Dan Tudor

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The Keys to Effective Follow-upMonday, May 28th, 2007

If you’ve been coaching at the college level for a while now, you’ve probably learned at least one thing when it comes to the recruiting process: You rarely, if ever, are able to sign a prospect after just one contact.

What does that mean? That’s right, coach. You’ve got to follow-up with them. Sometimes in person, once in a while via e-mail, and almost certainly by phone. Over and over and over again. The follow-up probably never seems to end if you’re a serious recruiter.

Follow-up requires persistence, and persistence works best when there is a plan in place. Plans make being persistent a little easier, knowing that you’re taking another planned step towards getting that athlete ready to commit to your program. What I’m really talking about here is a focused reason for your follow-up with the athlete, whether it be by mail, e-mail, phone or in person.

One of the things coaches consistently ask us for are good ideas for effective follow-up with the athletes they are recruiting. Here are some of the tips we’ve given coaches over the years as a strategy for making their follow-up calls effective:

Know why they want and need what you’re offering. It’s not about you, coach. It’s about what your prospect wants, and how they perceive them getting that from you and what you’re offering. Remember that, and try to tie your program in to their desires and dreams.

Know the real reasons your prospect hasn’t said “yes” yet. Do they have objections that remain unanswered? Probably. Are their other decision makers involved in the process, like a parent or a coach? Probably. Make sure you uncover all of the reasons they aren’t ready to commit.

Make sure you’re friendly. Sounds simple, right? And yet, many coaches take their game face into a recruiting situation. That doesn’t work most of the time. You need to be approachable, open, honest and someone that they would enjoy being around even if they weren’t one of your prospects. We all like to do business with people we consider friends, and your prospect is no different.

Know what your prospect’s “hot buttons” are. Is it the education your offer? Your stadium? Your coaching reputation? The chance to play as a freshman? You need to ask effective questions, and then make sure you have a clear understanding of what your prospect is looking for from you (like I said, it’s all about them, coach). Use those hot buttons in your follow-up conversations, reminding your prospect that you have what they want. Have new information ready to present.

Never call or e-mail “just to check in”. The only reason they would care about you “checking in” is if they ran a hotel, and since Paris Hilton isn’t much of an athlete I don’t think you need to worry about that. “Checking in” is a weak reason to call. Instead, have new information ready to give them. You’ve got new stuff, or stuff you haven’t yet talked about with them, so use it. Be creative, and make it relevant.

Be a trusted helper. Put your desires to sign the athlete second, and focus on them going through the recruiting process instead. Do they need help with their application? Do they have questions about another school that’s contacted them? Are they confused about applying for financial aid? HELP THEM. Ask for nothing in return. Be a trusted helper and advisor, and watch what it does for your recruiting efforts.

Be direct. Answer all of their questions, and don’t beat around the bush. Don’t lie to them, and don’t patronize them. Your prospects, and their parents, are smarter than you give them credit for sometimes. Make sure you’re the coach that’s up-front and direct in giving them the information and answers that they need to make their decision.

Be funny. Make them laugh. Do it through personal coaching stories, or stories about when you were getting recruited or were an athlete. If you can make them laugh, you’ll be one-up on the coach that comes in with his or her game face on. Athletes are looking for someone that they’ll enjoy being around. Make them laugh, and they’ll remember you as that person.

Don’t be scared to ask for the sale. If you’ve had me in for an On-Campus seminar, you know what a big emphasis this is during a workshop with your staff. This is critical to the recruiting process. When you’re following-up with a prospect, you should “ask for the sale” almost every single time you talk with them sometime during your conversation. Yet, most coaches sit and wait. If that strategy is working for you, don’t change a thing. If you want to be more proactive and keep control of the recruiting process, take charge by taking a chance and ask for them to commit to your program.

If they don’t perceive a difference in what you’re offering versus the other coach that’s calling, it’s going to be tough to sign the athlete. Keep this in mind as you engage in follow-up calls with your prospect.

For you SFC Premium Members reading this, I’m going to be sending you four good ways to start off your follow-up conversations.  Four great reasons to call your prospects and start off the conversation with them.  For anyone who becomes a Premium Member this week, we’ll send you the same report.

The bottom line: Have a purpose for your follow-up callEvery time, all the time.  You’ll see big differences in the interest level from your prospects if you do. 

