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Tiger Woods’ Comeback & Your Recruiting StorySunday, September 23rd, 2018

On the night Tiger Woods won his first tournament in five long years, following his very public personal setbacks and injuries, I was at the airport.

Every television was tuned to his final few holes, and crowds of people were clogging the aisles, gathered around to watch Tiger finish off his comeback.


Tiger Woods has won before, no big deal there. I seriously doubt every person watching was an avid follower of the PGA. So why all the interest in Tiger Woods winning (another) golf tournament?

Because of the story.

Because when it comes right down to it, we’re a sucker for great stories. And it seems like all of us are in agreement that Tiger’s comeback is a great story. But what exactly makes his story such an interesting one? Some of the same things that absolutely terrify college coaches when they’re faced with telling those parts of their stories to recruits.

Here are some examples:

The rise. Was there anything more awe-inspiring and exciting than watching Tiger Woods absolutely dominate professional golf in those first few years? We were watching him redefine the game, and add a glitz and glamour to the game that hadn’t been seen before.

Now, granted: For college coaches, the rise is probably the easiest to talk about with their recruits. But what I often see, in the language and approach that a coach who is leading his or her program to new heights, is humility that is almost crippling. The same “work-hard-but-don’t-call-attention-to-myself” approach to life that fueled you to greatness when you were an athlete is, ironically, now handcuffing your efforts to parlay that rise into better recruiting results.

There is a time to clearly state why you are a program that should be a destination for prospects, and why they should want to be there. Confidently, unapologetically, and enthusiastically. Don’t aw-shucks your way through your program’s rise. Talk about it, and let your prospect feel the energy of everything that’s going on in your program. That’s what drew us to Tigers’ rise, and that’s what is going to attract your recruits to your story, as well.

The struggle. Remember when Tiger started to slip a little? By then, aside from die-hard Tiger fans, we were getting a little tired of all the winning. In fact, there were plenty of stories at the time of other golfers (and fans, and the media) who were actually a little excited about him slipping a little and starting to struggle.

When college coaches and their programs struggle, or slip a little bit in their performance, you need to answer the question that we were asking about Tiger when he was struggling: “What’s going on?”

More than nine out of ten coaches I talk to would want to shy away from answering that question for a prospect, hoping that it gets overlooked in their decision making. It doesn’t. The only difference between what’s going on with them compared to Tiger’s is that we had non-stop 24/7 news coverage about his struggles, so it was easy to have the conversation. Your recruits, in case you haven’t noticed, tend not to spill out their every concern and question about you and your program – especially during your struggles.

My recommendation: Identify the struggle, lead with it in your conversations with your recruits, and explain it. As we talk about frequently during our on-campus recruiting workshops, it is your job as their recruiter to tell them how to think about something related to you, your program, or your college. They don’t have SportsCenter to explain it to them and offer in-depth analysis; they’re left with their own thoughts, which frequently don’t give you much slack in trying to come up with a logical reason you’re struggling. Fill that gap for them, Coach.

The fall. Your worst finish in the last ten years. You just took over a program after the last coach was fired. Your athletic department just dropped two sports. Five of your upperclassmen just quit the team, and their opinionated parents are talking to the media about why their sons or daughters decided to jump your sinking ship (spoiler alert: They usually pin the blame on you, Coach).

True, on the scale of public humiliation, it’s not stories of your spouse chasing you down the driveway with a golf club smashing the daylights out of your car before filing for divorce as you’re in the middle of a substance abuse problem…but in your world, it’s still feeling pretty awful.

What do you do? Most coaches get back to putting their head down, and working hard, never addressing the fall. Or, worse, they come up with lame excuses that recruits and their parents see through.

Just like during the struggle, it’s my strong advice that you acknowledge the fall, dissect what went wrong, and then explain your vision for how you see your prospect being a part of the comeback. That’s what they’re looking for, Coach…a reason to say yes. If you don’t give it to them, their own reasons to say no usually speak to loudly for them to take the risk and sign-on to your rebuilding effort.

(A quick note on these last two phases of a great story: First, very few great stories don’t include a struggle and a fall. Unfortunately, years of Hollywood movies have conditioned us to look for those elements in a good story. So, they’re necessary. Don’t bemoan the fact that you’re going through a struggle and/or fall; instead, embrace it! You’re about to be able to tell a great story for your recruits).

The comeback. Why was everyone gathered around airport televisions during Tiger’s final round that I described earlier? It helped complete the story. We all knew the first three parts of the story, but we were missing the end. Ever have to leave a movie unexpectedly 3/4 of the way through it? It feels like you got ripped off…you were sitting through the struggle and fall in order to get to the comeback. We’re a society addicted to comebacks.

Your recruits are, too. They want to be a part of one, but you have to explain why they should want that. And, you have to tell the story of how they fit into your overall plan for accomplishing it. That’s how you get good athletes to say to yes to playing for bad programs: They have bought in to the story. But you absolutely have to start telling it, Coach. With enthusiasm, confidence, and urgency.

We now know the latest chapter in Tiger Woods’ story. What are your recruits waiting to hear from you so they fully understand your story, Coach?


I’m Avoiding Telling the Other Car Salesperson I’m Not BuyingMonday, August 27th, 2018

Which means, I’m just like your prospects.

The quick back story:

A few weeks ago, before we sent our daughter off for her freshman year at college, she got in an accident and totaled my wife’s car. She was fine, the car was not (and the Utz Potato Chip truck she rear-ended on a rainy day wasn’t doing to well, either).

So this past week, I’ve been car shopping. We’ve test driven, talked features, listened to sales pitches…you know the drill.

It was down to two brands, both of which were great cars with similar monthly payments. There was something she liked about both cars, as we talked and compared both afterwards, but ultimately decided on Brand #2. That’s when I volunteered to jump into action and go negotiate and take care of the paperwork that they swear is only going to take an hour, and then takes four hours. Got the car, she’s happy, and that should be the end of the story.

