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Getting Prospects to Reply to Your First Recruiting MessageMonday, February 12th, 2018

What gets you to respond to a text message from someone you don’t know?

What gets you to take a chance on a new restaurant you’ve heard about near campus?

Why do you engage with a stranger who comes up to you and asks for directions?

And, why do those cheesy informercials offer you two of their product at the end of their pitch, instead of just one?

All of the answers to those questions relate directly to the simple things any coach can do if they want to increase their response rates with their initial recruiting messages that they send to their recruits.

In each of the every day examples I just outlined, there are two critical elements: An interaction, and a response. Those same to critical elements exist with every first recruiting message that a coach send out to a new recruit. And yet, a coach usually breaks the rules that his or her marketing counterparts follows almost religiously. If you want to get more responses from your initial batch of new recruits, do the same things that each one of the people in those examples do.

Here’s how:

  • When you get a text message from someone – or an email, or a voicemail, or any other incoming message – what prompts you to respond? Studies suggest that we are more apt to reply to something that doesn’t sound like an advertising message. Many, many initial messages that coaches construct jump right in to ‘selling’ their school. What I’m going to suggest is that you be patient and take a long-term approach to selling your school to a prospect. Most aren’t ready to take in sales-related messaging from a coach right away.
  • We all like a little mystery. When things are too well defined right away, we get the feeling that there’s nothing else we need to engage with the sender. Our immediate questions have been answered, so there’s no reason to pay attention any longer. Of course, I’m being a little dramatic…I’m not suggesting that applies to every one of your prospects. However, it does apply to enough. So, how do you include a little mystery in your messaging? Hold back. Don’t tell them everything about you, your program, or your school. You can also hint at things to come in the future that you want to talk with them about, which will stand a good chance of keeping them engaged with you as things move forward.
  • Do a quick one-two punch to disrupt their expectations. Most coaches your prospect will hear from are going to get an email, letter or phone call that states all the basics about their program, and then they back off. I’d suggest sending two back-to-back messages to your prospects initially, each one of them different than the other. So if you send out a letter first, send a follow up email that quickly continues the narrative that you had in the first message. The key is to link the first two messages so that your recruit understands you’re actually talking with them, not just at them. It makes a difference, Coach.
  • Pay attention to the way you construct your messages. That includes your letters, emails – even your phone calls. They all have a structure to them…an “architecture”. And there’s a right way to construct that message if the goal is to get a response from a new prospect that you want to communicate with after the initial contact.  To learn about the four primary ways you should structure your messages in order to get immediate responses, listen to our special podcast message right now that outlines the strategy that we see work for coaches all over the country.

Getting more responses from your new prospects isn’t rocket science. But it is recruiting science. And if you want to have that science works for you as much as possible, start by implementing these simple yet effective strategies right away.

Want to learn more insider strategies that are working for college coaches all over the country? Make plans to be a part of our upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference this Summer. It’s for serious college recruiters only, and will change the way you approach recruiting. Register to save your seat, or bring your whole staff!

Are Our Devices Actually Smart?Monday, June 19th, 2017

by Ken Whittaker, Front Rush

You probably hear about smart devices all the time: smartphones, smart TV, smartwatches and fitness trackers, smart lightbulbs etc. So when did all of our other devices become dumb and these new devices become smart? And what exactly is the criteria for something to be considered smart? In my opinion, the bar is set pretty low. As you may recall, I have previously written about smart speakers (http://dantudor.com/mini-talking-robots/) – the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. These devices communicate with a network to listen to your commands, process your speech, and provide you with a result. Okay, that’s pretty smart. A tiny speaker can answer something I don’t know in a few seconds. But what about these other devices?

Smartphones are probably the most common example of a so called “smart device.” Thinking back to the wee old days of landlines, brick phones and flip phones, there’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way. Apps are a click away to solve all the world’s problems, the entire device is a screen in many cases, and it seems there are less physical buttons each year. Smartphones are smart because they allow you to interact with your phone in a much different way. In a sense, a smartphone isn’t really a phone. It’s more like a computer that has the ability to make calls. So we’ll rack one in the win column for smart devices.

