Dan Tudor

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Reading Their Hand Signals in the Big Game of RecruitingMonday, February 10th, 2014

The headline you can take away from the Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos was how Seattle’s defense managed to shut-down the Broncos high flying offense, leading to one of the biggest championship routs in the history of the big game.

It wasn’t through brute force.  And it wasn’t from stopping a last-minute drive at the end of the game for a lucky win.

No, the big news was that the Seattle defense was able to crack the code of Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning’s vaunted hand signals – the same secret code that lead Denver to the becoming one of the best offensive powers during the 2013 NFL regular season.  Here’s what Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman said after the game:

“All we did was play situational football,” Sherman said after the game. “We knew what route concepts they liked on different downs, so we jumped all the routes. Then we figured out the hand signals for a few of the route audibles in the first half. Me and my he other guys in the secondary… we’re not just three All-Pro players. We’re three All-Pro minds. Now, if Peyton had thrown in some double moves, if he had gone out of character, we could’ve been exposed.”

So, what does all this have to do with recruiting your next college prospect?  Simple:

I want you to start stealing their hand signals.

They give them all the time, and yet sometimes coaches miss them.  I want to outline a few of the big signals you should be looking for, and de-code them for you so that you can get a better idea of how these recruits (and their parents…and their coaches) try to give you a head-fake in the big game of recruiting:

  • Your prospect doesn’t return your phone call.  They’re either busy, or find you boring and too time consuming.  The solution?  Text them.  It’s been consistently replacing phone calls as the top personalized way to have a conversation with a prospect.  (Not because you like it that way, Coach, but because they like it that way).  They’re silence is signaling that they either want a new way to communicate with you, or they’re ready for something more significant in terms of what you’re talking to them about.
  • Your prospect puts your call on speaker phone.  Finally got them on the phone, and they put you on speaker?  Get out of that call as soon as possible.  They’re bored, and not listening to you with 100% focus.  Give them one or two specific things you want them to do next, and end the call.  Why?  Well, let me ask you a question: Why do you put people on speaker phone?  So you can do other things while kind of paying attention to whoever is on the line.
  • Your prospect just told you they need a little more time to think about your offer.  They’ve decided that you’re clearly not their number one choice and just don’t know how to tell you that, or they have interest in your program but they’re trying to see if something better comes along – whether that’s a better athletic option, or more money.  They’re signaling that it’s time for you to make a strong case for why you should be a serious contender for their services, and that you’d better either set a fair deadline or get them to confirm that they probably aren’t going to be choosing to compete for you or your program.  Either way, it’s time to get them to define why they need a little more time. 
  • Your prospect gives you a verbal commitment.  After you tell them thats great, and that you’re excited about that news, ask them when they’re going to announce it on Twitter.  That’s this generation’s real letter of intent.  Whether you’re a big-time D1 program, a small private college, or someone in between, if they aren’t willing to announce their decision on Twitter they’re signaling that they’re still keeping their options open.  Trust me on this one, Coach.
  • Your prospect calls you and ask you questions without you prompting them to do so.  They’re signaling they’re interested.  Ask them what they want to see happen next in the process.
  • Your prospect emails you back after you send them a message.  They’re signaling they’re interested.  Ask them what they want to see happen next in the process.
  • Your prospect gives you updates on what they just turned into admissions, or what they just heard from financial aid, or what they just did in the last game that they played.  They’re signaling they’re interested.  Ask them what they want to see happen next in the process.

That’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but chances are you’re dealing with a prospect or two that are signaling what’s really going on behind the scenes.  Your job as a coach is to read what they’re signaling, interpret it, and then act on it.  It’s a crucial part of the job if you’re aiming to be a high-level, successful college recruiter.

No go out there and play the big game in recruiting the way we all know you can.

Want more innovative approaches that will help you become a dominant recruiter?  You need to be at the National Collegiate Recruiting Conference this June.  It’s the greatest weekend on earth for serious recruiters who want to make sure they use the latest techniques and approaches with this next class of recruits.  Get all of the details here.

Anticipation (and How to Use It In Recruiting)Monday, December 23rd, 2013

The night of Christmas Eve, lots of little kids are full of anticipation.

The thought of toys under the tree, some extra sugar in their bellies, and just the overall fun and excitement of what the holidays brings is almost too much for them to handle.  If you doubt me, I’ll let you talk to the 7-year old boy in our house who has spent the last week trying (and failing) to guess what’s under the wrapping paper in those boxes under the tree with his name on them.

What many coaches miss in that scene being repeated in homes around the country is the incredible power of that anticipation, and how it changes the emotions, thinking and general outlook kids who can’t wait for Christmas morning.  More specifically, many coaches miss the lesson that they can take away and apply to their recruiting efforts.

The reason we talk about the importance of creating a “feeling” in the story that you tell your recruits is because they rely on those powerful emotions to make their final decision much of the time.  You and I can agree that this isn’t always the smartest way to choose a college or program, but there’s little doubt that it occurs on a regular basis in the recruiting process – at least according to our research.