But it’s not. In fact, it’s at the same point in the story that thousands upon thousands of college coaches find themselves over and over and over again every recruiting cycle:

I haven’t called the other salesperson to tell him we went with the other car. Just like many recruits don’t call you when they’ve decided to accept an opportunity at a competitive program, I haven’t called the other sales professional who took the time to help us, and was incredibly nice, fair, and provided more information and a better line of discounts than Brand #1.

I haven’t told him. I’m feeling guilty, and yet it comes so naturally for me. Actually, it does for all of us. Avoidance is a common psychological hurdle most people face, in some form. I face it, you face it, and your prospects face it.

But enough about me. I’ve vowed I’ll tell him after I’m done writing this article, I promise. But if I sit back and reason with myself, and explore why I acted in this way, I come up with several points that seem to make sense to me on a very surface, human level…just like it makes sense for your recruits:

  • I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Which is irrational, really. We have far less of a relationship to each other compared to you and the recruit you’ve gone to watch play five separate times, and sent birthday cards to. But somehow, it just seems simpler to not talk to him and let the whole thing drift away. But I’m a fairly nice person, and I know he’s a nice person, and I just don’t feel like giving him bad news. (Who does?)
  • I don’t want to argue with him, or have him get angry with my decision. Sound familiar? That’s a common reason your recruits tell us they are hesitant to be truthful with the coaches who they don’t choose. I don’t think it’s malicious, but it is classic avoidance.
  • My allegiance is now with the other brand. Like recruits, I didn’t invest emotionally (or financially) until the end, not during the process. Just like your recruits. Coaches emotionally invest in the idea of their recruits being in their program earlier rather than later; prospects invest in the idea of competing for their coach much, much later, not earlier. And once they do, they’re in 100% and aren’t that concerned with the previous considerations. Just like Dan, the car buyer.

But enough about your avoidance-loving recruits. Let’s focus on you, as a coach and as a recruiter, who has to deal with all of this for the sake of your job (and your sanity). Here’s what I’d recommend you do when you’re facing a student-athlete who is giving you the run around…or just avoiding giving you the decision they’ve already come to:

  • Establish a timeline at the start of the process. Coach, that fixes so much of the problem. Outline when you see your program’s recruiting process wrapping up, outline for your recruit, and then ask him or her if that matches their timeline for making a decision. Come to an agreement. Leaving it open ended triggers those three actions I outlined above, and causes you stress.
  • Assume they are hiding something. We’ve written research and training articles on ‘assuming’ before, but I want to zero in on a point I usually reserve for strategy sessions with our clients: I want you to assume that your prospects have information that they aren’t revealing to you. If you work on that assumption, and keep that as a primary working theory throughout your interactions with them, I think you’ll find that you’ll be much more inquisitive, and focus on questions that lead to them revealing their true feelings. Try it, Coach.
  • Call them on it. Literally, call them. Or text them, if it’s still early in the process. But ask them, point blank, if they’re still moving forward with the idea of coming to school there and competing for you. Why is that? What do you want to see happen next in the process? What are you still trying to figure out about our campus and our program? What doesn’t seem like a good fit for you so far, as you’ve imagined yourself here? I’m a little surprised (and a little relieved) that the salesperson from Brand #1 hasn’t called me and asked me similar questions at this point. I’d actually be a little relieved if he opened the door and brought it up, frankly. Instead, I guess I have to be the one to do it. (And we see how that’s working out for him so far, right?) Lead the discussion, Coach. Your recruiting class depends on it.

We avoid tough conversations. It’s natural. But it can also be cataclysmic if you allow avoidance to dominate your recruiting strategy. Somebody has to lead, Coach, and I think it should be you as you prepare to recruit your next recruiting class.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do the right thing and email a really nice Subaru salesperson some bad news…

Want more great ideas in a longer, more personalized format? Listen to our podcast, College Recruiting Weekly, available on iTunes, Google Play or stream instantly online on Stitcher. We cover all the big recruiting strategy topics, interview fascinating guests, and talk to college recruiters about what’s working for them. Join our community of coaches!

I’m Glad That Happened, Mr. CustomerSunday, August 27th, 2017

“I’m glad that happened, Mr. Customer.”

That was one of several borderline-cheesy lines I was taught close to 30 years ago when I was in sales training for a large national business sales organization.

The company I was starting work for regularly had us demonstrate these rather large, complex office productivity machines that handled mail processing, folding and inserting, and parcel shipping systems. It was a normal part of the sales process, as it should have been. In the course of a demonstration, when something inevitably went wrong and the thing jammed, or wouldn’t start, or wouldn’t stop, instead of panicking and apologizing all over ourselves in front of a potential buyer, we were taught to smile and calmly say, “I’m glad that happened, Mr. Johnson.”

Now just for the record, whenever it happened, which seemed to be frequently, I wasn’t ‘glad’. I was somewhere in between really ticked-off and really embarrassed. But the point of the training was to move me, and the customer, passed the distraction of a mistake, and turn it into a teaching moment about how easy it is to correct the mistake within the system we were demonstrating to them. Essentially, it was a pre-programmed way for us as sales representatives to move past the incident as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

And, the vast majority of the time, it worked. Various system errors never seemed to get in the way of making the sales at the point when “Mr. Customer” had made the effort to see the demonstration for himself or herself.

Many college coaches I have encountered over the years would do well to use the same strategy.

After all, how many times have you intentionally avoided showing a recruit something you think is a negative mark against your program while they’re on campus?

Or hidden a potentially embarrassing fact about your college from your recruit?

Or having to come back and talk to a parent about paying slightly more than the school had originally estimated they would pay for their daughter to come play for you there?

Avoiding something negative, glossing over something that isn’t complimentary, or delivering bad news: All of those recruiting scenarios are real, and all of them need a strategy that rolls of your tongue smoothly and confidently. Not cheese-ily, confidently.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

The place on campus you don’t want to show them. It could be your locker room, it could be the old creepy-looking biology building, it could be your dorms that were last updated in 1978. Whatever the situation, avoiding it and hiding it from view of the recruit will usually come back to bite you: Either your competition will rat you out and paint you as dishonest (the most common), or your players will, or they’ll find out once they show up on campus and feel like they were betrayed.