Running a Successful Recruiting OperationMonday, May 21st, 2007

Summer is when a lot of coaches look to press their own coaching "reset" button.  It’s the end of another long year of competition and recruiting, and many of you take some time to take stock of what went right and what went wrong during the past twelve months.

I’ll assume for a moment that your program’s recruiting efforts are a part of that evaluation that is taking place.  Summer has turned out to be a popular time for coaches and athletic directors to use SFC to come on campus to lead workshops, or to become Premium Members so that they can begin to develop a plan for doing a better job at winning the recruiting wars in 2007-2008.

Every program and coach have different and unique issues that they need to address when it comes to improving their recruiting operation, of course.  But here are a few things that we can safely say are "musts" when it comes to a successful college recruiting operation: 

Schedule a specific time to recruit athletes.  Then, stick with it.  That sounds simple, but I find that a lot of coaches don’t block out a specific time to recruit.  They end up fitting it in around everything else in their life, which results in weak results and a lot of frustration.  Schedule a specific block of time – whether its every day, every week, or whatever – and then make sure NOTHING gets in the way or interrupts you.  This is the first big step towards getting a good base to move forward and establish some solid recruiting practices.

Write down specific goals for each recruiting session.  Written goals are powerful, and you tend to live up to those expectations that you set for yourself.  You probably list goals for every game or season as a coach, and then work to meet those goals.  Do the same thing with recruiting: Write down how many athletes you’re going to talk to in one sitting, how many commitments for some kind of appropriate follow-up, or other goal that will measure your performance.

Be a student of selling, recruiting and communication.  Find books or instructional CD’s that teach selling skills.  They aren’t expensive, and they are a great investment in your coaching career.  You can get our recruiting guide for coaches, or just go down to your local bookstore and look at the hundreds of books on sales and marketing.  Apply those principles to your recruiting efforts.  Nobody is a "natural" recruiter.  Most coaches need to put a lot of practice and thought into developing that skill.  Never stop learning, never stop seeking.  Get better at this very important aspect of your college coaching career.

Have a positive view of recruiting.  Enjoy what you do.  Enjoy the process of talking to athletes.  Appreciate the power you have to help a student-athlete achieve their dreams.  Its amazing what this can do for your energy level and focus when it comes to recruiting.  If, on the other hand, you dread recruiting, it’ll show.  And, it affects your attitude.  And, your athletes will pick-up on that negative, unenthusiastic attitude.

Write a script for recruiting conversations.  A lot of coaches we talk to who attend our Selling for Coaches On-Campus Seminars tell us that this is the one piece of advice that has helped them get over their fear of picking up the phone and calling prospects.  The key with this to make it sound natural, and practice it over and over before talking to a prospect.  Get a fellow coach to role play with you so that you can get feedback.  Or, if you’re a SFC Premium Member, arrange a time to talk with us so that we can work on a script and practice it.  This is a great tool, and you’ll appreciate it when you start recruiting an athlete.  It will make your recruiting calls much easier, and much more fruitful.

Is that an exhaustive list?  Of course not.  But it’s a start, and if you find that your program struggles when it comes to consistently recruiting at a high level, it may be the jumping-off point you need to make the next twelve months some of your best ever on the recruiting trail.

Should You Make an Impression, Or Make an Impact?Monday, May 14th, 2007

Take a look at the letter you send out to your recruits.  Read it carefully.  Very carefully.

I’ll bet it has a lot of big, impressive words.  A lot of proud claims.  A long list of flowery accolades, listing your program’s accomplishments, your school’s high standing academically, and maybe even a list of prestigious alumni.

Are you duly impressed? Those letters are loaded with all the right power words that, according to many marketing gurus, will differentiate what you can offer a student-athlete from all your competitors.  The larger the words, the longer the sentences, the better the impression you’ll make, right?

Maybe not.  Unfortunately these "differentiated" messages have been heard before, by your prospects and by their parents. They’re not that impressed by your exciting, leading-edge array of new facilities, experienced coaches, or your list of conference championships.

From their perspective, it’s a disingenuous self-serving pitch. Without even thinking, they immediately erect barriers that might be impossible for you to overcome. If you’ve heard comments like these before, it’s highly likely that you tried to hard to impress your prospects:

• We’re already leaning towards…
• I’m not sure your program is really what I’m looking for…
• You know, we’re not interested in looking at your program seriously…

Simply put, being impressive doesn’t always work. So what’s the solution? In case you haven’t read "Selling for Coaches" yet, here are some ideas on how you change the recruiting letter game so that it plays to your strengths.

