Dan Tudor

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How Should You Convince Your Prospect to Choose You?Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

In the quest to inform their prospects, many coaches paralyze them.

And they have help. When the typical high school student-athlete begins to explore college options, takes the SAT or ACT, or is identified by a college coach and the recruiting process begins, that teenager – and his or her parents – are bombarded by information. Letters, emails, brochures…from athletics, as well as admissions. Not to deep into the process, that student-athlete achieves information-overload status.

Now, the result of all of that attention at the start of the process kind be kind of exhilarating. After all, this is why they’ve worked as hard as they have in their sport or in the classroom, right? And it’s always fun to be “wanted” by a new college or coach. The attention is great when the possibilities seem endless.

But like I said, that’s during the first part of the process. As it gets deeper into the process, our research shows that an athlete is apt to stop reading what a coach or college is sending. Is it because they get tired of reading, or have some kind of aversion to it? That’s a myth that a lot of college coaches buy in to – and it’s false. This generation of prospects actually reads more than previous generations…all the texting and social media attention, as well as easier ways to access books through technology, prompts them to want to read as a primary way of taking in new information.

The problem is the information seldom leads them anywhere. It states facts, it cites statistics, but it seldom compels. The emails, letters and conversations you’re having with recruits never leads them down the path towards a specific conclusion that they’re looking for, and are accustomed to finding in movies, books and social media content.

In other words, Coach, telling your recruiting story needs an ending. But unlike the movie or book ending that they might be used to experiencing, this one is going to affect them personally.

So, if you find yourself trying to convince an athlete to pick your program over someone else’s program towards the end of the recruiting process, I want you to do just that:

Convince them to pick your program over someone else’s program.

Of all the methodologies and strategies we’ve seen tried in our one-on-one work with clients around the country, here are the best ways to do that:

It’s incredibly important for you to tell them what to think about you and your program. You need to offer a clear, simple definition of who you are and what you’re all about as a coach. They need to understand what makes you different than the other programs they may be considering.

Explain why you’re better. I can’t emphasize enough how vital this part of the overall strategy is down the stretch. After they’ve collected all of the information from you and your admissions department, and they slip in to ‘analysis paralysis‘, they need you to explain why you’re better. Not just a ‘good choice’, but the better choice. That’s not to say I would advise you to engage in negative recruiting; it does mean you need to make your case as to why he or she should choose you, and why you are better than their other options (if you choose to skip this step, your competitor will often be glad to fill that void you’ve left).

Tell them you want them. Sounds simple, and you probably think they already know you want them, but as the process nears the end they need to be reminded.

Tell them you’re ready to hear them say yes. They need you to open the door frequently, of course, but at the end of the process it becomes critical. Why? Because even when they feel like you’re program is the right choice, and they are ready to tell you ‘yes’, it’s incredible hard for most of them to take the initiative to get in touch with you and voice it themselves. Telling them “I’m ready” makes it easier for them to reply with their intentions.

Repeat everything you’re telling recruits to their parents. Ignoring the parents, and not involving them deeply in the conversation as the process draws to a close, will result in a loss the majority of the time. They don’t have to be on the same call, email, or text exchange that you have with a recruit, but they do need to be brought up to speed as to what you’re discussing with them.

The thing many coaches tend to want to do at the end of the process is to back away, and not put any pressure on their recruit. From their perspective, we find that he or she reads that as declining interest in them as a potential member of your roster.

Is that the signal you want to send?

The Dangers of Demanding Recruiting PerfectionMonday, November 13th, 2017

Apple is a company that, in many ways, seems to be perfect.

They pride themselves on cutting edge design, reliable products, and retail stores that have such loyal customers that they often are lined-up a half hour before opening for the day. Their stock price is through the roof, and they employ some of the brightest tech minds on the planet.

But they aren’t perfect. Far from it. Even Apple experiences regular bouts of imperfection. If you owned an iPhone here in the Fall of 2017, you’ve probably been noticing that its difficult to type the letter “I” in a sentence without it being transformed into random symbols.  It’s been fixed, but you have to wonder…how could they let something like that happen?

Like I said, nobody’s perfect.

College coaches are very much in that category, too. No group of humans strive as hard as college coaches do in the pursuit of perfection. The trouble is, many coaches make it an all-or-nothing endeavor: It’s either perfection, or nothing. And since it can’t be “perfect”, sometimes the fall-back position of coaching staffs defaults to “nothing”.

Let me explain giving you three pretty common examples, along with some strong recommendations on how to avoid the trap of not settling for less than perfection as you build and manage your individual programs:

Projections aren’t going to be perfect. Early recruiting is a staple of modern recruiting in most college sports, but one of the consistent concerns I hear about on a regular basis is having to forecast college athletic readiness from an increasingly younger and younger prospect base.