Instead, launch into your own version of “I’m glad that happened, Mr. Customer” by prefacing any visit to those places I mentioned with, “A lot of college coaches would try to avoid this and just not show it to you, but I really want to be honest about who we are, and what we’re all about here. And besides, you shouldn’t be choosing your college based on what you think about the locker room.” Then, offer up what they should be choosing it based upon, which should be something that lines up well with what you have at your college.

When there’s an embarrassing fact about your program or college. You finished last in your conference for the third straight year. Your college is ranked #74 out of 75 colleges by U.S. News & World Report in your region.  Or, there was a high profile negative news story at your school recently. Chances are, your recruits and their parents have already heard about it, and most of them have come to their own conclusion about it. Your job is to get them to re-think and re-define that negative image they’ve cemented in their minds.

The best way to do that? Rip that bandaid off as soon as possible: “The first thing I want to talk about with you is that news you probably heard about. No college is perfect, and we certainly aren’t either. But here’s how I think you should look at it…” and then give them the best possible alternative thinking.

This is where I usually get at least a little push-back from a coach who thinks we are advocating ‘lying’, or being dishonest. That’s not the case at all. Your responsibility as a coach is to give them the honest reason why, from your point of view, they should choose your program. Your responsibility as a coach for your school is to advocate for your school, and not make personal assessments as to what is good or not good for your prospect. Let them make that decision, but let them make it with the arguments from both sides.

It’s going to cost more than we originally thought. That could also be translated as “that full ride scholarship we talked about last year is now a half-ride scholarship.” This isn’t as difficult if you’re following this advice that I offered up a few years ago, but assuming you are avoiding bad-news-about-the-money conversations with your recruits, let me give you one key piece of advice:

Have that talk as early as possible with the parents of your recruits.

Parents of athletes want to understand the financial impact of sending their son or daughter to play for you as early as possible in the process. That doesn’t mean you should come to a decision that’s too soon for you, before you’re ready. But it does mean that once you know what the details are, share it with the parents. Have that conversation sooner rather than later. The misguided thinking that “oh, once they get to know us better here and fall in love with our facility and how great our degrees are, they’ll want to pay $10,000 extra to come here.” No, they won’t, Coach. What it does mean is that you will be spending an extra six to nine months recruiting the family, only to have them break the news that they can’t afford to pay what you are asking and go elsewhere. Don’t do that to yourself, Coach.

The point of this advice is to direct you into preparing for the time when your recruit sees something go wrong, rates your college lower than your competition, and generally pushes back against what you are trying to sell. In those situations, it’s imperative that you come back with a reassuring attitude and confident smile that what they are worried about shouldn’t be a worry at all.

‘Remove the paper jam’, and continue the creative selling and recruiting process.

Tudor Collegiate Strategies can help their clients design the right wording and approach to any potentially negative situation they are facing. Since 2005, we’ve used our proprietary research and market-leading insights to help our coaching staffs win better recruits. If you need help, email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com so we can discuss options for how we can work with you and your program, Coach.

Hillary, Trump, and What Smart Recruiters Should Learn From Presidential ElectionsMonday, November 7th, 2016

Although this post is technically about politics, I’m not going to get political.

Even though all of our attitudes towards politics, and the candidates we’re voting for, and the party we align with, is central to what you need to learn today.

Here’s what I’m getting at…

Think about who you’re voting for in this election. Take a second and list the reasons, be they logical or emotional,  why you are voting for who you’re voting for. And think about the party you align yourself with – or, why you’ve chosen to remain independent.

Now, let me ask you a serious question: What would it take for someone to change your mind? I mean completely flip your way of thinking, and vote for the other side. (That’s right, the side you think is completely insane).

How hard would it be to do that? Is there any chance of that happening?

Yeah, I thought so.

Here’s the thing: That’s the same perspective your recruit will develop if you give them the chance.

In other words, once their mind is made up about who you are, what your program stands for, and how they feel about your campus, it’s going to be tough to change their mind.

  • If your competitor suggests that you might be fired after this next season, or that you don’t take a personal interest in your players, before you get the chance to define yourself to your prospect first, it’s going to be tough to change his or her mind.
  • If your competitor convinces your mutual recruit that you aren’t serious about winning, and that the department doesn’t invest as much in your program as their athletic department does, it’s going to be tough to change his or her mind.
  • If your competitor spends time showing a prospect around their mediocre locker room, and you choose to avoid showing your prospect your own mediocre locker room, expect that competing coach to question aloud why you’re hiding something – and expect that it’s going to be tough after that to change his or her mind.

So obviously, it would make sense to 1) establish what is “true” before your competitor does, and then 2) continue to emphasize that so that any alternative message never gets a chance to overtake what you’ve established as true.

Sound subversive? Not really, actually. What we’ve learned in over the last decade of working with our clients around college sports is that your recruits are desperately searching for a story to believe in. They need to buy into an idea of what makes one college better than the other, just like we need to believe that we are voting for the candidate that is going to match-up the closest to our beliefs. If you aren’t actively “campaigning” with a specific story for your recruits, you leave open the possibility that your competitor will take advantage of that with a competing message.

This simple idea explains the majority of recruiting decisions that are made around the country, in every sport, every single year. And yet it also remains one of the most ignored facets of successful, consistent recruiting. Developing an ongoing message that achieves the goal of establishing a foundation for communication that sets the standard for what’s true, and what isn’t, should be one of the primary focuses for any organized recruiting coordinator and coach.

In a Presidential election, we’re a nation that’s split down the middle, with the winner hoping to garner just enough of the vote to eek out a win. In recruiting, it’s a landslide: The coach who establishes the truth first through an effective story will usually win handily.

Want more free instruction on how to become a more consistent, effective recruiter? Subscribe to our podcast that goes in-depth with college coaches and guest experts.

