Dan Tudor

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The 4 Rules for Keeping it SimpleMonday, May 26th, 2008

"If you want to get noticed, don’t be so polished."

So says marketing expert and best-selling author, Seth Godin.  He points to something he noticed the other day while driving around his home in New York: A brown UPS truck with something on the back of it that caught Godin’s eye.  Godin picks up the story from there:

"This UPS truck has a haphazardly affixed SAFETY sign hanging from the back. Think that’s UPS truckunintentional? UPS does it on purpose. You notice it because a human being did it.

Same with the seven-page-long menus at diners in New York City. With thousands of things to choose from on the laminated, typeset menu, it’s difficult for some people to make a choice. What to do? Well, there’s a stained 3×5 card paper clipped to the front page listing four special dishes. They’re not specials in the sense that they change every day, they’re just specials because they’re on the card. And yes, that’s what people order.

When in doubt, make it human."

So, what can this UPS truck teach college coaches about crafting a more effective recruiting message?

Here are a few ideas that I think will work for college coaches:

  • Look for ways to make everything you send to a prospect "more human."  Something hand-written on the front of your envelope.  Cross out a word or two in your hand-written note to a prospect.  Or, even a better idea: Show your prospect a little bit of your personal side, like pictures of your family, your high school yearbook picture…anything that humanizes you.
  • The simpler the better.  Don’t make it expensive, or fancy.  Keep it simple.  Take another look at the sign taped on the back of the UPS truck.  That’s simple, and it gets noticed.  In today’s world, simple gets noticed more than over-produced and commercialized. 
  • Offer some simple solutions for your prospects.  Just like the restaurants that suggest some specials as a way to direct their customers towards the dishes that they really want them to order, you can help direct your prospects towards actions that you need (and want) them to take.  As we explain regularly during our SFC On-Campus Workshops, it’s smart to agree upon the next action item your prospect.  They are searching for simple solutions and easy-to-understand directions.  Be the coach that gives it to them.
  • Make your form letters and mass e-mails more conversational, less corporate.  What I mean by "less corporate" is less well-written.  Less formal.  Less intimidating.  If you really want to connect with your prospect, talk to them in the language that they understand.  Keep it simple, very informal, and conversational.  It’s proven that prospects respond to a clear, simple message.  Letters and e-mails are a great way to let your recruits see who you are as a coach, but only if you communicate with them in a way that they relate to and understand.

Many coaches could benefit from simplifying their recruiting messages.  Be more direct, be more human.  Let your prospects see the real you behind the letters and e-mails.

How to Choose the Right Recruiting WordsMonday, May 19th, 2008

Take a look at the letter, or e-mail text, that 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 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?

Probably 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.  If you remember our findings in the recruiting study we did earlier this year, there are far more important factors in their decision-making process.

From your prospect’s perspective, it’s a self-serving "sales 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:

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

Simply put, being "impressive" doesn’t always work.

So what’s the solution? If you haven’t had SFC on your campus to give you our training live with you and your fellow coaches, here are some ideas that we present in those workshops on how you change the recruiting message 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 killing 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.  If it’s your first letter or e-mail to a prospect, try to eliminate anything that is trying to "sell" you or your program.  It’s way too early to sell an athlete in that instance. 

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".

College baseballIt’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 terms of 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, Coach. 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 feeling wanted by their teammates, 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?


Two Questions You Need to Ask Prospects TodayMonday, May 12th, 2008

This is a rare week when I get to catch-up on work at the office and conversations with coaches.

Last week, I was spending time at two different colleges teaching their coaches how to recruit more effectively.  When I lead those On-Campus Workshops, they usually revolve around the question of knowing how a prospect actually decides on a college that is recruiting him or her. In other words, if two or three schools are actively pursuing an athlete and each school is vying for his or her commitment, how do you as a coach know how your prospect will arrive at a decision?

