Working with the right service providers is at the heart of every successful business. Today’s guest, Lori Gleeman, Founder and CEO of Soul Equity Solutions, combines her two superpowers in business development and recruitment to connect private equity firms to service providers at the top of their game. In today’s episode, she tells us how she developed this niche for herself and her role as a professional services concierge. She shares her two priorities when pairing providers with firms: industry-aligned experience and excellent references, and we discuss the role of building strong relationships and generating trust. Lori also tells us why she introduces private equity firms to each other as a complementary value add. Next, she reveals the details of her unusual pricing structure and shares her three-part goal to help firms to gain knowledge, save money, and learn from other clients. Hear how Lori has leveraged her strengths and her network to build a successful business that offers massive support and value to both service providers and private equity firms. We hope you join us today!
Key Points From This Episode:
- Lori’s background as an executive search recruiter.
- Lori’s role as a professional services concierge.
- The value of finding service providers with relevant experience to your industry.
- How Lori pairs firms with industry-aligned service providers with excellent references.
- Why doing good work is the foundation of building a solid reputation as a service provider.
- How Lori’s role lets her focus on her two strengths: business development and recruitment.
- How building strong relationships within her network has generated trust.
- Why Lori introduces private equity firms to each other as a complimentary value add.
- Lori’s pricing structure where she charges service providers and not equity firms.
- The network of highly trusted service providers and firms that makes her work possible.
- How Lori looks to add value by having conversations with private equity firms.
- Lori’s goal to help firms to gain knowledge, save money, and learn from other clients.
- How Private Equity Firms work closely together and how Lori offers advice and solutions.
- This week’s call to action: create a list of ways that you can support your existing network.
[0:00:04.5] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a connection builder’s 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.
[0:00:20.5] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, I’m excited to welcome Lori Gleeman, Founder and CEO of Soul Equity Solutions, a professional service concierge for middle market, private equity firms, independent sponsors and family offices. Lori shares how she adds value to her clients by building trust and seeking to share her knowledge and relationships. I hope you all enjoy
[0:00:46.9] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn, search for Connection Builders.
[0:00:53.4] AD: Lori, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast, excited to have you here today.
[0:00:57.2] LG: Thank you so much, Alex. I’m so happy to be here with you. Appreciate the opportunity.
[0:01:03.6] AD: Absolutely. Talking to our listeners for a moment, Lori and I had met through networking and have had a few conversations and we’re actually just chatting a little bit before we jumped and record here and I’ve said to Lori that her business and the service that she provides today in the marketplace is a very unique one and one that I want her to share some about but also wanted to dig in and ask her some questions around it.
Where we’re going to start this off today is Lori, I’m just going to ask, can you just share a little bit about yourself, what you do and just kind of maybe a little bit of an understanding of your business and then we’ll dig into it a little bit more.
[0:01:36.9] LG: Sure, I’m happy to do that. So, to give you a very brief background about how I got into this business, my background is as an executive search recruiter and most recently, I was recruiting within the middle market, private equity space and in that capacity, I was doing a tremendous amount of business development and attending a ton of ACG conferences and various women in finance networking groups and became, like I said, quite networked within this world.
In doing so, I saw a need for my private equity firms to have an opportunity to learn about other service providers. It seemed like the majority of private equity firms that I worked with while they spent a significant amount of time and energy when recruiting executives for their portfolio companies when it came to hiring third-party service providers, they really were just relying on word of mouth or turning to other folks or friends that they knew in private equity and they didn’t spend the same amount of diligence in choosing those providers.
I really saw a niche that I could easily fill, which is being the person that connects the companies. Instead of what I was doing previously which is connecting executives to private equity firms, I transitioned to introducing third-party service providers to private equity firms. Really, the way it works is when a private equity firm has a need for any kind of a new third-party service provider or a vendor to help them maybe during a diligence process or post-steal to help make their portfolio companies more profitable, I help them to source and I do all of the assessing and reference checks of the service providers in order to make the most aligned introduction for them.
It’s kind of if you want to compare it to a recruiting firm that works more in a contingency model where I’m making the introductions and if it’s a great fit for the private equity firm then hopefully, they’ll go ahead and they’ll hire them. That’s the value that I’m bringing to private equity firms is just helping to clear the noise. There are hundreds, as we know, of service providers out there that either cater to or want to cater to private equity and my role is just to help them find the very best providers and the very best fit, whether that be in a certain industry that’s very specific or whether it’s price driven or value driven, I’m helping them to narrow down their choices.