Smart TVs are gaining in popularity, and allow you to interact with apps and services on your – you guessed it – television. A true smart TV has these capabilities built in, although some may argue that using streaming devices such as Amazon FireTV, Roku, Apple TV, or Chromecast can make any TV a smart TV. Not by my standards. That is an extra peripheral used to give you access to more things. Plugging in a mouse to your laptop doesn’t make your computer any smarter, it just allows you to use it in a different way. I’m not denying that these streaming devices are cool, but they don’t make a TV a smart  TV. A true smart TV, as I mentioned, has these streaming capabilities built in – for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. The idea is you have one remote and the ability to switch from regular TV programming to streaming content seamlessly. It’s great.

But, is it smart? Often, you can only focus on one app at a time. Although there is some disagreement if multitasking actually is smarter, I think we can all agree that a smart TV should probably be able to handle more than one thing at a time. In my opinion, a smart TV would revamp the TV experience. How many times have you wanted to watch a sports game and change the commentators (or mute them) but still have some other audio (crowd, different broadcast, in helmet speakers) instead? Or what about those clunky score boxes on the screen. What if I want that off the screen to start a big play? Does it really matter to know that an NBA team has 5 timeouts at the start of the game? A truly smart TV, in my opinion, would allow you to tweak the broadcasting networks features, and also allow access to the content many of these streaming devices provide. Doing simple things like glancing at the temperature, ordering a product you see in a commercial – from the commercial – among other things seem like natural progressions. Let’s refuse to be fooled by the current iteration of smart TVs. We’ll rack this as a loss for smart devices.

Smart watches are great – and even fitness trackers such as Fitbit – can even be included in this category. I’ll keep this section brief, as some of my colleagues have already written about Fitbit (http://dantudor.com/the-fitbit-evolution/), wearable tech (http://dantudor.com/wearable-tech/), and some of our employee preferences at Front Rush (http://dantudor.com/iphone-vs-android/), but smartwatches are basically digital watches that have the capabilities shared by your smartphone. It would be neat if they could operate more independently from a phone, but I think we’re close to seeing some more products like that. Plus, anything aimed at improving your health by giving you stand up reminders, or tracking your workouts is a win in my book. For those keeping score: smart devices are 2-1.

To round out the discussion, we’ll combine everything else into our last category. Smart light bulbs, smart cars, smart thermostats, oh my! In my opinion, these devices are just too overpriced for what they currently offer. Smart bulbs often require a hub, and then you have the added cost of equipping your home with these bulbs. Plus, if someone flips a light switch off – your bulb isn’t very smart anymore. Smart cars are worthy of their own blog. They are definitely a product to marvel at, and are smart, but I would love to see more: better mileage, auto driving capacities, etc. I’ll be harder on smart cars because they are (in my opinion) the coolest in the smart category. Smart thermostats, smart smoke detectors, and every other smart device out there are all “smart” in their own way. But as I mentioned, they are costly, which is a deterrent for many buyers right now. Cost doesn’t make them any less smart, but I think some people want these devices to do more, have easier installation, or have more features before they outfit their home with these devices.

So our final score, for this brief overview of smart devices is 3-1. Not bad, but as you coaches know – losing is never acceptable. I’m excited that companies continue to open up development to third parties – as that will allow for some of the greatest iterations of these products to be built. Also, with more companies entering the game – the competition increases and the standard of “smart” will inevitably go higher. I may have been a bit harsh at times in this article, but it’s up to us – the consumers – to come up with what the word means. Does improving the technology on a device that’s been around for years make it smart? Sometimes, but can it be smarter? Always.

When Logic Fails with Your Recruit – and WhyMonday, October 24th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-10-24 at 10.03.37 PMI’m the most logical guy I know.

Seriously, I seldom make a mistake. I’m always pretty rational, and fairly grounded in reality. Just ask me, and I’ll tell you: I make pretty good decisions, and do it the right way.

