Today we sit with Ryan Grand, Principal with HKW, an Indianapolis-based middle-market private equity firm. In this episode, Ryan shares his story and tells us how he landed a business development role by accident before finding that he unexpectedly loved it. We kick off the show with a breakdown of Ryan’s professional history. After hearing about his transition into the field, Ryan fills listeners in on some of the challenges he faced early on before sharing his daily responsibilities, like nurturing relationships with thoughtful conversation and creating a pipeline of unmissable deals. But this is business, and some deals go to the wayside, with Ryan telling us how he adapts to missed opportunities. Toward the end of the show, we talk about Ryan’s top-of-mind strategy and hear about how he keeps balance when striking a deal. Ryan goes on to tell us about some of the biggest misconceptions of business development and why only having a friendly nature might not give you the upper hand you’re looking for. Bringing the show to a close, he leaves with details about the importance of keeping organized as well as notes on his transition to the virtual world in light of a global pandemic.
Key Points From This Episode:
- How Ryan was able to pivot his career.
- Hear some of the initial challenges Ryan expected to face.
- Why Ryan wanted to do transactions and the reasons he pivoted to business development.
- Ryan tells us about his daily responsibilities and the nuances of his BD role at HKW.
- Find out about Ryan’s top-of-mind strategy and how the pandemic has shifted his mindset.
- How Ryan keeps balance when executing deals.
- Ryan shares some of the biggest misconceptions about business development.
- Ways Ryan copes with the ‘big’ personalities in the room.
- Why Ryan is committed to organization, and how he uses it as a tool for success.
- How relationships form the backbone to successful business development.
- How Ryan has coped with COVID.
- Why his pre-COVID experiences helped Ryan mesh with the virtual world.
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:20] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is Ryan Grand, a Principal with HKW, an Indianapolis-based middle-market private equity firm with a 100-plus-year history. Ryan shares his story and how he landed in business development but didn’t plan to stay there long. Fast forward six plus years, he loves it. Ryan and I discuss what factors have fueled his business development success in the mindsets that have really helped him embrace this role. I hope you all enjoy.
[00:00:53] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.
[00:00:54] AD: Ryan, welcome to Branch Out. Excited for our conversation here today.
[00:01:04] RG: For sure. It’s been great to get to know you for a few minutes here, Alex, and, yeah, looking forward to talking about the BD lifestyle and hopefully generating some nuggets of wisdom for people listening.
[00:01:15] AD: Absolutely. That is the goal today. Maybe it makes sense. Why don’t you just start out and share with our listeners just a little bit about yourself, your background, and your career progression. Then we’ll take the conversation from there.
[00:01:26] RG: Yeah, for sure. By myself, I’m from Indianapolis, which is where I currently sit here at HKW. I started off really more on a different financial path than most I’d say that ended up in private equity. I wasn’t invested in banking, but in its own little weird world I was a muni investment banker. Really, I was underwriting and helping raise money for local governments across the Midwest. I came from a small school of Wabash here in Indiana, and I didn’t really know the difference. I was just happy I got into investment banking and kind of took it that route for about four and a half years.
I started off at Mesirow in their group there in Chicago and then ended up at Jeffries for a couple years. I looked forward I guess and said it is not really what I want to do the rest of my life. Where can I pivot to and how can I get there? As I was looking at that, business school kind of seemed to be the real difference maker where I could restart my career. While I was there, I got into University of Chicago fortunately and really was trying to break into the private equity world.
Being from Indy, I knew the HKW guys a little bit and was able to intern here more on the transaction side. Then as I was coming out, they only had a spot really on the BD side as they were elevating Ted Kramer to CEO. At that point in my life, I really didn’t know that much about BD. It was more I was doing research and saying if there’s a spot, I want it. Can I audition? I was fortunate enough to get the job here and have been rolling here ever since for about six years.
[00:03:01] AD: I love that story. Ryan, you know this. That’s a very unusual path, going from underwriting unis to being in a BD role today. What was your kind of original reaction going there, right? That’s a big change. It’s certainly a different skill set. What was kind of the mindset when you first said, “Yeah, I’ll take on this role.”? Then I think the add-on question there is what were some of the initial challenges that you expected to face.
[00:03:26] RG: Yeah. Partly, I was excited for it because when I was in munis, I was actually fortunate enough to develop business as an analyst associate, which is pretty unusual. I had some local government connections and was able to actually get some business. I remembered I was looking back. This is maybe what I liked most about the job anyway, more than the analysis and modeling muni bonds to a thousandth of a basis point.