Cut out the crap
Throw out all those impressive words and phrases that are utterly meaningless to your teenage prospect. They’ve got to go. Now! They’re literally hurting your recruiting efforts. Unless you’re incredibly diligent, you’ll find them sneaking into your voicemails, popping up when you’re at an in-home visit, or slipping out during conversations with prospect over the phone.  Look at all your written material, too. While you may not be able to influence the recruiting materials done by your athletic department, you certainly can control what’s in your own emails, letters, PowerPoint presentations or other prospect communication.

Be ruthless in this endeavor. Take out a big red marker and highlight anything that sounds like you’re trying to impress your prospect by listing off your amazing highlights and credentials.

Focus on the impact
After you’ve cut out all the crap, you may not have too much to say about your program. That’s good! No one cares about it anyway. At least not yet…remember, they don’t know you yet.  There’s time for your impressive list of all the reasons they would want to play at your school a little later in the relationship.  All they care about right now is the difference you can make for them – which is what we call your "value proposition".

It’s time to get to the heart of the matter with your prospect. But its up to you to find out what that is, coach:

What are they looking for in playing college sports?
What effect will your opportunity have on their life as an athlete, and as a student?
What are their hopes, their goals and their vision of what college sports will be like?

Listen to the words they use. You’ll quickly discover that they don’t speak "recruiting talk" at all. You’ll never hear them rave about your last conference championship, yourr passion for excellence or your school’s latest academic ranking. Instead, they’ll talk about getting a chance to start as a freshman, making their parents proud, giving them a good chance at a great career after school, and proving to themselves (and everyone else) that they can make it at the next level.

That’s their language. It’s simple, its direct, and its all about them – not you.  It’s time to start using it. Don’t get fancy and try to "Wow" your prospects with highfalutin language in a slick recruiting letter. Get down and dirty. Talk like they do. Discuss the problems they face, the challenges ahead, and the personal objectives they must reach. Emphasize how you can help by focusing on them – not your "stuff."  And, when you do it, the shorter the better.  Keep it simple and straight-forward. 

When you focus on the impact instead of trying to be impressive, you’ll notice an immediate change in their reactions to you. Instead of erecting barriers, they’ll actually invite you into the conversation about how you can help them reach those goals. Instead of hurling objections at you (or just plain ignoring you), they’ll ask for your ideas, insights and solutions.

Isn’t that what you want, coach?

How Effective Trial Close Questions Can Help You Sign More ProspectsMonday, May 7th, 2007

See if you can relate to this situation, Coach:  You were pretty sure that your recruit you had been recruiting for several months had finally made up their mind to sign with you school.  But you didn’t want to "push" the athlete.  You didn’t want to make your prospect think you were "desperate" to sign the prospect (which you probably were, of course).  Still, you probably really wanted to know.

What you need to learn how to do is to start asking effective trial close questions.  Specifically, questions that would give you insight into what your prospect was thinking, making it easier for you to know when it was time to ask for that final commitment.  "Trial close" questions are part of the arsenal of every business sales professional in today’s world, and in our book, "Selling for Coaches", we train college coaches to use the same effective strategy to better guage their recruit’s frame of mind.

Here’s a sample of the strategy we outline in the book that you can use to interact more effectively with prospects that you are talking to: 

"Once you handle objections that are raised by your prospect and the family, you are a step closer to gaining their acceptance of you and your program as their college choice.  But you can’t stop there.  There are two more important steps in the selling process that need to take place.  One of those steps is to use a few effective “trial close” techniques with your prospect, or his or her parents.  What is a trial close?  Simply put, it’s a question that gauges the athlete’s interest level in your offer and your program by assuming the athlete has made a commitment by the type of question that you ask. 

An example of how that kind of a question may sound would be, “When you move on campus next fall, do you think you want to room with another athlete or with a regular student?”  Or, another one might be, “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, have you talked about how often you might be able to come see Jenny play at our school?”