As a result, the temptation is to not trust your best educated guesses on younger prospects you might want to move forward with getting a commitment from. The fear, for many, is that their guess will be wrong tragically wrong.

Spoiler alert: You will fail on some. However, as several coaches we work with have come to discover, you’ll succeed just as often, if not more. What coaches need to understand is that consistently successful programs, and the coaches that lead them, determine an acceptable rate of failed prospects, and then planning for it as a part of their overall recruiting plan.

Trust your gut. If you don’t, you’re making the active choice to pass on quality recruits in an effort to not make a ‘mistake’ on others. Increasingly, that’s going to be a harder and harder strategy to win with.

The number of times you need to watch a prospect isn’t going to be perfect. When a staff is unsure about a recruit, the go-to response is to go watch the recruit again. And again. And again.

Now, if you legitimately need to scout a prospect again, nobody will stand in your way. You have to make sure that athlete is a good fit for your team, and is someone who you want to coach for the next four years. And sometimes, you just want the prospect and his or her family to see you watching them compete as a part of the recruiting process.

That being said, many times important decisions – possible deadlines, or getting an answer your staff may not like – are delayed through the justification that ‘we need to go watch him/her play one more time.’ I have seen that happen many, many times, and the majority of the time it doesn’t have a good result.

Again, if you truly need to further assess a recruit’s true talents or specific skills, it’s your responsibility to do further evaluating. However, if in your heart of hearts you know that you’re simply delaying a next step or difficult decision, re-think your strategy.

Most coaches I know could watch a prospect for 15 minutes and come to a conclusion about most prospects that actually doesn’t change much during the subsequent 15 hours of watching that prospect. You’re smart, Coach, You know what your ideal prospects look like. Identify them, and then focus hard on moving your recruit through a manageable timeline. You’re smart, Coach…give yourself more credit.

Your recruiting message isn’t going to be perfect. Yes, even if we help craft it, it won’t be perfect for every single recruit on your list. There are too many variables in personalities, backgrounds, motivations and other factors in their decision making. And, there are too many variables with you and your staff. The challenge of in-season contact, splitting staff duties, differing recruiting talent levels, and other factors in the way you execute your recruiting plan.

But while you can’t “communicate perfectly”, you can greatly increase the odds of connecting with your recruits better than other teams, and have those student-athletes feel like you are the most interested in them.

It’s simple, actually: Consistency. If your message is consistently and methodically put in front of your prospect population, the majority will be drawn towards you and your program. Yes, the exact language becomes important later in the process as everything moves forward, but a core part of their evaluation of which programs they should take seriously revolve around who is the most consistently telling them the ongoing story of why you are the program that is going to be the better choice in the end.

Devote yourself to delivering an ongoing message that is the best possible, not necessarily “perfect”.

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t sacrifice the good for the perfect. You only reach perfection a few times in your career, but the potential to find good – sometimes really, really good – will happen more often than you imagine, if you stay focused on it.

For hundreds of college programs around the country, we team with them to create effective, compelling, consistent messaging. Our goal, in our work with those programs, is to help them connect with their best recruits. And it works. If you’d like to hear how we do it, and why it might be right for you and your program, click here and then email Dan Tudor at dan@dantudor.com.

Six Things You Can (and Should) Assume About Your RecruitSunday, October 8th, 2017

Most college coaches, by nature, are good-hearted. And optimistic.

And it’s that good-hearted optimism that tends to get coaches in trouble when it comes to recruiting.

In conversations with their prospects, for example. Coaches hear, “Yup, coach, you’re still in my top five and I’m still considering you”, and it fosters hope that he or she is being honest and up-front about what’s really going on behind the scenes.

The same holds true with their parents. And their club and high school coaches, too. The game they play is for their own benefit, which is fine…I get it. They have their priorities, and future plans, front and center.

The loser, in many cases? Coaches.

So based on our work with our clients, and hearing story after story of coaches’ assumptions being wrongly made about the real intentions of their prospects, I wanted to offer up some advice to make sure you’re taking the right approach with each one of your recruits:

The worst case scenario. I want you to make several worst case scenario assumptions about each one of your prospects. If you do, you’ll be protecting yourself from assuming the best, when you should be assuming the worst.

Here’s the list:

Assume each one of your prospects is stressed, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed. The key here is to understand that, according to our research, the majority of your recruits become increasingly tired of the recruiting process as it goes on. They aren’t usually excited about another phone call with you (even though they can fake it pretty well), and they aren’t all that thrilled about another admissions tour (when you see kids walking around campus on those tours, do they look excited?)