When I joined, I really did have in my head I was going to be a transaction guy eventually. I said this in my recent LinkedIn post but I told Ted. I was like, “I’m signing up for three or five years. I’m going to going to work my butt off, but then I want to be a transaction team member.” He kind of looked to me and was like, “Yeah, go for it.” Of course, after about three years, he came to me and said, “What do you think?” I was like, “I was hoping you’d forget that conversation.”
The initial challenges I think for me were just how do you switch your mindset from I have to be the guy to really dig in deep on this deal, figure out what’s working and what’s not, whether to kill it and move forward to, hey, this deal is just it’s one of many. You just have to vet it a little bit. But it’s more about how can I fill my team’s pipeline with stuff they really like. I would say I did not know how to do that. I think coming in with Ted and team, it made it so much easier because they had a system where I could just at the beginning plug in. The system is frying. Go do 40 to 45 trips, do 500 in-person meetings, and we promise the results will follow. That’s basically what I did the first couple of years.
[00:05:03] AD: Well, I like that. My question to you on that is you said, “Hey, I want to be a transaction guy. I’ll give this a try for a little bit but I want to get back to doing transaction work at first.” What made you want to do transactions at first and then what changed? How in three years later all of a sudden you’re saying, “No, I want to do a BD role that does look wildly different than the transaction execution side.”?
[00:05:24] RG: Yeah. Partly, I think it was just a little bit of naivety about private equity. I didn’t even know the role existed until I got to HKW as an intern. It was so funny because it was the same model. I didn’t see those guys when I was an intern really, because they were on the road every week, so I didn’t get to learn much about them. I think I really thought that to be a truly successful person in private equity, you had to be the transaction guy. That was just the linear thinking I had as kind of an outsider looking in and reading books about the KKRs and such of the world. It’s always the transaction guys that are in the news and are doing everything.
Then I learned there’s this whole world of BD and operations and fundraising, and there’s a lot of moving pieces that are pretty important. That was really it, and I also thought my skill set and my personal proclivities I guess were more internally facing most of the time in terms of just I had always done hardcore analysis and I kind of positioned my – I was a University of Chicago guy. That’s not really known for being the BD rainmakers of the world from the booth reputation.
[00:06:34] AD: Well, it certainly is a shift from what I’ll say Excel monkey to uh relationship manager, right? Definitely a transition. Maybe a great question for our listeners, if I’m sitting here saying, well, like you I don’t fully understand what the role of BD in private equity might look like, maybe share just a little bit. What does your day look like? What does your week look like? What would you describe your general role as?
[00:06:59] RG: Yeah. The general role for me is to really fill that pipeline with great opportunities and it’s not – I think one of the traps you can fall into in business development is just trying to find every deal, and that’s just not the way the world works at least these days. You can’t be everything to everyone. You need to really focus I think on where your time is best spent. To take a step back into what I do on a daily basis, it’s changed quite a bit this year. Hopefully, it’s the outlier year, but we’ll see going forward.
I’m doing probably 10 to 15 calls/Zooms per day, depending on if I’ve got a nice shirt on or not. Yeah, it’s constant conversations is really my life, and organization, and then also internally really making sure the batons get passed in the right way to each different transaction team so that the good deals aren’t somehow lost in the funnel. It’s pushing them through in the right way or passing on them, so they don’t clog everything up. We’ve got all kinds of metrics and reports to help with that, but it’s a constant process.
[00:08:07] AD: I like the ‘constant conversation.’ I think it’s a really good way to describe the business development role in general, whether that’s private equity or any professional service at the end of the day. It is that constant dialogue with both internal parties and external parties looking to uncover those opportunities, right?
[00:08:25] RG: Exactly. I think that’s one of the things I didn’t understand either when I came into the role was some of the teams at the big banks. Do you really need to talk to them all the time? The answer is you definitely do. I mean, it’s just either – At HKW, for example, our sectors and areas of interest have changed quite a bit over the years. If myself and Lily and Ted weren’t there, we’re probably going to be getting deal flow that’s not really the kind that we’re looking for. You have to have that constant touch point just to keep people updated on, “Hey, I’ve got this company in produce. We love produce.” I’ve had guys tell me, “Geez, we didn’t know HKW did any food deals.” I’m like, “Well, we love food.” That’s how you start the conversation on some of these.
