June 15th was the first day coaches could directly contact the class of 2024 high school basketball players per NCAA rules, and I have spent a humbling week on the road with my son, Raleigh, doing recruiting visits. He has racked up ten Division 1 full-ride scholarship offers this week and I have witnessed what truly sets the High Major coaches apart. It is not only their ability to coach but to recruit and then retain the best talent. While I proudly hold the distinguished designation of “worst player” on my small high school’s boys tennis team (the school was too small for a girls team) and my first dip into the world of Division 1 college sports is occurring as a Basketball Mom, I have actually been doing “high major” selling both internally and externally for the past few decades at P&G, Amazon, and Simpactful. The front row vantage of the D-1 recruiting scene has revealed five principles for successful selling that world-class coaches use to secure commits:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Know your audience, their key influencers, and stakeholders, and understand the likely decision drivers and reassurances required. Consider the information they will need and anticipate the questions they will ask. Simpactful recently helped a DTC brand make the jump into retail by defining Where to Play, leveraging our team of former Retail executives to anonymously meet with the buyer at the #1 retailer, determine the required pitch elements and then create an irresistible proposition. Similarly, the most effective coaches assessed Raleigh’s potential during the AAU assessment period, researched us using a variety of sources including coaches, school transcripts, sensing calls and online searches, and positioned their pitches based on the things that would resonate most strongly.
- Know your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses as well as your own, and develop a custom pitch that showcases your strengths, neutralizes your weaknesses, and respectfully sows just enough doubt on the competitive offering. By nature, coaches are in the business of competing – and they are experts at positioning their programs vs others to win the sale. For instance, facilities within top schools are on par, but the programs vary in the style of play, success in developing Power Forward players, academics and support resources marketing power, odds of NCAA Tourney appearances, and now NIL opportunities. Each coach is also skilled at casting just enough doubt. “There is no better college basketball experience than going to an NCAA tournament – so be sure to review the records of the other coaches before making a decision,” said one. “We take the guys to 2-3 concerts a year that smaller college towns can’t attract,” said another assistant
- Showcase your innovation plan. Demonstrate your commitment to winning through sustained investment in key drivers and delighters – and make it sizzle! A picture – or a video of that new product, online user experience, or $43 million new athletic trainer & academic support addition is worth 1,000 words to an audience that is being pitched multiple options.
- Envision a successful future together in a memorable way. Providing a player with the opportunity to stand in the huddle with the team, experience a photo shoot in a team jersey emblazoned with the player’s number or be greeted by personalized welcome signage is no different than reviewing a new product idea with a Walmart buyer using data that shows strong Walmart shopper appeal, a Walmart-specific shelf rendering, and projections for a healthy sales impact for the buyer’s scorecard. Simpactful’s experienced practitioners and creative resources help clients envision success in ways that resonate and make an impression with both internal and Retailer audiences.
- Build a relationship. Humans are hard-wired for familiarity bias, and too many people forget the importance of this step. It’s not just about having more meetings or texts – but finding genuine ways to stay engaged with your audience beyond the project at hand that provide insight and reinforce commitment. In the world of brand building, this may look like relaxing over cocktails with a buyer after a joint business review, casually following up with trusted stakeholders to understand your pitch success and outstanding questions, or responding in social media to new personal news. Coaches and recruiters demonstrate intent by allocating time for a casual lunch with a recruiting head coach, discovering common music tastes during a golf cart tour of campus, debriefing an offer visit with a parent or AAU coach, or sending personalized messages of support to players during tournament or exam times.
It is back to work for the Burgesses – both on the court and in the office after an awe-inspiring week. That said, the selling lessons and pitch information will endure, for this Basketball Mom and Simpactful Senior Partner. Interested in learning more? Simpactful is a CPG & Retail consultancy staffed with experienced Brand and Retail practitioners from “both sides of the desk” who are skilled in breaking down complex problems and providing practical solutions. Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 925-234-6394.