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Your Call to Action Gets Things DoneMonday, August 13th, 2018

by Mike Davenport, Coaching Sports Today

[This is part four in the series on effective persuasion for sport coaches. Click here for the other articles.]

Here’s a fact—whenever your athlete leaves a meeting, a practice, or a huddle without knowing EXACTLY what to do…you’ve missed a chance at success.

And you may never get that opportunity for success again.

You need to nail the effective persuasion part

Coaches persuade.

Our job is to convince people to take positive action.

Persuasion is our bread & butter and the best coaches are masters of it.

Unfortunately, persuasion does not come easy for many. That’s the bad news.

The good news—with practice you can become very effective at persuasion.

Persuasion, the act of convincing someone to take positive action is a series of steps. Over the past weeks, we’ve been working on the first three steps of effective persuasion, which are:

  1. Step 1. Grab Attention
  2. Step 2. Spark Interest
  3. Step 3. Fascinate

Now it’s time for the final step…

Your call-to-action

This last step is no secret to the marketing world.

They are experts at using a call-to-action:

“So you don’t forget, call before midnight!”

“Operators are standing by, so call now!”

“Stop smelling bad, buy Stink Away today!”

We can learn a lot from from the marketing world. And we should, because coaches are marketers, and an effective call-to-action can make or break you.

What makes an effective call-to-action?

A call-to-action is asking (or telling) someone to take action. Athletes hear them all the time:

You’re primary receiver, so run a post pattern.

The bus leaves early, be here at 6:30 am.

Get your physicals to the trainer by end of the day, tomorrow.

Each of those are simple.

Each are specific.

And each leaves little doubt in the mind of the person what action he should take.

Being specific and keeping it simple are at the core of a good call-to-action.

There are a few other important things you should keep in mind:

A good call-to-action aligns with the person’s values. “I know you want to win this game, so doing this drill now will help you score in tonight’s game.

A sense of urgency improves the odds the person will follow through. “The deadline for your physical form is tomorrow. No form and you cannot be on the team.

An examples of the action helps. “See the exercise Jane just did? You need to do the exact same thing.

Timing of your call-to-action is critical

When do you think is the perfect time to ask someone to take action?

It depends on the person (or team), and the situation.

Usually, after you complete the first three steps of persuasion is the best time to issue a call-to-action. If you ask before then, your chances of success dwindle.

And don’t hesitate.

Strike while the fire of fascination is burning bright.

Wait too long, and the person will have moved on to the next call in in her life (friends, studies, work, social media, etc.)

You will know if your timing was right, if the action happened.

If it didn’t, then next time adjust your timing.

The medium matters

Be mindful of the method of communication you use.

The medium you use matters.

Personally, I find my calls-to-action work best when issued in person.

Yet, there are times when calls come through email (summer letters), or phone calls (distant recruits), or letters (fundraising).

A good rule of thumb—the closer to a personal connection you make when you issue your call, the greater the chance of success.

Also, be selective with your choice of words. Here are three ways of asking for the same action:

  • Do as I say—pick up that barbell now!
  • Lifting weights are critical to your success. Ready to lift?
  • I notice you are not lifting correctly. Would you like to discuss it?

They elicit a very different emotional response in the person. When you issue your call, what exactly do you want the response to be?

Your choice of wording will determine how positive the response is.

Where can you go with this?

Let me ask you,

  • Would you like to be a better coach? Then, click here.
  • Simple, short tips can make your coaching more effective. Please listen to a few.
  • Stuck? Then try this.

Each of those are my calls-to-actions.

Did any of them work on you? Did you click any of the links?

Take a moment and think through why you did click, or why you did not.

Here’s the bottom line of the entire series

Persuasion is the life blood of coaching. Effective persuasion is how you will get those around you to take positive action…the positive action they need to take.

Like all good tools, effective persuasion won’t do you any good if it lingers in the bottom of your toolbox.

Take it out, practice with it, and use it.