For even more training, consider enrolling in Tudor University, our online training class that offers coaches certification in recruiting. It’s like a Master’s degree for your college recruiting career.

Or, take your recruiting strategy and messaging to the next level by letting us work one-on-one with you as a client. We’ll design a message plan and communication strategy that will increase responses, and get better players on campus sooner. Click here for more information, or contact Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com.

Why You (and Your Recruits) Give In to the Fear FactorMonday, April 25th, 2016

Marketers know the rule.

So do politicians, drug manufacturers, and companies that sell gold.

We, the buying public, will make a buying decision based on the fear of something bad happening before we’ll decide to do something based on the possibility of a good outcome.

How often? Studies suggest it’s as high as six out of seven times.

We are prone to expect the worst, and plan our actions accordingly. And if we do it as adult consumers when we’re out shopping for an insurance policy, doesn’t it make sense that your prospects would be inclined to make their decisions the same way?

And yet, the majority of coaches feel the need to only focus on the positive. Tell the recruit what they want to hear, how great they’ll be as a part of their team, and how wonderful your college is.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for that. A big place. Heck, when we create messaging plans and recruiting strategies for our clients much of them revolve around the positive reasons a recruit would want to choose their programs, and college. You may do the same thing with your messaging, as well…there’s a place for it, and a compelling story is needed for this generation of recruits in order to feel good about making a decision.

I’m not suggesting you give that up. Not at all.

But if you want to take a more serious, more realistic approach to recruiting, you’d better start planning for your prospect’s “fear factor”.

This generation, more than any recent generation that has been studied, is ‘scared’ of making the wrong decision.

So, what specifically do you need to be aware of when you’re taking a prospect through the decision-making process? It’s not an exhaustive list, but here are five things we’ve seen trending around the country when it comes to things that your prospects are fearful of as you do your best to choose you and your program:

  1. They get a little scared when you tell them that they’re going to be the new go-to player on the team. I know that isn’t the case with every recruit, but even many your top kids are feeling the pressure when you talk about how great they are and over-hype what their experience could be like. Tread carefully here, Coach. I’ve personally heard dozens of stories from recruits who point to the idea of being the center of attention on a team as the main reason they ended up declining the offer from that coach. We find that most athletes hesitate at the idea of owning the spotlight right when they step on campus, so be aware of that “fearful fact” with many of the prospects you’re talking to, Coach.
  2. They get a little scared of returning your email or direct message. It’s one of the most overlooked aspects of a recruiting conversation. Coaches email and return messages all day long, and it requires no great effort or thought. Your prospects, on the other hand, hesitate at returning your message. It’s intimidating. That’s why the structure, tone and direction in your message is critically important – IF you want to get a reply.
  3. They get a little scared of workouts during a recruiting trip. That doesn’t happen on every recruiting trip, of course. And it’s irrelevant in some sports that don’t make a workout with the team a regular part of a recruiting visit on campus. However, if it does apply to you, just remember that a workout with the team, or playing pick-up, or any kind of athletic competition, can cause a lot of anxiety for your prospect. It’s the age difference…many times, those situations pair a young prospect with older, more experienced athletes. Your prospects won’t usually say anything to you about them being uncomfortable in that situation, but they report it back to us as one of their least favorite parts of a campus visit.
  4. They get a little scared to give you honest feedback. That workout that they didn’t really like, and made them a little uncomfortable and a little intimidated? They won’t say a thing about it to you. Why? Because this generation of recruit doesn’t want to risk offending you, or having you confront them. In general, they are “pleasers”. So as you take them through the recruiting process, here’s my advice: Assume that they aren’t telling you everything (mostly because they rarely do). One of your primary jobs as a recruiter is to extract actionable information from your prospect on how he or she is making their decision, and what aspects of your campus and program they either like or don’t like.
  5. They get a little scared when they don’t know what to do at the end. If you haven’t explained why you like them, how they fit into your specific plans once they arrive on campus, and haven’t been asked to commit to your program, it causes paralysis. They don’t know what to do next. (If you’re dealing with recruits who aren’t moving in the right direction, I would bet that it’s something related to one or more of those three key end-of-recruiting landmarks that your prospects are looking to.

Your job as a recruiter is to make sure you are exactly sure, throughout the process, that their questions are getting answered and their fears are being calmed. If you don’t, expect the process to drag on longer than you want it to…or even end with a less than desirable outcome.

Learning the finer points of advanced recruiting is easy. Attend the upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference! It’s a weekend full of learning, and incredible networking with fellow coaches from all over the country. Click here to reserve your seat to this investment in your coaching career!

3 Simple Strategies to Defeat “I Want to Think About It”Monday, March 21st, 2016

My guess is if you’re a college coach who has been recruiting for more than a few months in your career, you’ve encountered the six-word phrase from your prospect (or parent) that is the bane of coaches’ existences throughout the country.

“I want to think about it.”

Seems reasonable, right? I mean, this is a huge decision…potentially life altering, certainly important. “Thinking about it”, on the surface, is the smart, reasonable response for a prospect to give you when you ask them if they’re feeling ready to commit, or even if you’re just looking for feedback after telling them about your program during a campus visit or a recruiting phone call.

But it’s not. It’s not reasonable.

Actually, it’s one of the natural easy-to-use delay tactics that families have learned they can use with coaches who are recruiting them.

Here’s why I land on the side of it not being a reasonable, Coach:

  • In research we recently completed to help our clients craft a more coherent recruiting strategy down the stretch, we found that about 8 out of 10 recruits spend “little” to “no time” actually thinking about you, your offer, or your campus after they tell you that’s what they need to do.
  • We know from experience, and getting feedback from live student-athlete focus groups during our On-Campus Recruiting Workshops at college athletic departments around the country, that athletes make-up their mind and have defined a college within 10-15 minutes of completing a visit to your campus.
  • Most often, parents are viewing the entire recruiting process as a cross between what they watched in Jerry Maguire (this part, and unfortunately, this part, too), and what they read on recruiting message boards. In other words, they feel like they need to play poker with you so that, in the end, their hand beats yours.