Here’s the shocker, Coach: There’s no need to wonder about it. In fact, there’s one simple question that can help erase all the mystery when it comes to the decision making process of a prospect.

Dan TudorHere’s the question:

"How will you make your final decision?"

That’s it?? Yes, that’s it.

Cut to the chase and ask the athlete up-front how they will be making their decision on which college to go to and which offer to accept.

After the athlete answers, here’s another important question to ask:

"And then what?"

And then they’ll tell you more. And then you ask, "And then what?" again.  And they’ll tell you more. And on and on until you finally get to the real source of their decision – a school’s major, the coach, their parents’ input, their coach’s input, or even what kind of uniforms you have compared to the competition. The bottom line is, you’ll know what the decision rests on.

This past week, I put this strategy to the test with a soccer coach at one of those schools I worked with who was still trying to fill one last opening on her roster.  She was recruiting three players actively, each of whom was not giving the coach any indication of where they were leaning in terms of a program, when they would make their final decision, and how they would make their final decision.  This strategy that I just summarized is what we recommended to the coach, along with some other important questions to ask their prospects. 

The result?  The coach got the answer she was looking from two of her prospects within 48 hours (she e-mailed me this weekend).  She made the offer to the better prospect, and they committed to her program a few days ago.  Why?  Because the coach finally understood how her prospect would be making her decision – a decision that included a lot of influence from a step-father whom the coach had never talked to personally.  Once the coach knew that he played a major role in her prospect’s decision making process, she talked with him at length.  After taking about an hour to answer his questions and concerns, he agreed that her program was the best for his step-daughter.

I can’t stress how important this series of questions is. It’s a key question for business professionals to ask when they seek to understand how a sales decision is going to be made, and it’s a great question to ask if you’re a coach who finds yourself walking out of personal visit or long phone call with a prospect wondering what the prospect is thinking or where you rank with other colleges who are pitching their program.

Try it. I think you’ll like the results. And always remember to ask those follow-up questions until you get to the bottom line and you know how they will be making their decision.


How Ole Miss Soccer Uses Video to Make Coaching EasierMonday, May 12th, 2008

Like most coaches at the college level, the staff at Ole Miss’ Women’s Soccer program use video analysis on a daily basis.

The difference in their approach?  They’ve added a dynamic facet to their video review and coaching sessions.

The staff starting using Dartfish, the video analysis software made popular by Olympic coaches.  More and more college coaches are using the software to help their athletes become better more quickly, and are also using it to draw recruits to their program by demonstrating the cutting-edge benefits of training with a system like the one Dartfish provides.

Derek Greene"Our use of Dartfish during our two playing seasons is a daily occurance,"says Derek Greene, assistant coach at Ole Miss.  "For instance, we have created event buttons for each of our players.  Whenever a player is involved in a play, whether she is actually on the ball or supporting the play, we can now click a button and go back and analyze the play with the young woman at that that moment."

One of Coach Greene’s favorite features for coaching his athletes, and showing-off to his visiting prospects, is the Dartfish time lapse feature.

"The time lapse feature is a great tool that allows us to pre-roll time so that when we push the player button, the video actually capture several seconds earlier.  We are also able to determine the length of the clip so that when the player involved is no longer a part of the player the video capture will end."

That’s just one of the aspects of this surprisingly easy-to-use software that coaches are being drawn to from campus to campus.  The instant video feedback it can provide during practice, as well as the video sharing feature that allows coaches from different points to analyze and coach an athlete, are features that coaches are finding invaluable to their college coaching careers.

Learning more about Dartfish is easy, free and informative.  Dartfish is making it possible Dartfishfor coaches who are curious about what the software looks like, and what it can do.  And, you can do it from your office.

Click here to see when the next live online demo is taking place.  They are sport-specific, and really interesting.  It’s something that would be smart to take a look at, Coach.  In fact, it may end up being one of the best new tools you’ll uncover for next season!  