00:09:10] AD: I think you hit on a good point there and I want to talk about this for a minute. This is from my perspective. I love your reactions around this. But at the end of the day, when you’re in a business development role, a huge chunk of what you’re doing is that relationship building with outside parties that ultimately do uncover the opportunities for your firm, whether that be, in your case, finding a deal for a pipeline or if you’re in a legal or accounting role, it might be bringing a client in. But at the end of the day, it’s looking for opportunities.
The dynamics that drive that are a few fold in my opinion. One, we’re all busy. We all have a lot of things in our mind, and it’s really easy to forget people. I’ve always said I believe this is a top of mind game at the end of the day. You have to be constantly in front of someone to make sure that they’re thinking of you when that opportunity comes across their desk to say, “Oh, yeah. I need to call Ryan in this. Ryan’s the guy. They would be a great one to show this to.” I think that’s variable number one.
The other side of this, and you and I have chatted on this a little bit in the past, it’s this idea of you have to look at the opportunity to learn from other people and uncover opportunities in the market industry as a whole where you may just be chatting with people, and they might not have anything to show you. But you’re talking about stuff, hearing what they’re working on. From there, you can go back to your team and say, “Hey, guys. I’ve heard that this is – I’ve heard four different people mention this industry, and there seems to be a lot of interest. We should get ahead on this and start looking,” which ultimately can put your firm significantly farther ahead.
[00:10:38] RG: For sure. No, I totally agree on the first point. The top of mind game is totally true. We call it internally being persistent but not to the point of annoying is the goal. Yeah, we’re trying to find balance. I think back to the early days of the pandemic in March, April, May, and I actually talked to Ted about this because at one point I felt like am I really doing my job. I talked to a few people that I was close with and they’re all saying, “We have no deal to work on right now. It’s pandemic and everything’s shut down and no one wants to move forward.”
I looked at my time and I was like, “What can I do because the usual cadence just didn’t make sense?” I didn’t think in that time period to be hammering bankers and saying, “Send me your deals,” when they don’t have any. Really, I turned a lot more inward during that few months, just working on stuff internally at HKW, helping out actually other teams a little bit too just because you can’t force these things either. I think it’s a good lesson too in the relationship building. You can’t force people to send you deals. It’s just not going to work. Threatening people and that thing, it’s a pretty bad policy. People have long memories and don’t take kindly that type of outreach.
[00:11:55] AD: 100% agree. I think when it comes down to it at the end of the day, and this is all relationship building, but specifically as we talk about the context of business development and professional services, it’s about establishing mutual trust and respect between two parties. The key there, the trust aspect of that to me and really the respect is directly correlated with it. I always look and say that trust is like a glass vase. It’s great. You have it there. But if you break it, if you drop it, you’ve got a thousand pieces on the ground, and it is not going to be easy to put that thing back together, recognizing that it takes a long time to build that trust and respect and one quick instance to blow it all out of the water.
[00:12:39] RG: Yeah, completely. I think there’s a lot of ways that we try to build that over time. One of them is as the sourcing team, we’re the initial screen on these deals. When I decide to sign an NDA, I have to at least, based on information presented to me, make a call on it. I really try hard to think through it and say, “Are our guys really going to be interested in this? Let’s not waste a banker’s time.” I think most of them much prefer that quick no and saying, “Hey, it’s just not for us. Let’s go on to the next,” versus, “Oh, yeah. Maybe we’ll love it once we get the book.” Then I get yelled at internally because they go, “Why are you bringing this in? This is outside of our focus.” Then the interaction with my transaction team and the bank isn’t great because they kind of look at each other like, “Why are we here today discussing this deal?”
[00:13:30] AD: They think you’re kicking the tires, right? At the end of the day, that’s what it ends up sounding like. Whether you intended it or not that [inaudible 00:13:36] – In my previous role in banking, I absolutely saw that happen and I like what you said there. Really it’s incumbent on you to do your best to filter through that before signing the NDA, before asking for the book.
Let’s talk about this in the context of more than just private equity. If I’m working in any form of business development and professional services, at the end of the day if I’m telling someone, “Hey, I want to pursue this conversation further,” which is effectively what you’re doing when you’re signing the NDA, be genuine about it.
[00:14:06] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.