Except when it comes to my justification for what shoes to keep wearing. And, it takes me a while to adapt to new technology once in a while, even though I know the reasons behind why I should make the switch.

And then there’s my inexplicable love of Starbucks iced tea. It’s my drink of choice when I’m on the road working with clients, leading a recruiting workshop, or even when I’m back at the office on a normal day. It makes no logical sense for a rational, grounded-in-reality guy like me, to pay $3.85 for a large iced tea.  It’s tea (wholesale cost…what, like $0.01 per serving?) and water. Add the cost of the cup (an added $0.02 per serving) and I walk into Starbucks, stand in line, and plop down my $3.85 every time, knowing that I just made a completely illogical, irrational, totally emotional buying decision.

And so do you.

And so do your recruits.

My point is this: Whatever your recruiting message is, if it’s focused solely on the logical argument that your school and your program are the best choice right out of the gate, you may be making a huge mistake. Not because your prospect doesn’t need that. They do. It’s just that it may not be the right time as you start the recruiting process.

Why? Because like all of us, they are focused on the illogical. I guess what I’m saying is that before deciding that you’re going to lay out a logical course of action for your recruit, you might want to thoughtfully consider whether a logical argument is what is needed.

  • We find that a lot of recruits have an irrational love of the status quo: They don’t want change, they don’t want to leave home, and they don’t want to be faced with making a lot of changes – despite what you can offer them.
  • Many times, your prospect are emotionally connected to the symbol of a particular college name, or a conference, or a division level. It happens a lot. A LOT. And we find that prospects don’t talk about it with you because they know it’s illogical, but it’s hard to break away from those feelings. Really hard. (Hard for mom and dad, too).
  • Along with that comes a kind of community affiliation. The idea that they can be a part of a tribe they’ve always dreamt about is a tough thing to give up. Even if there’s little chance it will happen, or even if it does, it won’t be a situation that benefits the athlete. You’re probably thinking of a past prospect who fit that description right now, aren’t you, Coach? Their decision made no sense.
  • We have discovered through our ongoing research that today’s prospects are driven by fear. How is your recruiting message helping to alleviate that fear?
  • Some prospects’ parents are jealous of the other family’s son or daughter that they played high school or club ball with…the one who got the early D1 verbal offer. And now you want them to take something less than what their friends received? What, you don’t think that they deserve the same thing? (You get the picture).
  • And, the truth is, even though they’re being nice to you, they may not care about you very much. Yet.

So, do you see what I’m talking about when I suggest that your logical approach may not be what is appropriate right away?

Yet, time after time, we see logical adults who are logical coaches approach a very logical process in very logical ways.

And that’s not very logical.

Can I suggest to you that you might need to make a completely illogical argument as to why that recruit belongs at your school playing for you? Breaking out of the status quo is hard, and they’re scared of leaving home. Well, have you ever made a passionate, mostly emotional case as to why going away to school is not only the smart thing to do, but the choice that is going to make them feel good about themselves in the long run? I think you should.

Take any argument you find yourself hearing from a recruit as to why you probably aren’t the right choice, and use that as the basis for making an emotionally charged, obviously passionate case for why they need to look at your program.

If not you, who? If not at the start, when?

When you bought your last car, did you study the facts and statistics first? Or did you picture yourself in the drivers seat, and think about how it was going to feel when your friends we’re impressed with your new ride? Yeah, I thought so.

Don’t feel dumb, that’s how we make buying decision. Have you watched car commercials? Have you ever seen them make a logical case with a lot of text on the screen? No. They’re full of beautiful people, with big smiles, with upbeat music, and fast edits.

It’s an appeal to our emotions. Once you get into the car dealership, and they turn up the heat, it’s all about the payments and interest rate. It’s all about the logic, at that point (but that point is at the end of the process, not the start).

My advice: Find ways, right away, to feed their emotions and make a personal connection rather than a logical case. What you’ll find is that in doing that, you set yourself up for having them listen to your logical case much more intently once you have that illogical, emotional connection.

