The saying “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” comes to mind when I talk about the fear of loss.
And just as the saying suggests – that there is an added appreciation of something once you don’t have it any longer – there is could be a valuable benefit to you by implementing the “fear of loss” into your recruiting message.
“Fear of Loss” is a successful, long-standing sales technique that is used by politicians and advertisers alike. Essentially, it’s the introduction of the negative idea of “loss” into the mind of a buyer – in this case, your recruit – to cause action.
As humans, we react more passionately to the idea of losing something. Science backs that up, as illustrated by “Roger Dooley, the author of “Brainfluence” on his Neuromarketing blog:
If I gave you $50 with the following two choices, what would you do? Keep $30, or gamble, with a 50/50 chance of keeping or losing the whole $50.
An experimenter posed that question to subjects, and found that 43% of the subjects chose to gamble. Then the options were changed to: Lose $20, or gamble, with a 50/50 chance of keeping or losing the whole $50.
Same thing, right? In fact, though the dollar amounts are the same, with these options, 62% of the subjects chose to gamble. Expressing the first option as a loss caused a 44% jump in the number of people avoiding that choice! (The purely rational choice, of course, would be the non-gambling option, since the average value of the gambling choice is $25 vs. the certain $30.)
This research, published in Science and described in Dean Buonomano’s book “Brain Bugs”, exhibits two key points:
- Framing (the way we describe something) has a huge effect on behavior.
- People are loss averse.
To underscore the importance of loss aversion in humans, the researchers found that over the course of a series of decisions like this, 100% of the subjects gambled more when the other choice was posed as a loss. Although individual variations existed (some subjects gambled a little more, others a lot), it’s quite surprising that every single one was influenced by the way economically identical options were framed.
So, how do you ethically and professionally put this idea to work in your recruiting message? Here are some quick ideas that we’ve seen work for our clients:
- Set a fair but firm deadline. You’ll notice that many times, even when a coach will set an unfair but firm deadline (“Now that you’ve been on campus, you have 24 hours to decide or else we have to give the scholarship to someone else”), prospects respond by committing. Why? I would say it’s because that coach at least set some kind of guidelines for the recruits to commit at the end of the process (if I’ve conducted our On-Campus Workshop for your athletic department, chances are you’ve heard me explain this in detail). I’m not a fan of fast deadlines that pressure a recruit, mainly because I don’t think it presents you and your program in the best light, and I also have seen evidence that those recruits are more likely to de-commit or transfer. So, what is a “fair but firm” deadline? Based on what I’ve seen work in the recruiting scenarios that I’ve been a part of with coaching staffs, it’s when a coach tells a recruit that they want them to take two weeks to think about it, but then on a certain date you will need to know if the prospect will want to accept your invitation, because after that you’ll need to move to the next person on your list as you start to wrap-up your recruiting. “Fair but firm” deadlines that gently suggest loss for your recruit if they don’t act is one strategy that we’ve seen work well.
- Casually mention loss in your next conversation with your prospect. If you’re not quite at the point of urgently needing them to commit, I’d suggest you be a little more casual about it. In your next email exchange or phone conversation, casually mention that if they aren’t sure they are feeling like your program is the right fit, they can just let you know and you can move in another direction. Or, you can suggest that you understand if they need more time to wait for another coach to get their offer to you, because it’ll give you more time to host those two other prospects on campus visits while you’re waiting to hear back from them.
There is, of course, an inherant risk in this strategy: You might lose the prospect. Your positioning might not work, and it may give them the open door they need to permanentaly reject you.
However, if you’re willing to risk that outcome (an outcome, many coaches would agree, would have happened whether or not this strategy was in play or not) it’s an effective way to get an indication as to what your recruit is thinking, and just how important your program is to them. It’s an effective indicator of their thinking, and just how much your school means to them.
I often point out that this generation of prospect that you are recruiting can define what they don’t want in a school, program or coach instead of what they do want. The “fear of loss” principle matches-up with this trend, and can give a coach some incredible insights inside the mind of their recruits.