So, here’s what I want you to do: Assume that your prospect is really stressed out and overwhelmed, and as each day goes by, they get more and more apt to saying “yes” to someone who asks them to commit.

If you assume that they’re stressed, it will probably change the language you use in your messaging, and how long you delay moving them forward in the progression of the recruiting process.

Coaches who don’t want to strongly lead their prospects during the recruiting process radically increase their risk for letting that prospect become so stressed that they lose focus on what you want them to do. Do you really want them to do that? Assume that there’s a real risk of that happening.

Assume each one of your prospects are content to make the “safe choice”. What are the safe choices? A bigger program than yours. A higher division level. The coach who is better known. The conference that will be more impressive sounding to your recruits’ friends. The school that’s closer to home.

When your recruit is under stress, they often revert to whatever they deem as the “safer choice”. That’s why the recruit you really wanted, and who you told would start as a Freshman, quietly freaked-out a little to themselves and opted instead to go to the higher level program where they’ll sit the bench for at least a year or two.They were scared about something that was perceived as a risk, and retreated to the safe choice.

The question for you is simple: What are you telling them that could be interpreted as something that is a risk? What are the risks you’re asking them to take (even if it was their idea in the first place)?

Assume each one of your prospects don’t like change. You could call this a sub-set of the last assumption, but it’s slightly different. If you’re asking your recruit to make a big change in their life – your location, paying more for school than they thought they’d have to, having to choose a different major than they intended – it’s perceived as change.

Assume that your prospect doesn’t like change. What are you asking your recruit to change? How can you reduce that change?

Assume that it’s your job to create curiosity during the recruiting process. Your core job, along with consistent contact and telling a great story, is to create curiosity.

Assume that they aren’t automatically fascinated by your offer to come and play for them. They probably aren’t. How do you keep them interested? How do you make them look forward to your next communication?

That’s your job. And the coaches that assume they need to weave in curiosity to their overall recruiting message have this strange knack for getting most of the recruits they want. Wouldn’t it be fun if that were you?

Assume that at least 80% of your prospects won’t result in any kind of real possibilities. If that’s true (and that may be a conservative number), I’d want you to ask yourself how many prospects your list really needs to have on it right now.

One of the least fun jobs of a college coach is reassessing your prospect list. That’s something we’d advise you to do at least every 90 days, for each of your recruiting classes, to ensure that you have more than enough recruits.

How would it change your recruiting practices if you had to take a hard look at your assumed true list of interested prospects every three months?

Assume that each of your prospects will be putting themselves first. They aren’t usually interested in how they can make your program better, or what you will mean to you.

Assume that they’re looking at it all from their perspective, not yours.

How does that change the way you’ll talk to them next time?

When it comes to your prospects, tart assuming that things are trending away from you, not towards you. If you do, you’ll find that it changes the way you build out your recruiting plan.

Declaring Your Independence From These Three Recruiting BurdensMonday, July 3rd, 2017

Every July 4th, we take time to celebrate our country’s declaration of independence from English rule nearly two and a half centuries ago.

Today, if you’re taking time to read this in the midst of avoiding BBQ disasters and fireworks mishaps, I want you to do the same for your coaching career. How? By ridding yourself of the heavy chains of three very common (and very dangerous) recruiting burdens.

The unique thing about these burdens I want you to fight to shed is that they are largely self-induced wounds in your ongoing battle for recruits. They are things that many coaches allow to happen during the recruiting process, slowly but consistently, until it overwhelms you and your best laid plans. The Boston Tea Party didn’t just happen all of a sudden; it was years in the making. Even afterwards, it took another three years and a lot of contentious arguing for our Declaration of Independence to be ratified by the states, setting us on a course for self-governance and a future we were in control of as a people.

I’m hoping I’m able to convince you to do the same thing today: Eliminate these three dangerous habits from your recruiting plan. And, in hopefully under three years:

The Burden of Boring Messages

One of the reasons revolutionary soldiers were able to defeat a larger, more well organized, better funded army is because we didn’t play by traditional rules. The British walked in lined columns, in bright red uniforms, and doing it all very slowly. Our forefathers hid behind trees, tried to eliminate their leaders, and generally cause chaos.

Minus the killing part, I’d like you to emulate that style of communication with your recruits.

Heading into this next recruiting cycle, I want you to understand that all of the research we’ve done over the past decade teaches us that your recruits crave a variety of messaging. You need to tell your story consistently, but over a variety of channels. By “channels”, I mean hard-copy mail, email, phone, text, social media, and in-person engagements. That array of messaging needs to be maintained throughout the recruiting process, even when you think they are committed to you.