4 Things to Avoid During Your First Contact with RecruitsMonday, August 29th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 10.35.47 PMAs I’ve explained many coaches over the years, coaches are “process oriented”.

Most of you have instinctively developed a mental to-do list with new prospects: What you want to see happen, in what order, and by what time. But taking that approach with recruits as you prepare to contact them for the first time can end the recruiting process before it even gets started.

The emphasis on “the process” is a big part of the problem. Not the fact that you want to systematically move them through your process…we’re all for that! We’re big on systematically approaching the recruiting process. No, the problems surface when a coach starts going “out of order” in terms of what the prospect is looking for early in the process. It’s a problem because unlike a college coach, who has been through this process a few hundred times and is almost numb to the emotional and mental challenges it presents to a teenager, your recruits have developed an unwritten list of things that seem odd to them when a coach approaches them.

I want to do my part in putting at least a few of those rules in writing. Here are four of the things that I would recommend a coach not try to accomplish early on in the recruiting process (especially during the first contact with a new recruit):

  1. Avoid asking them who else they are considering, or which other programs have contacted them so far. Too much, too soon. That’s privileged information in the eyes of most of your recruits, and you haven’t yet earned the relationship capital to spend on that question yet. Look for a time later on in the process when they offer up a suggestion of either what they’re looking for in a college, or make reference to any kind of negative experience associated with visiting another school or talking to another coach. That will give you the green light to gently approach the subject.
  2. Avoid asking them to come visit campus. On the first phone call, or during any kind of one-on-one, back-and-forth conversations, do not tell them “I want you to come to campus”, or “When can you come to campus?”. When you do that, it jumps several spaces ahead on their recruiting game board, and doesn’t seem natural to them…kind of like asking someone you just met on the first day of high school to go to the prom in the Spring. It doesn’t seem right in the eyes of most recruits. Only bring it up once you have either a) spent two or three conversations asking them questions and getting to know them, or b) they bring it up (that would apply to their parents, as well). Jump on this too early, and you’ll seem disingenuous an too hurried, according to our research.
  3. Avoid the idea that you shouldn’t talk to the parents first. Coaches who try talking to the parents first uncover something rather surprising: They actually get information. The parents are usually more prepared to talk early on, and it takes some of the pressure and anxiety away from the prospect. You can always say hi to the recruit at the end of the phone call, but there’s nothing wrong with spending the majority of that first call with a parent on the phone. By the way, you should remember who will likely be in charge of getting an application turned in, scheduling a visit, and talking about an offer or financial aid offer: That’s right, mom and dad. So would it be such a bad thing to separate yourself from all the other coaches who will ignore this advice?
  4. Avoid small talk. I’ve saved the best for last here, Coach: You know, the kind of stuff that makes it sound like you and the teenager on the phone have been besties for the last few years? Don’t do it. Nothing is more awkward than when an older adult who the recruit doesn’t know well tries to “connect” with a teenager by talking about movies, what apps they’re into, or if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Prospects will answer the questions politely, more than likely, but then they’ll come back and talk about you in one of our focus groups and describe how ‘weird’ it was when you did it. So don’t do it. Let them introduce small talk, and then respond to it. Simple rule, and it works, Coach. Your first contact or two should highlight what you like about them athletically, how you see them possibly fitting into your program, and finding out as much as possible about how they see themselves going through the recruiting process.

Sometimes, it’s easier to avoid missteps than worry about a list of universal to-do’s during a first contact – and if it makes you feel any better, there isn’t any universal to-do list for your first contact with a recruit.

Avoid these mistakes, and watch what it does for the rest of your recruiting conversation with this prospect class.

Want more specific insights into how to best approach the recruiting process early on, and at the end? Sign-up for Tudor University, our popular online learning tool for college coaches. We’ll take you through a challenging, but insightful, training and certification course. It’s a small but effective investment in your coaching career, and will give you the edge in your upcoming recruiting battles. Click here for all the details.