So as a serious recruiter looking to connect with a prospect you really want,  shouldn’t you want to create the same energy and excitement around your contact with a recruit, as well as how they view your program emotionally while making their final decision?  If so, building anticipation – and understanding the components of why it’s such a powerful force – should be something that you aim to do in your recruiting message.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Your prospect will anticipate your next message more if you lead into it with the previous message.  One of the key principles we put to work in creating effective recruiting campaigns for our clients is the idea that messaging should be ongoing, and sequential.  In other words, one message should set up the next message…and so on, and so on, and so on.  Too many messages we see from coaches are all encompassing, one-size-fits-all behemoths that tend to overwhelm and bore their teenage recipient.  Coaches need to start focusing on breaking up their longer messages into shorter, easier to digest stories that build into the next message rather than answer every single question right away.  That’s one of the big keys to anticipation in recruiting.
  • Your prospect will anticipate talking to you if you exceed their expectations.  Too often, a coach will jeopardize an interaction with a recruit by falling-back on the same tired, boring, run-of-the-mill conversation points that recruited athletes tell us they dread: “What movies are you watching”, “What did you download on iTunes this week”, “did anything great happen at school this week”…you get the picture, Coach.  When you earn the privilege of having a one-on-one talk with your recruit, you’d better try to figure out a way to amaze them if you want to keep positive anticipation on your side with them.  Are you asking questions no one else is?  Are you going to reveal an important “next step” you want them to take in the process?  Will you go over their strengths and weaknesses from the last time you watched them play?  Can you update them on any part of the process on your campus regarding their application?  ALL of that builds importance and value in their conversation with you…this time and the next time.  (By the way, you’ll know you have let negative anticipation seep into the relationship when your calls go to voicemail, or they aren’t returning your emails as much as they used to).
  • Your prospect will anticipate coming to campus if they have been given exciting peeks at what awaits them  when they get there.  Have you teased your recruit and given them glimpses of what your team is like, what campus is like, why he or she would want to see the dorms, and what the area is like around your college?  Those are some of the key elements our research has uncovered as to what triggers that “anticipation” in the minds of your recruits when it comes to the risky, scary idea of committing to a campus visit.  Recruits will rarely visit a campus without a good reason that is solidified in their mind – either one that they came up with on their own, or a picture that you have painted for them over a period of time.

One more thing:

Since we’re building-out these concepts using the excitement of presents under the tree during Christmas and the holidays, think about what happens after they open the presents.  There’s an almost immediate “crash”.  The anticipation and excitement is gone, and all that’s left is a pile of toys, the hand-knit underwear their Aunt Edna sent them, and wrapping paper strewn all over the place.  The energy is gone – as is that valuable anticipation.

If you’re a parent, watch what happens Christmas morning after the presents are all opened.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.

The point I’m making is that you need to anticipate that, Coach.  That means after they visit campus, for example, you need to anticipate that they will need a clear picture of what the next step in your process is in order to maintain their focus and excitement about the idea of competing for you. My personal observation is that coaches tend to take an optimistic view of their recruit, picturing that with each step they take in the recruiting process he or she becomes more and more excited, and naturally wants to talk more about competing for you.  In the majority of cases, I find that the opposite is true: The anticipated is now the familiar, and they’ll search out a new source of anticipation and excitement in the form of another program (remember that recruit who got spotted late by a competitor and rushed through the process to commit with them?…That’s a prime example of a kid continuing to look for anticipation and excitement in the form of another program).

Your job, Coach, is to put a focus on managing the experience and continuing to build that anticipation in your recruits’ mind.  In trying to show them why you are the smart choice, it is also your job to get them to “stop believing in Santa”, to a large extent.  If you can master that art, you’ll solve a key riddle when it comes to how to ride that wave of anticipation in the recruiting process.

After the holidays comes New Years, and with New Years comes resolutions!  If you are focused on developing a more research-based, strategic approach to the recruiting process, talk to Dan Tudor and his team.  To get an overview of how the process works, and what they do when they work with a coaching staff as clients, click here.  Or, contact Dan directly at dan@dantudor.com

3 Ways Your Prospect’s Feedback is Getting Lost in TranslationMonday, October 14th, 2013

When you think about it, your prospects – and their parents – actually do say quite a bit during the recruiting process.

I mean for all of the complaining that we do when it comes to the non-communication coming from the recruits you’re trying to have a conversation with, when you think about it they give you a good deal of feedback.  They’ll tell you what they’re looking for in a college, or what they like in a coach, or what they think about the idea of leaving home.  When you ask a question, they’ll do their best to give you an answer.

And that’s where we find the problem occurring.

Coaches are listening to what they’re hearing from prospects and parents (or, many times, from their coach) and they’ll take that feedback at face value.  In other words, a lot of coaches assume that the recruits they’re talking to are actually giving them accurate, truthful information.

Much of the time, that’s not the case.  I’m not suggesting that your prospects are being deceitful on purpose, by the way.  However, I do think that much of what you’re hearing during certain points in the recruiting process needs to be “translated”…their feedback needs to interpreted differently than you’re hearing it.  Not all the time, but much of the time.

Here are four main topics or phrases that you may be hearing as a college recruiter that need to be “translated” into what they might really be trying to say:

“We’ve still got a few more campuses to visit before we make our final decision.”  

POSSIBLE TRANSLATION:

“Your campus was nice, but we’ve still got a lot of unanswered questions before we could think seriously about committing to you, and we’re hoping that another coach makes it easy to love them by giving us the information that you didn’t.”

I started with this because I know many of you are in the middle of campus visits, and you’re always anxious to hear how your prospects liked you, your team, and your college.  If they talk about still needing to take campus visits, and they aren’t ready to decide that you are “the one” after visiting your campus, you can be fairly certain that there are objections left unanswered in their mind, or something on the visit didn’t quite mesh with what they were looking for.

Your job, as a serious recruiter, is to ask them questions that can get them to reveal how they really feel after a visit.  And, if they don’t seem ready to get serious about taking the next step, it’s your job to find out what they didn’t seem to find when they visited campus, or what new questions the visit raised in their mind.

