It hurts your eyes, doesn’t it?
It’s a visual overload. This fast food restaurant I drove past recently doesn’t know when to say when, when it comes to their menu.
They’ve used every available square inch of their available frontage to show nearly everything on their menu. From Philly Cheesesteak, to the Shrimp Basket Dinner, to Drinks with Crushed Ice, to Cones, to Burgers…it’s an avalanche of fried food mayhem.
Unfortunately, it resembles the approach that many college coaches take with their messages out to recruits, especially the messages at the start of the recruiting process. I’ve reviewed letters that cover everything from the number of majors their school offers, to the acreage of the campus, to the conference they play in (and that’s just in the first two paragraphs). I’ve reviewed emails from coaches that bounce from subject to subject without any kind of connection. I’ve listened in on phone calls that cover every topic under the sun on the first conversation.
In short, it looks quite a bit like this fast food message: A frantic, unfocused plea to like something about what’s being offered, even though it’s difficult to understand exactly what the specialty of that particular restaurant might be (other than frying stuff).
We’ve covered this topic before, of course. But let me give you some added ideas on what your prospects want from your initial messages – and how to make sure it comes across both loudly, and clearly:
- If possible, tell them where you saw them or how you found out about them. This seemingly obvious idea is mostly ignored by college coaches when they first reach out to a recruit. And yet, recruits tell us it’s one of the easiest ways for them to determine that you are serious about them initially. It gives them context for why you are reaching out to them, and – most importantly – why they should take the time to reply back to you.
- If possible, tell them what you like about them. I say “if possible” for these top two recommendations because I realize that sometimes you are recruiting from a list, or from a reputable recruiting database, and may not have detailed scouting notes in front of you when you reach out to your new prospect. However, if you do, use those notes. Be specific about two or three positives that you saw from their performance and from their information. It’s another important way to tell them that they are uniquely qualified, in your eyes, to be considered for your program. When coaches are able to include these first two points in their initial messages, it increases replies by almost a 3-to-1 margin versus a more generic, non-specific message.
- Less is more. In your initial message, the worst thing you can do is explain everything about your college, your program, and your team. If you want a response from your prospect, that is. That’s because our research clearly shows that recruits are most apt to respond out of curiosity instead of information. Be short, to the point, and leave room for their curiosity to take over.
- Be clear about what you want them to do next. And, narrow it down to just one thing. Make it simple (“reply back to my email before Friday”) versus complicated and time-intensive (“fill out our online questionnaire”). At the beginning of your communication with a prospect, your goal is a conversation, not a conversion. Aim to get a back-and-forth conversation going, and let the relationship (and their interest) build from there.
- Pick one main theme, and build your reputation around it. Do you ever notice that the great restaurants in your area usually focus on one thing that is done very, very well? The great Italian restaurant…the amazing seafood restaurant…there is always a single focus to their greatness. There’s a simplicity to it all. That is what more college coaches need to do: Pick one big idea that can gain the initial interest from a recruit, and build around it as the relationship grows. It could be your area, your academic prowess, the three straight conference championships that your team has won. Whatever it is, pick one thing and start there with your story. As time the conversation grows with your recruit, you’ll have time to get into the rest of what’s great about your college. But be patient, and don’t overload them with information right at the start.
You’ll notice in the picture of the restaurant above that some people are still going in to eat, despite the signage outside. It’s on a busy corner, so it’s almost impossible not to get people coming in to eat just by virtue of where it’s located. And, those people wandering in will probably leave feeling full. (Maybe even a little bloated).
But does the business stand out? Does the menu get talked about? Does the restaurant become a destination? Not likely.
You’re probably always going to be able to fill-out a roster and field a team. But without a clear message to your recruits, it’s going to be nearly impossible to bring in the difference makers that most college coaches crave.
Looking for help with developing a clearer, more focused messages to your recruits? Dan Tudor and the staff at Tudor Collegiate Strategies works with college coaches and their programs around the country on a personalized basis. To discuss your situation and how the program would work with you, email Dan Tudor directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.