So, unless a game of high stakes, winner-take-all, “are they bluffing or not” gamesmanship sounds like a welcome addition to your already complicated recruiting process, I suggest you eliminate the option of “I want to think about it” from your prospect’s communication lexicon. Here are a few proven strategies that we recommend:

Since we know that most prospects spend little to no time actually “thinking about it”, call them on it. There’s a variety of ways you can do this, but the most fundamental way to respond to this when you hear it is by replying, “Tell me what you’ll be thinking about.”

There are only two possible scenarios that will play out: Either they will a) fumble around and not really be able to define anything for you (because, as we know, most don’t actually think about it), or b) they list out objections, selling points, and insider conversations going on at their home as they try to reach a decision.

The think I love about this reply is it’s simplicity, and the way it quietly calls them on this obvious stall tactic.

Head it off at the pass. Since we know that they’ve pretty much made up their mind and have largely defined you after their campus visit, reach out for their opinion soon after their visit. At the most, two or three days after. At the soonest, about 20 minutes after they leave campus. Seriously…text your prospect, tell them how much you loved having them on campus, and then ask him or her what two or three big things they and their parents talked about after leaving campus. Specifically, what are the road blocks that they all see when it comes to the idea of them competing for you.

If you do this, Coach, you’ll be surprised how much it will eliminate the “I want to think about it” reply. Why? Because you’re getting them to define it for you, they go on record as to what they “think”. And that’s a very good thing for you to do in the long run.

Devote time to finding out what the parents “think”. It is still alarming to me how long it takes some college coaches to develop communication with parents. It’s imperative that you do, Coach. And when you do – hopefully sooner in the process rather than later – you need to find out what they see as the big hurdles to their son or daughter coming to compete for you on your campus. Focus on what mom and dad don’t like, have big questions about, or doubt they could support.

We’re finding that in slightly more than half the cases we help our clients with, the parents are going to impart way more actionable information to you than the recruit will. If you make this part of your recruiting communication strategy, you’ll find that you will insulate yourself against the “I want to think about it” stall.

Final note to all this:

You may have noticed that I’ve used the word “stall” when I talk about your recruit telling you that they want to think about it. The reason? Simple. That’s what it is.

They are stalling for time. They don’t like making a final decision (do any of us?). You want to lead them to a decision, in a professional way, and in a fair way. But in the end, it’s your job to help them reach a final decision.

If you’ve spent time telling them your story, they know your plan for them, and they’ve visited your campus, there shouldn’t be much to think about.

Want more next level strategies from your fellow coaches and recruiting experts? Attend the upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. What you don’t know can kill you in the recruiting process…this amazing three day conference will give you the edge you need. Get all the details about the upcoming event we’re planning here.

Why Recruiters Need to Look at Their Sliced Bread DifferentlyMonday, January 18th, 2016

As we’ve worked with college athletic departments over the last year or two, I’m observing an interesting paradox:

I’m honored to get to work one-on-one with a selection of scrappy, never-say-die, highly intelligent coaches who are taking the approach that they can beat anybody – any coach, any program – for some of the top-tier recruits that they really want. These recruiters are telling interesting stories, making strong selling points, and guiding their prospects through the recruiting process in a logical, timeline-centered manner.

I’m also hearing from another group of coaches who have decided to make this year the year that they finally figure out what they could be doing better as the new year starts, and have reached out over the phone to talk. I love doing that, as it gives me a really firm idea about what is front and center in the mind of the coach who realizes that something different needs to be done, but doesn’t yet quite know how to make those changes. They’re struggling.

So, how can two groups of intelligent, experienced college coaches get vastly different results when it comes to the same activity?

It’s all about how the bread is sliced.

Actually, let me rephrase that: It’s about how you tell the story of how you slice your bread.

I’ll point to marketing expert and author Seth Godin who expands on this concept, using the story of the actual inventor of sliced bread, Otto Rohwedder:

“Otto Rohwedder thought he had invented the greatest thing because he invented sliced bread. He thought that if he got a patent on sliced bread, he’d be rich. What Otto forgot was to ask a very important two-word question: Who cares? No one knew about sliced bread. No one cared. It wasn’t until Wonder Bread came around and marketed it that sliced bread took off. It wasn’t the bread that won, it was the packaging and distribution.

Ideas that spread, win. What we’ve been living through is the greatest culture of spreading ideas that there’s ever been. At one level, that’s great because it’s easier to spread your ideas than ever before. At another, it’s harder because we keep raising the bar.”

College coaches who are engaged in serious recruiting are very much in the business of spreading ideas – about you, your program, and why that recruit should compete for you and not for your competition.

Here’s the problem: I am hearing a lot of coaches focus on the fact that they have “sliced bread”, and now how they slice their bread.

One coach I talked to recently, for example, was baffled that their new turf field, a facility that they had worked several years to fundraise for, didn’t seem to make a difference to this most recent class of recruits even though several kids and their parents had been citing that as one of the biggest reasons they would choose a competitor.

It wasn’t unreasonable for this coach to look at that problem and move quickly to solve it:

  1. Our facility needs new turf
  2. The kids I really want seem to say that’s why they’re not coming here
  3. If I get new turf, the best recruits will finally choose me

If you’re a hammer, sometimes all you see are nails, right Coach?

When we dug a little deeper into his situation, he and I realized that all of the upper-tier prospects he was losing were opting to go to programs that were in a better Division I conference…the teams weren’t necessarily performing better, but the conferences could all be considered “better” than the one that he coached in.

In short, I told him I felt strongly – based on over a decade of dissecting these types of scenarios with the coaches we work with as clients – that his recruits were using his facility as the excuse why they weren’t coming to play for him. In reality, I’m guessing that his recruits were telling them their own story about why another conference would be a better decision for them rather than “settling” for a lesser conference (and I’m sure the recruits’ parents weren’t doing anything to change that opinion).