Far too often, college coaches that we advise give their prospects the benefit of the doubt waaaaay far too many times, assuming that the family is engaged in a logical, reasoned evaluation of their visit and just wants to compare apples to…even more apples.  Most of the time, that’s not the case.  It’s far simpler than that.  They just didn’t find all of what they were looking for when they were face to face with you and your program.

“I’ve never really thought about going away to school that far away from home.”

POSSIBLE TRANSLATION:

“At this point, there’s no way on God’s green earth that I would go to school that far away from home.”

If you’re recruiting out-of-area prospects (and you should) understand that the number one reason you will end up losing that prospect to another college is due to the distance from home.  Many recruits are very open to going away from home, but a large percentage either haven’t considered it as an option because of their parents, or have decided that it’s not an option even with their parent’s support.

Not wanting to go away to college is fine, of course.  It’s not for everyone, and I don’t suggest that any coach should fault a prospect for not being interested in your opportunity.  However, I do want them to tell you the truth and reveal – as early in the process as possible – whether or not going out of area for college is a possibility.

How should you do that?  First, focus on the parents.  Our research shows pretty conclusively that how a recruit feels about going out of the area for college is a direct reflection on how the parents feel about it.  And if the parents aren’t on board with the idea, it’s not likely you will be successful recruiting that prospect.  Ask the parents of your out-of-area prospect how they feel about the idea, and if they see it as a possibility.

With your prospect, you need to ask them why specifically they feel they would want to truly go away to college.  What makes that exciting to them?    Why do they feel that would be best for their athletic and academic career?  What have their parents said about the idea, and are they o.k. with not seeing you compete on a regular basis?  If your prospect has trouble answering those questions, or it sounds like they really haven’t thought the whole thing through, it means you have more work to do.  It’s not a lost cause by any means, but don’t assume that it’s a slam dunk, either.

“We’re still thinking about everything, and really haven’t made a decision yet, but don’t worry…we really like you and your staff and you’re one of the schools we’re seriously considering.”

POSSIBLE TRANSLATION:

“We’re not coming to your program unless these three other possibilities fall apart, but you’re a really nice coach so we don’t want to hurt your feelings by having to tell you ‘no’ directly.”

As you move through the process, you may hear something like this given to you as feedback by your recruit.  What I want to tell you is that they aren’t telling their top school this…just you.  And that’s a problem.

The later the recruiting process goes, the more you need to assume that your prospect is not being truthful with you.  I hate to be so negative, but it’s for your own good…more coaches are suckered in to that feedback from their recruits and end up getting jilted at the end when they say yes to your conference rival (the one that’s closer to home, of course) than get word that after careful and measured consideration, you are the program that they’re choosing.

If you hear this kind of feedback as the recruiting year gets later and later into the calendar, you need to start asking your recruits – and their parents – some serious questions: What is it that you’re thinking about?  What are the one or two big questions that you still have in your mind when it comes to my program our the college?  Look for things that they’re unsure about, or need more details on…or, get them to admit that your program is a long shot, and determine that it’s probably going to be a “no” (because in our experience in tracking lots of recruiting conversations for our clients, you’ll get the same answer three months from now as you did when you press for an answer today).

Those three scenarios aren’t an exhaustive list, of course, but it’s a good representation as to what we hear prospects telling coaches, when they mean something completely different.

We just want to make sure you’re looking at your recruiting list – and every prospect on it – with complete accuracy and honestly.  To do that, you need to intelligently interpret their “recruit-speak” into real world feedback that you can use to make important decisions for your program.

Why Your Prospect Avoids Fear (and What To Do About It When You’re Recruiting Them)Monday, September 30th, 2013

When I was a Sophomore in high school, I had this bad habit of hiding my algebra homework under the desk in my room so I wouldn’t have to do it.  Immature, yes.  Self-destructive?  Mr. Grayson tried to make that case a few times.  And yet, I did it.  Over and over again.

Before I could fly to visit clients today, I had to submit to various levels of security checks from the wonderful folks at the TSA.  I’ve been patted, scanned, swabbed, and questioned.  I’ve been asked if I have any liquids in my carry-on, and if I remembered to remove my belt before walking through the scanner. Over and over again.

Do you have an insurance policy?  Do you get an annual check-up?  Do you get a little nervous when a Friday the 13th rolls around?

It’s all about our fear of fear.  Understand what I’m saying:  When I was foolishly avoiding my algebra homework, it wasn’t a fear of math that I was suffering from.  Avoiding the homework was a preventing me from fearing the test and my impending D+ in algebra class.  Insane line of thinking, right?

(Lets forget for a moment that a lot of coaches I’ve talked to over the years are reluctant to press their prized number one recruit for a final decision because they don’t want to hear “no”, even though it’s likely that the non-response from that recruit clearly signals that a “no” is only a matter of time.  Not that different from my irrational fear of my algebra homework, is it?)

Now, let’s apply this to your prospects:

If you’ve had us on your campus anytime in the past few years, you know that one of the big things we try to make coaches understand about this generation of college recruits is that they have a fear of making the wrong decision.  They are scared of saying the wrong thing to you during a phone call, scared to commit to an unofficial visit, and scared to answer your phone call.

They, like you perhaps, have a fear of fear.  They’ll avoid an honest conversation with you to avoid the fear of saying something wrong.  Insane line of thinking, right?

That’s who you’re recruiting, Coach.  That’s why your prospect avoids fear, and why it’s sometimes so hard for you to do your job as a recruiter.