One of your main functions as a professional coach and recruiter is to get teenagers to pay attention to what you’re saying. You have to surprise them. You have to ambush them. You have to keep them off balance a little. Why? Because our studies show that it’s what keeps them engaged and interested.

Once you become predictable, or only talk about one thing over and over and over and over again, you lose their attention.

The Burden of Not Setting a Fair But Firm Deadline

I’ve written about deadlines before – why you need to do it, and how to do it. If you click on those two links, you’ll get a good overall view of deadlines in the recruiting process.

What I want to do here is explain what will happen if you don’t set deadlines:

  • You will quickly be viewed as the back-up choice of your prospect and their parents.
  • It will quietly tell them that you are giving them permission to continuing looking at other programs.
  • You’re more likely to be viewed as weak.
  • In the cases where your recruit has you as their top choice, and they are ready to commit, the lack of a direction or deadline that you set will confuse them, and will make it harder for them to commit.

If you aren’t setting deadlines with this next class or prospects, your recruiting revolution will be short lived. And, you will subject yourself to living under the tyrannical rule of teenagers and their often misguided parents.

The Burden of Misguided Modesty

I’ve mentioned it before to athletic departments that I’ve had the chance to work with: One of the reasons I feel so fortunate to do what I get to do is because the vast majority of college coaches are good people, with great intentions and positive attitudes.

The problem begins when that starts to seep into your recruiting approach. Most coaches want to do what they did as a college athlete: Stay humble, put your head down and get the work done, and don’t call any undue attention to yourself. Admirable, to be sure.

But in recruiting, that can sabotage a coaching staff. Recruits want to see confidence; they want evidence that you believe in yourself; they’re looking for proof that you’re excited about them; and, most importantly, they are looking for you to explain to them why you and your program are the better option for them compared to the other programs that are recruiting them.

None of that can happen if you are overly modest. Now to be sure, you have to balance it. I don’t want you to swing wildly in the other direction and turn into a cocky jerk who oozes over-confidence. But, Coach…can you dial it up just a little bit more when you’re trying to attract a kid to your program? They need you to do that.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of things that can cause you to remain captive to recruiting practices that make life harder, of course. But it’s a start. And every revolution has to begin with a declaration that enough is enough, and things are going to be done differently now.

Start with these three.

What May Be Delaying Your Prospect’s DecisionMonday, October 17th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 10.56.26 PMMore often than coaches realize, the thing that is grinding your prospect’s decision process down to a snail’s pace isn’t a “thing” at all.

It’s probably a person.

At an increasing rate, the individual recruiting scenarios we track and help manage for our clients that end up grinding to a halt late in the process are the result of a coach – club, high school, or private coach – advising their athlete (your recruit) to wait. Either for a potential “better” offer, or because the coach isn’t convinced that you are “the right fit” for their prospect.

If you don’t take control of that situation from the start, it’s likely that you’ll be plagued by the problem throughout the process.

And most coaches don’t.

You’ll know that you are in the middle of that kind of developing situation when one of these warning signs appears as you are in the middle your recruiting relationship:

  • You’ve had regular contact with your prospect, and it abruptly stops. Or, your normal mode of contact back and forth (by phone, text, etc.) becomes something less personal and less interactive (email, messages sent through the coach).
  • The parents of your recruit suddenly become the surrogate for communicating with you, mentioning that their son’s/daughter’s coach wants them to “slow the process down” or “take a look at all of our options”.
  • The coach, once someone who would keep you updated on the process and what was going on with the family, suddenly becomes vague about what is happening behind the scenes.

That’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but they are some of the telltale signs.

What prompts a coach to suddenly become involved in the recruiting process, sometimes in a negative way? Usually, it comes back to a realization by the coach that their rising young athlete is developing into an athlete that may warrant expanded attention from a variety of colleges. Sometimes, the coach has the best interest of the player at heart; they want them to have the maximum number of opportunities to take this next step in their sports career. Much of the time, your recruit’s coach sees an opportunity to bring added publicity and recognition to his or her program by having the highest level school(s) possible show interest and go through the recruiting process with their rising star. In other words, they see that there is something in it for them if they can parlay that recruit’s experience into a rising reputation for their club or high school program.

I’m not going to fault a club or high school coach for looking out for their own interests. That being said, I definitely don’t think you – as that athlete’s potential college coach – should refrain from looking out for your program’s best interests, nor do I think that you should give-up control of the decision making process to that other coach’s timeline.

The simple solution is, of course, to maintain regular contact with the family and coach as best as possible as the prospect goes through their more expanded search process.