[0:04:06.7] AD: Let me recap that a little bit and make sure that I’m clear. Your primary function is you look out in the deal world and in private equity world, private equity, I am investing in multiple businesses, both doing diligent and work upfront before I make the acquisition but also, completely the acquisition and post-acquisition.
I am using the service provider ecosystem, that being attorneys, CPA’s, consultants, evaluation, quality of earnings, due diligence, IT, right? All the back-end that goes into making sure these transactions are successful and the argument that you are making or the challenge you saw in the marketplace is, that is a process that requires finding the right person and not all private equity firms and the approach to selecting that has generally been through, who they may already know or what referral they can get.
You are saying, I can help with vetting some of that, I can also help with having a broader network, having a better understanding of who is the specialty provider and really helping kind of being a little bit of a concierge and bringing together those relationships so that both the service providers find the right firm to work with but also the private equity firm find the right provider, to solve their challenges. Is that the right summary?
[0:05:21.5] LG: Yeah, that’s very good. It’s interesting that you said the word concierge because that’s exactly what I call myself. I call myself a professional services concierge for middle-market private equity firms, independent sponsors and family offices that do direct investments. In addition to helping them to locate the best service providers, I can also introduce capital, specifically debt advisors as well, which is sort of a newer area that I’m focusing on right now. Yes, that’s what I’m doing.
[0:05:51.3] AD: Let me ask a couple of questions to you. In your line of work and working with both the service providers and private equity firms, what’s important? What am I looking for in a service provider when I’m trying to select the right provider for me?
[0:06:03.1] LG: I think frequently was very important for private equity firms is to find those service providers that might have experience within the specific industry that they are – that they have under LOI potential, so maybe it’s manufacturing and industrial or perhaps they’re going into technology or perhaps it’s food and beverage.
Usually, it’s a better fit if they can find a service provider that has specific experience within that niche and understand it and can kind of hit the ground running. That’s frequently what we’re looking for is those alignment of industry experience.
[0:06:38.2] AD: Okay, no, I mean, very often, having the right experience matters, right? What I’m hearing from you then, a lot of where you’re helping to bridge some of the gap is you have an expanded network, you have a broad range of relationships with service providers and understanding of what area of expertise they had and you can leverage that network, those relationships, that knowledge of their specialty and help bridge that gap and say, “Look, here’s the provider that has this specific experience you’re looking for.”
Based on what I know about you is the firm, I know about them as a provider, the relationship will be a good fit for you and you can help make that introduction, right?
[0:07:15.9] LG: Yeah, I mean, that’s a very critical part of it. The other thing that I really pride myself on is the level of diligence that I do on service providers. Number one, every service provider that I work with has come to me, recommended by private equity firm clients. Every time I speak with my private equity firm clients, I ask them, “Who are the very best service providers that you work with, that you think should be a part of my network?”
What I’m doing is really curating a very exclusive group of private equity providers that have been recommended by other private equity firms and then in addition to that, I do two additional references. A lot of firms come to me and they say, “Hey, I would love to get into private equity, that’s such a great group, we’ve done maybe one transaction.” Unfortunately, I’m not the person that’s launching careers, I’m not there to help service providers to launch into private equity. I’m there to work with significantly experienced service providers who have excellent references and anecdotal information about the wonderful experiences that they’ve had that I can then share with other private equity firm clients.
That’s the value that I’m bringing, not only may they have industry alignment but they also have been referenced highly by other private equity firms that they say to me, “You should work with them, they are awesome” not just I know them or not just, “Hey, it’s one of our portfolio companies and we’d like to bring them business” which sometimes happens to me that they want to introduce me to their portfolio companies but we’ve worked with them and they are outstanding at what they do.
I take a lot of pride in the amount of diligence that we do with the service providers that we represent and that we make introductions for.
[0:09:02.9] AD: What I’m hearing, this is – it goes to show the importance of doing good work as a service provider, right? If I put myself in the shoes of being a service provider, I need to be delivering quality work in building strong relationships with my existing clients, right?