With that in mind, here are a few key principles we see working well for programs around the country that we get the chance to assist as clients:

  • Always focus on their feeling of being fearful.  It’s not actual facts that your prospect is scared about…it’s the feeling of being scared that they’re trying to avoid.  So, if you’re a recruiter who is focusing on selling your facility or last year’s record as a way of overcoming that fear that’s ingrained in the mind of your prospect, you’re going to struggle.  Instead, address the question of why they are feeling scared about something – making an early decision, visiting campus, returning your phone call.  That’s the secret, Coach…focus on the feeling that’s creating the fear.
  • Ask them what scares them most about the whole recruiting process.  Logically, if they have an irrational fear that needs to be discussed as a part of the recruiting process, who is more equipped to lead that conversation: You, or the teenage recruit?  (If you chose the teenage recruit, go back to the beginning of the article).  Of course you have to lead that conversation!  And it starts by asking them the question that most coaches don’t think to bring up: “What scares you the most about the idea of choosing a college program?”
  • Put fear on the table, and tell them what you think they’re thinking.  Tell them what you see them being scared about, and see if they agree with you or not.  It’s easier for them to react to a statement about what you think they’re thinking, than it is for them to tell you what they’re thinking.  Confusing and a little sad, yes.  But we find it to be true, so use it to your advantage.

There is a lot that’s tough for us to outline exactly what you should do when it comes to this fact about their fear, because so much of it revolves around the core principles your coaching staff chooses to adopt.  For example, I can’t tell you whether or not it’s time to press this year’s #1 recruit…maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t.

The point is, fear is driving everything that your prospect does during the recruiting process.  How you react to that fact will determine how successful you are with this generation.

There’s no reason for not having a will, other than to avoid thinking about death.  Applying that truth to how your recruits are reacting to your invitation to come visit campus – and how you change your message – is going to be more and more important with this generation of teenage prospects.

Preventing Prospects From Giving You the “Right” AnswerSunday, June 16th, 2013

The danger for coaches in asking their prospects questions lies completely in the answers they receive back.

Very often, those answers guide the coach down the wrong path as they look to recruit student-athletes (and their parents) by formulating what are, on the surface, perfectly reasonable questions.

“What are your academic goals are in college?”

“What do you think makes up a good college athletic experience?”

“Why do you want to compete at this next level?”

Why are these, and questions like them, so dangerous for a serious recruiter?  Simple:

Your prospect will likely give you the right answer – with the same mindset that they use when bubbling-in an answer on a multiple choice test.

By “right”, I mean the correct answer.  The answer that they think a smart student-athlete would give.  The answer that isn’t going to make waves, will let them go on to the next question, and continue on until they pass your test.  That is, by the way, what most of your student-athletes view your questions as…it’s a test, something that they have to get through so they can keep moving on through the process.

And so, when you ask questions incorrectly, you’ll risk getting standard answers such as “My academic goals in college are to be the best I can be while competing in sports…”  Or, “I think a good athletic experience in college would consist of a proper balance of academics and athletics…”  Or, “I want to compete at the next level because I want to challenge myself and make myself the best I can be…”

The answers sound wonderful, but are they genuine?  Have you gained any real knowledge by getting those answers?

Are you noticing, Coach, that you’ll finish a 30-minute phone call with a prospect that is filled with lots of questions and reasonably good answers, and feel like you really didn’t learn anything new about your prospect or move the process forward in any tangible way?

If the answer is yes, you’re starting to understand what I mean by getting the “right” answer.

You don’t want the right answer, Coach…you should be aiming for the insightful answers.  The answers that they stumble through, and have to start over and explain.  The answers they have to think about in order to verbalize to you.  Remember those times you really connected with a prospect, and felt like you got really good insights into what kind of a person they’d be if they were on your team?  I’ll bet that their answers were conversational and a little disjointed as they tried to verbalize it to you.  THAT is the type of answer you should be looking for every single time.

So, how do you create the best environment for bypassing their “right” answers, and get inside their head to get to the good stuff that they’re holding back?  Here are some key suggestions I’d recommend:

  • Eliminate “yes” and “no” questions.  Quite a few of you have read our recruiting guides that outline some of the basics of how to ask effective questions, but for the rest of you I want to set this as a good foundation: Never, ever, ask questions that set-up a “yes” or “no” response from your recruit.  As adults, we’ll be asked a question that could garner a yes or no response, and have the mental sophistication to expand on that answer and give our reasons for answering the way we did.  Most teenagers, on the other hand, will keep their responses as short as possible in an effort to not say anything embarrassing or too revealing (according to our research and focus groups, this is especially true at the beginning of the recruiting process).  This problem has an easy fix: Don’t ask yes-no questions.
  • Focus on the process.  By focusing your questions on the recruiting process itself, and how they will be figuring out how they’ll be making their decision, you’ll stand an excellent chance of getting truthful, insightful answers.  It’s determining the process that actually can lead to developing a strategy for how to recruit that particular prospect based on his or her particular needs.  For example, if you discover that they plan on making their decision within the next three months because they don’t want to drag out the recruiting process, you know that your recruiting approach needs to be completely different than if you had the next year and half to tell your story and recruiting them over an extended period of time.  That’s the benefit of focusing your questions on the process…they are the questions they feel best equipped to answer honestly.
  • Develop one or two follow-up questions that demand honesty.  Once you ask a question, be ready with one or two questions that force your recruit to answer more in depth.  They won’t want to initially, which is why you’ll need to press them with some tough follow-up questions.  For example, if they gave you the answer we used as an example earlier, ”I think a good athletic experience in college would consist of a proper balance of academics and athletics”, two logical follow-up questions might be, “That’s interesting…so how would you describe a situation that was out of balance for a college athlete?”  And then, “So what are you going to be looking for when you visit campuses that might tip you off to a bad situation that would be out of balance?”  When they answer, you may get an idea of what kind of work ethic they’ll be bringing to your program, as well as how you can construct a campus visit that would address some of the specific items on their mental checklist.  Notice, however, that you only get that really good information in the follow-up questions.  If you don’t ask them, they aren’t likely to tell you.
  • Include the parents (especially early on).  It amazes me that some coaches still have reluctance to ask parents questions early on in the process.  If you are a coach that is holding on to the idea that you are recruiting the athlete and not his or her parents, you are swimming against the tide that is this generation and their reliance on mom and dad as trusted advisors through the recruiting process.  This generation of student-athlete wants and expects their parents to be involved in the conversation, and many times they’d prefer if mom and dad answered some of the initial questions you have.  I strongly suggest a healthy mix of questions for the parents as well as the prospect, and take the time to ask parents what they are expecting from you as a coach over the coming months.  Set yourself apart as a coach who wants them involved, and as someone who is putting value into developing a relationship with them.