[00:14:16] AD: I’m curious, for you and your role, and that this is many people that sit in your role of business development, the metrics that drive you. I mean, not necessarily talking pure compensation but just the metrics that you’re graded off of or that you look at have to do with, in your case, the number of deals that you bring through the pipeline. There’s a balance that comes between trying to just put them in there because it looks good and also keeping that trust and respect with your counterparty by not saying you’re interested in something that you just know your team’s going to blow out the door when it gets on their desk. How do you balance that? How do you make sure to stay in that right kind of middle zone there?
[00:14:58] RG: Yeah. I think as we look at any professional service, I think it’s just trying to be transparent and authentic, even if it’s difficult, right? What’s the analogy? No one wants to hear their baby’s not cute, but sometimes you got to say it’s cute to you but not to me. It’s hard but I think there’s a lot to be said for it eventually. People get over it because you’re telling the truth, and eventually you’re saving them time.
Yeah, I think that’s the big balance that we try to strike is I want to be really opportunistic too. If there’s a decent chance that a deal of any sort could really fit, I’ll pursue it. I’ll try to track it down or I’ll do that initial conversation and say, “Hey, it’s in this industry kind of like, but this industry tends to have huge customer concentration. Does this one have it?” If it does, then we got to pass. If it doesn’t, heck, yeah. Let’s bring it in. Let’s check it out.” It’s time to be mindful of those things too on the front end. I think I look at my job too partly as just part of the function is to make everybody else’s job easier, because if I can do that well, then it takes a bunch off the other team’s plates.
[00:16:08] AD: I think that’s spot-on and I like the word transparency. At the end of the day, it’s having transparency with the counterparty and being open and honest about what the dynamics are. Even if you go and say, “Hey,” in your case, “We’re going to sign this NDA. We’d love to take a look. It’s a long shot. I’m not 100% sure it’d be a fit, but we’d love to take a look if it makes sense for you.” Having that open dialogue or when you get to the case and, again, whether it’s in your case, you’re just not going to bid on a deal. Or in someone else’s case, they say, “Hey, yeah. We want to explore working together.”
But then they have to come back and say, “Hey, I just don’t think we can help you.” How can you be transparent and honest and authentic in that messaging back to make sure that person on the other side of the table doesn’t feel like you were just taking them for a ride just because, right?
[00:16:55] RG: Exactly, yeah. We really try to avoid that feeling on either side, so yeah.
[00:16:59] AD: No, that’s great. That’s great. Well, let’s shift the conversation for a minute here. Now, you and I have talked about in business development, there are some really big misconceptions about what business development is and what it means and how you ultimately can be good at it. Can you just maybe start by sharing some of your thoughts around what were maybe the biggest misconceptions you personally have had as you’ve grown into this career and the lessons you’ve had where like, “Wow, business development is actually a lot different than what I originally thought it was.”?
[00:17:29] RG: Yeah. I think part of it comes back to what we were talking about before we started too in terms of just personality type, but there’s not one-size-fits-all in this world, and I say that as someone who probably is not the – most people’s thought is the natural fit. I’m not gregarious in large parties. I’m more of one-on-one or small group session type. I do get energy from that but I don’t get energy from walking around a conference and ping pong in between 200 people. It’s just not my style.
I think that works out really well in the private equity BD world actually because a lot of the important conversations really are those. It’s the small one-on-ones and it’s that long-term authenticity we’re talking about where I’m trying really hard to be transparent and honest with people. Hopefully, over time that helps when people HKW’s way when the tire meets the road, the rubber meets the road. We probably retract on this part. I’m trying to think where I’m going from here. Yeah.
[00:18:32] AD: I like that. One of the big things that we bump into a lot in the work that we do here with Connection Builders is working with clients that are much more technical and analytical in nature. The words that are typically thrown around are introvert, extrovert. I tend to try to stay away from those for the most part because I think they’re just two generalizations. But for those people that are very much focused on detail, very technical in nature, focused on analyzing situations, and maybe don’t necessarily enjoy the large room, don’t have the big personality, the outgoing loud that, the people who are more like me where I’m just obnoxious at times, how do you overcome that challenge in a world that in many times is dominated by the big personalities at the end of the day? However, you’ve still been successful despite that not necessarily being really who you are as a person.