Back to ol’ Otto Rohwedder for a moment: This coach was slicing his bread better, but his recruits weren’t examining the slices, per se. They were buying into the story, or the marketing, of a competitor’s bread.

Godin observes that Otto’s sliced bread invention, which he invented thinking that he would become rich with a patent on the process, really didn’t take off until Wonder Bread marketed and packaged the bread in a way that connected with our parents and grandparents’ concept of what would cause them to buy store bought, sliced bread.

What I’m telling you, Coach, is this: If you’re having issues with getting the recruits you really want, I doubt it’s because you are slicing your bread incorrectly. It’s probably because you are failing to tell a compelling story, with a mix of logic and passion, done over an extended period of time.

Back to that first group of coaches I told you about at the start of the article: How else could a rag tag group of yet-to-be-winners who are coaching in ordinary conferences and inheriting mediocre records starting to win over better programs? And in two cases, where their lower division teams beat a program in a higher division level? It’s the story.

If I’ve described you, or your recruiting results, here are three next steps to take if you’re interested in changing the flow of your recruiting conversations with prospects:

  1. Identify the potentially negative aspects of your program’s story. Facility? Cost of attendance? Your record? List everything possible that a recruit might give you as a reason for saying no to you, whether that objection ends up being real or invented. Be honest with yourself and come face-to-face with whatever negatives might be used against you.
  2. Write out the phrasing you usually come up with to defend against possible negative perceptions about those aspects. If one of your recruits, or their parents, list it as a negative, how do you explain it to them? And even if they don’t bring it up, how are you bringing it up in the recruiting conversation with your prospect? Write out the verbiage that you would normally use in those situations, especially if it involves listing an excuse or reason you aren’t successful in those areas.
  3. Re-package your sliced bread. Tell a different story about the same negative aspects that you can’t control. Your facility isn’t as good as you’d like it to be? Don’t talk about that; talk about how the recruit is going to get better on that field or court, and that choosing a college based on the facility is the wrong way to choose where you get an education. Is your college the most expensive your recruit typically looks at? Explain to them the cost difference between you and College B is worth it in the long run, and why. Whatever the story, say it confidently, and repeat it over a long period of time.

I realize that in an article like this it’s easy to over-simplify a solution to a complex problem, and I have little doubt that I’m guilty of that here. That being said, this three step procedure is exactly what we do when designing a strategic approach to recruiting a higher caliber of recruit that a client is probably seeking. And, we’ve seen it work way more often than it doesn’t.

Your circumstances are unlikely to change much at your campus, Coach. Your only real option is to change the story that you’re telling your recruits, and do it sooner rather than later.

Again, it’s not the fact that you slice your bread. It’s how you package it and tell the story to your consumers.

Just ask Otto Rohwedder.

If you want to take this concept to the next level, you need to have your Athletic Director bring us to campus to do in-depth research with your current student-athletes on why they chose your campus, and then teach you and your fellow coaches to tell your story in a more strategic, compelling way. For more than a decade, we’ve helped college athletic departments around the country with this personalized, information-packed session. Click here for all the details.

The Customer ISN’T Always Right (and Neither Are Your Recruits)Monday, October 19th, 2015

It was a revolutionary idea back in 1909.

Harry Selfridge, an American entrepreneur who began Selfridge’s Department Store in London at the turn of the century, coined the phrase – and the philosophy – that “the customer is always right.”  It was meant to reassure retail shoppers at the time that they were going to control the shopping experience and that their complaints would be listened to and treated seriously.  It was a revolutionary idea at the time.

But then, in 1914, a counter-philosophy began taking hold. After years of customers taking advantage of the good natured intent of the rule and abusing the kindness of retailers, it was time to re-think the adage.

“If we adopt the policy of admitting whatever claims the customer makes to be proper, and if we always settle them at face value, we shall be subjected to inevitable losses”, wrote Frank Farrington, author of the 1914 book Successful Salesmanship: Is the Customer Always Right?  “If the customer is made perfectly to understand what it means for him to be right, what right on his part is, then he can be depended on to be right if he is honest, and if he is dishonest, a little effort should result in catching him at it.” In short, the customer isn’t always right in the world of retail business.

This has direct application to your recruiting one hundred years later:

Your recruits, and their parents, are dishonest with you at times and are just plain wrong in the way they deal with you during the recruiting process.

The problem that compounds this?  Most college coaches allow it to happen.

Your job as a college coach, as I emphasize in the recruiting training workshops we have done for college athletic departments for more than a decade, is to control the sales process. Somebody has to do it…either you, or your recruit and his or her parents. Since we work for all of you, I vote for you!

That means that there are going to be several times during the recruiting process that you are going to have to identify your prospects as being wrong about something, and require a change in their thinking.

Here are some of the top ways your recruits are going to be wrong during the recruiting process, and what you should do to re-direct their thinking if you want to successfully manage their recruiting process:

Your recruit will easily give in to common misconceptions about your school or program. This will happen earlier rather than later in the process, and if it isn’t corrected and called-out as “wrong” then you will have let it become fact, and it will rule the rest of your recruiting conversation with that athlete and his or her family. Note the root cause of this problem: You. We can’t blame the athlete, who is using limited information and has never gone through the process before, for trying to come to some initial definitions (positive or negative) about you and your program. That’s to be expected, especially if you haven’t won a national championship lately, aren’t in a great location, cost too much, don’t have a successful program history, can’t brag about your extensive resume…you get the picture.

The person that can be blamed is you, since you and you alone are the voice that can correct those common misconceptions quickly and effectively. Most coaches, however, don’t do that. They give in to definition that their prospect has wrongly created, and begin the recruiting process with two strikes against them.

Don’t do it. Correct their perception of your program, and re-define it for them boldly and in as much detail as possible.  And, do it as early as possible. Once we decide something is true, we don’t like being proven wrong and seldom change our mind. Don’t let that happen with your recruit.