The better you are at effective persuasion, the better coach you will be!

When Your Prospects Say, “I Knew It!”Monday, April 23rd, 2018

We all do that.

News comes along that either confirms our worst fears, or validates our deeply held beliefs.

And, we are actively looking for that news: With our favorite political candidate, the coach of our favorite NFL team we want to see fired, or the next coaching job we are chomping at the bit to apply for. We are always evaluating news, and seeking see how it confirms our natural personal biases.

What I’m saying is, we all want to be able to say, “I knew it!”

Your prospects are the same way. At the start, in the middle, and towards the end of the recruiting process, we’re looking for evidence that we were right in our initial assumptions. Nobody likes to be proven wrong: I don’t, you don’t, your prospects don’t, and your prospect’s parents REALLY don’t.

How does all of this affect you and your recruiting results? Through one simple concept:

The story you tell your recruit will either reenforce your prospect’s trust, or amplify their skepticism. You, as the coach and chief marketing executive of your program, are ultimately responsible for what that story is.

Want to know what our research shows as what the top three enforcers of each possibility? Here you go, Coach:

  • How you showcase your negatives. It could be your locker room, your field, your recent history, or where you’re located. Whatever your program’s recruiting hurdle appears to be, how you define it – and even showcase it – to your prospects is going to go a long way towards either confirming their negative assumptions, or amplify their feelings that there might be another way of looking at your traditional negative. If you don’t make your case, who will? If you don’t re-define the way they look at your negative, who will? Lead with your negatives. That’ll give you the chance to define it for your prospect, and it will earn more trust with your prospect. Our research shows that this is highly effective, and something your prospects look for as a sign they can trust you.
  • How early you offer. This one is interesting, and kind of complex to take apart. As your prospects decide whether or not you should be one of the programs you visit, they’re looking for evidence you’re serious about them. As we discuss all the time in our famous on-campus recruiting workshops, parents and athletes use two primary criteria when they are telling themselves, “I knew it!” when it comes to if they should visit (or skip) a certain program: They’ll look whether the head coach is in contact with them, and they’ll look for an offer – either athletically, through other funding on campus, or even a roster spot. They need a reason to come to visit, and we find that the earlier that happens, the more ‘obligated’ they feel towards making you one of your visits.
  • How (and when) you ask them to commit. The greatest evidence you’re serious about a prospect? Asking them if they’re ready to commit. There’s a right way, and a wrong way, to do it. But the bottom line is this: When you do it, there are all sorts of good signals it triggers that tells an athlete, “I knew it!” in a good way. It’s proof you want them, and even if they aren’t quite ready to answer ‘yes’ to that question you ask, it verifies that there is good reason to be serious about you. Oh, and by the way: If you don’t do it, it also sends an “I knew it” signal…just not the kind of signal you want.

We are all constantly looking for evidence that our gut feelings are true. Take this approach if you want to send the right signals that move the recruiting process onto the next phase.

Looking for more unique strategies to up your recruiting game? be a part of this Summer’s upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference! It’s a one-of-a-kind event designed around the needs of coaches looking to become next-level college recruiters. Click here for all the information.

Why Being Their Perfect Fit is Far From Perfect RecruitingMonday, February 26th, 2018

When we think of things that are perfect in our lives, its a pretty short list. 

Even something simple like finding clothes that fit just right can be a challenge, much less finding the “perfect” college to spend four years at as a student-athlete.

To rise to the level of “perfection”, several things usually need to happen:

We need to figure out if it’s even a possibility that it might be “perfect”, we need to take time to make sure all of our questions and fears have been answered, and then we have to be ready to own the “perfection” after we decide that it is, indeed, a perfect fit for us.

But to read some messaging from colleges and coaches, you’d believe that declaring a university was a “perfect fit” for a given student-athlete would be the secret to untold success. The number initial messages that declare that, from both coaches and the admissions departments at the colleges where they work, are actually hurting their chances of initiating a serious conversation with those prospects.

