I have been playing golf for 48 years. I been riding a bike for 5 or 6 years longer, so depending on which activity we’re talking about, that’s a little over or a little under 50 years of experience. It is an exceptionally long time to know how to do something.
Easy and Hard
So with spring’s arrival and some wonderful weather lately, I have been lucky to both ride my bike and play a few rounds of golf. This made me wonder: Why is it that riding a bike is, well, like riding a bike, and playing golf is some of that, but also not anything like it either?
Why is it that after months of not riding a bike I can jump on one, and peddle away with no fear of falling? But after a few months of no golf (or even a few weeks), much of my swing feels awkward. I must retrain my muscles by remembering in what order they need to fire to execute the swing. And while we’re talking about it, why is it that my short game is always so rusty after a winter layoff?
After contemplation, I have surmised that our ability to ride a bike with ease even after a long respite and our difficulty in regaining our mid-summer golf form after a winter break is tied to two things:
- The pain associated with failure. It’s different for bike riding vs golf, at least for me. What I mean is that learning to ride a bike involves real physical hurt, usually in the form of falling. It is painful and bloody. I have a clear recollection of an incident when I was about 5 where I was riding in sandals. I did not control the bike very well and I ran up alongside the curb, stripping my pinky toe of all its skin. I have a scar to this day. And, while I love to ride in flip-flops at the beach, I am always just a little queasy riding on the road to get to the beach, and I am keenly aware of not making the curb mistake of 53 years ago.
- In golf, I have had many painful experiences too, mostly emotional, and embarrassing ones. This includes dunking a tee shot in the water TWICE off the first extra hole in a qualifier playoff when I was attempting to make the match-play rounds of a USGA event – all with the USGA officials watching – and then having them see me nearly in tears as I turned around and walked in. I have a vivid memory of this pain from many years ago as well, but it doesn’t benefit me as my curb avoidance memory does.
- Instead, I clench up under stressful golf scenarios. My heart races and I sometimes blow it. My belief is that it comes down to my confidence in executing one vs the other. I am pretty confident that I am not going to run into a curb on my bike. I am not so confident that I won’t pound the next drive into the water, out of bounds or embarrass myself in some other meaningful way. However, by mid to late summer, I have acquired much more confidence in my execution due to repetition and practice. There is much psychology research and evidence around the benefits of repetition and practice, so this is no surprise.
- The complexity of the skill involved. It dictates the amount of muscle memory needed. In riding the bike, the skill is less complicated than in golf. Sure, you must balance, use either foot brakes or hand brakes, steer, be alert to avoid hazards etc. But, for the biggest part of the skill – balance – you have built-in reminders. The bike will wobble or lean if you get off balance which immediately alerts you to a problem and you can then self-correct. Bike riding is a constant dance of action and reaction. You hit a pothole, you must immediately react. A car is cutting you off, you react.
- In golf, the only reminders happen after you hit the ball, and then it is too late. And likely our muscles don’t remember for the next shot either. Yes, there are certainly external factors to take into consideration in golf, but the rest goes on in our head. Since it is a slower activity, there is a lot of time to think and to talk to ourselves. We don’t have to have a split-second reaction time, we get to think it over and listen to our own inner voices.
Golf, Biking, and Sales
While contemplating all this, I realized similarities between playing golf, bike riding, and sales execution. In sales, if one remembers the pain or cost of failure associated with a lost sale, it may inspire a more diligent approach to preparation and may help one change behavior that didn’t produce results.
However, when a salesperson spends too much time focused inward, as opposed to taking action by focusing on the other party, their mind is not freed up to appropriately react to the sales conversation in real-time. Rather, the salesperson worries or becomes too concerned about embarrassing themselves, and listens too much to the voices in their head which prevent them from having a natural reaction. They are more likely to restrict their effectiveness than be able to go with the sales conversation flow. They will have a higher percentage of shots that land in the metaphorical water hazard rather than in the middle of the fairway.
Lessons from Golf and Bike Riding that Can Help
- Calculate the pain associated with failing in a sales situation. This requires debriefing sales calls. The thoughtful question of what could have been done differently to produce a different outcome, a calculation of the lost revenue and lost commission on the sale, and a commitment of how the same situation will be handled in the future, are key components to improving the selling muscle and creating muscle memory. Hopefully, understanding what caused the misfire, or the bloodied toe will help the salesperson seer that pain into their subconscious as a powerful deterrent.
- Practice and repetition are necessary to create confidence. This is especially true in stressful situations. There is no substitute for careful and thoughtful practice. It builds confidence and improves execution. Remember that sales, like golf, is played on uneven lies, so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach or script that will cause someone to buy. Rather, the practice needs to be with different scenarios, obstacles, and conditions – just like how the game of golf is played. Sales, like golf, is a complex process and requires coaching and observation, even for grizzled veterans. People get into bad habits, lazy habits and as in golf, salespeople generally don’t know what they did wrong until after it’s over and then it is too late.
- Focus on the external, not the internal. The way to execute this in sales is to have a repeatable sales process – a map, if you will, of the road to take during the conversation. If there is a detour, a pothole, or an obstruction in the road, a salesperson can more easily recover if they are following a repeatable process.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on my analogies, as I am constantly striving to make the complex world of sales more easily digestible and executable for sales teams everywhere. Reach out and email me.