Here’s what to do next: Reformulate your questions to include the ideas we’ve listed above, and start asking them to this next class of prospects.  What I predict you will discover are better, more in-depth, and more honest answers that give you the tools you need to create more individualized recruiting approaches for each prospect.

This generation of student-athlete and their parents differ greatly from those that you may have previously recruited.  Failure to adjust the way you communicate with them will likely make convincing them to come to your college a failed effort, as well.

Want a more personalized assessment of what you and your athletic department need to do to address objections and answer questions for this next class of recruits?  Dan and his team of experts is ready to help: Ask us about becoming a client or hosting an On-Campus Workshop by emailing him directly at dan@dantudor.com.

7 Critical Things Your Prospect Presentation Absolutely NeedsTuesday, March 5th, 2013

“Presentation” might be the wrong word, actually.

As a college recruiter, you don’t give recruting “presentations” in the same way that a business sales professional might give a sales presentation to a new prospective client.  And if you are doing it that way, prepare to have a long, painful life as a struggling college recruiter.

There are fundamental differences in what you want to do as a college coach trying to connect with a teenage with their prospect, especially when it comes to the reasons they are making their decision on what coach – and what program – is the best fit for them.

But that being said, “presentation” is the best word that I could come up with, because it really wraps in all the elements of the process that you use to recruit a student-athlete.  We’re not just talking about the opportunities you have to go into a prospect’s home and talk to them about competing for you and your program, or hosting them on campus as a part of an unofficial or official visit

“Presentations” can include a lot more:

  • The letters and emails that you write…that’s part of your presentation.
  • The phone calls that you make…that’s part of your presentation.
  • What is said about your school or you online…that’s part of your presentation.
  • When a prospect comes to visit your campus…that’s a part of your presentation.

You can’t overlook one area of your overall presentation and expect success.  Especially when it comes to the top athletes you really, really want for your program.

So in looking at programs we work with, and see what they do right on a consistent basis, here’s my list of the 7 things YOU need in your recruiting presentation if you’re looking for an added degree of success with your next recruiting class:

  1. Develop a belief in your school and your program. It pains me when I hear a coach tell me privately that he or she doesn’t think their school can compete with others in their conference.  What you absolutely need as a part of your overall recruiting presentation is a heart-felt belief that your school, your program – and you as a coach – are the best option for your recruit.  Assume that you are going to sign the athlete when you first start talking to them.  Today’s prospects want to compete for coaches who are confident (not cocky, confident).  If you don’t display passion about you and your program, don’t expect them to be passionate about the idea of coming to compete for you.
  2. Focus on helping them reach their objectives. Not sell your school.  Not brag about your program.  Not show off your new building.  Help connect the dots and show them how you (and your school, and your program, and maybe even the new building) will help them reach their athletic and academic objectives.  An easy way to make sure you’re doing this is by taking a look at each facet of your recruiting process and explain how whatever you do helps your recruit reach their objective.  “But Dan, what if I don’t know what their objective in college is?”  Ask.
  3. Tell them you have some ideas on how to help them. Do you know how original you’d be if you would just come to them with tangible ideas for them instead of bullet-pointed athletic department brochures?  Kids will always stay engaged if you give yourself away and get them to connect with you through ideas about them.  Not you, them.
  4. Try to ask one amazing question at the beginning of each new type of contact.One for your first letter, your first email, your first phone call, and when you first meet.  I’m talking about a question that makes them stop and really think about the answer before they give it to you.  Whenever you ask a question they haven’t been presented with before, that’s a sign of a great presentation.
  5. Don’t “need” the recruit. Prospects and their parents have become increasingly adept at sniffing out desparation, and it’s not something that they view favorably.  If you find yourself “pressing” for prospects – especially at the end of your recruiting cycle – then you need more prospects.  We have a coach we’ve worked with for several years who is heading into these upcoming months with nine prospects that are “A” rated recruits.  They only need to sign two this year.  Two years ago, their list was 1/3 the size it is now.  Do like they did and assess your needs and make adjustments in the numbers so that you aren’t begging at the end.
  6. Ask for the sale. If you’ve taken part in one of our famous On-Campus Workshops at your school, you know this is a familiar mantra we preach to college recruiters.  You’re recruiting them for a reason: You want them to play for you.  So, once you know in your heart that they’d be perfect for you – and you’re ready to hear a “yes” from them and follow-up with all the commitments that come along with possibly hearing that answer – ask them to commit.  Even if they say “no, not yet,” they’ll remember you as a coach that is passionate about them and that wants them for their team.  You might even be surprised when you get that immediate “yes!” from a prospect you really want….if you consistently ask.
  7. Be 100% focused 100% of the time. Are you smiling and confident?  Your prospect is watching. Are you and your staff wearing school polo shirts?  Your prospect is watching. Are you prepared for their visit and engaged with them individually, or are you thinking about what went wrong at practice yesterday?  Your prospect is watching. They are judging you as much as they are judging your school and your program.  Every part of your interaction with them matters, Coach.  Pay attention to the details and stay focused.

