In the battle to win a recruit, one of the most popular tools traditionally used by college recruiters is positioning the campus visit at the most ideal time compared to the other coaches and colleges being considered by a prospect.
And what I hear from most recruiters is that they like to position the visit to their campus last. In other words, if a prospect has said that they are taking five campus visits, more coaches seem to want to position the campus visit as the last of the five. The thinking on this strategy goes back a few decades, and follows the line of thinking that the last visit will be the most recent one as they get ready to make a final decision. So, of course, coaches want to be the “saved the best for last” visit on their schedule.
Except that logic doesn’t match what we see happening the majority of the time when it comes to the final decision made by recruits. There are a few key reasons why they aren’t ultimately choosing the last program that they visit during the recruiting process:
- One of the most prevalent reasons we hear the ‘last strategy’ failing is because more and more prospects aren’t completing their campus visit lists. At the start of the process, when the decision is far away and the idea of being courted and pursued by college after college and coach after coach sounds fun, creating a full list seems like the smart thing to do. However, prospects are telling us that once the process actually starts, and the stress levels mount after every visit, they are cutting that visit list short at an increasingly high rate. So to be last on the visit list as a core strategy for out-positioning a competitor is failing more and more because of the simple fact that prospects are bailing on the process way before it’s traditional conclusion – meaning that they never actually take the visit to your campus before they wrap-up their decision making.
- Other coaches (the ones that scheduled their campus visits earlier than you did) are establishing the timeline and asking for decisions earlier and earlier, meaning that many athletes are feeling pressured to make a decision earlier than ever. Many prospects are following that lead, and deciding before they complete the list of visits they told you about early on in the process.
- We see recruits realizing earlier and earlier that visits tend to look the same, sound the same, and feel the same. So the idea of doing even more of those types of bland, duplicate visits isn’t that attractive. The result: They call off the rest of their visits, and succumb to the coach who is asking for an earlier decision.
Of course, that’s not a universal outcome for all recruits. Many will stick to their plan, and visit their full list of schools and programs. But in case you see the trend I’m describing take hold with your recruits, and you want to do something about it proactively, this is what I’d recommend:
Duh. Be first. It’s the ‘Reese Bobby Rule’, if you ain’t first, you’re last. Now unlike Reese, I’m not high on peyote: Since we see more prospects than ever cutting their visit list short, the obvious fix is to be closer to the start of the process rather than last on the list.
Set the standard for what great visits look like. With being first comes great responsibility, so use it wisely. Put together freaking awesome campus visits that follow the research for what prospects say are the visits they connect with the most: High relationship building time, younger hosts, lots of casual hang-out time, and separation from parents that might be visiting with them. That way, your visit stands out early and becomes measuring stick for the rest of their visits to other campuses. There’s a lot of comparison shopping going on among prospects, so do everything you can to create the right feeling versus just giving lots of information.
Once you establish the first position, use it to your advantage. Being first allows you do to several strategically valuable things: First, you can educate the prospect on how they should be choosing a school and a program. You tell them the categories that matter, what not to focus on, and what to watch out for as red flags from other coaches. In a sense, you can create a checklist for all the most important aspects of their college choice, and make sure that the list heavily favors what you offer at your school. Also, once you’re first, you can have a much deeper open dialogue about their following visits to other campuses: Ask them what they liked better about their campus compared to yours, what they wish the other school had that your school did, how it changed their decision making, and so on. In a sense, you can help them evaluate their visits to other campuses – and redirect anything you hear negatively about you in time to keep things on track.
And, of course, ask first. If you want the prospect, ask for the commitment on your visit. Not only is it smart strategically, prospects tell us that when they aren’t asked – even when they aren’t necessarily feeling ready to commit – it can feel like they aren’t a priority to that coach.
It’s a new world, with a new process for decision making, and the smart coaches are adjusting their strategy on when they get prospects on their campus – and what they do to ensure a good outcome after they get them there.
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