You had set a deadline for your prospect to make a decision by last week, but mom and dad just emailed you to tell you that they really need to visit just one more campus at the end of the month.
You have a verbal commitment from a prospect, and you just got an email saying that they’re having second thoughts and are going to talk to the other coach again before they make their final decision.
You think you have until late Winter to bring one of your prime recruits on campus, but they’ve decided (unbeknownst to you) that they want to make their final choice in the early Fall, and surprise you with an email announcing their decision before you even have the chance to get them to campus.
Any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, Coach?
It all comes down to this reality: Your timeline as a college coach doesn’t match your prospect’s timeline that he or she has set in their mind.
There are two different ways this usually materializes in the recruiting process. The most common is that you have a timeline that you need your recruit to comply with sooner rather than later, and your prospect is dragging their feet. However, there is a more treacherous timeline scenario that sneaks-up on coaches, too: Your prospect is going to make their decision earlier than you think, and you never get to fully recruit them because they make their decision much earlier than expected.
For the coach that mishandles either situation, the results can be devastating to a recruiting class.
Here’s are some solid basic strategies we can recommend in approach each unique scenario:
You need your prospect to make a decision, but they aren’t ready and have told you they need “more time”
- First, understand that a consistent talk-track of messages, starting as early as possible in the process, will put you in the best position to make requests of your recruit for a final decision. Inconsistent contact, conversely, will make your prospect read your sudden request for a final decision as “pressure”, and may end up being a reason they choose to go with a competitor.
- As early as possible in the process, ask your recruit what their timeline is for making a final decision. If you’ve been through our On-Campus Workshop training, I’d recommend using the version of that question that we included in the list of questions we see as essential to ask your prospect. Establishing the date that your prospect (or their parents) have set in their mind as the timeline for making their final decision is critical to effectively managing the entire recruiting process, and you are the only one who has the power to get agreement with your prospect on what that date is.
- Whatever date they finally give you, I always recommend – based on my experience of watching the recruiting process unfold hundreds and hundreds of times – to assume that their final decision is actually going to occur 30 days prior to the date that they tell you. I don’t believe they are being devious when they give you one date and then end up deciding earlier, it just seems to be a very normal occurrence with this generation of recruit. They feel like making their decision earlier than first thought, and act on that impulse – sometimes with the first available coach that asks them if they’re ready to commit. Make sure you are that coach.
- If they are telling you that they still need more time, you have two choices: Give them more time, or set a firm deadline and require a decision:
- If you want to give them more time, make sure you do so by getting an agreement on when their decision will be made. Keep in mind that they may be avoiding giving you a firm decision because they’ve already made a decision not in your favor, and they’re just too scared to tell you. If that’s the case, you’ll see them hesitate in giving you a firm decision date. That’s your cue for asking them, “It sounds like you have already made your decision…is that right?” Getting a decision in this example is the priority, even if it’s not in your favor.
- If you are ready for – and need them to make – a decision, you need to give them a fair but firm deadline. My recommendation is 10-14 days from now. Let them know that you don’t want to rush them or pressure them, so you’re giving them another two weeks to think it over. That being said, ask them if they know what that decision is right now. And, if they don’t ask them what are the big questions left in their mind that they’re still wrestling with…that’s an opportunity for a conversation between you and your prospect at a crucial time in the process.
You don’t want your prospects to decide on a competing program before you get the chance to sufficiently take them through your recruiting process
- As early in the process as possible, as them what their timeline is for making a final decision. If this is during their Sophomore or Junior year, ask again every six to twelve months (their answer will change each time, I guarantee it). If this is during their Senior year, make sure you ask at least every three months (their answer will change each time, I guarantee it).
- Re-read the first bullet point again. It’s that important.
- Tell them when you will be making your final recruiting invitations, telling them at what point (approximately) you will be wrapping-up your recruiting for their class. The longer of a horizon that is, the better. When you begin asking for a decision as that timeline draws to a close, you will not be viewed as “pressuring” them for a decision; rather, you will be seen as a coach who has been fair with them, and are just keeping your word as to when you would be done with the process.
- A good general approach when it comes to that conversation: “Keith, I’m pretty sure we’re going to be wrapping-up our recruiting by the end of this coming October…maybe a little sooner. So that’s why I want to keep track of where you’re at, what questions you have, and make sure we get you on campus soon so you can have lots of time to figure out if we’re going to be right for you.”
- When that deadline comes, keep it. Move on. Not doing so will define you as someone not serious about what you’ve said in prior conversations, which opens you up to further negotiating and waffling down the line. (“Hey son, that coach caved when it came to the deadline he gave you…maybe we can work him over for some more money, too. Just let dad handle everything, kiddo.”)
The bottom line for getting your prospect to come inline with your timeline is setting expectations early, and communicating throughout the process. Done regularly, you’ll find this particular recruiting hurdle can be easily addressed time and time again.
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