Because what you’re saying is part of even your qualification process is getting that reference check and I think there’s very much a best practices approach there of how do we check and know someone’s work and how do we validate that in professional services where you’re selling relatively intangible product, right?
There may be some deliverable at the end but a lot of it is highly subjective in what the final output looks like and what the specific scope is and what everyone’s doing, right? There’s so much subjectivity to that that it really comes down to someone else saying, “Yeah, they did great work” and the whole point and the reason I’m highlighting this is talking to our listeners for a minute.
This goes back, we had a previous episode with Mark Bober and he had brought up just the importance of doing good work and how that can go so far. It can help with, future, gaining future clients because you build a strong reputation and Lori, it sounds like you’re just validating that.
You’re saying that that is a hyper important aspect of ultimately developing the right relationship and finding the right future opportunity.
[0:10:11.7] LG: Absolutely, that is the most important aspect as far as the service providers that will become a part of the Soul Equity Solutions network is that they have to have put in that good work, they have to have proven themselves to a point that they private equity firms that they have worked with, just think that they are absolute top of their game.
[0:10:30.7] This is Branch Out, a connection builder’s podcast.
[0:10:39.8] AD: Let’s shift gears for a minute. Now, let’s talk about some of what makes you successful in what you do. You now have talked a lot about your network, your ability to develop those relationships and you put this time and to develop out your network and understanding of the industry.
Help us understand a little bit about what’s made you successful, how have you done that and let’s just peel into that a little bit more.
[0:10:57.5] LG: Sure, yeah, happy to do that. I feel like this role that I created with Soul Equity Solutions kind of brings out a couple of my super powers. Number one, I really enjoy business development. It’s a passion of mine, I like to think that I’m very good at it and I think that comes down to just being able to connect with people in an extremely authentic way.
That is what I do and that’s my goal and that happens on both sides of the equation, both with my private equity firm clients, as well as my service provider clients. I do take a lot of pride in that and I really enjoy networking and I enjoy going to conferences and I’m at a phase of my life where I’ll really be able to dive into travel. My children are 17 now, I have twin boys and it’s really actually the first time in my life that I have been able to fully dedicate and dive in to my career and it’s exciting. It’s really exciting for me.
That’s one superpower and also recruiting’s at the end of the day. This is B2B recruiting is what I’m doing is introducing one firm to another firm. It really combines a lot of my strengths and running this show here.
[0:12:17.4] AD: No, I certainly think it does and on your desire, your ability to build relationships, help me understand why that’s so important, why – you know I’ve talked about this before, right? This is really the key to a lot of success as a professional is your ability to build those relationships. From your experience, what have you seen? Where has that helped you, what doors has it opened or just talk through that a little bit.
[0:12:38.1] LG: Yeah, I think that creating relationships and strengthening and deepening my relationships with anybody, certainly within the middle-market private equity community but with any friends, you create trust and in doing so, people feel very comfortable with sharing resources with you because they know and they’re confident that those relationships that they might pass off to you are in good hands.
If a service provider is introduced to me, that sometimes private equity firms are extremely protective of, they’re not always super spiked to share the names because they don’t want their quiet, they don’t want their providers to be spread too thin with new clients but I think that my private equity firms, really, they trust me. They trust my level of professionalism, they trust that they know that if they’re introducing someone to me that I’m going to be very respectful of that relationship and that in addition, I will give back to them.
I think as we all know in this market, it’s so much relationship driven market and it’s so much about almost everybody ends their conversations with me with saying, “What can I do for you? What can I do for you?” We’re all really here to try to promote one another’s success and I get that and I feel that and it comes back to me and I try to give it and I’m also – what I do is I also, besides introducing services providers, I’m always introducing private equity firms or independent sponsors to one another. I do that just as a value-add because I’m happy to do it because these firms leverage each other to be able to do co-investments together or share ideas, et cetera.
That is also a wonderful thing and a part of networking is yes, I’m so happy to introduce these service providers and I’m additionally happy to introduce you to whomever that you’re looking to meet. Something interesting about the way that I operate is that actually, my service is complimentary for private equity firms.
The service providers pay me their referral fees so that’s how I make money from the transaction. It’s really no skin off the back of my private equity firm clients to just sit and learn and a lot of times, I’m offering suggestions like, “What are you doing for ESG? What are you doing, have you looked at your expenses? Do you think there is somebody that can come in and tighten up your expenses and renegotiate different…” whatever you’re paying for. Maybe you are in the medical field and you need to get a better price on PPE equipment for example.