The more complex – and more effective – long term solution to the issue comes back to a familiar theme: Recruiting the coach of your recruit through consistent messaging. The good news is that it doesn’t require quite the intensity as we would normally recommend in your communication with high school prospects: Our research and focus group studies with club and high school coaches shows that a recruiting message every 21-28 days is more than sufficient for the vast majority of coaches. And, unlike your recruits, coaches are really looking for one key thing: To be treated like a peer as you update them on the recruiting process with their athlete.

In other words, you need to justify why your program is a smart choice, while building up your personal connection with that coach through keeping them updated on what you are talking about with their athlete. Sell your program, and bring that coach into your inner circle when it comes to the recruiting process. Simple as that. And yet, even after reading this, the majority of college coaches won’t do much to improve the way they approach club and high school coaches they are in contact with. Even though it’s the only way we’ve discovered to bring a self-centered coach into your inner circle.

The number one complaint we hear club and high school coaches make about you, a college coach, is that when they have an athlete who is talented, college recruiters swoop in and want to be friends, and want their help in the process, only to disappear or go around them to get the athlete’s interest. It’s important that you remedy that feeling, Coach. If you don’t, and assuming your recruits’ reliance on their current coaches for advice and direction continues to deepen, you can expect the recruiting process to stumble in the years to come because of what club and high school coaches are doing to your efforts behind the scenes.

Want more insider advice and training when it comes to how to intelligently recruit your next class of prospects? Join other coaches around the country who are going through our Tudor University program. It’s online learning on your terms, and it gives you a clear foundation for recruiting excellence. It’s a small investment in your career, Coach. Click here for all the details.

Hosting Group Recruiting Visit Days the Right WayMonday, October 3rd, 2016

Full disclosure:

The vast majority of the time, I will tell a coach I am against group visit recruiting days.

I’ve seen more go wrong with them than I have seen go right. Honestly, more disaster stories have originated from large campus recruiting visit days than most other parts of the recruiting visits that we’ve analyzed:

  • Recruits go to campus expecting to receive personal attention, and instead come away with a feeling like they’ve just been lost in a crowd in a big group recruiting visit.
  • Recruits go to campus thinking they are coming to a program that wants their individual talents, and leave a big group visit feeling like they are just one of a large number of recruits.
  • Recruits come to campus wanting to be around other top-tier prospects, and instead see a large group of what they would define as mediocre fellow prospects.
  • Recruits come to campus excited about visiting and finding out about your program, but instead get matched with a visiting prospect who is negative about your program and school – and immediately poison the mindset of the recruits you worked so hard to get to come visit your college.

That’s not a complete list, but if any of it sounds remotely familiar to what you’ve seen happen with any of your visits, you get the idea: When you introduce a large group of prospects to each other in a new setting, the potential for disaster is there. Not always…and sometimes, you can get a solid commitment from a student-athlete prospects when you’re staging group visits. But the risk is always present on group recruiting visits.

And that’s why I am generally against recommending group recruiting visit days for your program.

All that being said, there are times when you need to stage large recruiting visits. So, let’s talk about how to make the best of what can often be a challenging situation, Coach. There are a few key components of a group visit that can put the odds of impressing your important recruits in your favor.

Before the group visit, define why you want them there. Them, specifically. Why are you bringing them there, and what should be understand about how they fit into the larger group they’re going to see on campus? Be as specific as possible, and focus on how they should see themselves in a large group setting.

Schedule time for your top kids (and their parents) away from the group. One of the key pieces of advice that upper-tier athletes and their parents give us is how they are looking for one-on-one time with the head coach of the program they are visiting. Make sure you schedule private time with them, and when you talk to them make sure you outline why they are different than the other recruits who are visiting that day. It’s critical that your top recruits understand their place in your recruiting class.

Define the group setting to everyone. If they’re wondering where they stand with you as they look around at everyone else on the visit, tell them that one of the reasons you want them there as a group is to give them a chance to get to know their potential future teammates. You have to define the group visit dynamic to them, and make it positive.

Try to get them alone with some of your Freshmen. As much time as possible. One of the most powerful aspects of the visit for your recruits is getting a good idea as to whether they are wanted by your current team. No matter what else has to be shortened or canceled as a part of the visit, do it. Time alone with your current team is vital if you’re looking to make an impression with recruits.

Define this group visit as the first of two. Tell your recruits, as a group, “All of you are getting a good picture of what it’s like here in a big way, but this should be the first of two visits you’ll plan on taking here. We want you back for a one-on-one visit with us, and I’d love it to be before <date>.” Or, something like that. The point is, make sure they understand that you want them back for a second visit…soon. The goal is to get them back on campus for a more personalized experience.