Why?

It’s too big of a jump. It doesn’t make sense. By making that claim, a coach or college communicates that they aren’t interested in making their case to their prospects; instead, they are demanding those same prospects rush to the decision that they want them to come to as soon as humanly possible.

And the prospects see right through it, according to our research. That shouldn’t be a surprise:

    • They need to figure out, on their own, the merits of a particular college or athletic program.
    • They need to take their time in determining whether all of their questions and fears have been answered adequately, Rushing that process only makes a coach or college look insincere, or at the best, clueless.
    • Because of those first two factors, they are unlikely to be ready to “own” that perfection. In short, they haven’t decided that it is indeed a perfect fit.

Hopefully that makes sense. In case it does, here are three out of the seven strategies that we typically will use with our college coach clients when we want to denote a connection with a new prospect, without trying to make the case that a particular program is “the perfect fit”:

Tell them one specific thing you want them to know about you. That’s one of the most effective ways to get them curious about what you and your program are all about without trying to make the ridiculous case that you are “the perfect fit”. Detail one special thing about your program or campus, let them know that you can’t wait for them to see it for themselves soon, and then ask them if they feel like it’s something that would be a factor in them choosing a college.

Give them some reasons you might NOT be a good fit. These don’t have to be actual negatives about your program or campus…I’m not suggesting that you throw your program under it’s own bus for not winning too many games during the last two seasons, or point out that prospects would hate your on-campus housing because the rooms are run down. I’m talking about personality traits (“lazy kids who don’t want to work towards a championship aren’t going to be a good fit here”), the size of your campus (“if you’re looking for a campus where people don’t know your name, and it’s not personalized, then this place won’t be a good fit”) or what your team is like (“we’re looking for prospects who want to join a group of guys that love hanging out together off the court as best friends”).

Ask them to give you their top two or three factors in choosing the right program, coach and college. If they reply and are honest and open with you, they’ll give you a beginning roadmap to winning their attention, and they’ll be more likely to listen to the case that you make.

Describing your campus as “the perfect fit” is just one of the verbal miscues we see well-intentioned college coaches making on a regular basis. The fixes are actually pretty easy, and the results can be significant.

The lesson I want you to remember: Be careful choosing the terms you use to describe where you coach!

Advanced uses of language in recruiting is just one of the next-level topics you’ll learn about at the upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference this summer! Register now to save your seat…it’s a fantastic event by coaches, for coaches. And, it’s one of the only places you’ll go to learn how advanced recruiting is really executed by creative coaches from around the country.

40 Ways to Craft Better Recruiting Stories for Your ProspectsMonday, August 21st, 2017

Not all will apply to you, but most of them will.