We have people that can do that, so not only am I helping when there is a specific need but I am offering suggestions also and hearing what is going on in the industry, understanding what other private equity firms are doing to make their companies more profitable, I am able to share that advice with other private equity firm clients. They’re able to leverage me not only for my relationships but also for additional value and advisory advice that I might have for them based on the knowledge that I have of the market and of other firms that might be into similar industries that they’re in.
That’s where I get actually the best relationships with private equity firms, so when they open up and they say, “What are you hearing? What’s going on? What other private equity firms doing?” and there can be an information exchange.
[0:16:10.0] AD: Lori, I want to unpack a couple of things you said there. I think there is a couple of really important points that you hit on. First off, you had talked about in this industry, in talking your particular service industry as middle-market private equity but let’s talk about professional services as a whole and kind of the broad spectrum of middle-market professional services and it is a relationship-driven industry.
It is an industry that entirely functions on who you know, if you like them in which you would have said that I felt was really important here is if you trust them. You had talked about a lot of your job, your success has really been fueled by building trust with your relationships and I go back to what we talked about a few minutes before this, we had talked about your selling as a professional service provider. You are selling a relatively commoditized ambiguous product in many ways, right?
If I get a quality of earnings done from one firm, two or from three, it should be relatively the same outcome and the reality is, I don’t know if anyone of them are uniquely better or worse than the other but I have to trust them, right? I have to trust who I’m going to and what you’re saying is just you’re hitting home the importance of building trust in this world because then I know, I trust. If Lori says this person is going to be a great provider, I know it is going to be a great provider.
I trust that person because you’ve built and established that trust and that’s such a fundamental aspect of the relationship building. Is that fair?
[0:17:33.6] LG: I think that’s – yeah, I think that’s everything and that’s why I feel so confident in the service providers that I network with and that I recommend because I trust them and I trust their work and I also know that I created enough of a relationship with them that they don’t want to disappoint me. That they are taking it personally and then they want to do it great for their clients but they also want to do it great for me because they know that we have a relationship and that I will continue to send additional business their way.
I think there becomes an extra layer of accountability when they’re working directly with one of my service providers that I recommended and they know that it’s almost like a badge of honor. It’s like a badge of honor to be a part of my network and they’re not going to screw that up. They’re trusting me, I’m trusting them and of course, they’re going to deliver those results directly to the client.
[0:18:32.2] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[0:18:40.0] AD: I want to also go back to something else you said in there that I thought was really important though. You had said you are looking for ways to be helpful both when there is a direct need and just by virtue of the industry knowledge you’ve gathered from the conversations you’re having, from talking with your network. Can you share a little more about that and maybe share some examples around that just what does that mean to you and how do you use that to your ability to help clients?
[0:19:02.7] LG: Yeah, I mean that’s a ton of it. That’s why when I am having conversations with my private equity firm clients, I first start off the conversation like what’s going on, what are you working on, what industries are you looking at right now, what do you think your needs are? Initially our conversations are always like, “Let’s break it down to what’s happening with you and with your firm” and in doing so, I’m gathering information so that I can come back and say, “Listen, have you thought about this?”
Have you considered – I keep coming back to ESG just because that’s so popular right now, that’s so important that firms have environmental responsibility and obviously diversity and inclusion issues are huge right now and sometimes, especially with some smaller firms like independent sponsors, that is not necessarily top of mind. That’s something that I am able to bring to their attention. You know, another big thing is obviously cyber security has been huge right now.
I am working right now with a client that’s been around for 11 years and has been doing all of their technology themselves and has zero cyber security. Once I brought it up and they said, “You know what? We’ve been thinking about that’s probably something that we should do” and I said, “A hundred percent, that sounds really nice. You should do it.” Now, that’s an extremely obvious example but there are other examples that come up where I feel like I’m adding significant knowledge and value to the clients, understanding what other people that are in the same shoes that they’re in are doing.
You can think of something as simple as like, “Are you doing assessments? Are you assessing the executive candidates that you are hiring?” “Well, no. We don’t really do that or we do something really simple” and I know how expensive it is especially with my background as an executive recruiter, how expensive it is to hire the wrong person. The amount of time and money and energy that you put into hiring the wrong person spend their extra $2,000 to assess them.
