by Greg Carroll, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
A while back I was on the phone with a client and we were talking about a high value prospect he’d been recruiting for a few months and he really had no idea where he was in terms of gauging interest. All those things that would offer an easy indicator were coming through straight down the middle.
My advice to this coach was to never invite this recruit to a poker game!
The usual indicators of interest are obvious. You can hear the enthusiasm in their voice when you call and they immediately respond to your texts and emails. They’re now following you, your program, and members of your team on social media, and they’ve made an unofficial visit and walked out of the bookstore with a hat, shirt, and mug! But what can you look for when the signs are not so clear?
The short answer is to simply ask them. If you simply ask “Are you still considering our school” they’re likely going to simply say “yes”. But that alone isn’t going to tell you much. What you are really looking for is a sense for the depth of their interest. A better strategy is to ask open ended questions that open the door for you to follow up with “probing questions”. So, the conversation might go like this:
“Greg, I’m really enjoying the chance to get to know you and your family. It’s been terrific talking with you about your goals, our program, and where the two meet. I’m wondering what you’d like to see happen next?”
This open ended question forces a response in one direction or another and depending on their response you can fashion a follow up question. If the recruit says something like, “Coach, I think I’m good” that translates to they’ve heard enough to know that they are more attracted to some other school(s). On the other hand if they say “I’d really like to come for an official visit. Could we do that?” you know you’re tracking well. But if you don’t ask you won’t know.
The key is to always look for ways to ask open ended questions and then ask that follow up question. Location is always a factor in choice. If you’re recruiting someone a long way from your school that open-ended question would be “What about the idea of going to school so far from home is attractive to you?” On the other side, if you have a recruit who is struggling with the idea of going to school so close to home ask “Why do you think it would be hard to go to school close to home” and then the follow ups would be “give me an example” or “tell me more about that.”
Some other tactics you can consider:
- Since you are having trouble getting a clear picture ask them to talk in specifics. For example, ask them to tell you three things they like about your campus if they’ve visited. And also ask them about three things someone might not like about your campus (note, don’t ask them to be critical of your campus. Depersonalize it by asking them what someone else might struggle with). You can learn a lot by how quickly they come up with each. If they rattle off the likes quickly you’re probably in a good place.
- We all know that awkward silence that sits there after you ask someone a question that may be hard for them to answer. Resist the temptation to fill in that space with a comment. If you ask them “what would you like see happen next” and there’s silence, let it sit there. Force them to tell you something.
- So, you call them and they immediately put you on speaker. That means they’re really not engaged and not interested. End the call, shoot for a better time, and make a note about the call so it can be another measure of their ongoing interest. If it happens again, move on…
- If your recruit initiates contact with you with a question that’s terrific sign of interest. Even if the question represents a concern/objection that is a good sign. Their being critical means they are thinking deeply about you, trying to see themselves on your campus. If they’re not thinking critically they may have already taken you off their list.
- If you can’t get a reading from the recruit themselves, ask their parents and/or their coach. Parents like us to think their child is acting independently – but we know better! We know 92% of the recruits from our focus group surveys tell us they’re relying on parent input to make this decision. That’s another reason we URGE coaches to build relationships with parents early. They can be a great window into your recruit’s thoughts if they trust you. Their coach will usually be willing to offer insight on what the recruit is thinking and the same thing about building out that relationship. That’s why we provide our clients letters to each when we construct their monthly messaging.
- Pay attention to their body language. If you’re looking for tips on how to read body language check out Dan Tudor’s Podcast Number 99 where Dan takes an in depth look into the nuances of body language with Mark Bowden, who has written extensively about it.
- If you’ve been leading the charge with this recruit, let someone else take the lead for a session and see if they can crack the code! Better yet, have a member of your team who has connected on social media with the recruit or may know him/her from club play or high school reach out. The recruit may be looking at their relationship with you in a way that makes it difficult for them to be completely transparent (vulnerable ….)
We would all love to know what our recruits are thinking about us throughout the recruiting process. It would make everything else so easy. The best solution is to just ask them. But have some tactics in your pocket to deploy if still feel unsure about what step to take next.
Greg Carroll is a retired athletic director who now services the Northeastern U.S. as Regional Recruiting Coordinator, consulting with coaches to help them develop their strategy for communicating with recruits. To contact Greg, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.