Originally created 09/14/99

Business Golf 101 seminar



BLOOMINGDALE, Ill. -- When Professor Dan Weilbaker dons a golf cap and glove and grabs a putter for a lecture, he doesn't have to yell "Fore!" to get attention.

Business Golf 101, as he calls it, goes over like a hole-in-one among his sales students at Northern Illinois University.

Critics of American education might sneer about a college class on the dos and don'ts of behavior on the links. But this once-a-year seminar is no gimmick, insists the 51-year-old educator, who views a day on the links as a golden opportunity for a four-hour sales call.

A duffer with an MBA and a Ph.D. in marketing, Weilbaker says his one-day seminar provides a slice of the real world undergraduates don't usually get in the classroom.

"Academe often gets knocked for not providing students with real-world training," he said before the seminar last week at Indian Lakes Conference and Resort Center in this Chicago suburb.

"Well, this is as 'real world' as it gets if you want to pursue a career in sales," he added.

Students start off in the classroom learning such musts as: Replace your divots. No wheelies in the golf cart. Don't let the customer win. And don't talk business -- for the first six holes.

Then they grab their clubs and practice with executives who work with Weilbaker -- and who sometimes are looking to hire.

Surveys have shown business in America is conducted frequently on the golf course. Still, when Weilbaker -- a one-time pharmaceuticals salesman and admitted golf fanatic -- had the brainstorm three years ago to offer Business Golf 101, a few eyebrows shot up around the campus in DeKalb.

Skepticism dissipated when word leaked that some of Weilbaker's students had been hired by the sales execs he enlisted to play with them.

Besides, what college student could resist a day of free golf, free food and a day in the sun -- all in the name of education?

"If this was listed in the syllabus, there'd be a lot more people here," grinned Sean Kenney, a 22-year-old senior, nursing a beer during his round with recruiters from Eli Lilly and Co.

Many students didn't know a wedge from a hedge when they showed up. But initial jitters dissolved by the time they shook hands with their playing partners from the business world.

Students at the classroom lecture learned everything from the difference between a "nassau" and a "bingo bango bongo" -- golf wagers -- to when to make their sales pitch (not before the final six holes).

Most of all, though, they were advised to try to strike up friendships that may come in handy later.

"You may close a big deal on the golf course," Weilbaker told them. "But that shouldn't be your goal. You should be trying to make a relationship with a person that will enable you to close the deal later."

Last year, one student tried too hard.

Heather McLindsay, 21, who returned to the seminar this fall as a recruiter for Eli Lilly, recalls being so nervous that she blurted out her personal resume and desire to be hired by her playing partner before they even teed off.

The amused recruiter, Chuck Howlett, hired her anyway. Now, as a pharmaceuticals saleswoman, she's sometimes asked to take prospective clients to the golf course -- applying lessons learned from Business Golf 101.

"You get a lot better quality time with people on the golf course than in the office," explained Howlett.

Tips for using a round of golf as a way to score business, as provided to sales students at Northern Illinois University by marketing professor Dan Weilbaker:

-- Don't rush things. Use the first six holes to get to know your customers' families, hobbies and backgrounds. Look for common interests.
-- Use the next six holes to better understand the customers' business. What keeps customers up at night?
-- Use the final six holes to share ideas about how you can help your clients deal with their most pressing needs.
-- Close the deal on the 19th hole (the bar), over dinner or later.
-- Don't initiate wagering, and don't bet more than you have in your pocket.
-- Don't intentionally play poorly to let the customer win -- it will just reinforce the stereotype of sales people as manipulative and not to be trusted.
-- Don't let your bad golf slow down play -- tell your partners you're going to pick up the ball after eight shots on each hole.
-- Observe how people play the game, how they handle adversity, their competitiveness and social style.
-- Listen more than you talk.
-- Don't tell off-color jokes.
-- Don't offer golf advice unless asked.
-- Leave your mobile phone behind.
-- Women wishing to pursue careers in sales shouldn't pass up the chance to take up golf -- it's a great opportunity to socialize with clients.