Driving Your Sales

Edition: September 2001 - Vol 9 Number 09
Article#: 1046
Author: Lea Sharp

Growing up along the golf course and surrounded by die-hard golfers at the office, I'm no stranger to the course. Seeing a putter propped in the corner or next to a bookshelf is as normal a fixture as a picture frame on a desk. Heaven forbid the holy stick be moved to some out-of-the-way place like a closet. No way! After all, you never know when that irresistible urge will overpower your practical work ethic and you simply must practice your swing right THEN. Such is the love of golf.

In this business, such is the love for sales. People inhale the world of sales as if they're breathing in the moist fresh air off the first tee in the morning. Closing a deal evokes the same satisfied feeling as knocking in a ten-foot sidehill, downhill putt or reaching the long par-five in two. It delivers a feeling of accomplishment as well as the hint to yourself that perhaps you really might be good at this game.

So much passion and energy exist in both activities that it's easy to make parallels. In golf, the objective is to put the ball in the hole in the fewest number of strokes; in sales, the objective is to close the deal in as few sales calls as possible. There are many hazards along the way to the cup in golf – bunkers, water, sand traps, out of bounds, trees; in sales, the obstacles encountered include competitors, biases, market activity and budget constraints or pricing objectives. In golf there's the constant quest for the latest and greatest technology in balls and clubs that will help lower your score; in sales, it's the new product promotions and programs that help close the deal.

Just as every salesperson has his own selling style, every golfer has his own distinct swing. But there are basic fundamentals that hold true in sales and in golf. In his book, A Tee Time for Selling, Peter A. Athens examines the key swing components and the corresponding sales skill fundamentals:

Golf Swing

1. Pre-shot routine

2. Grip

3. Alignment

4. Eye on the ball

5. Backswing

6. Downswing

7. Follow through

Sales Skill

1. Pre-call plan

2. Warm-up

3. Purpose of the call

4. Listening

5. Fact questions

6. Checking questions

7. Commitment for action

Pre-Shot Routine

Professional golfers use the same pre-shot routine every time to prepare for their shot. Before hitting the shot, they analyze such factors as: distance, wind, hazards, where they want the ball to land and which club to use. And then before hitting the shot, they check their grip, alignment, stance, ball position, practice swing, and they keep a positive mental image.

Every golfer may not use all of the above but the important thing is that he has a definite routine that he follows before he ever commits to a swing. No true golfer haphazardly walks up to the ball and hits it.

By the same logic, no rep blindly walks into a sales call and closes the deal. Oh, it may happen when the sales gods are with you, the planets are aligned, everything works out and the customer signs on the dotted line. Just like the hole-in-one the golfer makes that ricocheted off a tree, it can happen. However, more often than not, the salesperson has a definite plan in the works.

What sort of things would be in a pre-call plan for a sales call? According to Athens, here are some basic questions to answer:

1. Do you know whom you're calling on?

2. What are his or her interests?

3. Why is he or she willing to see you?

4. What is the purpose of your call?

5. What are his or her possible objections?

6. How are you going to achieve your objective?

Still, before you make that call, make sure you review the file notes on the account, prep your sales aids and even possibly role-play the call. By following simple guidelines, you'll ensure that your sales swing is much closer to the target.

The Grip

The grip is clearly one of the most important fundamentals in golf. Your hands are your only contact with the golf club. If they grip the club too tightly, you will create tension throughout your arms and body. This tension won't allow you to swing freely, which will slow your clubhead speed and restrict how far you can hit the ball. Having a relaxed grip is imperative to getting the most out of your swing.

The analogy to sales is the warm-up part of the call. Before any call, there is always some awkwardness and tension. That's why Athens advises warming up the prospect by talking about some common interests. If you've been to his/her office, think back to decorations or things sitting around for hints of his/her interests. (And don't be surprised if you recall a putter propped against the wall!)

Remember, the warm-up is your grip on the sales call. By creating a more relaxed environment, you will be able to get the most out of your sales call.


Professional golfers will tell you that being properly aligned with the target is one of the most critical parts of a golf swing. Even if you put a good swing on the ball, if you're not set up on your target, your shot will not hit it.

The alignment analogy to sales skills is that of fact-finding. Knowing as much as you can about your prospective customer before your initial contact is imperative. What products does your customer buy? Whom does he buy it from? What sort of distribution does he use? Questions of this sort will make sure that you have a clear understanding of your customer's business, and thus enable you to provide solutions that satisfy the customer's needs. This will keep you aligned with your target.