Your 3 “Recruiting Tie-Breakers”Monday, May 5th, 2008

Dan TudorIt really is the “nightmare scenario” for college recruiters.

You spend months – if not years – putting time and effort into recruiting a prospect.  There has been home visits, campus visits, going to their games and generally rolling out the red carpet for them in an effort to lure them to your campus.

The nightmare happens when all of that hard work goes down the tubes after your athlete, who has been bombarded with information and sales pitches from other schools besides yours, decides to go to another school based on a less than logical reason.

These “recruiting tie-breakers”, as I have come to call them, can be something insignificant to you as a coach, but important in the eyes of your recruit.  These trivial little things are used to “break the tie” in your prospect’s mind, since everything they’ve received and heard from coaches recruiting them looks and sounds the same.  With all else being equal in their eyes, your prospect will “break the tie” in their mind by choosing something that appeals directly to them personally.

After talking with hundreds of student-athletes as a part of the research that we do for coaches when they host a SFC On-Campus Workshop, there have been a few consistent winners when it comes to things that breaks the recruiting tie in their mind.  Here are the three most popular (see how many you have working in your favor):

Cool uniforms.  I can give you a real recent example of a big-time recruit finally committing to his school because of the uniforms.  LaGarrette Blount, a new signee for the University of Oregon, was recently interviewed by ESPN.com about why he chose to go far away from the SEC and good Southern home-cooking to go play for the Ducks: 

Obviously, Blount tapped Oregon over other suitors for a variety of more substantive reasons, but listening to his detailed explanation of what he likes about the uniforms makes it clear the issue isn’t a trifle for him.  "We don’t wear the same thing twice — I love that," he said. "I don’t want to play for a sluggish-looking team."

As the saying goes, “If you look good, you play good”.  That applies to recruiting, as well.  Creating a feeling that your program is investing in how the athletes look is important to your prospects.

Dorms and campus food.  Nice on-campus housing is more important to female athletes, it seems, and food is a priority for the male student athletes we’ve talked to this past year.  Both are important “tie-breaking” factors for either group, however.  I’ve interviewed student-athletes who have raved about the food on their campus, and they’ve also given me great details about the wonderful living conditions on campus.  Don’t think you have great dorms or great food on your campus?  Don’t worry.  Interestingly, when dorm life and the campus food were not listed as plusses for the university, it didn’t do much harm for that athletic program in the eyes of the student-athletes.  Student-athletes will forgive you for dorms and so-so food.  However, if you can swing it the other way and make your on-campus housing and food something that gets them buzzing, you’ve got a real solid tie-breaker working in your favor (IF you make sure to let your prospects experience that great food and unbelievable campus housing).

Your athletes.  In our report, “Inside the Mind of Your College Prospect”, we go into great detail about how vital it is for your prospects to have a positive experience with your existing team when they visit your campus.  The study’s findings are supported by our personal interviews with hundreds of current student-athletes on college campuses: Overwhelmingly, one of the prime reasons they cited for their decision was how they felt around the team when they visited campus, and whether or not they felt like they were liked by the team.  Your current athletes hold the keys to a successful campus visit and, ultimately, a successful recruitment of that prospect.

By the way, if you’re a SFC Premium Member, look for some tips on how to make sure your prospects understand what your school’s “tie-breakers” are and why they should choose you over the competition.  And, I’m also going to tell you about two more tie-breakers that prospects and your current athletes think are important.  Look for that in your Inbox later this week, and if you aren’t a Member, click here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: These are tie-breakers, and doesn’t mean that location, your division level, playing time and the education you provide aren’t vital in the decision making process.  On the contrary, those are all items that you would want to use to sell your prospect on your school. 

The real challenge for you as a recruiter? To create compelling reasons for a prospect to see clearly that you are his or her top choice before it gets to the tie-breakers.  Communicating and marketing yourself and your program effectively, in a way that connects with the student-athlete, will win every time.