Episode 23 - Partner Recruiting Strategy - Another Lesson from Nick Saban


Partner Recruiting

Unless you are from Birmingham or Tuscaloosa, you may be getting tired of seeing the Crimson Tide of Alabama in the playoffs and as college football national champions year after year.  For those who follow Nick Saban, he has many secrets to his success including the undying support of his university and the alumni, a huge budget and good coaches.  But many will argue that what really separates his outstanding football program is his focus on recruiting.

Unlike other college programs who come in as cheerleaders for their school and tout how great they are, Saban and his coaches have another approach that is very factual, practical and direct.  Recruiting coaches are taught to have a conversation that goes somewhat like this, “This is who we are. This is what we do. This is what we’ve done. This is what we feel like we can do for you. This is what we feel like you can do for us. If you want to be a part of it, great. If you don’t, somebody else will.'”

In our channel, partner recruitment is an on-going process.  Master agents want partners to sell through their contracts, and recruit based on their relationships with providers and what they can do for the partner that other masters can’t.  Providers recruit partners to sell services in preference to those of their competition.  So, what can we learn from arguably one of the most successful college football coaches of all time about recruiting?

The first lesson is to target the right partners.  Saban doesn’t want just anybody to play for Alabama.  It has to be a win-win.  He focuses not only on what Alabama can do for the player, but also what the player can do for Alabama.  Master agents and providers need to define the characteristics they value in a partner and then target those that come the closest.  Here are some questions to ask your program that help you recruit the right players:

  • What type of customers are currently in the partner’s portfolio?
  • How complex of a sales process does it take to win a deal?  Some partners are not motivated for a long, strategic and large deal?
  • What type of relationship does a partner need and want from you and is your program ready to support that type of relationship?

You don’t need every partner to affiliate with you, only the ones that create a win-win relationship and score the touchdown and bring the deal in.

Once you have defined the right partner, it’s time to narrow the field and focus your efforts.  Saban and his coaches can’t scout at every high school football game, meet every parent or bring every player to campus.  They have to focus their efforts to be effective.  Once a partner program has defined the ideal partner they want to target, then the next step is to eliminate activities that produce partners that are not going to succeed in the program.   As an example, if your deal is complex and you want a partner that understands security as a service, a program may want to target managed services providers, attend their events, and gear their marketing message to attract that type of individual.

Define what you can do for your partner and what you need them to do for you.  Back to Nick Saban.  His conversations with prospective recruits was direct and to the point.  “This is what Alabama can do for you AND this is what you can do for us.”  In the channel, we often forget the part about what we want the partner to do for us.  Partner programs should be clear about the benefits of their program, and most programs do this.  But you also need to focus on the commitments you want them to make to you and be clear about that.

Don’t wait for partners to come to you.  Go to them.  Although Alabama is an elite program, so is Georgia, Ohio State, LSU and Clemson.  Saban and his team don’t lay back and hope players will notice them.  He’s constantly looking for talent and when he sees it, he goes after it.  That lesson should translate to partner recruiting.  You have to go out and find partners proactively and not depend exclusively on passive ways to get them to notice you.  Advertise, offer incentives, host lunch and learns, be at regional meetings in order to find partners you want to work with.

And one final lesson from Saban; don’t make unforced errors.  Being passive about recruiting is an unforced error that Saban would never make and neither should you.  Another unforced error is to look for talent where everyone else is looking.  Saban’s team is always looking for that hidden gem that other people miss.  A great example is his 2019 quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a little-known player from Hawaii that has stunned college football with his talent.  The channel is full of hidden gems because partners sometimes are found in the most unlikely places.

And once you’ve recruited and the partner has signed up with you, constantly evaluate if you have recruited well.  If partners aren’t producing, taking up too much of your resources, and constantly complaining, then your recruiting was off, and you should focus elsewhere.


Success in both football and in the channel begins with recruiting.  Programs need to define the type of partner they are looking for, understand the win-win, particularly in what you want the partner to do for you, and commit to recruiting constantly trying to find those hidden gems.  And once you’ve recruited what looks like a strong team, constantly evaluate those players to make sure there is still a fit.

I’m a Georgia Bulldog fan, so Alabama is not exactly my favorite team, but when it comes to recruiting, I am going to give Saban and his coaches a big “Roll Tide”.