Those are the essentials, Coach. You’ll notice that each of the five core components are all geared towards them, their feelings, and their motivations. Follow them, and you’ll begin to even the odds for a good experience from your group recruiting visit experience.

Campus visits, and conducting them effectively, are one of the make or break moments in the recruiting process. Want to put over a decade of research and strategic thinking to work for you and your program? Become a client. We help hundreds of coaches all over the country with their messaging, organization, campus visit planning, and more. Click here for a quick rundown of everything we give college recruiters.

Eggs, Soap and the Recruiting Myths You Choose to BelieveMonday, September 5th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 8.24.55 PMRemember when eating eggs was going to send you to an early grave? Think again.

And how you’d better be using anti-bacterial soap if you wanted to really, really, really clean your hands? Yeah, not so much.

Those are just two of a long list of things that were once accepted as scientific truth, only to be undone by changing information discovered at a later date.

However, the need to re-think what we’d now define as myths isn’t limited to breakfast foods and clean hands. No, there are plenty of old recruiting myths that are still held as firm truth by many college recruiters around the country. And unlike some of the other things we experience in our daily lives, these tales can really hamper effective recruiting – and, damage the chances for coaches to develop their careers.

Here are a few that I’d recommend you take a second look at, based on our focus group testing with the clients that we serve, and observing recruiting practices that just don’t result in effective results. This isn’t a complete list, but it’s a few that any smart coach should consider changing.

The myth that paper mail isn’t effective as a communication tool. Easily, this is the number one myth that I see coaches clinging to. Partly, I believe, because it gives them permission to eliminate the postage and materials cost from their budgets, and it also saves a lot of time (writing letters, even the printed ones that you used to send to 200 recruits at a time, took a heck of a lot of time, right Coach?)  But it’s exactly because of that second point that they’re so effective now with this generation; so many coaches have abandoned the practice because of their mythical belief that ‘this generation doesn’t read mail’ that the ones that do send it find kids will hold it as tangible proof that a coach is “serious about them.” (One thing I need to clarify: They will respond to well-written, engaging letters. If you are sending them stuff that sounds like traditional, boring, mass-mail messaging, then it doesn’t work).

The myth that small schools can’t get early unofficial visits. Can I talk to you coaches at Division II, Division III and NAIA programs for a moment? One of the things that is killing you right now is that you’re not acting like a D1 program when it comes to asking for visits. More and more prospects not only want to be invited for an unofficial visit, they expect it. And when you don’t extend that offer (usually by early Spring of their Junior year in high school, at the latest) they begin to develop their own campus visit list – and you probably aren’t on it. The myth that kids won’t make unofficial visits to smaller programs doesn’t have a basis in fact. If I’m talking to you right now, re-think your strategy on this one, Coach.

The myth that their high school and club coaches aren’t deeply involved in helping a recruit form an opinion about you. They absolutely are. Actually, I think you know that, right? But here’s the question, Coach: What part of your recruiting plan is actually addressing the type of ongoing, effective contact you have with this influential group? Can you show me – or others on your staff – how you are outlining an effective story to those coaches? I’m not talking about calling them or the times you bump into them at their practices or games…what are you telling them on an ongoing basis that gives them enough information to get them to the point where they think to themselves, “heck, I’d be crazy not to want to send my kids to their program.” Because that’s the standard they demand, especially if you aren’t a program that is going to make them look good when their athlete commits to you.

The myth that you might accidentally pressure them into committing. In other words, “If I ask them what their decision timeline is, or ask them if they feel like they’re ready to commit to your program, I’ll drive them away or force them to commit when they really don’t want to.” Let me ease your fears, Coach: You don’t have that power. You can’t trick a kid into committing to your full ride D1 offer, and you definitely can’t trick a kid into paying $30,000+ to attend your Division III university. Now, if the issue really revolves around your nervousness about putting yourself out there and hearing some truthful feedback from your prospect after you ask it, or if you just haven’t been trained to complete this vital part of the sales process, that’s another story. The good news is that with training, you can overcome that fear and begin to direct recruits through the different stages of the decision-making process (especially at the end, when it counts).

With any procedure you employ in recruiting, you need to ask yourself why you do it the way you do it. And, evaluate if the way you’re doing it is working as well as you want (need?) it to.

Myths, fables and bedtime stories were a fun departure from reality when we were kids. As adults who are now college coaches, they are potential career-killing practices that need to be stopped immediately.

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.

Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Effective Recruiting as an OutsiderMonday, August 31st, 2015

Politics offers some fascinating lessons for observant college coaches looking for lessons from the real world on how to effectively recruit their prospects.

