developing a two-day course for sales team members (yes, it includes a day of golf) to help people develop the observation and analytic skills required during a round of golf. (Actually, it’s before, during and after a round of golf.) If it’s of interest… if you like your business golf and you want to use it more effectively… give Credo a call. We’d be pleased to help you better understand how to use a day of golf with a key client or prospect far more constructively than you otherwise might.