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7 Secrets of Highly Successful BD Professionals


Business development is one of the most important functions for any deal team. In a recent panel at Axial Concord 2015, three top BD professionals from private equity and investment banking sat down to discuss their strategies to increase deal flow and close more transactions.

Here are seven tips to help supercharge your BD strategy.

1) Unify and target messaging.

For smaller firms, or those just implementing a dedicated business development function, an important first step is to evaluate and improve upon existing messaging.

Particularly for smaller firms or those just establishing a BD function, a first step might include doing an audit of your firm’s website. “It’s really about being articulate to the marketplace about how you are different from other investment banks or private equity firms,” says Heather Madland, VP of business development at Huron Capital Partners.

Specifying particular industries of interest and/or expertise is a good first step. “If a company owner or intermediary lands on your website, and can quickly relate to a specific sector you’ve outlined, it’s an immediate prompt to reach out to you. There are so many opportunistic investors, including Tregaron, which increases the importance of communicating identifiable areas of focus,” says Lauren Glazebrook, head of business development at Tregaron Capital.

2) Consider an outside PR firm.

As part of a multi-pronged marketing approach, Huron Capital uses a local PR firm to help coordinate media efforts. “They field calls for media requests, coordinate logistics, train employees on communications best practices, and expand our visibility in industry trade publications,” says Madland.

If your firm specializes in certain industries, being published in a relevant trade journal is almost always more effective for BD purposes than a more general feature in a publication about M&A. With an industry publication, you’ll reach many more relevant CEOs and other specialists.

To guide outreach, Madland’s team tracks the number of times Huron Capital or one of its portfolio companies is mentioned in a news article, how many bylined articles they publish each month, and how many ads they put out, among other metrics.

3) Expand your referral base.

About a year ago, Dresner Partners, a middle market investment banking firm, “made a conscious effort to change our marketing processes,” says Omar Diaz, managing director.

“Dresner is a very traditional middle market firm, with most of the deal flow coming from referral sources. We brought in a BD specialist to professionalize our business development efforts, and formalized our calling programs within industry sectors.

“We cover a vast majority of the economy from an industry perspective, but we weren’t fully capitalizing on that expertise. We are becoming a lot more proactive in terms of getting in front of business owners and leveraging our expertise to create near-term and long-term opportunities,” says Diaz.

In a relatively short amount of time, Dresner has “gone from being mostly a referral-based firm to getting a lot of deals from direct calling too,” he says. Diaz clarifies that “direct calling doesn’t mean cold calling. It’s utilizing network effects — at the end of the day, someone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone. More often than not we’re able to get some sort of warm introduction to a CEO or business owner.”

4) Build relationships in secondary markets.

According to Sutton Place Strategies, 42% of transactions in 2014 with a minimum transaction size of 10 million were done by firms that do less than nine deals per year. Twenty-three percent were done by firms that do less than three.

Tregaron Capital’s Glazebrook sees valuable opportunities in developing relationships with deal professionals at lower-volume firms. “We focus on the one to three million dollar EBITDA size range. This means I’m often meeting with small intermediaries who rarely have investment professionals come through their office. While they may only bring a company to market every so often that meets our criteria, we want to be who they think of when figuring out who to go out to.”

The lack of foot traffic in secondary markets can be a boon for investors willing to devote the time. Developing a personal relationship with these intermediaries means they’re more likely to share deals early and often.

5) Put your CRM to work.

Huron Capital uses Salesforce to manage contacts and also track where deals are coming from — crucial in an increasingly fragmented industry. Keeping track of deal metrics “shows us where we’ve been most successful sourcing actionable deal flow” says Huron Capital’s Madland — whether that’s from targeting business brokers in secondary markets, publishing articles, or engaging with high-volume firms running competitive processes. Huron Capital uses AIM by App-Ex, CRM software for alternative asset managers, to break down the deal pipeline, organize data, and prepare reports seamlessly.

Tregaron Capital uses a CRM called Zoho to track their deal pipeline and relationships. Every deal source is tiered based on the likelihood of working on deals that meet Tregaron’s criteria: Location, typical deal size, and deal volume are a few of the factors taken into account. Glazebrook evaluates the accuracy of the firm’s tiering each quarter to ensure they are prioritizing the right relationships.

6) Practice reciprocity. 

“Although quick yeses and quick nos are simple to give, they are so important for your relationship with intermediaries,” says Glazebrook. In addition to responding quickly, “I am diligent about recommending fellow investors to go out to for deals we’re passing on.”

The result? “We’re not only approached with higher volumes of dealflow, but dealflow in earlier stages. We want our intermediary relationships to know that we are always willing to use our network of fellow investors to help identify the right target.”

When it comes to deals, “there’s always something you can trade,” says Dresner’s Diaz. “We’re information brokers at the end of the day. I had a private equity guy sitting in my office the other day, and we talked about the dynamics of a specific deal process. He was able to tell me how he looked at it as a seller, and I was able to provide info about how we looked at it as a firm representing a buyer. We both learned a lot about the process.”

7) Make sure someone is responsible for execution and continuously evaluate strategy.

“One of the biggest issues that all firms face is execution,” says Diaz. When Dresner brought on a full-time BD specialist, “all of a sudden we had a person helping us track leads and making sure leads are being pursued. For example, I just attended a conference where we met with 45 different parties. Out of those 45 meetings there will be 10 or 15 action items.

“What happens after those conferences? A lot of times, our bankers are trying to get another deal closed by the end of the month and BD falls down the list in priority. But if you have a BD specialist on staff, that’s his number one priority. He’s almost a cop to make sure we stay in front of new opportunities even as we’re moving deals down the funnel.”

Huron Capital evaluates its marketing strategy at the end of every year, looking at metrics across every part of its multi-pronged marketing and BD plan. Those metrics determine the travel calendar and goals for the next year (a typical schedule might target 700 in-person meetings across 40 cities).

For example, the team “looks at dealflow by geography,” says Madland. “Where are referral sources located? How far did those deals get in the process? Are we seeing more dealflow in the Southwest or Midwest this year? The key is to leverage successful dealflow and be open to change — it’s a dynamic initiative.”

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