After all, what is Presidential campaigning if not recruiting a few million votes from your fellow countrymen and women?

The similarities between recruiting and high-level political campaigns are numerous.

The Presidential primary campaigns of 2016, in fact, provide some fascinating examples of how to break through the clutter of the typical campaign white-noise, and what makes candidates rise – and fall – in this new era of message marketing and creating an identity that stands out from the rest of the pack.

Which brings us to the two most curious “recruiters” in this particular campaign cycle: Billionaire businessman Donald Trump on the Republican side, and self-describted socialist Senator Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. At this writing at the start of September 2016, Trump is at the top of a crowded Republican primary field, and Sanders is steadily rising against the favored former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Which candidate you might favor – or despise – is irrelevant to the conversation we’re going to have today. To glean the lessons I want to focus on, you’ll need to suspend whatever partisan politics you might otherwise cling to and just study their methodologies, as well as some sea-changes in our society when it comes to how we perceive politics, candidates, party politics and the outsiders who are challenging the status quo.

If you can do that, I think you’ll come away with some fascinating lessons that you can apply to your recruiting efforts.

To start, lets focus on the question that is perplexing political pundits and much of the media:

How exactly are two outsiders doing so well against established, better funded, party-supported candidates? And what lessons do their candidacies offer college coaches?  Here are my four non-political-expert opinions and observations:

We’re at a time in our society when we are looking for something new. Politically, I don’t know if we know exactly what that is, given the political spectrum extremes of these two non-traditional candidates. There’s an element of frustration with the existing political powers that be, and these two candidates are taking advantage of it so far in these primaries.  The lesson for coaches?  I think it revolves around the concept of figuring out how you, and your program, can offer a recruit something different from the typical program and school. One thing we hear from high school student-athletes in the research we conducted is that they crave a reason to choose a school based on the unique selling proposition it offers them.  What story are you telling your recruits that differentiates you from the competition?

They aren’t afraid to be their own person.  In an age of carefully crafted, focus group tested, sound bite measured talking points, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders break the rules. Sanders is frumpy and passionately plain spoken, and it’s attracting the attention of the political left. Why?  Because his message and personality stand out.  Trump is uber-confident and dismissively insulting to rivals and other opposition, and it’s attracting the attention of the political right. Why?  Because his message and personality stand out. The lesson for coaches? Don’t be afraid to passionately and confidently state your case as to why your program should be the obvious choice to your prospects, even if it’s not perfectly crafted…even if it might cause a certain percentage of your to turn away…even if it causes people to stare. Plenty of the best recruiters around the country have made a name for themselves in the recruiting world by being larger than life and unique; give yourself permission to develop your own unique brand as you aim to take on the traditional powers you recruit against.

It’s important to state your case quickly, and memorably.  In our work with our clients, we accurately point out that telling a compelling story over a long period of time is the key to winning over the best recruits on a consistent basis. The same could be said about candidates who run an effective, long term campaign. But if you’re an outsider, you’d better stand out quickly as you begin to make your case. Why? Because as we often point out in our popular On-Campus Workshops for athletic departments, this generation of recruits (and their parents) are scared of making what they could perceive as the “wrong” decision; in other words, it would be safer to opt for the less risky choice in a college program given the choice in a vacuum of mediocre messaging. All things being equal, the school that’s close to home, has a history of success, or is a little less money might all be considered the “safe” decision unless you make the case quickly that your prospect, and his or her parents, should look at their choices differently.  That’s what both Trump and Sanders did effectively at the start of their campaigns: They got the attention of their audience quickly, made some unique and memorable (if not controversial) propositions, and drew the attention away from their better funded, more “safe” competition. The lesson for coaches?  As you get ready to reach out to a new group of recruits, give them a quick and memorable reason to justify continued conversations with you. (Note: If you’re a client, we’ve created a list of some ideas on how to creatively and effectively initially reach out to your new prospects. Just click here).

They don’t care what people think about them. Sounds counter-intuitive for a politician, doesn’t it?  Yet these two candidates are completely comfortable with who they are, what they stand for, and don’t apologize for anything.  You don’t like them? Vote for someone else. They aren’t going to re-calibrate themselves just for the sake of gaining a few percentage points in next week’s polls. The vitally important lesson for college coaches?  Own who you are. Embrace it.  Your school costs $53,000 a year and you don’t offer athletic scholarships? Embrace it. You play in a facility older than Hickory High School’s gym in the movie Hoosiers?  Embrace it. You’re 60 miles from the nearest mall, and a fun night out on the town for your team centers around going to a Subway sandwich place down the street from campus?  Embrace it. If you’re ashamed or apologetic about who you are and what you’re all about, your marketing-saavy recruit will pick up on it.  Truth is, they are more interested in how you view your school and what you offer than their first glance opinions. Are you willing to make the case to them that what they see should be what they want to get? Trump and Sanders have no problem with it, and so far it’s working out o.k. for them.