[00:19:23] RG: No. I guess I think about it from a different perspective where really you don’t have to be out there kind of spraying your name on billboards. It’s everywhere — this industry lends itself to those small conversations that build up over time, so it’s probably better to use more anecdotal stories. But there have been a few groups that we’ve struggled to really connect with. We call them and we say, “Man, you didn’t send us this deal. It would’ve been perfect.” The next one, we miss it again. Then I keep following the same steps and I never get mad. I never yell at him. But at the same time, I go, “I really think we’re a good buyer. I think you may be doing your client a disservice. We’d like to work with you guys at some point.”
I think it’s the ability just to stay steady, consistent over time, and really the messaging is never you heard us or that kind of thing. It’s always collaborative and saying, “Hey, it didn’t work out this time. But next time, maybe you’ll think of us.” Then eventually, sometimes it really works out. Then once you actually do a deal and you weren’t untruthful and you act like you said you would, then they say yeah. I mean, then you’re on the list every time. That’s really what we’re striving for in a lot of these areas is just to be that. Not maybe the first call but to be a call and just to make sure, because it’s really hard. It’s so crowded now in terms of how many people are out there. I think I saw the stat. There’s like 4,500 private equity groups.
To selfishly think you’re going to be the first call on every deal you think fits you I think is a little bit conceited. But as long as we’re in the top 20, that’s fantastic. I don’t take that any day. That’s kind of how I guess I look at it.
[00:21:15] AD: I think that’s great. If I’m hearing you right on that, again it comes down to a lot of consistency. It’s really that predictable nature. As we said in the top of the show here, mutual trust and respect. If we’re trying to establish that mutual trust and respect, think about the dynamics in life that build that trust and respect. It’s being consistent. It’s being respectful to somebody. It’s not letting your emotion get control of you and being upset and angry and lashing out at someone because they didn’t show you a deal or they turned you down for someone, whatever it might be. Where if you just come at it and realize that at the very end of the day, when you look at relationship building, it is about people, and your role in business development is all about the people on the other side of the table.
If you can build those relationships slow and steady over time, eventually that does lead to some kind of opportunity on the other end. You don’t know what that necessarily looks like at the time, but it’s that consistency that drives the success behind it.
[00:22:14] RG: Definitely. I think that’s another good point that we haven’t touched on is just this spider web of relationships where you really don’t know who knows who and what capacity. I was thinking of a deal a couple years ago. We found this company in Ohio that we had not known about at all. It looked promising. We went out and met with the ownership and had a nice little lunch. During the middle of the lunch, the owner looks over at me and he goes, “Well, luckily your reference checked out with this consultant that I’d met with once.” That I’ve apparently barely remembered it because it was two years ago, and we never even did any work with him. But those types of things happen, and that consultant was actually a close advisor of this CEO.
I think that’s something to be really mindful of too is I try to take calls even that don’t seem to be valuable to me at the time, which I think is really important. Probably you just don’t know where people are going to end up selfishly. But not selfishly, it’s people are reaching out to you. They’re taking a chance. I don’t think it’s a big deal to spend 15 minutes talking with them most of the time, so I try to be really good about that. It’s just I would say being just opportunistic at all times in the right way.
[00:23:30] AD: I think you hit on a really good point there. The world is a small place. As much as it is a big world, especially in the professional services and especially in the transaction world, the MNA transaction world, it’s a really small world, and people know each other. If you create a bad reputation for yourself in one pocket, that is going to follow you much larger than just in that one specific instance. But the other side of that that you hit on is taking those calls that maybe you don’t normally – You say, “Well, this isn’t any value to me,” or, “What am I doing? Why am I wasting my time on this?”
But you realize that when you put that little bit of effort and you plant those seeds, you never know where that’s going to lead to. You never know what’s going to come out of that and not necessarily today or tomorrow but 10, 15 years down the road possibly even. That duration obviously changes, but it’s just knowing that things can come out of it. At the end of the day, if you’re just adding goodwill, if you’re out there adding value to the people in your network and looking for a way to be supportive and to give more than you take for a lack of a better way of saying it, I think at the end of the day the net effect is you’re going to be successful in a business development like role. Is that a fair statement?
[00:24:44] RG: Totally. I look at it as I’m the one that’s always out there always talking to people. I have to also present the firm. I’m effectively most times HKW’s ambassador. That’s just how it works with this role is when people think of HKW, they think of me or Ted or Lily because, I mean, we’re the ones that are down in the pavement. I’m also mindful of it from that perspective where it’s not just me out there. It’s the whole team, so I’m trying to put that best foot forward at all times.