Now that you have my list, here’s a quick mental homework assignment I’d love for you to invest the next five minutes in doing: What three or four things can you do right away to improve your overall recruiting presentation?  Write down those changes on a card or piece of paper, and put it up on your wall in your office.  Don’t take it down until you’ve followed your own advice and made those changes to your presentation.

Those seven guiding principles can help you form the basis for a really effective recruiting presentaiton, which will help you make a big impact on this next recruiting class you’re starting to contact.

Do you have questions for Dan?  Email him directly at dan@dantudor.com.

Curing Your Prospect’s Analysis ParalysisMonday, January 7th, 2013

You’ve heard of “analysis paralysis”, right?

It’s the term we use when someone over-analyzes a question, situation or choice so long that he or she is “paralyzed” with the inability to decide what to do.  As a coach, you’ve had moments of analysis paralysis, right?

So do your prospects.

Especially as the recruiting process enters the final stages.  The fun of being pursued is over, and now it’s decision time.  And making a final choice is tough for many prospects.  Heck, it may happen way before the end of the process…some prospects freeze in the face of the decision of where to take a campus visit, or even which phone call to return.  ”Analysis paralysis” is at the root of a lot of the recruiting hurdles college coaches face when it comes to getting their recruits to get to the next step in the recruiting process.

If you want a more detailed, psychological study explaining the reasons behind the very real phenomenon that is analysis paralysis, click here.  But if you’re ready to jump into a strategy that will provide you with a good opportunity to help your prospect (and their parents) overcome paralysis analysis, let’s get started.

First, understand that the fear of moving forward is going to be commonplace for most of your prospects.  While you’ve been through the recruiting process multiple times, your prospect and his or her family are trying to maneuver through unfamiliar territory for the first time.  And the easiest thing to do when they reach that fork in the road in the process (“what campus should I visit?”…”which coach do I like the best?”…”who is giving me the best offer?”) is do nothing.  You should expect it, and plan for it.

Secondly, understand that you – and only you – can take control and help manage the process and lead your prospect out of the morass of inaction, and begin moving towards a decision.

Thirdly, regarding their decision: It could be “no”.  And as I’ve talked about before, hearing that answer earlier rather than later in the recruiting process is always preferred.  One of the things I often mention to coaches while getting the opportunity to train them during one of our On-Campus Workshops is that I take a “real world” approach to the recruiting process, and the philosophies that should guide it.  That includes taking a realistic approach towards understanding exactly where you stand in the eyes of a recruit, and doing so as early as possible.  Getting a “no” early and having months (rather than days) to pivot and adjust your recruiting strategy effectively, based on the scenarios I’ve seen play out recently in our work with our clients.

So, assuming you’re agreeing with my observations so far, let me offer you a few ways we’ve seen work well in moving your recruit out of “analysis paralysis” and back onto the road towards making a decision (hopefully one that is favorable to you and your program):

  • Be direct. If you’ve been your normal sensitive, polite self to this point in the communication process, I’d want to see you change your approach and be more direct.  By “direct”, I mean short and to the point.  There needs to be a noticeable difference in your tone and approach in an effort to subconsciously let them know that they are entering a new phase of the recruiting process, one that will require a new sense of urgency.
  • Present an assumption. In other words, in an effort to get them to say something (anything!), throw out a statement that they will need to either confirm or deny.  This was a strategy we recommended to a D1 lacrosse coach who is our client: The coach had been waiting for a recruit’s answer on a scholarship offer for months, and together we wanted to find out where this recruit stood with regards to our client’s program.  The question had our coach ask was “so, it looks like we’re #3 on your list at this point, right?”  Of course, we were hoping the athlete would tell our coach, “Oh, no Coach…you’re my top choice.”  However, the athlete finally confirmed what we had assumed: Our coach’s program was the #3 choice in the recruit’s mind, but didn’t want to hurt their feelings and tell them that they weren’t going to go there.  Disappointing news?  Absolutely.  But it moved the process forward in a way where our client could then adjust their strategy with their next three recruits that they had waiting in the wings.  None of it would have happened had the coach not presented an assumption, and then let the prospect react to it.
  • Set a fair but firm deadline, and explain why you have to do that. It’s an interesting thing about this generation of recruits: If you are the one asking them for a decision, they tend to look at it as “pressure”.  If you can find another outside reason (your admissions department, your head coach, the athletic administration) that you are being “forced” to move the process along at this point, their reaction is much more accommodating.  All of a sudden, they’ll open up…they’ll reveal what they’re really thinking…and they’ll take the next step in the process.  The key to this is setting a fair but firm deadline, and explaining why you are having to do that.  The deadline should be a few weeks out so that it doesn’t seem like you are “pressuring” them, but once the deadline is in place, you need to keep it.  No answer from your prospect translates into “we’ve got to move in a different direction” from you and your program.  This recommendation is one of the most effective tactics to shake a recruit and their parents from analysis paralysis, especially later in the process.

The analysis paralysis phenomenon is real.  It happens when we look at real estate, it happens when we consider buying a car (which is why the salesman tries so desperately to get you into that little room inside the dealership…if they don’t, they know you’ll stay “paralyzed” out in the parking lot) and it happens with your recruits and their parents during the recruiting process.

You have some power to change their thinking, Coach.  Don’t waste it!

