The Art of the Deal

Dan Weilbaker, PhD, a college professor, learned one of the most valuable lessons of his career on the golf course. It happened 20 years ago, when Weilbaker was a fresh-faced pharmaceutical rep intent on making his mark. He set up a round with a potentially major customer. "I was so excited that I started blabbing about my product line the minute I introduced myself," Weilbaker says. "I spent the next 17 holes getting the cold shoulder."

Today, Weilbaker is the Standard Register professor of sales at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb and an acknowledged expert on doing business on the golf course. He teaches a one-hour seminar on golf salesmanship, addressing basic rules, etiquette, wagering, conversational do's and don'ts, and other nuances. The class culminates with a golf event at St. Andrew's Golf Club in Chicago, with foursomes composed of one seminar student and three local businesspeople.

Weilbaker believes there are still far too many executives who don't have a clue--much as he didn't--when it comes to marketing themselves and/or their products on the course. "Though it seems uncomplicated, the problem is that the game and the environment require a different approach than you would use in an office. Most people assume that they have four or five hours to get their point across on the course, but in reality, you have only about an hour or so for effective, productive communication. The rest of the time you spend analyzing shots and paying attention to the game."

Weilbaker's Top 10 tips for doing business on the golf course:

1. Dress for success--First impressions are as important on the golf course as they are at a sales presentation. Be aware of current golf apparel styles: soft-collar, all-cotton polo shirts, khakis, and soft-spiked shoes.

2. Know your etiquette--Even if you're a horrible golfer, there's no excuse for improper behavior on the course. Know how to tend a flag, mark a ball on the putting green, and when not to speak during the playing process.

3. Don't play amateur golf instructor--Even if your customer has a golf swing that resembles an ax-chopping lumberjack, don't offer advice unless it is solicited. Golf is an individual, highly personal pursuit--and people's egos and self-esteem are often wrapped up in their games.

4. Don't let the customer win--Golf is a centuries-old game of honor and integrity. If you let your customer win and he or she finds out about it later, your credibility will be destroyed.

5. If you wager, pay up immediately--Never wager more than you have in your wallet, and if you lose, pay up on the spot. Also, don't assume that the few dollars you might lose is a down payment on closing a big deal.

6. Be positive--If your customer hits a good shot, commend him or her on it. Don't overdo it, though--just be honest and be yourself.

7. Get to know your customer on the first six holes--Connect with your customer on a personal level. Address a wide range of topics, from family to college background to his or her golf game. Of course, never talk more than your customer does.

8. Introduce business on holes 6 through 12--Start by inquiring about the company and its goals. Then ask about the customer's needs.

9. Plant a seed during holes 12 through 18--Return to the issues of the previous six holes. Tell the customer how you can meet his or her needs through your product or service line. Don't sell, just inform.

10. Remember, a golf outing doesn't always end on the 18th hole--A golf event often concludes with libations at a 19th hole, a dinner, or an evening banquet. If you've established a good rapport on the golf course, plan a time and place to do business.