That was one of several borderline-cheesy lines I was taught close to 30 years ago when I was in sales training for a large national business sales organization.
The company I was starting work for regularly had us demonstrate these rather large, complex office productivity machines that handled mail processing, folding and inserting, and parcel shipping systems. It was a normal part of the sales process, as it should have been. In the course of a demonstration, when something inevitably went wrong and the thing jammed, or wouldn’t start, or wouldn’t stop, instead of panicking and apologizing all over ourselves in front of a potential buyer, we were taught to smile and calmly say, “I’m glad that happened, Mr. Johnson.”
Now just for the record, whenever it happened, which seemed to be frequently, I wasn’t ‘glad’. I was somewhere in between really ticked-off and really embarrassed. But the point of the training was to move me, and the customer, passed the distraction of a mistake, and turn it into a teaching moment about how easy it is to correct the mistake within the system we were demonstrating to them. Essentially, it was a pre-programmed way for us as sales representatives to move past the incident as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
And, the vast majority of the time, it worked. Various system errors never seemed to get in the way of making the sales at the point when “Mr. Customer” had made the effort to see the demonstration for himself or herself.
Many college coaches I have encountered over the years would do well to use the same strategy.
After all, how many times have you intentionally avoided showing a recruit something you think is a negative mark against your program while they’re on campus?
Or hidden a potentially embarrassing fact about your college from your recruit?
Or having to come back and talk to a parent about paying slightly more than the school had originally estimated they would pay for their daughter to come play for you there?
Avoiding something negative, glossing over something that isn’t complimentary, or delivering bad news: All of those recruiting scenarios are real, and all of them need a strategy that rolls of your tongue smoothly and confidently. Not cheese-ily, confidently.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
The place on campus you don’t want to show them. It could be your locker room, it could be the old creepy-looking biology building, it could be your dorms that were last updated in 1978. Whatever the situation, avoiding it and hiding it from view of the recruit will usually come back to bite you: Either your competition will rat you out and paint you as dishonest (the most common), or your players will, or they’ll find out once they show up on campus and feel like they were betrayed.
Instead, launch into your own version of “I’m glad that happened, Mr. Customer” by prefacing any visit to those places I mentioned with, “A lot of college coaches would try to avoid this and just not show it to you, but I really want to be honest about who we are, and what we’re all about here. And besides, you shouldn’t be choosing your college based on what you think about the locker room.” Then, offer up what they should be choosing it based upon, which should be something that lines up well with what you have at your college.
When there’s an embarrassing fact about your program or college. You finished last in your conference for the third straight year. Your college is ranked #74 out of 75 colleges by U.S. News & World Report in your region. Or, there was a high profile negative news story at your school recently. Chances are, your recruits and their parents have already heard about it, and most of them have come to their own conclusion about it. Your job is to get them to re-think and re-define that negative image they’ve cemented in their minds.
The best way to do that? Rip that bandaid off as soon as possible: “The first thing I want to talk about with you is that news you probably heard about. No college is perfect, and we certainly aren’t either. But here’s how I think you should look at it…” and then give them the best possible alternative thinking.
This is where I usually get at least a little push-back from a coach who thinks we are advocating ‘lying’, or being dishonest. That’s not the case at all. Your responsibility as a coach is to give them the honest reason why, from your point of view, they should choose your program. Your responsibility as a coach for your school is to advocate for your school, and not make personal assessments as to what is good or not good for your prospect. Let them make that decision, but let them make it with the arguments from both sides.
It’s going to cost more than we originally thought. That could also be translated as “that full ride scholarship we talked about last year is now a half-ride scholarship.” This isn’t as difficult if you’re following this advice that I offered up a few years ago, but assuming you are avoiding bad-news-about-the-money conversations with your recruits, let me give you one key piece of advice:
Have that talk as early as possible with the parents of your recruits.
Parents of athletes want to understand the financial impact of sending their son or daughter to play for you as early as possible in the process. That doesn’t mean you should come to a decision that’s too soon for you, before you’re ready. But it does mean that once you know what the details are, share it with the parents. Have that conversation sooner rather than later. The misguided thinking that “oh, once they get to know us better here and fall in love with our facility and how great our degrees are, they’ll want to pay $10,000 extra to come here.” No, they won’t, Coach. What it does mean is that you will be spending an extra six to nine months recruiting the family, only to have them break the news that they can’t afford to pay what you are asking and go elsewhere. Don’t do that to yourself, Coach.
The point of this advice is to direct you into preparing for the time when your recruit sees something go wrong, rates your college lower than your competition, and generally pushes back against what you are trying to sell. In those situations, it’s imperative that you come back with a reassuring attitude and confident smile that what they are worried about shouldn’t be a worry at all.
‘Remove the paper jam’, and continue the creative selling and recruiting process.
Tudor Collegiate Strategies can help their clients design the right wording and approach to any potentially negative situation they are facing. Since 2005, we’ve used our proprietary research and market-leading insights to help our coaching staffs win better recruits. If you need help, email Dan Tudor directly at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can discuss options for how we can work with you and your program, Coach.