This week, the IBBA and M&A Source trade associations held one of their twice-yearly conferences. The conference serves as a successful forum for the lower middle market intermediary community to get together, discus lower middle market M&A activity, share best practices with other members, and network with other attendees, including private equity firms and corporations that are actively investing in or acquiring small to medium-sized companies (5M to 50M in revenues).
As part of the best practices track, the conference covers topics including Managing Due Diligence, Structuring Earnouts and Seller Financing to help close the pricing gap, and How Technology Can Help Intermediaries Grow Their Business and Improve Close Rates. I was invited to present on this last topic, and to talk about how Axial and other software tools and applications are being used to maximize customer acquisition (getting engaged to sell a business) and customer success (successfully selling the companies that you represent). This article summarizes the various tools and services that were discussed, provides a summary of their offering, and links to their respective websites.
In general, the tools and applications that an intermediary can leverage to improve their work break down into one of three buckets:
- Buyer research and M&A transaction data
- Marketing and communication tools
- Database and data management tools
Buyer research and M&A transaction data are part of any successful M&A process. Every business is different, will attract potentially different buyers, and will have owners with different preferences for who to sell to. Without rich data on Buyers and valuation benchmarks to set expectations, you can’t serve your client effectively. Communication tools are critical to acquiring customers, communicating with them during an M&A process, reaching prospective buyers, facilitating the M&A and due diligence processes, etc. Database and data management tools help intermediaries by providing secure repositories for data, such as sent emails, correspondence and contact information with clients, buyers, attorneys, CPAs, etc.
The following companies provide software-based tools that are valuable to the lower middle market intermediary. Some of them have offerings that fall into multiple buckets, others fall more neatly into one bucket. We want to clarify that there are other tools out there, but these are the ones that were selected to present at the M&A Source / IBBA conference to their respective memberships.
Axial: Axial helps intermediaries answer the question: “who are the most qualified and active buyers I should approach on behalf of my client?”. The company then integrates that data and information on Buyer preferences with Axial’s marketing tools to help intermediaries confidentially connect with and engage buyers directly, whether they are buyers in your personal rolodex, or buyers you connect with through the Axial network. Axial provides pre-due diligence document hosting tools to store teasers, NDAs, executive summaries and offering memorandums and gives you control over who and when buyers can access various information. Axial offers capabilities across all three buckets but is especially focused on buckets 1 and 2.
Cost: FREE for intermediaries, M&A attorneys and CPAs advising private companies.
Cool Life Systems – Cool Life Systems is a CRM company with built-in integration to online social media platforms. The company combines a CRM system to house your company and customer contact information with tools to help you engage your audience of targets thru social media channels online. Because it’s both a communication tool and database management tool, it falls into buckets 2 and 3.
Cost: Contact Cool Life Systems for pricing.
Constant Contact – Constant Contact provides web-based email marketing tools to help small businesses conduct email marketing more efficiently. They provide email deployment tools, easy-to-use email templates, and reporting capabilities to evaluate and manage email campaigns. Have a quarterly newsletter you want to blast to your rolodex? Constant Contact is great for this, among other things. As a communications and marketing tool, they fall neatly into bucket 2. They are one of largest email marketing companies, and since their founder was a Stanford grad, we are holding back from being overly biased in support of their app!
Cost: Pricing as low as $15/month.
GF Data Resources – GF Data Resources gathers data on private equity transactions in the lower middle market on a no-names basis, aggregates that information, and presents it to intermediaries and other customers so they can conduct valuation research, provide guidance to their clients on valuation expectations for various businesses, and allow private equity firms to more accurately bid on companies, and more easily mark their portfolio companies to market. The data is proprietary, difficult to obtain elsewhere, and goes back to 2003. GF Data falls neatly into bucket 1, providing highly specialized data that is directly relevant to the lower middle market dealmaking community.
Cost: Free for contributing private equity firms; contact GF Data for specific pricing if you’re an intermediary, law firm, or accounting firm.
Navatar Group – Navatar Group is a reseller of Salesforce.com’s web-based CRM software. Salesforce.com, a global company with over $1B in annual revenues, provides a CRM solution that is used by companies of all shapes and sizes with all kind of data management and CRM requirements. Navatar provides a customized version of Saleforce.com software that is tailored to the individual needs of its clients, which include private equity firms and intermediaries. Salesforce.com’s CRM tool offers email marketing capabilities (though not necessarily as advanced a set of marketing tools as Constant Contact), so this product falls into bucket 1 and bucket 3, serving as both a marketing / communications tool and as a data management tool where you can store customer information and activity.
Cost: Contact Navatar for details.
ShareFile – Sharefile (bucket 3) is a provider of web-based file transfer and virtual data room (VDR) solutions and technology. When you’re selling a company, you should ensure that you keep the information of your client secure during due diligence but still allow it to be accessed by potential buyers who you’re working with. Sharefile provides VDR solutions that securely host that information. Sharefile also provides watermarking capability, user access and download permissioning, as well as intelligence on who is accessing the uploaded materials and how often and how frequently. This information and capability helps you figure out which of the potential buyers are doing their homework! Sharefile has partnered with M&A Source to offer a limited version of its VDR solution for free to M&A Source members.
Cost: Pricing as low as $29.95/month.
As an intermediary, your scarcest resource is your time. You need to be spending your time either acquiring new clients as effectively as possible or serving existing clients with the greatest efficiency possible (closing deals with high rates of success). Each of the above tools can help you achieve success and improve outcomes for your customers, you just need to choose them at the right time and to help with the right job.
We’ve included the session presentation below. Good luck, and if you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions regarding other tools to use, etc, please share them in the comments below.