[00:25:13] AD: I think that’s great. Another point that you and I have talked on is the idea of to be successful in business development, organization is key and the idea of having some kind of a plan, a system, a process to follow, and then staying organized in what you’re doing. Can you just elaborate on that a little bit and share with our listeners some of why you think that’s key and then some of what you’ve done in your role to keep that kind of core to what you do?
[00:25:37] RG: Yeah. I think it comes back a lot to that consistency point where you just have to be in touch with people at certain intervals. We generally do it mostly geographically where we have a huge spreadsheet with the top 65 markets in the US and Canada, and we have on there. Last time, we – Well, it used to be once we actually traveled now. It’s the last time we did a call and effort there. How many times per year we want to call that city in metro area and then how many we’ve actually done and when’s the next, who’s up next. We divide that out every quarter and really use that as our guide posts for, “Hey, we haven’t talked to anybody in Detroit. We got to get out there. We got to talk to people in the next quarter because they probably just somewhat forgotten about us as we’re talking about just we’re not the top of mind, so we want to boost ourselves back up to that top of mind area.”
Yeah. I mean, CRMs are – I spend most of my time in the CRM, and it’s my lifeblood mostly. I do get in trouble a little bit. I have a pretty good memory, so I don’t probably take as many notes as I should because it also tends to stay in my head. But I’m getting better at it, so that’s one thing I’m definitely working on. That organization, that’s how I think of it too from a team perspective. It’s like, “Great, Ryan. You’ve got it in your head, but what happens when one of your teammates logs in and doesn’t know what this conversation was about?”
I think it’s even more important too when I’m traveling because I’ll do 10 or 12 meetings a day on the organizational front, where it’s jump from one side of LA to the other by accident, and you’re half an hour late for the meeting, which has happened. You try to avoid those situations, and I think that’s one of the things I underestimated when I was transferring over from more of a transaction-focused role to the BD side. I just didn’t realize the pure volume and the necessity really of just focusing and doing this week end, week out. It’s really hard.
I tell the HKW story upwards of 500 to 1,000 times a year. Ted and I talk about this. At some point, like at the end of a conference, you’re meeting 34 and you’re like, “Crap, I just want to get home. I’m meeting 35. Do I really need to do this or should I just book it?” It’s always we joke about it. It’s like half the deals we’ve gotten have always been that last meeting. It just happened yesterday. I was at an online conference and I was like kind of dragging about 6:00 PM. The last company I met with, I was like, “Good Lord. This is like a perfect fit.” I think it’s that continued persistence and really following through is huge.
[00:28:07] AD: I think that’s key and I’m going to get on my soapbox here for a minute, because what you hit on is something I’m pretty passionate about myself when it comes down to it. The idea of being a relationship manager, which is really what your role is at the end of the day, the relationship side of that is a human-to-human interaction, and it takes time and energy and a focus on people to be successful at that. The key variable there is the time component. Relationships take time. There’s no other way around it. You and me both get 24 hours in the day just like everybody else on the face of the planet.
Time being our most limited asset, which anybody as a professional service provider has probably an Outlook inbox that they don’t know if there’s a bottom to it, and there’s always an unlimited list of things to do. Wherever you can implement the use of technology and systems to help keep you on track, to keep you going, to make sure that you have more time to actually invest in that person to really build that relationship, that’s what makes you successful. So many people I talk to say, “Well, why are we using technology in the CRM? That just seems unauthentic. We’re just trying to make this into a systemized process.” I push back and then say no. What you’re really doing is creating efficiencies in your process so that when you are with other people, you are able to give them more of yourself and spend more time with them and recall the conversations you had before and all these things that really do drive to the success of the relationship making side of things.
The other real key that I think comes out of that is when you talk about putting notes in the CRM, and this is something I run. I have a CRM here for our organization. In my previous role in investment banking, we had a CRM and the note taking something that I built a pretty good habit at this point. I haven’t always been good at it. Like you, I say, well, it’s all up in my head. I think most of us that play in any kind of a role like this certainly feel that way. But at the end of the day, you can’t remember it all. You just simply cannot.
[00:30:07] RG: Right. There’s too much, yeah.