Your recruit will tell you they need more time. More time to look at other schools. More time to think about your offer. More time to come back for another visit. In general, “more time” is the same as telling you “I don’t want to make a final decision.”  Even recruits that we interview for our clients as a part of our ongoing strategic work in developing their recruiting message tell us that much of the time they knew they were going to commit to that program, but just didn’t want to make it official…or they were scared to end the recruiting process…or they felt like if they waited another bigger, ‘better’ program would come calling.

For the majority of your prospects, it’s imperative that you set a fair but firm deadline. It’s wrong for your recruits to think that they can control the process and make you wait. It’s your job as a coach to give them the direction that they need to understand your timeline for making a decision.

(Note: This is not a universal rule, certainly. There are situations where you will strategically want to give your prospect more time, and where waiting puts you in a better position to get that athlete. However, in the majority of cases, college coaches don’t direct their recruits strongly enough, resulting in the recruit and his or her family dictating when they will give you a decision. And as I’m sure you’ll agree, most of the time that isn’t to your benefit).

Your recruit lists objections as to why your school or program isn’t going to be right for them.  Sometimes, they’re right. Much of the time, they’re wrong. (And most of the time, the reason they’re wrong is because you haven’t corrected them about the common misconceptions about your school or program, as we talked about a few paragraphs earlier).

Objections are not bad. They are needed in the recruiting process! Tell me about the last top-tier recruit you had who didn’t have any questions, objections, hesitations, or arguments with you about your school. When was the last time that happened? Almost never.

You need to address each objection, and correct it. When your prospect objects to something you have presented, or in the way that they view your college, it’s because they want to know why they should think differently. Read that again, Coach. When your prospect throws out a reason that they aren’t sure your program is going to be right for them, most of the time they want you to give them a counter-opinion as to why they are wrong. You need to do that, Coach. (Here is a quick video primer on the steps to do that).

Do you get the idea, Coach? It’s your job to set the standards, manage the timeline, and correct false assumptions. In short, you need to tell your recruit – your “customer” – when he or she (or the parents, or their coach) is wrong.

If you don’t, nobody will. And if nobody does, the inmates will continue to run the asylum.

Learn more of these kinds of advanced recruiting philosophies and techniques by enrolling in Tudor University, our online training and certification class for college recruiters. It’s an effective way to gain the edge on your recruiting competition! Click here to get started.

The Recruiting Magic of the Left SharkMonday, February 9th, 2015





You won’t remember Super Bowl XLIX for the touchdown-saving interception by the New England Patriots to beat the Seattle Seahawks.

Hopefully, after this article, you’ll remember it for what you’re about to learn from the a dancing shark.  Specifically, the shark on the of left side of the TV screen dancing next to singer Katy Perry during the halftime show, no known famously as “Left Shark”.

Left Shark failed miserably at dancing. And the world reacted.

But something interesting happened after all the laughing stopped.  People felt a connection to Left Shark.  They accepted Left Shark.  Heck, they even embraced the failures and floundering of Left Shark.  So much so, that Left Shark is now slated to be a top-selling Halloween costume, has people getting Left Shark tattooed on themselves…in fact, you can even take a love life test based on whether you identify with Left Shark or Right Shark.  No doubt about it, Left Shark is riding high.

So here’s the question for college coaches:

Why is everybody talking about Left Shark – who showcased mistake after mistake in front of a worldwide television audience – and nobody is complimenting the perfect routine pulled-off by Right Shark?

Because our society roots for the underdog, if the underdog gives us a good reason for it.  When people are honest about their limitations, and show us their imperfections, we respect the honesty.  We respect their transparency.  And, as a result, we gravitate towards them.  Tiger Woods, once an unbeatable pro who had a knack for rubbing people the wrong way, is now a lovable underdog who people are rooting for because they are feeling a little sorry for him.

Which brings us to you, Coach:

Some of you reading this, you’re dealing with your own Left Shark when it comes to your school, your facilities or your program.

  • Your locker room was last updated during the Jimmy Carter administration.
  • There’s nothing to around campus except shop at Walmart (and that’s a 45 minutes drive away)
  • U.S. News ranked your college in lower 10% of every critical category they measure.
  • Your last conference championship happened just before they last updated your locker room.

You may have your own specific underdog, lovable loser story to tell.  Most coaches can point to something that they would view as a big negative that they consistently have to deal with when it comes to their recruits.

If that’s the case, you have two choices: You can run and hide, or hope that your prospect somehow misses the fact that you aren’t close to a perfect program.  Or, you can own it.  And, you can define it for them.

Here’s a quick example:

“Your locker room is subpar”.  First, understand, that according to our research this is not a consistent reason that your recruits would say no to you.  But with that being said, I hear the locker room complaint from coaches often, so I wanted to use it as an example. To turn around this potential objection into an embraceable concept for your recruit, you might try something like this as you’re showing your prospects your locker room:

“You’re going to see other locker rooms at other colleges that might be newer than ours.  But that’s not the way to make a smart college decision…it shouldn’t come down to what a locker room looks like.  In my experience as a college coach, this team I have here right now is one of the closest-knit I’ve ever had.  And I think that’s a LOT more important than how new a locker room is, don’t you?”

Address your Left Shark weakness, own it, justify it, and get your prospect’s agreement.

The truth is, your recruit needs to understand why they should overlook a perceived weakness with you, your program, or your college.  But don’t stop there, Coach.  Give them something to love about a seemingly negative weakness…give them a chance to embrace it.  Show confidence in the way you explain it to them, so that they see you aren’t worried about it.

Your college is in a small town with not much to do?  Left Shark it: Agree with them (own it!) and then explain why your team likes their college experience, and doesn’t see anything about the school as a negative.

Your program has a fairly mediocre history of success?  Left Shark it: Agree with them (own it!), and tell them what you’ve tried in the past, what hasn’t worked, and what your plan for the future is now – especially how your recruit figures into that plan.

Too many college coaches shy away from confidently and quickly addressing a perceived weakness.  What we find is that your recruits know you aren’t perfect, and they’re ready for you to explain those parts of your program to them.

Be the coach that gives a recruit a reason to root for the underdog, and embrace the Left Shark in you.

