Former President George H.W. Bush was riding on a bus during the Presidential campaign of 1988 with a reporter, who recounted a memory of sitting next to the then Vice President as they were pulling away from a campaign stop.
Mr. Bush, noticing a person waving by themselves as the bus began to pull away, leaned over the reporter, made eye contact with the individual, and waved with a smile. He then told the reporter, “that’s how you win an election…one voter at a time.”
There’s a lot of truth in that statement which applies to recruiting: You win recruiting battles one recruit at a time.
And yet, many college coaches are tasked with group recruiting visits that feature a lot of recruits on campus at one time. Even if a coach would prefer not to do that, it’s often a recruiting reality coaches have to plan around. There are only so many available visit days every year, and it’s not unusual for multiple recruits to want the same date to meet with you and your staff on campus.
And there’s the conflict: You, as a college coach, know the one-on-one personal visits usually result in better connections with that recruit and his or her family, and yet it’s a numbers game, and you often don’t have the choice when it comes to whether or not it’s a group visit or an individual visit.
Is there an effective way to balance those two needs, and be successful with recruiting in a group setting?
Here’s my advice, based on the focus group research we’ve collected from prospects since 2005:
Individual recruiting visits are always the best
But you already knew that, didn’t you, Coach?
The reason is pretty simple: During this stressful decision-making process that your prospect and his or her family is going through, the ability to ask private questions, and talk about topics which they might feel uncomfortable talking about in detail with others around, being one-on-one with you as a coach is almost always the preferred method of visiting.
Additionally, prospects are almost always trying to get a sense for how you feel about them, and how much you value them. When your attention is divided, the risk of them noticing you lack of full attention on them is real.
That being said, if you get the choice, take the opportunity to host individual visits with your recruits.
The potentially best part of a large group recruiting visit for your prospect
For your prospect to see other peers excited and motivated to be a part of your program based on the group visit.
The potentially worst part of a large group recruiting visit for your prospect
For your prospect to see other peers negative and critical at the idea of competing in your program based on the group visit.
Three key things you’ll want to do to make the best of a challenging group recruiting visit situation
- Explain why there are so many recruits there. It may seem pretty basic to you, but we hear a lot of focus group survey feedback from prospects who say when they see how many other recruits are present on their campus visit, it gives them a sense of feeling under-appreciated and “just a number”. Tell the recruits why you have a lot of fellow prospects on the visit with them there, the mechanics of why it’s necessary for your program, and what each one of them individually can do to set themselves apart from everyone else after the visit ends…focus on what you want them to follow-up with to you. What you’ll get is immediate feedback regarding who is really serious about you, and who still has a ways to go when it comes to being ready to commit.
- If possible, carve out 10-15 minutes for individual meetings with each recruit and their family. Tell them why you’re glad they’re there, what you like about them as a prospect and a person, and that you wanted to get with them one-on-one even though you have a lot of other recruits there on the group visit. I can’t stress to you enough how vital this is before they go away from campus. If it’s impossible to get everyone aside for a one-on-one meeting, prioritize your top prospects. It makes an incredible difference in your recruits’ feelings about you and your program as they leave campus.
- After the visit, send a letter. If you’ve followed us for any length of time, you know how vital good old-fashioned letters are in the process, and to prove that you are serious about them. Send a letter (which can be standardized for all recruits) thanking them for being on campus, how impressed you were with them, and that you hope being around other kids who are serious about your college and program gave them a sense for who their future teammates might be. I want you to give them the idea that you are a destination program, and that other kids their age (and their parents) want to be there. Successfully doing this will help fuel the follow-up contact with those prospects you really want.
You win elections one voter at a time, and you build a program one recruit at a time. But politicians have big crowds to content with, and college coaches have large recruiting classes to work through. The key, in being successful in each endeavor, is to make sure each individual feels a connection with you, and understands why you value them individually.
We help hundreds of coaches and programs every year in creating relevant, creative and effective recruiting communication and visit strategies. If you’d like expert help in doing that with your program, email Dan Tudor at firstname.lastname@example.org and outline the situation you’re dealing with, and what goals you’re trying to reach. We’d love to talk to you about how we help coaches win great recruits.