How to Recruit Like a National College Football Champion

Clemson whips Alabama for the National Championship and the 2018 college football season is over. This is an especially sad time in my house and for me. My son just graduated from the University of South Carolina and played his last football game in a disappointing bowl loss to Virginia. With Clemson a South Carolina rival, we were pulling for Alabama and the SEC. Their defeat, along with the end of the season and my son’s football career, means an especially gloomy time for me.

Why Clemson over Alabama?

Sadness aside, all the hoopla about the showdown between Clemson and Alabama made me really ponder the state of college football recruiting. Alabama and Clemson have been the teams to beat over the last several years and will continue to win because they attract the cream of the crop in high school football talent.

I was wondering, “What does South Carolina need to do to compete? What makes a player choose a particular school?” I’m especially curious to understand why a player chooses Clemson over Alabama. The Tide has been a perennial powerhouse of football for years, so it makes sense why coach Nick Saban can get whomever he wants.

But what about Clemson? They don’t have the same rich football history. In 2008, Dabo Swinney became the head coach when Tommy Bowden was forced out. Clemson had a few years of okay performance and in 2010 went 6 and 7. But then the power of Dabo’s ability to recruit took hold.

Even though Clemson wasn’t close to the best team in the country, Swinney was (and continues to be) successful in getting the best players to go to there. Why? He recruits by selling a feeling, a vibe, a culture.

Fitting into the System

Now obviously not every high school football player is a good fit for Clemson. Just as there are many players who would not fit in at Alabama. Successful recruiting isn’t just about selling a high school kid to come to your school, it’s also about recognizing which ones have the athletic prowess that best fits your system. This is where both Clemson and Alabama’s coaches have excelled.

So, what does all of this have to do with sales? This is, after all, a blog focused on selling. Well, recruiting and selling have much in common.

How Selling & Recruiting Are Alike

It takes me back to two basic tenants of selling, which aptly apply to recruiting as well.

  1. Selling is not solely about the product or the price. It is frequently about the people. It’s about the feeling that the buying decision is right. It’s emotional. Sure, a decision is supported by facts and figures and data, but mostly it is an emotional one that the facts just support. The buyer likes the salesperson enough. They start to respect them. Then they trust them. The same is true for the high school recruit and the recruiting coach.

  2. Selling is not a game of “me too.” The best salespeople and the best-recruiting coaches know how to differentiate their offering based on what matters to the prospect or recruit.  The key is that the differentiation is in the eye of the prospect (recruit). It is not some marketing tag line.

How Recruiting and Sales Hiring Are Alike

Recruiting the right salespeople is just as important as recruiting the right football players if your team is to be a perennial winner. Sales recruits need to be qualified, not just for the dollars they bring (their athletic prowess), but for the way they fit into what you do and your system.

You can only do this if you ask the right questions. You must find out what truly matters to your sales recruits. You must understand them and how they will make decisions.

Recruit Like a Champion

And when it comes time to hire the sales recruits you deem well-suited, rather than sell them to join your team the same way your biggest competitor (your Alabama) does, can you not sell the unique attributes that your company has? Your company’s feeling, vibe and culture?

Don’t be like so many schools out there trying to chase Alabama by ending up with some less than ideal recruits. Be different. Be special. Sell your company to your sales recruits the way Dabo Swinney sells Clemson. And, if Dabo had the tools that are available to screen his recruits like you do through the use of Objective Management Group’s sales candidate assessments, he would almost never make a mistake in selecting recruits.