Confirming Your New Prospect’s Interest: How Do You Know If They’re Serious?Monday, September 7th, 2015

Earlier this week, two clients (different division levels, different sports) posed the same question that is probably on the mind of a lot of college coaches putting together a new recruiting class:

“How do I find out if they’re serious about us or not?”

That’s a legitimate question, especially since initial recruiting contact usually results in every young prospect sounding interested at some level – which makes you want to keep them on your radar. To be sure, most aren’t looking to eliminate options at this point.

But that’s where the struggle comes in: How can you tell just how serious they are at the start of a recruiting relationship, and how quickly can you do it?

I wanted to give you some proven strategies I shared with those two fellow coaches a few days ago – in fact one reported back that it helped him eliminate one athlete right from the start, and get further information on how his other interested recruit would probably make his decision down the line.

It centers around a simple two step strategy:

  1. Sometime during your first serious conversation with them, I advise you to go through the first two or three things you’d like to see them do for you. That could be anything from sending you something, getting their parents to call you back for a separate talk with them…anything that requires and prompts action on their part. A staggering 84% of 2014 incoming prospects reported two years ago that they were more likely to be interested in a coach if that coach required or asked for action from them. Doing this early on is a great way to gauge initial interest in your program.
  2. Outline what YOUR timeline is for the whole process, and give them a soft deadline for a final decision.  There’s no “perfect time” to ask for a commitment, nor is there a certain timeline for asking for a decision. (If you want help developing something, just let me know and we’ll work together to develop a strategy). The point is, when you mutually agree on a timeline it 1) indicates serious interest, and 2) it will prompt them to action sooner, as well as sharing information with you sooner. It can also reveal their intentions to never ever ever EVER take you and your opportunity seriously. But as I’ve said before, that’s a good thing…you may have just saved yourself eight months of hard work recruiting a kid that had no intention of ever competing for you.

What happens after those first two items are complete is going to vary widely, of course. Let us help as you go through the process so we can work on a step-by-step plan for your top athletes, so that you don’t have to guess at what to do next to put yourself in the best position possible to attract that recruit.

This is all a part of controlling the process, and making sure THEY adhere to YOUR timeline. Our clients who do are very happy with the results, and you will too.

Making Your First Contacts Count on September 1stMonday, August 31st, 2015

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What to Do Now That Your First Contacts Are DoneMonday, September 2nd, 2013

So what’s your plan now?

For most coaches around the country, you’ve now officially started the formal recruiting process with a new class of prospects. The first letters, emails, phone calls and social media messages have been sent. And, if you’re fortunate, maybe you’ve had some of your prospects reply to your initial outreach efforts.

Or, maybe they haven’t.

Regardless, you’re now faced with the daunting two-word question that haunts even the most savvy college recruiter:

“What’s next?”

The answer to that question is crucial.  in fact, it will undoubtedly determine what kind of class you end up with in the months to come. For more than a few coaches, it will determine whether or not they keep their jobs.

So, what should be next? I wish there was a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to that question. However, as you probably already know, the answer for one program and one division level varies greatly from another program at another division level.

That being said, I wanted to outline a few key successful approaches that we’ve seen work on a consistent basis over the years in working closely with individual coaching staffs and conducting research around the country. As you review these strategies and key strategic questions for your program to consider, adapt them to your individual situation:

How are you going to establish the foundation for proving that you are the smart choice? In an age where this generation of student-athlete seems to be gravitating towards more fluff (Twitter and Instagram: I’m talking to you), a surprising trend has taken shape when you uncover how this generation of recruit actually makes their final decision: They have to justify it logically. It’s true that they can emotionally gravitate to a coach or a school throughout the process; however, at some point in the later stages of the process, they (or their parents, or their coach) start asking the important question of “is this a smart decision.” What you do with your communication between now and that final decision will determine if you pass that important test, and end up being a prime consideration for them.

