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:
- Our facility needs new turf
- The kids I really want seem to say that’s why they’re not coming here
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.