  1. Decide what your brand is all about. Define it.
  2. List three things you know your recruits don’t care about.
  3. Stop talking about those things. Immediately.
  4. Every year, read two books about marketing, sales, communication or branding. Start later today.
  5. One of those books should be this one. Its an easy read, but it will change the way you recruit.
  6. When you have an extra 17 minutes, watch the author teach you how to get your idea – and recruiting message – to spread.
  7. Tell your story in a variety of ways.
  8. That includes social media, but don’t make the mistake in thinking that’s all kids want or need. Far from it.
  9. Use Facebook if you want to tell your social media story to parents.
  10. Use Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter to tell your social media story to your recruits.
  11. If you aren’t sending old fashioned mail to recruits, your competition is sending it thanks you.
  12. In any story you tell, how you construct it matters.
  13. Listen to our special podcast episode on constructing a smarter, more cohesive, story for your recruits.
  14. Tell them very little about your school and your program when you first reach out to them.
  15. Remember: They don’t care about you (yet), and are usually hoping someone else recruits them eventually.
  16. (Assuming you believe #15, how does that change the tone and focus of your first few messages?)
  17. They’ll believe what the Freshmen on your team tell them way more than what you tell them.
  18. Consistency > Volume.
  19. What would your current team send out to their friends back in high school to get them to come play for you? That might be a worthwhile thing to ask them.
  20. Ask questions in when you tell your story. But make sure their answers aren’t the “right” ones. (Let me explain).
  21. Don’t be afraid to talk about the scholarship you want to give, or the cost of your school, early on with parents.
  22. Outline what’s in it for them if after they verbally commit to you. What would they get to do next with you?
  23. Don’t give up on kids who don’t seem to be engaged with your story. Many are still listening, just not responding yet.
  24. Don’t worry if they don’t seem to “love” you yet as you’re telling them your story.
  25. The campus visit is the most vital aspect of your story. How is it a different feel than your competition’s?
  26. Your story needs to talk about a deadline. Fair, but firm. Don’t be afraid of establishing one.
  27. At this point, are you still remembering to center everything around #1? It matters to your recruits!
  28. Stop making recruiting the last thing you do every day. It should be a priority for you. Schedule time for it.
  29. Look for objections, and happily and enthusiastically address them with your recruit.
  30. As it gets later in the recruiting process, continue to tell your story.
  31. What we said earlier about consistency holds true late in the process: They need you to tell them why to pick you.
  32. Your goal in telling a great recruiting story is to get them to campus. That’s where the decision is made.
  33. The later it gets in the process, the more they need you to ask them about their process for making a decision.
  34. Their decision is the central part of THEIR story. And they need you to play the role of asking them to commit.
  35. As the recruiting process moves forward, the story should get more and more narrow, focused on them specifically.
  36. Most parents will vote to have them stay close to home, or go to the school that costs less. UNLESS you tell them why your school is the better, smarter choice.
  37. Ask for the sale. Ask for the sale. Are you ready to hear them say yes? ASK FOR THE SALE.
  38. If they say “no”, it most likely just means “not yet”. Now ask them “why not?” That moves the story along.
  39. If they verbally commit with a “yes”, after the celebration, tell them it becomes official with you when they announce it publicly on social media. (I’ve heard the arguments against having them do that, but I’ve seen exponentially better results by following that course of action).
  40. Get an answer to this question from your prospect: “What were the three biggest reasons you said yes/no?”

Recruiting, like story telling, is a process. Respect that process, and manage it.

Watch what happens when you do.

 

Two Times More Persuasion Power With These Four WordsMonday, July 24th, 2017

Interesting words and phrases that equal better results fascinate me.

Years ago, we published our well known article about the power of “because”, and coaches who have incorporated it into their recruiting language have seen big increases in their ability to get recruits to give them an answer to their key questions. It’s part of the science that we love to see being incorporated into recruiting plans.

Well, there’s another study that we’ll be starting to use in the plans we design for coaching staffs. And it centers around four words that can double a user’s success rate with their prospects.

It involves using the phrase “But you are free to choose”, or “BYAF” for short.

Here’s an important section from the Neuroscience Marketing blog on the strategy:

This technique has been studied extensively. Christopher Carpenter of Western Illinois University conducted a meta study of worldwide research on BYAF and came up with 42 studies that involved 22,000 participants. BYAF was found to double the success rate in this huge data set.

The exact language doesn’t seem to be important. Pointing out that the person isn’t obligated to do as you ask seems equally effective. The key is to give the person the security of knowing they are free to choose.

Why isn’t this used more often? I think BYAF may seem counter-intuitive to sales people. A typical sales effort often focuses on showing how the customer’s other choices are less desirable or won’t work at all. To wrap up a lengthy persuasive discussion with a reminder that the customer is free to choose seems, at first glance, like a recipe for failure. To some salespeople, it may seem to indicated a lack of confidence in their solution.

The way to use BYAF without seeming wishy-washy is to express your confident opinion while still pointing out that the customer is free to choose.

