The quick back story:
A few weeks ago, before we sent our daughter off for her freshman year at college, she got in an accident and totaled my wife’s car. She was fine, the car was not (and the Utz Potato Chip truck she rear-ended on a rainy day wasn’t doing to well, either).
So this past week, I’ve been car shopping. We’ve test driven, talked features, listened to sales pitches…you know the drill.
It was down to two brands, both of which were great cars with similar monthly payments. There was something she liked about both cars, as we talked and compared both afterwards, but ultimately decided on Brand #2. That’s when I volunteered to jump into action and go negotiate and take care of the paperwork that they swear is only going to take an hour, and then takes four hours. Got the car, she’s happy, and that should be the end of the story.
But it’s not. In fact, it’s at the same point in the story that thousands upon thousands of college coaches find themselves over and over and over again every recruiting cycle:
I haven’t called the other salesperson to tell him we went with the other car. Just like many recruits don’t call you when they’ve decided to accept an opportunity at a competitive program, I haven’t called the other sales professional who took the time to help us, and was incredibly nice, fair, and provided more information and a better line of discounts than Brand #1.
I haven’t told him. I’m feeling guilty, and yet it comes so naturally for me. Actually, it does for all of us. Avoidance is a common psychological hurdle most people face, in some form. I face it, you face it, and your prospects face it.
But enough about me. I’ve vowed I’ll tell him after I’m done writing this article, I promise. But if I sit back and reason with myself, and explore why I acted in this way, I come up with several points that seem to make sense to me on a very surface, human level…just like it makes sense for your recruits:
- I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Which is irrational, really. We have far less of a relationship to each other compared to you and the recruit you’ve gone to watch play five separate times, and sent birthday cards to. But somehow, it just seems simpler to not talk to him and let the whole thing drift away. But I’m a fairly nice person, and I know he’s a nice person, and I just don’t feel like giving him bad news. (Who does?)
- I don’t want to argue with him, or have him get angry with my decision. Sound familiar? That’s a common reason your recruits tell us they are hesitant to be truthful with the coaches who they don’t choose. I don’t think it’s malicious, but it is classic avoidance.
- My allegiance is now with the other brand. Like recruits, I didn’t invest emotionally (or financially) until the end, not during the process. Just like your recruits. Coaches emotionally invest in the idea of their recruits being in their program earlier rather than later; prospects invest in the idea of competing for their coach much, much later, not earlier. And once they do, they’re in 100% and aren’t that concerned with the previous considerations. Just like Dan, the car buyer.
But enough about your avoidance-loving recruits. Let’s focus on you, as a coach and as a recruiter, who has to deal with all of this for the sake of your job (and your sanity). Here’s what I’d recommend you do when you’re facing a student-athlete who is giving you the run around…or just avoiding giving you the decision they’ve already come to:
- Establish a timeline at the start of the process. Coach, that fixes so much of the problem. Outline when you see your program’s recruiting process wrapping up, outline for your recruit, and then ask him or her if that matches their timeline for making a decision. Come to an agreement. Leaving it open ended triggers those three actions I outlined above, and causes you stress.
- Assume they are hiding something. We’ve written research and training articles on ‘assuming’ before, but I want to zero in on a point I usually reserve for strategy sessions with our clients: I want you to assume that your prospects have information that they aren’t revealing to you. If you work on that assumption, and keep that as a primary working theory throughout your interactions with them, I think you’ll find that you’ll be much more inquisitive, and focus on questions that lead to them revealing their true feelings. Try it, Coach.
- Call them on it. Literally, call them. Or text them, if it’s still early in the process. But ask them, point blank, if they’re still moving forward with the idea of coming to school there and competing for you. Why is that? What do you want to see happen next in the process? What are you still trying to figure out about our campus and our program? What doesn’t seem like a good fit for you so far, as you’ve imagined yourself here? I’m a little surprised (and a little relieved) that the salesperson from Brand #1 hasn’t called me and asked me similar questions at this point. I’d actually be a little relieved if he opened the door and brought it up, frankly. Instead, I guess I have to be the one to do it. (And we see how that’s working out for him so far, right?) Lead the discussion, Coach. Your recruiting class depends on it.
We avoid tough conversations. It’s natural. But it can also be cataclysmic if you allow avoidance to dominate your recruiting strategy. Somebody has to lead, Coach, and I think it should be you as you prepare to recruit your next recruiting class.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do the right thing and email a really nice Subaru salesperson some bad news…
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