4 Winning Voicemail Strategies for College RecruitersMonday, October 22nd, 2012

There’s an epidemic happening around the country this time of year, and we’re hearing about it on a daily basis from college coaches who are concerned that they’re losing a crucial battle in the war for their top recruits: Voicemails.

They are a way of life for college coaches trying to compete for the attention of distracted, overly-contacted prospects who (as most of you know by now) don’t like talking on the phone in the first place.  And, because of this, most coaches are stepping up to the plate with two strikes against them.

So, with that in mind, how are you going to succeed with those odds stacked against you?  Most importantly, how are you and your program going to set your message apart from all of the other messages your prospects are receiving from your competitors?  What are you really saying when you leave a prospect a voicemail?  Anything worthwhile?  Informative?  Interesting?  Or, is it the same old, “hey, sorry I missed you, give me a call…”

And what about when they call you? What are they hearing in your message?  Anything worthwhile?  Informative?  Interesting?  Or is the same old, “This is Coach So-and-so, and you’ve reached my voicemail…”  Original and memorable?  Not by today’s teen standards, I’m afraid.

It’s time to take a new approach with your voicemail messages, and make them an effective part of your recruiting strategy.  Here are four ideas on exactly how it can happen the next time you find yourself leaving a voicemail for a recruit:

  1. Ask a question, promise the answer later. Make it a question that would mean something to your recruit.  Make it compelling, and make it interesting.  There are lots of interesting facts and things that would probably be of interest to a recruit.  The key here is to ask a question that they aren’t hearing from every other coach talking to them, and then promise the answer when you get the chance to talk later.  You want to leave them thinking about the answer to the question you just posed, giving them another thing to talk to you about.  Keeping you on their mind after they hang up the phone is the goal here, and the great thing about this strategy is that it works when you’re leaving a message OR when people listen to your voicemail message when they call you (if you are TCS Client, and need help developing a specific question for a specific recruit, contact us).
  2. Make your message short and sweet. Long, drawn-out voicemail messages cause the listener’s mind to wander.  You should keep your incoming and outgoing voicemail messages short – 35 words or less, if possible.  To make sure you stay within that guideline, its not a bad idea to write-out your message the same way you would write out notes for a speech.  When you do that, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how interesting and creative your voicemail messages can become.  Plus, keeping your message short and sweet will ensure that your message is received loud and clear by your prospect and their family (and everyone else that listens to it).
  3. Create curiosity. This is going to be one of the natural byproducts of shortening your voicemail messages, because you won’t overload your prospect with so much information that they lose track of what they’re supposed to do in replying to you.  By “creating curiosity”, I’m recommending that you hold back on telling them everything in your voicemail message.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the less you tell them about why you’re calling them, the more likely it will be that they will call you to ask you for more information.  We’ve recommended that strategy for years, and it works:  Don’t leave all of the information on your voicemail message.
  4. Never leave a message on a Monday or a Friday. Messages left on a Friday afternoon are the least likely to be returned.  Monday’s are most people’s busiest day – for both your prospects and their parents – so only high priority calls are going to get returned (maybe you’re high priority, maybe you’re not).  The ideal times to call your prospects are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  Weekends are fine if you’re established in your relationship with your prospect.  Just remember that when you call your prospect will determine how likely it is you will get your prospect live on the phone, as well as the liklihood that you’ll get a returned call in the event you end up leaving that creative voicemail we just described.

Is there more to master when it comes to the art of leaving great voicemail messages?  Of course…being able to communicate effectively is as much art as it is science.  These strategies are a good start, but there’s more – much more – that you can do to become better when it comes to leaving great voicemail messages.

If you’ve hosted one of our On-Campus Workshops on your campus anytime in the last few years, remember the way we described this generation of recruits as “fearful” when approaching the recruiting process.  Look back at the notes from the workshop, as well as your athlete focus group survey, for additional information you can use to develop your overall communication strategy – including effective voicemails.

 

Are You Understanding What Your Prospects Are Thinking?Friday, August 31st, 2012

Let me start with telling you something you probably (hopefully) already know:

Your prospects think differently than you do. I point this out because a surprising number of coaches that I talk to don’t realize it, and it’s killing their chances at being effective recruiters.

As a college coach, you get really concerned with your facility, your field, your court, and other “stuff” as you build-out your recruiting story for your prospects.  It needs to be bigger, better, and more modern to get the best athletes, right?  And, you need more money, too.  Otherwise, you can’t get the best recruits to come to your campus.

Wrong. In the majority of cases, that kind of thinking is flat-out wrong.

I can tell you that with 100% certainty because we’ve had the chance to personally interview hundreds and hundreds of your student-athletes over the years.  They’ve told us how they make their final decision, and what matters most to them.  And in the end, if you look at the data, it’s obvious that your prospects have different priorities than you do.  They value things differently than you do.  They think differently than you do.

