We all like giving someone something for free. I waved to a friend and his daughter I saw having breakfast in a restaurant nearby recently, and on the spur of the moment decided to pay for their breakfast as I was paying for mine. I didn’t tell them, I just wanted it to be a nice surprise as they were getting ready to leave. And it was: My friend said he and his daughter talked about it all day, excited that they got their breakfast for free.
Why the excitement? Because we all like getting something for free, too.
It makes them feel good, which makes us feel good. Whether it’s a birthday present or a full-ride scholarship that gives a recruit opportunities to earn a degree and play college sports, it’s fun when we can do that for another person…
And yet, there’s usually a balance involved. There’s a cost for ‘free’, in most cases. You pay money for the present you buy, and the campus absorbs the cost of your athlete not paying tuition. Yet the intoxicating allure of being the cheapest option is tough to resist. For many coaches, as long as they’re able to deliver the good news that something others pay a lot for is being given to your prospect for less, or for free, that’s the goal. And again, I understand that…we all like giving someone something for free. It’s fun when everyone gets a car.
But is that really the best sustainable strategy? Here’s what one of the world’s foremost marketing experts says about the choice between cheaper and better:
That’s a pretty powerful combination. Some customers gravitate toward the option that offers ease, quality and convenience, while others prefer low price. If you can do both…
One way we’ve seen that done is with scale. Many people prefer the big box store to the local merchant. Not only is it often cheaper, but the selection might be dramatically better, the parking might be easier and in some rare cases, the service is better as well. How is this possible? Because volume pays off in almost every way that matters to the customer.
Another way is with proprietary insight. If a company has a production process, a patent or some other barrier, they can often deliver something faster and cheaper… a barrier that a competitor without that shortcut can’t overcome.
A third way is with herculean effort. When the people who work on the team simply care more. Caring is work, and caring is in short supply. An organization staffed with smart people who care can often run circles around a lazier competitor.
Most of the time, though, you’re probably unable to rely on one of these approaches. If that’s the case, the next best option is to choose. To actually be better (regardless of price) or to actually be cheaper. But pretending that you have both doesn’t work very well.
It costs a lot but it’s worth more than it costs.
Which brings us to college recruiting, and how you craft an approach or an offer to a prospect you really want. You have a choice to make: Give away an opportunity to be a part of your program for free through an athletic or academic scholarship, and emphasize the low or zero-cost nature of what you’re offering. Or, focus on the value of your opportunity – even if it comes at a cost, which it does in most cases – and the overall college education at your campus.
According to our research, and analyzing the outcomes of recruiting scenarios we’ve been a part of helping clients with on both sides of the ‘price vs. value’ approach, we’d recommend considering these points as you design a strategy that you feel would work best for your program moving forward:
- If you can win on price, great. But at its core, our research shows it’s a fragile recruiting strategy. Why? Because there’s always someone else that can provide a less expensive option to a prospect, which means you’ll be engaging in a non-stop race to the bottom when it comes to swaying your prospect. As we’ve tracked recruiting outcomes over the last 20 years, we’ve found that coaches who rely on being the ‘cheapest’ usually have the hardest time building a program over the long term.
- Coaches that rely on this approach often find that their prospect, sensing they can play one school/program against the other in an effort to get more scholarship dollars than they did from the previous program – and, they’ll go back and forth until one of those programs finally reaches the bottom, and can’t go any lower. It’s hard to build a good program using that strategy, I’m finding. Why? Because there is always someone out there prepared to go just a little bit cheaper than you can. If that other coach doesn’t find your prospect, you can sneak away with a win. If they do, it’s back to square one and the next recruit.
- As we analyze student-athlete decisions, the big thing they usually point to when it comes to what swayed them to the school and program they committed to was a feeling they had. Something they experienced while they interacted with you defined what was better, in their mind, about you. Your cost or offer might get their attention and get you in the game, but it seldom is the reason they choose this kind of big, personal life experience. Once in a while, sure…but not often, and not often enough to build a winning program.
- Recruited athletes tell us all the time that coaches who recruit them don’t make the case as to why they, the prospect, should choose them. That’s different than telling your recruits ‘what you have’ on campus…you need to prove why you’re better than their other choices.
- How are you demonstrating that you care more than other coaches? If a recruit feels wanted and valued by you, you’re going to be worth something to them. You may even be worth enough to beat the competitor who is beating you on price. When a coach demonstrates that they care, that there is a plan for the recruit they’re talking to, and makes that recruit feel wanted, it matters. It affects their decision in the end.
- How are you showing recruits the logical, real-world ways you are better than their other choices? This is the true heavy lifting in recruiting: Making the case, over time, that you are the better long term choice for a recruit based on things that matter most to them, and their parents: You have a plan for the recruit, the recruit is wanted by your program, the school where you coach has greater value for the recruit in the long term, and your team is the best fit for them where they will feel most connected. That’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good one to follow if you want to commit to telling a long term, consistent recruiting story to recruits.
If someone else pays for your meal, there’s an immediate rush of excitement at getting something for nothing. In college recruiting, it’s a bit more complex. As a college coach, getting someone to pay more for what you’re offering them is harder – but not impossible at all if you understand the decision making process of most teens during the recruiting timeline, and how to build value of your program in their minds as they assess which option is truly the most valuable.
Looking for more creative approaches to guiding your prospect to a decision? Join your fellow coaches, marketing experts and recruiting advisors at the nation’s largest recruiting conference this summer! It’s the #1 resource focused totally on making you the best recruiter possible, and you can attend in-person or virtually. Click here to get details, watch past conference highlights, and to look at registration options.