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Building business, relationships on the links

Is business still happening on the golf course today? Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes.

Craig Smith, who has more than 35 years of experience in sales in New Jersey and the tri-state area, has been an avid golfer for 25 years. Currently in a sales position with ZZIPCO, a leading manufacturer of elevator parts and packaging, Smith was an independent sales representative for machine shops and metal fabrication companies prior to joining the elevator industry. Smith is candid about his experiences with doing business on the golf course.

“I can’t honestly say that there was one big deal that was closed while I was on the course,” Smith reflects. “What golfing for business did do was build good will and strengthen the relationship that I had with my clients.”

Tim Herrman was vice president of operations at a manufacturing company, working and participating in business golf for 25-30 years on Long Island, in New Jersey and around the tri-state metro region.

“You hear people say that you can close a deal on the golf course, but you really don’t. You build relationships on the golf course,” Herrman said. “My goal with clients has always been to play golf and let the business happen afterwards.”

Cindy Creger, vice president of Institutional Investments with BOK Financial Securities Inc., said the banking industry still has many golf outings both at the company-sponsored level and at industry-sponsored events.

“When you spend about five hours in a cart with someone from a different department, company or organization, you get to know them on a different level,” Creger said. “It opens opportunities to discuss business that might not have been there before.”

Creger also serves as president of the Business Women’s Golf Association, or BWGA, which provides opportunity for women to make new business contacts, network and socialize.

“I know of BWGA members who have connected with financial advisers, and some members who have needed branding for their companies. These members found business contacts on the golf course,” she said.

However, Smith said he has rarely used playing golf as a means to start a relationship with a new client.

“I’ve always found it too intrusive to invite someone to play golf before you’re actually doing business,” Smith said. “In my experience, it’s been much more common to golf together after the business relationship has started.”

Golf is something to have in common with a client or business associate, and once people determine they have golf in common, it opens the door for a setting, such as the golf course, or more often the clubhouse after the round, where sharing can occur. As Smith explained, this sharing could be business tips, contacts, industry news, and even more intimate details that can help give you an edge. The established golf relationship helps develop the business relationship into more than what it would be without the shared bond of the game.

Nevertheless, a day on the course costs both money and time, which some people cannot afford.

“Years ago, people were more likely to take a day off to play golf. More recently, it’s tougher on people’s schedules to get out and play,” said Smith, who has resigned to playing business golf on weekends with certain associates.

Smith also said it has been his experience to do more business over drinks or dinner after the round then while on the course.

“Golf can be a very frustrating game, and some players take the game very seriously,” said Smith, who out of respect for his fellow players, saves the business talk for after the game is done for the day.

Herrman’s experiences have been similar. A typical sales call might involve a 15-minute presentation in the office, but a golf outing with a client would be a solid eight to 10 hours spent together.

“By the end of the day, you have your customer talking business,” Herrman said.

The game’s competitive nature brings out the best qualities that many want to see in employees and potential business relationships. Not that all business golf rounds end in success – many a story has been shared of business lost due to someone cheating on the course.

“Golf is a game that shows a person’s character, which can spread light on how that person conducts himself or herself in business as well as in personal relationships,” said Cassie Wilson, Special Care Planner for MassMutual Oklahoma and BWGA board member. “Although it might add to your score, it takes integrity to count all your putts.

“Business in Oklahoma is still strengthened by face-to-face relationships – not just by social media,” Smith said, “so we find that golf courses are excellent places to build these relationships in more casual surroundings.”

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