Here are some of the most common examples:

  • They think how you treat them and communicate with them is more important than what your weight room looks like. Personal relationships rank higher than the stuff you have on your campus, time after time.
  • They think the way your team treats them during their campus visit will tell them if your campus makes them feel wanted. If your team doesn’t make them feel welcome, the prospect will almost NEVER sign with your school.  You can take that to the bank, Coach.
  • They think their parents are very important to the decision making process. This generation have given their parents the power to act as manager and agent.  If you aren’t recruiting the parents at the same time you recruit the athlete, you are making it harder on yourself than you may realize.
  • They think that you talk too much during your phone calls. Nothing personal, Coach, but if you’re doing most of the talking during a half-hour phone call with a prospect, you aren’t doing anything to help you in signing that prospect.  More time talking does not equal more interest from the prospect.
  • They think your letters and emails that promote your school are too bland, and too much about you. Most coaches start selling their school and their program (and themselves) way too soon in the process, without establishing a relationship first.
  • They think it’s great when you talk to them consistently. Don’t spill everything out at once.  Use a slow drip method to communicate.  A little bit at a time, time after time after time.  And like I just mentioned, make it more about getting to know them rather than selling yourself right away.
  • They think its GREAT when you write them personal, hand-written letters and post cards.
    They’ll read every word of a hand-written note you send to them.  They understand that hand-written notes take more of your time, which they think means you put a higher value on them than other recruits.
  • They think you give them too much to do during a campus visit. Cut out some of the meetings with department heads (if you were 17, would you really want to meet a department head?).  Cut out the non-stop meetings that rush them from place to place.  They think it would be great if you would slow down the pace of the visit and let them spend more time getting to know you and your team in a relaxed setting.

Are there exceptions to these rules?  Sure.  But I’ll guarantee you that more of the majority of the prospects you are recruiting, this is what they are thinking.

So now that you know what they’re thinking, let me throw out the big question: How does it change the way you will communicate with them and recruit them?

Here are some quick tips:

  • Simplify your communication with them.  Be more direct and to the point.  That’s what they want.
  • Along with simplifying your communication, develop a plan to communicate consistently and effectively.
  • Make it personal and focused on them.  Make it less about you and your school, especially as you begin to communicate with them.
  • Overhaul your campus visit.  Make it shorter and more relaxed.  Give them more time with your team, less time with Professor Schnizlehoeffer in the English department or the grumpy lady in admissions with the 45-minute PowerPoint presentation.

Now’s the time to start matching your communication with what your prospects are thinking, Coach.  Once you do, recruiting is going to get a lot easier.


 

Six Strategies for Making the Most of Personal Recruiting VisitsMonday, August 6th, 2012

Whether it’s on your campus, or in their home, a personal visit is number one on your prospect’s list for determining if your program is the right one for them.  Our ongoing focus group research on campuses around the country rates the face-to-face communication you have with a prospect will determine what kind of chances you have at signing them to play at your school.

So, once you get in front of them, what’s your strategy?

What do you need to do to prepare for the visit, and make sure that its successful in leading the athlete seriously committing to your school?

Here’s a list of seven things you need to make sure you have as you head to your face-to-face meeting with the prospect you really want to sign for this upcoming class:

1. Print out their personal and athletic information as you develop your strategy. Google your prospect’s name, as well as their parents names.  Look them up on Facebook, and see if they have a Twitter account.  Many coaches, in an effort to get an idea of what the family’s financial situation is, look up house values on zillow.com.  Get all of his or her information in one place – what you’ve printed from the web, the questionnaire that they filled-out, the transcript…everything.  If you use a recruiting web management tool like Front Rush, you can organize all of these documents for each athlete online, as well.  Go in prepared with everything you can find on them.  These are the pages that frame your ideas for how your your program are best for your prospect.  Use this info to create an individual approach for each prospect.

2. Be prepared to find out, and talk to, the real decision makers. Just because you’re talking to the prospect doesn’t mean you are talking to the primary decision maker.  If you are a Division III coach,  I can guarantee you that in most cases, the parents are heavily involved in making the final decision (after all, they are paying for it!).  Are you a Division I coach?  Guess what: The parents are heavily involved in that decision, too.  It might be their dream to have all those travel teams and club practices pay off with a big D1 scholarship.  My point is this: Make sure you get a personal meeting with EVERY decision maker involved.

3. Come up with at least five non-sport questions to ask your prospect. Be curious, and show them that you’re really interested in digging in to what makes them tick beyond athletics.  For example, you might ask “What kind of schedule do you have to keep focused on to earn a 4.2 grade point average?”  Or, “How in the world did you have time to volunteer at a hospital and also play three sports?”  Be amazed in front of them, and make it all about them. This will give you an opportunity to create meaningful dialog with the prospect and – more importantly – connect with them in an area beyond just sports.

4. Have two ideas that the prospect will benefit from. Something that they’ll get that’s meaningful for them by signing with your program.  Most coaches ignore this aspect of their recruiting conversations with prospects, and don’t bring enough ideas to their recruits. If you bring an idea to your on-campus meeting or visit to their home, it shows you’ve prepared, and it shows you have genuine interest in helping them with big picture ideas.

5. Bring your laptop or iPad, and make sure it has Internet capability. This gives you the ability to access any information you need in seconds.  Sounds basic, I know, but a laptop computer should be part of your aresenal for any home visit.  “But my school doesn’t provide me with a free laptop or tablet.”  Then plan on purchasing your own.  This is your coaching and recruiting career, and it’s your responsibility to give yourself the tools you need to be successful.  If you don’t have one already, get a laptop, iPad or other type of tablet and start using it to help you be a dominant recruiter.

6. Have written or video testimonials to support EVERY claim you make about your program. Keep those testimonials handy on your laptop or tablet. This will enable you to show and PROVE, not just show and tell. Video testimonials are easier than ever: You don’t need expensive equipment, and you don’t have to be a technology expert to put together a great personalized view of your program through they eyes and words of your current team.  Having other people back-up your claims in their own words.  It’s powerful, Coach.

Can I wrap-up this list by telling you what your overall goal should be for a personal visit with your prospect?  Here it is, Coach:  Show them the value in your program, not the sales pitch as a college recruiter. Be prepared to show the recruit how they gain and succeed from committing to your school.

Looking for more resources as a serious college recruiter?  We’ve got a number of resources that have proven to be helpful tools for coaches.  Visit our online resource center here.

 

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