One important rule to follow is to not use it in a direct “sales” situation. I’ll translate that in saying that when you are asking for a final decision from your prospect, using the BYAF method wouldn’t be something you would want to do, according to the research. In that stressful moment of needing to make a decision, hearing you say something to the effect of “look, we want you, but we need your decision before you leave campus. If you aren’t ready to make that decision, you can walk away and we’ll move on. You are free to choose”, would come across as rude, and gimmicky. It screams “hard sell”.

However, in the process of making small decisions along the way, the BYAF strategy works wonderfully. For example, we are starting to see it work when giving the prospect a choice of visiting campus, for example: “We’d love to have you come on our big visit weekend with a lot of other recruits, or you can schedule a time when it would be just you and your parents here on campus. You are free to choose.”

As the article observes, using exactly those four words is vitally important.

There are plenty of situations you can try to use this proven phrasing. Just a few of the more successful areas include:

  • Talking to prospects about visiting campus
  • Applying to your school before the deadline
  • Discussing the cost of coming to your school with parents
  • Spending time with the team while a recruit visits campus

Using science and psychology as a part of your recruiting language is important, Coach. Look for ways to incorporate proven strategies like this as you begin your next recruiting campaign.

For more than a decade, we have teamed with coaches around the country who want to take a more research-based, scientific approach to their recruiting strategies. The process we take them through works. If you’d like to find out how we would specifically work for you and your program, email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com

 

Should Coaches Recruit Prospects Who Don’t Love Them?Monday, February 13th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 11.15.32 PMAt some point during the recruiting process, coaches will try to figure out their recruit.

How interested are they? What’s their big key to picking a college?

And, the inevitable question: “Does he or she love our program and our school?”

Because as a coach, do you really want to recruit a player who isn’t in love with you and your college? After all, you should want to get kids on your roster who know they want to be there, right?

Fair question.

The answer? Not necessarily.

Let me explain…

In our most recent focus group research conducted as a part of our ongoing work for our clients, 58% of this most recent incoming Freshmen class made some kind of mention of not fully committing emotionally to their final choice until after they had made their decision official with that program.

Why? The most common explanation had to do with matters of the heart: This generation of prospect is very guarded when it comes to an emotional commitment. In other words, they are apprehensive about fully committing emotionally to a program that they don’t know they’ll be playing for after high school.

That goes against the question I posed from coaches at the start of the article: “Does he or she love our program and our school?” Probably not, in their mind. They might really like you, but if you’re looking for proof of that emotional buy-in, you might be disappointed.

Let me take it one step further:

You know that recruit who told you that there are three or four schools ahead of you on their list, but that they still want to keep you as an option in case those others don’t work out. Now, whether or not you want to wait it out is your choice, in that situation. What I will say, after reviewing the research and understanding how this generation of athlete thinks as they move through the recruiting process, is that I think you can actively continue to pursue that recruit and not worry as to whether or not they’ll be committed to your program and “all in” for you as their coach.

Basically, the majority of recruits tell us they really ‘fall in love’ with a program after they commit, not before.

If you agree that this is true a good amount of the time, I believe it should prompt some key changes to your approach:

  • Showing them that you are o.k. with the idea of them not being 100% sold on you is important, as it gives them permission to not feel pressured into having to “love” you right away.
  • The longer you can take to communicate with them and tell them your complete story, the higher the likelihood that they will eventually fall in love with you. Conversely, the less time you spend giving them clear reasons as to why you and your program are better than their other options, the higher the likelihood that there won’t be any kind of emotional draw towards you.
  • If they don’t “love” you right away, it’s your job to find out why: What are the things standing in their way? What more do you have to tell them in order to get them to take a different look at you?

Don’t make the mistake of demanding their full allegiance as a pre-requisite for your continued attention. More coaches have lost more good recruits that way than they know, and I don’t want you and your program to be the next to add their name to that list.

Looking for in-depth discussions on how to be a more creative, effective recruiter? Listen to our podcast, College Recruiting Weekly. Subscribe on iTunes, Google or Stitcher. Or, click here to listen online now and see our complete library of past shows.

