Dan Tudor

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October 29th, 2012

Why Your Prospect Needs a Deadline, and How to Give It

Many college coaches don’t understand how it could happen.

They’re recruiting a prospect, being a consummate professional in how they treat the athlete.  They answer questions quickly, call on a regular basis to chat, and don’t put any “pressure” on their young recruit when it comes to making a final decision.

“Take your time”, you say, “look at all your options, and let me know if you have any questions.”  How could a prospect resist such low-pressure, friendly professionalism, right?

And then it happens:

They visit another college campus, and the opposing coach gives them a deadline.  They call you and say, “Sorry, Coach, but I had to make a decision within 24 hours or they were going to pull my offer and give it to someone else.  So, I committed to them.”

“But I wanted to let you know that you were my favorite.  I liked talking to you a lot.”

What the????

Welcome to the wonderful world of deadlines.  Increasingly, with this generation of student-athlete recruits, setting the right kind of deadline can determine whether or not you get the prospect you really want.  And, like the scenario we painted at the start of the article, any kind of deadline – even bad deadlines that are unfair for the prospect – sometimes are needed to move a recruit towards making a final decision.

The problem is, of course, that deadlines are an inexact science: What works with one prospect in one situation may not work with your next prospect and their unique situation.  So, with that in mind, the advice that we are going to give you needs to be customized to each recruit’s individual situation and personality.

There are a few key general rules that we can suggest as guiding principles for college coaches to follow as they formulate an answer to the increasingly tricky question of why and how to give a prospect a deadline for making a recruiting decision:

Why give them a deadline?  It prompts action. We pay our taxes by April 15th because of a deadline.  People line-up at 3am on Black Friday to grab huge discounts for the first three hours of the after Thanksgiving sale.  Every week, our staff has to put our newsletter out in time for delivery early Tuesday morning to 49,000 subscribers.  Deadlines prompt action.

Your prospect needs the same kind of prompt, much of the time.  They need a “because” (if you really want to understand the psychology behind this important point, click here for an in-depth article on the topic).  Your deadline can act as that important motivator to take action.

The athletes that need a deadline tend to fit into, but is certainly not limited to, one of three common scenarios:

  1. Your recruit is at the end of their visit schedule and is considering a number of schools, and can’t seem to make a decision (“I just need some more time to think about it, Coach”)
  2. Your recruit is waiting for their “dream school” to make an offer, and is delaying making a decision to compete for you until they are sure that other offer isn’t going to appear.
  3. Your recruit is leaning towards your program, and seems to be a great fit, but is fearful of making their final decision and officially ending the process (if you have been a part of one of our On-Campus Workshops with your athletic department, think back to the “fear” psychology that we find guiding this generation of recruits…what are you doing to calm those irrational fears, Coach?)

For these types of prospects, setting a fair deadline (more on what exactly constitutes “fair” in a minute), and giving them logical reasons as to why they should heed your deadline, is essential from time to time to earn action from your recruit.

How should you issue a deadline?  Be fair, but firm. We’ve helped our clients create deadlines for just about every situation one could imagine, and in nearly every instance what has benefited a coach is setting a deadline with a long horizon deadline.  In other words, the longer you can give a recruit, the better.  And, make that deadline fair (plenty of time to decide), but firm (on “x” date, we’ll need to have another recruit who is next on our list take your place).

Understand that when I say a “long horizon deadline” or “plenty of time to decide”, I mean that you need to start talking about a general timeline for making a final decision as early as possible in the recruiting process.  For example, if you are recruiting Juniors as you read this article, you should be getting them used to the idea of making their decision by a certain general time of the year – by early next Fall, the end of January, before August 20th.  Something that gives them a firm date long in advance of making a decision.  When you commit to doing that, you will find that your prospects will view it as “fair” and “low pressure” because you’ve given them months, in some cases, to know the date.  Contrast that with a coach who suddenly sets a deadline of a week, 48 hours, or some other shorter timeframe.  That’s when the feeling of “pressure” occurs, and you want to avoid that whenever possible.

Oh, but what about that scenario I painted for you at the beginning of the article?  If recruits don’t want pressure, and generally will say they don’t want to be faced with a deadline that is sooner rather than later, why do coaches who issue such deadlines often see prospects who respond to those deadlines in a positive way?  Great question.  Here’s the answer, and it’s crucial to understand and remember: Because in the absence of other deadline options, such as your reasonable “long horizon” deadline we just discussed, they will often respond to the coach who gives them any kind of plan for how to make this once-in-a-lifetime, difficult decision.  So, if you choose to be the coach that offers a fair, long horizon deadline, the other coach’s pressure tactics will be more often viewed as extreme and unfair by your recruit.  You come out looking like a caring professional, they come across as being unreasonable and high-pressure.

One last note on this item: When you set a deadline, keep it.  Once you break a deadline and give your prospect more time or promises of a better offer to help persuade them to choose you, a coach risks ALL credibility – not only with that recruit, but with any other recruit or coach that has contact with that athlete.  Coaches who don’t have a deep enough recruiting pool that they are contacting find it harder to set firm deadlines, so make sure you are contacting a lot of qualified recruits and developing relationships with them (easier, in our opinion, if you use this resource that lots of college coaches utilize to develop deeper recruiting pools).  If you need to stop recruiting an athlete after a deadline passes, it’s a lot easier to stay strong if you have nine other recruits at their position that you’ve developed relationships with; conversely, if they are your one and only hope at that position, and hearing a “no” would devastate your recruiting class, you will be more apt to wait, fudge on your deadline, and otherwise give that recruit complete control over the recruiting process.

Next week, in part two of this series on setting effective deadlines, I’ll explain when you should set a deadline.  Timing is everything, and deadlines don’t work in every situation, so make sure to read about this crucial next step in the process.

Deadlines, crafted effectively, can be the one little difference maker for a coach who is struggling with getting commitments from their top recruits.  If you’re a coach who doesn’t set deadlines, but sees the value in doing it, we’ve given you a solid set of guiding principles.

If you’re a coach who wants one-on-one help in creating an effective recruiting strategy – whether that involves setting deadlines or getting recruits to return your phone call – become a client of Tudor Collegiate Strategies.  We work with programs all over the country, and would love to discuss the option with you, too.  Put the power of research and expert communication to work for you now!  Email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com to set up a time to talk.

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