Know your audience, then keep goal in mind
Using golf in business is an extremely common practice, but it’s not as simple as bringing the boardroom to the course.
According to Karen Furtado, a vice president at CGI Group Inc., in Andover, Mass., proper protocol is of the utmost importance.
“There’s this idea that you close deals on the golf course, but you don’t. You close relationships to make the deals easier,” she said. “If you’re out there to close the deal by hole nine, it’s not going to work. But if you’re out to build relationships you’ll do well.”
Furtado said that the best way for businesspeople to use golf to their advantage is to be prepared, perceptive and knowledgeable of their skill level and the etiquette of the game. It’s also important, Furtado said, to know what you want to accomplish during the game.
“You might not be looking to close the deal,” she said “but you might want to know three or four issues that need to be taken care of before the company will accept your proposal.”
But she warns against going out and immediately talking business.
“I am very cautious as to when to talk business on the course,” she said. “Personally, I talk about the industry.”
By talking about the industry in general terms, Furtado said, you can gain indirect insight into a company’s practices and priorities.
But that’s not to say business can never be discussed on the course. Furtado said that a good rule of thumb is to only discuss it if the client brings it up first.
Another good way to incorporate business into a round of golf is to have a meeting before or after the game.
“When you’re out of the office, the guard is down. I find they’re more creative and willing to give you more information,” she said. “I have closed deals before or after a round.”
Furtado said she’s most comfortable networking after the game, over drinks. If a deal is in progress, however, she recommends holding a meeting beforehand.
Aside from knowing when and how to handle business on the course, Furtado said, it is vital to remember that winning isn’t everything.
“I gauge the level of skill of my partner. I have a client in California with a 10 handicap and I have to keep up. But if I take someone out who only plays golf once a year, I’ll change my strategy,” she said. “You’re out for business, not for competition.”