The Little Known Power Paradox in College RecruitingMonday, January 2nd, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 7.12.40 PMDr. Dacher Keltner is a researcher that studies the science of emotions.

His latest book, The Power Paradox, centers around how individuals acquire power, and how they can influence those around them.

Since one of the primary jobs of a college recruiter is to be viewed as a trusted power by his or her recruits, and help influence their decision to come to their program, his work should interest you. In fact, if you’re a coach looking for an area of a recruit’s decision making process to study and understand more completely as you contact your next class or prospects, this would be a smart area to focus upon.

Here’s a quote of his that I think can have a profound impact on how you approach recruiting your next class:

“People usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others – such as empathy, openness, collaboration, fairness and sharing. But when they start to experience that power, or gain a measure of influence, those qualities usually begin to fade.”

Keltner explained in a separate interview that someone can acquire power and influence by stirring and inspiring others towards something that can be viewed as a big goal. But once that same person begins to feel that power that they acquire, something happens: They become less empathetic, less inspiring, and more inwardly focused on their own goals and desires.

For many college coaches, this is where they begin to hurt themselves in recruiting.

So many times, when we analyze what a new client may be doing incorrectly in their approach to recruiting, I find Keltner’s observations taking hold in two different aspects of a coach’s recruiting process:

  1. A coach shows love and attention towards a recruit, carefully guides the recruit through the process, gets the commitment, and then begins to ignore the newly committed recruit. The result? Recruits notice the difference, second-guess their decision to come to that program. That scenario unfolds quite often.
  2. A coach begins recruiting to a program that is mediocre, carefully studies how to get kids to believe in what is being built, creates a plan to win those recruits, does so, elevates their program, begins to rest on their past successes, and that sloppiness and inattention to detail that they once prided themselves on slowly begins to erode their recruiting effectiveness.

In each case, the process outlined by Keltner plays out: The power and respect comes from treating people the right way, being attentive and focused on their needs, and then once they acquire that power, they begin to ignore the interests of others and turn their attention inwardly towards their own priorities.

You see it in politics, you see it in personal relationships, and you see it in recruiting.

So, if one of the two scenarios I just outlined may have hit a little too close to home, let me give you some advice to follow as we start a new recruiting year (if you want to connect with this generation of recruits, that is):

Don’t stop recruiting. You hear me talk a lot about telling an effective story as a way to get a recruit to connect with you. That shouldn’t end once you get their commitment. For this next class, let me suggest that you continue to tell your story to your committed recruits – basically, continue to “sell” them on why they made a good decision to choose you and your program. Remind them of what you have waiting for them, and what they should be looking forward to once they arrive on campus. You’ve earned their respect and now have a good degree of power to continue to positively influence them. Don’t waste it.

Take a fresh look at your perspective. What has changed since you first took over your program two years ago? Eight months ago? Ten years ago? Many of your competitors have slipped into complacency, and it’s costing them dearly. In what ways are you no longer approaching the task of recruiting with as much energy and passion as you once did?

How are you inspiring? So much of the recruiting equation revolves around distributing facts, and managing the decision-making process. But if it’s true that this generation is one that is seeking out inspiration, how are you giving them that? More importantly, how are you doing it differently than the other college programs they are hearing from? It’s wise to answer those two questions honestly as you prepare to contact your next class.

Power in the recruiting process isn’t about bullying your recruiting into a decision, nor should it be centered around ‘tricking’ your prospect into believing you. We all look for someone to give power to, if you think about it – including your recruits. Re-read the quote for the key aspects of how to do that:

“People usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others – such as empathy, openness, collaboration, fairness and sharing.”

Are you doing that, Coach?

 

Did you know we work with college coaches on a client basis? When we do, we help them create a customized, research-based approach for their recruiting message. The results are exciting, and it’s usually a lot less expensive than coaches expect. Would you like to talk us about how we can help your program? Email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com so we can explain how the process works.

 

 

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.

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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.

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

As we’ve started this new year, 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.

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