[00:30:09] AD: It’s just like I used to think I didn’t need a calendar to live off of. Now, if I look at my Outlook calendar to know what I’m doing. It’s just using that to your advantage. Then in a firm setting, there’s institutional knowledge that’s created that helps really form better relationships. If you’re someone, if you’re a listener that doesn’t like to put your notes in the CRM, I’m telling you that there’s so much value in doing it.
The other thing and this is a lesson I have really learned in the last year and a half myself is that process, that act of going and writing the notes down in the CRM. That solidifies things in my own memory and helps me spur thoughts and opportunities to reach back out to them or to provide value or to make an introduction or something that comes out of it. It’s in effect a form of reflection on the meeting that you had. If you don’t take the time to do that, you’re never going to gain the value that can come out of that.
[00:31:03] RG: Yeah, I totally agree. Yeah. We’re trying all the time to try to really utilize technology in the most efficient way possible but even taking a step back from technology in terms of efficiency. I have to give a shout out to my admins who are incredible. I mean, we put a lot on them to really make Lily and Ted and I’s time as most people-facing as possible. I don’t sign NDAs. I don’t input stuff mostly manually into the CRM. That’s all on that team, and they do a great job of keeping the rest of us on track and also freeing up my time for really what I’m supposed to be doing as well. I think those are all the things that people look at it and like, “Wow, you got to hire an extra person.” But it’s well worth it, I mean, because it – I think there’s lot to be said for that message too.
Technology’s only getting better. I mean, I get probably pinged every month or so about some crazy new way to find companies. I think some of them, if they’re not quite there yet, they’re getting there. There’s one that I’ve looked at that’s a Google basically for private company information. It’s not a well-known one, but they’re on the cusp of something pretty big I think.
[00:32:12] AD: Well, I think you’re right there in the technology front you. COVID has done nothing but accelerate the adoption use and investment in technology. That train was coming one way or another. It’s just moving a lot faster now, and you either jump on board and embrace technology in any way possible or you get left behind at the end of the day. Technology is – Again, it doesn’t take the human element out of it. It doesn’t mean that the relationship side of things. It’s still human to human. It’s just making you more effective and efficient in what you’re doing so that those relationships you can have a greater impact on, build more meaningful connections out of it, and fundamentally be more successful in the role that you have.
[00:32:49] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.
[00:32:57] AD: Last question for you here. As you step back and look at your career in business development, what are some of the biggest challenges that you faced and overcome in terms of being in in your BD role, and in particular if you can touch a little bit around the COVID side of things? I have to assume that that’s actually added a little bit of complexity to what you do, but I’m sure our listeners would love to hear from you on that.
[00:33:20] RG: Yeah. On the COVID side of things, it’s really just turned my whole world virtual, and it’s worked. I think it’s actually worked. I was looking at my metrics and my stats, and I’m actually able to do more because I’m cutting out, I don’t know, eight hours a week of just being on planes and then all the associated travel in between meetings. You’re just saving a lot of time on these things, so you can do more. But I think at the same time it’s really worked for me in that aspect because I’ve been in the industry long enough, six years. I feel like if I was on the ground year one, year two, I think it’d be a lot tougher just because of that, what we’re talking about earlier on consistency.
People, they don’t know me super well. At least they probably recognize my face or someone at their firm does, and so I can make those inroads virtually that we used to do it all in person on purpose because it’s just a lot easier if someone’s in your city and they want to stop by your office. You’ll usually spend 15 or 20 minutes from with them. If they’re saying, “Hey, I want to get on your calendar for a call,” you’re kind of like, “Uh.” You forget about it for a day, and then it kind of drifts to the bottom, and then maybe it doesn’t happen. That’s challenge I think we’re facing is to get a little bit more mind share in the COVID environment which is tougher as you can’t see the people. The people game when you can’t see the people is tough.
[00:34:41] AD: I think that’s a great point. What comes to mind is I think through that, again at the end of the day it’s about people do business with people that they know, like, and trust. If you’ve built a relationship, they know you at least enough to know who you are, your name. Especially your firm has a reputation that allows you to be known, but the like factor is the other critical element. If I’m trying to reach out and get someone to take a moment to jump on a call and talk, and they don’t like you because you’ve approached it in either an abrasive way or you’ve been less personal in how you’ve reached out to them or anything like that, it does become very difficult to get someone’s attention, especially in the world that we’re living in today where as you said, when before you’d show up at their office.