Eye on the Ball

How many times after a bad golf shot have you been told that you lifted your head too soon? More often than not, you have to acknowledge that you took your eye off the ball. Watching the ball throughout the swing is a critical fundamental of the game. In fact, many professional golfers fixate on where the ball was even after impact, just to make sure that their shot is on line.

By far, the most important sales skill is LISTENING. Just as watching the ball keeps the golfer on line, listening keeps the sales rep focused on the direction of the call. If you are truly listening closely, it will be a lot easier to hear when the customer tells you what he or she wants.


The main purpose of the backswing is to build up power by transferring the weight to the back side while keeping the club on the plane. The hands and arms take the club back low and slow. The shoulders turn, pivoting on the spine until the front shoulder is under the chin. The longer the swing is, the more power that is produced. Making a good full shoulder and hip turn are important factors in generating the power.

However, it is important to not take the club back too far. If you take the club past parallel, you increase your chance of getting off line and hitting a poor shot. If you take the club back inside the swing plane, chances are you'll hook the shot. If you take it outside, you could slice the shot. Taking the club back properly is totally within your control.

Fact-finding questions are the 'backswing' of a sales call. Getting the facts builds up the power of a sales call. They allow you to uncover the pertinent information that you'll need to determine where you can help your prospect. If you ask good, straightforward questions, the prospect will usually give you the needed answers. Also, to get the most power out of your sales calls, you must ask questions that evoke emotions in the prospect and address how he or she feels. Ask questions like: How do you feel about that? What do you think about that idea?

Sales reps typically don't ask emotional types of questions because they're uncomfortable. It's much easier to ask non-confrontational, fact-finding questions. The emotional questions however, tell you what the decision maker is thinking and why he or she is going to buy. If he or she doesn't want to answer such questions, then chances are, he's not comfortable with you. This is an excellent opportunity to establish credibility with the prospect by showing that you're an industry expert and you know your business.

However, just as taking a backswing way past parallel makes it tough to stay on line, asking too many fact-finding questions makes it difficult to get the sales call back on track. Additionally, you run the risk of sounding like a robot concerned only with checking off a mental checklist. The key is to ask the right number of good questions to get key facts. That way, you'll keep your sales call on line.


The purpose of the downswing is to get the clubface back to square and unleash the power that has been stored up during the swing process. Uncoiling the swing and staying behind the ball are the keys to a successful downswing. The most common error in the downswing is releasing the hands too early. By trying to hit at the ball, all the power that's been generated during the swing is lost.

From a sales perspective, the downswing equates to summarizing the agreements that have been made during the call. Failing to do this is just like releasing the hands too early and losing all the power that has been built up during the sales call. Remember, just because you heard or said something during the call does not mean that the prospect heard it the same way, says Athens. By using the sales skills of restatement and checking questions, you will be sure that you are ''on the same page'' as the prospect. Simply ask permission to review all that was discussed. Say something like: I'd like to go over the things we talked about so I can make sure I didn't forget anything. Is that okay with you?

Then, restate the agreements and get the customer to confirm them. It can be as easy as asking the customer: Does that sound like what we covered? Does that include everything we talked about? Is there anything else?


If you look at most professional golfers, their swings have a good followthrough regardless of their other mechanics. Some of them finish with the club nice and high, some with the club low – it just depends on their body and swing types. But they all finish facing their target. This is a key factor in that they are now facing where they wanted the shot to end up. Poor shots occur when they do not complete the swing.

The sales skill analogy to following through is asking for a commitment. Regardless of what phase of the sales process you're in, a good sales rep always asks for a commitment. It can be as simple as setting up a following appointment, agreeing to review process operations with key decision makers or asking for the order. Asking for that commitment keeps you keenly focused on your sales objective and aware of where you really stand.

Analogies between golf and selling are rich and instructive, as Athens makes clear in his book. For example, in golf, when you execute the fundamentals well, you usually find yourself on the green in putting position. In sales, you're in front of the customer, ready to close and get the order. In golf, your intent is to lower your score, whereas in sales, you want to raise your close rate – and your commissions.

But on two points, no analogies are needed. In both sales and golf, the more you practice, the better your success rate. And in both, the more opportunities you put yourself in position for, the more you will convert.

(The book is A Tee Time for Selling by Peter A. Athens, Vantage Press, © 2000. Amazon sells this 81-page book for $8.95.)