How Coaching Collegiate Soccer Taught Me Senior Living Sales
Prior to starting my career in senior living sales almost 15 years ago, I spent the better part of 5 years working as an assistant soccer coach at the collegiate level. When I began as a community based sales person, I didn’t know that the techniques and relationship building skills I learned functioning as a college coach would translate so well.
Working as an assistant coach meant long hours on the road scouting high school and club soccer players. Upon identifying quality players who could help the program and meet academic criteria, we would begin the recruiting process.
Often, we would identify players that were still in their junior year of high school and like senior living sales, it would be a long “sales” process before they would decide. We had to focus on the individual, their family, learn their story beyond the soccer field and find connections. In every sense of the word, it was the same progression we go through today with a family searching for a solution to the aging process. We needed to understand the “Life Story” of the potential student-athlete, the wants and hopes of the parents, while balancing the true “Requirements” of the entire family. The social needs that only college life can fulfill for an 18-year-old, the ability to compete on the field at a high level, and the opportunity to pursue a career as an engineer, teacher or businessman.
The NCAA has strict rules about using the phone when recruiting student-athletes. We had small windows of time to make phone calls so we had to be creative in our follow up. The phone alone would not get us there. We used hand-written notes, articles about the program and the university that were relevant to the player’s interests, and created tools to help the player begin to see himself in our uniform and being successful as a student-athlete. The more creative we were, the more campus visits we would be able to schedule.
The Campus Visit:
A critical next step in the recruiting process was getting a commitment by the student-athlete and their family to spend some time on campus. Sound familiar? The campus visit was our opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities as an athletic and academic institution and solidify our relationship. We didn’t get many repeat visits and it required us to create a very detailed plan for the “Campus Visit Experience.” I learned to ask, “What is important for you to get to experience during your visit to campus?” I then went about identifying the most appropriate student-athletes to join the visit, key faculty for them to meet and potentially classes to attend, tickets to an in-season sporting event on campus, and an opportunity for them to sit down with the head coach. Each visit was unique. It may have been my relationship, but I needed the help of the entire campus community to make the visit successful.
I had many cups of coffee, sweet tea, and cookies shared at the kitchen tables of potential student-athletes and their families. The value of the “Home Visit” quickly became evident, not as an opportunity to “sell” our program and school, but to deepen trust and forge lasting relationships. Indeed, we were asking parents to entrust us with the well-being of their son and the home visit was often the key step in solidifying their confidence.
I was fortunate to coach at colleges that had outstanding academic reputations. Further, despite representing an NCAA Division I school, we did not have the ability to offer athletic scholarships. The cost of the education was significant and we were often competing with other universities that were offering full-athletic scholarships. Talk about being the price leader! We knew our competitive advantages well and had to sell the value of our academic reputation, the quality of life that a degree from the school could offer, the competitiveness of the soccer program, the experience of the coaching staff, and the promise of four years learning and growing as a student-athlete. We didn’t always win, but it was a wonderful lesson in having confidence in your offer and building value.
I started coaching because I loved the sport and wanted the opportunity to have a positive impact on student-athletes. What I got out of it, was a series of lessons that apply to all of us working hard to help families find solutions for their senior living needs.