How are you going to establish the foundation for proving that you are the emotional choice? Since I just made the case that they will initially gravitate to a coach and program that creates an emotional tie with them – the ones that make them feel the best at the start – it’s important to have a strategy for how to create that feeling in the first place. One of the examples I’ll use when we present our On-Campus Workshop to an athletic department staff is Starbucks. They are the master of creating and managing a feeling when you walk into their stores…the color on the walls, the music that’s heard, the inviting furniture…all of that is done specifically to create a feeling of warmth and comfort. As a smart recruiter, what is your plan to create the right feeling for your recruits now that the initial contact message is in their hands? If you don’t have one, you’re introducing random results into the process (that’s why every Starbucks looks and feels the same; they want you to have the same consistent feeling in each and every store). So, what’s your plan for establishing a feeling that they will gravitate to over the coming months?

The important of engaging the parents early. Our research finds that parents are polite, yet anxious, as you begin to contact their sons and daughters. On the one hand, they know that they aren’t supposed to interfere with the process and let you explain your interest to their young student-athlete, and on the other hand their irresistible urge is to step in and play a part as soon as possible in making sure that the process begins smoothly. We also find that there is an element of competition in their actions; if they are able to help their son or daughter manage the process, maybe that will give them a leg up in the competition for a scholarship or roster spot. While the majority of your competition will ignore the parents as long as possible – and fail to do the most basic functions like getting their prospect’s parents’ cell phone and work email information – I want to encourage you to do the opposite. Establish early contact with the parents of your recruits, and work to establish that same emotional connection with them. Call them, email them, ask them questions, and engage them. If you do, what you’ll find is that they are ready with really useful information, and more importantly, they will look at you as a coach that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner in the recruiting process of their son or daughter. Do you have a plan to communicate with your prospect’s parents as you start the process?

Establish a mutually agreed upon timeline for making the final decision sooner rather than later. Do everything you can, as soon as you can, to find out when your prospect (and, yes, their parents) sees themselves making a final decision. Even if they can’t give you an exact date, a general time of year that they verbally commit to is really important. Not only will you find out how long you probably have to recruit that prospect, you’ll also gain valuable insight into how they’ll be making their decision: Will they be making it after taking visits to several schools? Do they want to commit sooner rather than later? Are they being realistic about the process and how they will navigate through it over the coming months? Most coaches we observe wait to have this conversation until after they know the prospect is interested in their program; from my experience, I see it being a critical set of questions to answer so that a coach understands exactly how to strategically design a messaging plan that earns their prospect’s interest. As you start your conversation with each of your prospects, come to an agreement on what the timeline will be for making a final decision.

Are you establishing control of the process? Are you going to control the recruiting conversation and the decision making process, or will you abdicate that role to them? Note that I am not suggesting you “force” them or “trick” them into deciding that you are the best choice (as if you or I have that power). No, what I am suggesting is that you should establish yourself as the party that will be guiding them through the recruiting process, rather than telling yourself that your job is to give them your school’s information, answer questions, and then stand by and wait politely for their decision (if I just described you, I imagine I don’t need to give you a detailed explanation of how unnerving and frustrating that makes the whole task of recruiting, right?). Your job, as a college recruiter, is to guide your athlete’s decision – from start to finish. Not trick, not force, but guide. You do that through effective questioning, establishing logical “next steps” throughout the process, and continually giving them the smart reasons that you and your program are the right choice. So, as you start the process with this next class, how do you plan to establish that role as the leader of the conversation and their trusted guide in making the right decision?

That’s not an exhaustive list, of course. And, some of these questions may not be applicable to you or your program. Heck, you may be knocking all five of these out of the park and not need to adjust your approach at all.

However, if you had the feeling that you were spinning out of control with your last class, and that you really were ineffective when it came to carrying on a logical, consistent conversation with your recruits and their parents – and you’re getting that sinking feeling that this year is turning out to be the start of the same bad story – now is the time to act.

It starts with a plan, and developing answers to these five immediate ares of focus should be the beginning of a more strategic approach to this next recruiting class.

Dan Tudor and his team offer one-on-one help with formulating a research-based approach to communicating with recruits. If you’d like to see what that looks like, and get an overview of his approach, email him at dan@dantudor.com.

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