It was much easier to grab that attention, where I think it just shows how important it is to focus on really just treating other people with respect and looking for ways to add value to other people so that they like you, so that they’re willing to give you their time, which again your most limited resource. If they’re willing to give you that time, that says a lot about the relationship, so I think that’s huge.
[00:35:49] RG: Yeah. I think it’s great. It would go back to just kind of more general challenges. I was thinking back to when I started at HKW, and it was interesting because we had this reputation as one of the firms that really does BD well. I hope we still have it. But walking into that role, it was pretty funny because every meeting I walked into for probably the first two years, they’re like, “Hey. Well, who are you? You’re not Ted.” It was a funny – It was interesting because I really had to say that’s great and tell Ted hi. I still do all the time, and it’s fantastic. It shows what he’s built. But at the same time, I kind of had to find my own way and try to develop.
I think part of my strategy shifted a little bit to some of the guys that are more senior MD level. Maybe go a little bit below to more my level VP where they didn’t really know HKW. Then hopefully, we grow together into these roles was part of the strategy. Then also, what’s helped me a lot is just we’ve changed tech a lot as a firm. We’ve really narrowed down our sectors. We used to be very generalist where we’d look at anything, except for real estate or the sin industries. The pipeline, the funnel was huge. The pipeline’s still fairly big. It’s health and wellness, business services, and now most recently technology software.
But at least I have discrete areas to point to to say, “Hey, we like this or we don’t.” It makes – As we’re talking about initial funnel conversation and being genuine, it makes that so much easier too because I can tell people like that’s just not something we’re doing or, “Oh, yeah. I mean, my guys know fintech super well. They’ve done 10 deals in the sector. We’ll get you on the phone with them and talk through it.” I think that those are some of the things I’ve faced as I came through the ranks here.
[00:37:36] AD: That’s great advice. Well, Ryan, it’s been a great conversation. Just to recap some of the key points that we hit on. One, the role of BD is largely just being a consistent conversation. It’s knowing that you’re out there looking to uncover value, looking for opportunities from both talking to your internal parties and external parties, and trying to bridge that gap to find value. It’s all about building mutual trust and respect with the person on the other side of the table, and a big driver of that comes from transparency and consistency. It’s being open and honest about what you’re trying to achieve and when there are opportunities to work together and also what the barriers to working together might be but also being consistent in that outreach.
Then organization matters, and that’s leveraging technology. That’s taking notes in your CRM. It’s using the right systems and processes and hiring the right staff around you to make sure that you can be consistent and predictable in the work you’re doing by staying organized in your efforts. Then the last point that I really like is, especially as you said, in somebody in your role where you’re growing into a senior level, find someone that – Find the relationships that you can build that are people that are growing with you that you have a long runway to continue to grow those relationships. Anything to add in terms of our recap there?
[00:38:57] RG: That’s great. I think you covered it.
[00:38:59] AD: Awesome. Last thing we want to end the show with here today is a little bit of a call to action, and the call to action that I would throw out there for our listeners. Even if you’re not a BD role, if you are anyone who is a professional service provider who is building relationships and out there networking, I think we all have a BD aspect of what we do. Take the time to write down and take notes and keep track of the people you know and meet. If you don’t have your contacts in one place, go put them in one place and start making a consistent habit and taking those notes and writing those things down because that will go farther than you can imagine, especially as it compounds over time. Any other suggestions on things for our listeners to run out and do?
[00:39:44] RG: Yeah. I would say call to action is as you’re writing that email or about to go down the path on something you know is not really going to work, just take a step back and try to do – Just be transparent. Think about how you’d like to be treated on the other end. If it’s not going to work, just tell people that. Honestly, it’s a better policy. I’m not perfect at it but I try pretty hard every day to say, “Let’s be real,” and in a nice way obviously. But you kind of know when these moments happen in your daily. It’s day-to-day interactions. I’d say that’s just one to really think about going forward.
[00:40:22] AD: I think that’s great. Last thing here for our listeners, how can they get in touch with you if they want to reach out and have a conversation?
[00:40:30] RG: Sure. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I think I’m the original Ryan Grand on there. Then feel free to email me to [email protected].
[00:40:41] AD: Awesome. We’ll make sure that’s in the show notes for everyone. Ryan, again, I appreciate your time. I appreciate your contribution to the show here and looking forward to talking again soon.
[00:40:49] RG: For sure. Thanks, Alex.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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