Recruiting a high caliber group of student-athletes is a daunting task, made more challenging given how competitive the landscape is with your competition.

As you develop your next recruiting strategy, take these four lessons to heart and figure out creative ways to implement the lessons into your approach. The person you may end up surprising just might be your long-standing championship competitor down the road who chose not to implement strategies that fit the times we now live in.

Want more in-depth training and lessons on how to develop a creative and effective recruiting approach? Join coaches from around the country at Tudor University, our online training and certification program for college recruiters. It’s inexpensive and easy to complete on your schedule, and will stay with you during your lifetime of college coaching. Click here for all the details.

Political Debates and Your Prospect’s VoteMonday, August 10th, 2015

As the 2015 Presidential primary season started heating up, one of the largest – and, to date, most watched – candidate debates took place.  It featured 16 men and women running for the Republican nomination.

And while I don’t want to parse the political messages that each candidate brought to the table, I do want to make this case to you today:

What each candidate was trying to do effectively is the same thing that each college coach is trying to do in winning the “vote” of his or her prospect.

Think about it…in this debate, you had sixteen different messages from sixteen different candidates who were desperate to make an impact with a potential voter, and with a limited time to get that voter’s attention so that he or she might be interested enough to take the next step with them.

Sound familiar, Coach?

There are lessons to be learned by savvy college recruiters from political campaigns. But instead of breaking down a candidate’s message and creating some kind of cheesy “who won and who lost” list based on their performance, I wanted to ask you some important questions.  Questions that you can ask yourself now as you develop your next recruiting campaign for your prospects, and questions to keep in mind the next time you hear political candidates making their pitch as to why they should receive your next vote:

What are you going to say in the first ten seconds you have your recruit’s attention that will make you stand out from the other fifteen coaches you’re competing against?

That’s the foundation of everything else you’ll build a message on. Have you defined it? As a client, we help you craft that message loud and clear. But if you’re crafting it on your own, ask yourself: “What am I telling my prospect that nobody else is?” If the answer is ‘nothing’, then it’s time to re-think your core initial message.

Is it about your message or about the feeling you’re creating?

I can make a case that modern politics is more about the art of the candidate making his or her voting block feel a certain way about them as a potential leader, rather than logically convincing them of the merits of their proposals.

I think I can also make an effective case that the art of recruiting could be defined that way, as well.

When you’re assessing politicians, don’t you want to feel good about the person you’re supporting? Likable candidates usually do pretty well.  So, in the message you’re creating for your recruiting campaign, how are you creating the right feeling about you, your program, your school and what you have to offer?

In a debate (and in recruiting), are you going to be the “attacker”, or the “safe alternative”?

Watch almost any debate and it’s clear that some candidates have a master plan to attack, attack, attack. They want to establish themselves as the lead dog in that political fight right from the start.

Others will make very obvious efforts to establish themselves as the “safe alternative”. They want to be the logical choice that a voter can feel good about once the “attacker” flames out or makes a mistake that puts their candidacy in trouble.

There are merits in both approaches.  The question I have for you is, “Have you defined which strategy you are embracing?” Because not having a pre-defined strategy and a clear plan on how to execute it could leave potential voters looking at you as a wishy-washy, undefined option that lacks passion and excitement.  And, you certainly won’t be talked about much afterwards.

Voters like to break down candidates into “winners” and “losers”. Your prospects, and their parents, are the same way.

If you Google a winners for this particular debate you’ll find no less than 2.3 million results. We like to score campaigns, debates and individual candidates into two tidy little categories that help us keep things organized.

So do your recruits.

They begin to define you, according to our research, within the first 5-7 minutes of contact with you (that includes your letters, email and direct messaging efforts). So, why are they probably classifying you as a “winner” when it comes to your message? What are the potential ways they might define you as a “loser”?  Make sure you know how to answer that question, Coach.

So as you build out a revised recruiting message, Coach, make sure you follow the political lessons offered during election cycles.

Your goal is incredibly similar to a politician’s goal: Tell an engaging story that gets us to believe that “voting” for you and your program is the smart thing to do.

 

Want an excellent way to learn the finer points of advanced recruiting techniques? Enroll in Tudor University, our online certification and training program for college coaches. Our annual registration passes are an affordable investment in your college coaching career, and will teach you the communication, marketing and sales skills necessary to be a successful recruiter. Click here to learn more.

 

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