Need help developing strategies to communicate your weaknesses, as well as your strengths, then consider becoming a client.  Dan Tudor and his team at Tudor Collegiate Strategies work with teams from around the country to perfect a strategic, systematic communication approach with their athletes.  Click here for details.


Getting Recruits to Drink Your Outrageously Expensive Bottled WaterMonday, March 11th, 2013

If you’re  a college recruiter who is regularly trying to overcome the cost of your college with your prospect, I give you the $7.50 bottle of water.

When I checked into my hotel room, there is was…waiting for me (and my wallet).

I am old enough to remember when bottled water was a novelty.  In fact, it was a joke.  “Yeah right”, I remember thinking back in the olden days, “pay for water I could get for free from the faucet?  Good luck with that scam.”

A few decades later, the joke’s on me.  Bottled water is the norm.  So much so that there were actually a few moments when I considered breaking the seal of the hotel bottled water, and adding the $7.50 onto my room bill.

So, how did I get to this point?  How did I almost drink a $7.50 bottle of water when I once considered it highway robbery?

If you can answer that question, then you’re on your way to figuring out the formula for selling the cost of your program, or not being able to offer a full scholarship, to your recruits.

I can barely figure out my own motives for almost drinking a bottle of water that would equal a few gallons of gas in cost, so I’m not about to suggest that there is a blanket one-size-fits-all strategy or set of answers that will work in every situation.  But I think I do have a good understanding of how our human nature works, and after seeing several hundred recruiting scenarios up-close and personal with the cost of a college at the core of a discussion between coaches and the parents and athlete, I have come up with some solid ideas on why I believe you can win this particular conversation with your recruits.

Or, in other words, how to get your recruits (and their parents) to take a sip of your $7.50 bottle of water:

First, accept the fact that some people aren’t going to drink your $7.50 bottle of water. Either they can’t afford it, or they know they can get it cheaper (or for free) somewhere else.  If you aren’t ready to walk away from a prospect because they just aren’t buying the idea of paying a significant sum for your water, that probably means you aren’t seriously recruiting enough good prospects.  If you had an over-abundance of top tier recruits, you wouldn’t care if they weren’t interested in your expensive water.  If that’s not the case with you, it’s time to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re recruiting enough really good athletes.

You can change the paradigm with repeated exposure. Remember the first time you saw a bottle of water for sale in a hotel room?  You probably rolled your eyes like I did.  Fast forward to today.  Now, when you see a bottle of water in a hotel room, not only is it not an oddity, it’s something you probably treat yourself to during your stay.  What happened?  Repeated exposure.  You’ve come to accept it as “acceptable”.  So, how do you use this principle to improve your recruiting argument?  Repeated exposure.  You need to tell your recruits, through repeated messaging on a consistent basis, why it would be smart to invest in your college and your program.  Not enough coaches do that the right way, and it shows in the number of kids (and parents) that choose “cheaper” over the best choice.

We’ve been told what to think. Bottled water is cleaner, more purified, more convenient and better tasting, right?  Sometimes, yes.  Much of the time, no. But we’ve given up thinking on our own when it comes to bottled water.  Water bottlers have told us that it’s better, and why.  My favorite bottled water is Dasani, which is bottled by CocaCola.  That refreshingly clean looking blue bottle with the little water droplets on the bottle made from formed plastic – as well as that pinch of salt they add for flavoring – make it number one for me.  They have told me how to think about in the way it looks, the way it tastes, and the way it’s presented.  So, Coach…how good of a job are you doing with your recruits in telling them how to think about your bottled water in the way you and your program looks, the way it feels, and the way you present it?  Make sure you have an answer to those three questions, Coach.  And make a point of telling them what to think.

Understand that they might have the money, but just aren’t sure they want to spend it on your water. Did I have $7.50 to spend on water? Sure I did.  I ended up paying $12 for a bowl of oatmeal the next morning at the hotel’s over-priced cafe, so the money wasn’t an issue.  It’s just that I didn’t want to pay the $7.50 for water.  See the distinction?  So when you hear a family talk about not being able to afford your school, or how they just can’t compete for you unless you cover more of their scholarship, understand that they are probably making car payments, house payments, and may even take nice vacations a few times a year.  Furthermore, if that bigger brand school offered a walk-on spot for them at the last minute, chances are they’ll be able to somehow make the sacrifice and pony-up the cash for that college experience.  I’ll say it again: More times than you think your prospect has the money, they just don’t want to spend it on you.  (So, what can you tell them consistently and creatively that get them to cost-justify the expense in their mind?)

There are some big things they DON’T care about when it comes to your bottled water. The vast majority of the time, they don’t care about how many bottles you sold last year, the quality of the facility that it was bottled in, who else is drinking it, or even how convenient it is for them to access the water.  In the same way, most recruits – according to our ongoing research – won’t make their decision based on your facility, your record, who else is on your team, or how big your campus is.  It’s about how you relate to them as their coach and if you are consistent in the way you communicate why they should choose your program over others, and if they feel like they are a fit in your program based on the plan that you outline for them (or that they outline for themselves).  Are you focusing on the stuff that they don’t care about, or those two big ideas that we know matters most to them?  That’s a serious question, Coach.

Like I said, that’s not an exhaustive list.  And I’m not conceding the idea that once in a while, a prospect is going to say your facility just wasn’t as good as the other program recruiting them (they’re more than likely just using it as an excuse to cover-up another real objection, but that’s another topic for another day). However, these core ideas on “why they aren’t drinking your bottled water” are proving to be reliable indicators for us as we work one-on-one with coaching staffs in their recruiting approaches.

So, if it’s working for us, we’re pretty confident that it will work for you, too.  If, that is, you can formulate answers for those questions we know pop into your prospects’ minds as they consider whether or not to drink your very expensive $7.50 bottle of water.

Want personalized help in creating a proven marketing plan to increase the number of recruits who will want to drink your bottled water?  Let us help. CLICK HERE to see us explain the client option that coaches around the country are using for better recruiting results.

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