Do you hear the tone of the question?  It already assumes that the athlete is coming to your school in the way that you ask the question.  The key to an effective trial close question is in the answer that’s given by your prospect or their parents.  Do they answer in such a way that tells you they’re assuming that they will be committed to your program next year?  Have they already pictured themselves at your college and on your team?  If the answer in your mind, as you’re listening to them, is “yes” then you’ve probably sold them on your offer.  Way to go!  If they answer your question with, “I don’t know…I’ve never really thought about that before” or “Man, I don’t know…that’s a tough one” or “we haven’t talked about that”, then you know that you have more work to do.

The value of trial close questions, as we go on to outline in this special recruiting guide for college coaches, is that it gives recruiters good indicators of what their prospect is thinking.  That allows smart coaches to do a few key things:

  • Know when to ask for their commitment without the risk of appearing to be "pushy".
  • Better understand the mindset of their prospect.
  • Uncover what objections remain unresolved in the mind of their prospect.
  • Keep control over the entire recruiting process.

Develop a list of effective trial close questions that you think you can incorporate on a regular basis during your closing recruiting conversations.  Doing so will give you an added degree of confidence in your recruiting efforts.

Five Mistakes I See Coaches MakeMonday, May 7th, 2007

I have to give credit to Robert, one of our SFC Premium Members, for this topic.  We were talking about a recruiting strategy that we had recommended for his program after finding some glitches in his old approach, and we were starting to wrap-up our conversation.  Then Robert asked, "Dan, what are some other real common mistakes that you’ve seen coaches in my position make?" 

It’s a great question!  I learn best when it’s from my own mistakes, and maybe you’re the same way.  If so, take a look at my list.  See if any of my observations ring true for you.  Check my list, and learn from the mistakes of your fellow coaches when it comes to recruiting.

  • Many coaches aren’t prepared for every prospect.  I recently had close contact with a recruiting situation involving a highly regarded football prospect, and two D1 college recruiters.  The first coach had his act together: He knew about the prospect, his family, what his interests were, and how to associate the prospect’s needs and wants with what they’re program had to offer.  The second coach, also from a respected D1 program, wasn’t as prepared: He got the prospect’s father’s name wrong, didn’t have any idea how many other colleges were interested in him, and wasn’t ready to seriously talk about his school and why it might be the right choice for the prospect.  The morale of the story: Treat EVERY prospect like they’re the best last hope for your program to reach the heights that you envision. 
  • They don’t have a systematic recruiting plan in place.  A lot of the recruiting I see happening is sporatic, at best.  If some coaches planned practices they way they plan recruiting, they’d be out of a coaching job.  Having a systematic plan is essential for recruiting success, just like we talk about at length in our training guide, "Selling for Coaches".  That being said, its still a big mistake I see happening on a fairly regular basis.
  • All of you mail way too much "stuff".  Your prospects aren’t reading 95% of the stuff you send, especially when its at the start of your recruiting relationship.  Less stuff to read at the start is better, coach.  More stuff at the beginning – the media guides, the catalogs, the never-ending supply of brochures – doesn’t get read.  Why?  Because they’re not concerned about you, Coach.  They’re concerned about themselves.  And most of what you’re sending them is all about you, you, you.  That’s why you don’t hear back from most of the prospects you send "stuff" to.  Less stuff at the beginning will bring you more response from your prospects.
  • You aren’t going where your prospects are going.  Your prospects are watching YouTube.  They have a MySpace page.  In fact, did you know the average MySpace page gets about 15 views a day.  Tell me again how much of your printed material gets read, Coach?
  • Your websites are horrible.  I’ve seen a few college websites that are really, really well done.  But most college athletic websites are hard to navigate, and not friendly at all for a prospect looking to interact with a recruiter.  When was the last time your website was overhauled?  And, have you ever gone into your own program’s website from the perspective of one of your recruits?  You should.  Soon.
  • A lot of coaches still don’t know how to "close the deal".  You have to keep asking the right questions.  You have to keep gauging the prospect’s interest.  You can’t just sit back and wait, and you certainly can’t just "hope" they choose you.  Savvy coaches continue to develop their relationship with their recruit, and do so in such a way that furthers their connection with you.

Mistakes happen, but once you know that you’re making them it’s up to you to correct them. 

Here’s the bottom line: The job of Selling for Coaches is to help you be a better recruiter.  That’s it.  We believe its one of the most important aspects of your job, one that doesn’t get nearly enough focus and attention.  And part of that job is to point out the mistakes that you may be making, so that you become a better recruiter.

Hopefully, you’ll learn from the mistakes that some of your fellow coaches have made in the past.