It’s worth it and it will pay off in the long run and it will pay off for you to also understand your corporate culture. These are maybe some smaller kind of soft skills that maybe firms don’t immediately think about because it’s not like in their mind is that bottom line but if they step back and they say, “What are the things that can add value to our firm that maybe we’re not considering?” It’s something like, you know, assessing your talent and assessing your own internal culture and maybe doing some executive coaching can be invaluable for a pretty small amount of money considering everything else that you are spending money on.
These are conversations that I engage in on a daily basis with my private equity firm clients and what can we do and what might be a good idea for you and what you should potentially consider to implement.
[0:21:54.3] AD: Well, what you said that’s really important there is you start the conversation with your clients, “What’s going on? What are you working on?” and peeling some of that back and then now you’re pulling in, whether it would be the ESG example, the executive coaching, the assessment example, you are pulling on these other points of knowledge that you have throughout the conversations you’ve had, through past experiences you’ve had and saying to them, “Huh, have you thought about this?”
Not because that’s your specific area of service, you may have a referral or you may know someone that can help with that challenge but really, you’re asking that question to help them think about something that they maybe haven’t thought of before, right? When you do that, your network and this kind of all started from this conversation about building relationships and strengthening relationships and building trust with people, when you are out there looking for ways to ask questions, ask what’s going on and look for opportunities to offering new ideas, new insights, new ways to help add value, you’re building that relationship.
You are building that trust, you’re adding value and that all goes to truly building the relationships. The opportunity to truly work together, that’s a byproduct. That is something that will happen as virtue of doing all of that but you are genuinely looking for ways to add value just through the conversations you’re having, which I think is really great.
[0:23:03.9] LG: Yeah, exactly. Considering, right exactly. Offering and suggesting ways for either these companies to number one, gain knowledge, number two, save money and number three, to learn from other colleagues that perhaps they don’t know but that I know about what’s happening in the industry and what other clients in their shoes are doing. Luckily, although there is somewhat of a competitive nature to private equity firms specifically if they’re bidding on a deal, companies in our industry work together so closely.
They co-invest together, they buy firms from one another, they sell firms to one another and there is so much interaction that happens between the firms and I’m out there in the market daily so I can gather the information and share it in ways that perhaps they had not considered before, so I love that. I love being able to offer advice and offer solutions that perhaps are not top of mind for these people but like you said, some of these areas are more commoditized.
Okay, QV and we know what that is, accounting, legal, like that but then, there are these other things like I mentioned that can transform businesses like someone like an operations company that comes in and looks at your factory and tightens up the factory floor and doesn’t even cost you money because a lot of these guys and gals, they take their earnings based on the savings that they create, which is a really interesting model, often you’re better off if you pay them upfront because you’ll end up paying more money based on the savings that they create.
[0:24:44.2] AD: Those savings, yeah.
[0:24:45.4] LG: If you are nervous and you are worried about taking that risk, there are a lot of these providers that will do that, will say, “I’m going to come into your factory. I am not going to take much of your time. I’m going to tighten up your factory floor, make it more efficient and save you money and I may not even charge you. I’ll take 10% of whatever of the savings.” That’s like a no-brainer assuming it’s not too intrusive, which is something that I figure out that I can drill down on how intrusive are you, how much time are you taking from the client.
Again, once they’re recommended to me from a private equity firm, I know that they’re not intrusive. I know that they act professionally and I know that they do what they say that they’re going to do, which is create savings and it is so much better for a private equity firm to create savings by tightening up and creating more efficient rather than firing people, which is, unfortunately, the bad rep that private equity firms get, right?
“Let me come in. Sure, we’re going to create savings because we’re going to fire a third of your staff” and “Wow, look at that. All of a sudden, we’re making more money” but that’s like we know nobody wants that and nobody wants that reputation.
[0:25:50.5] AD: Well again, this goes back to you are solving a challenge in the marketplace by helping to make these introductions to lean into your network, to spend your time building the relationships, building that trust with both providers and the private equity sponsors and really being able to bridge some of that gap. I think it’s a great way to add value in the market, I think there’s absolutely a need around it and I am going to –
For our listeners, I’m going to go through a quick recap for some of the key points, both of what you do but also where you derive value and what we talked about of our relationships here. To recap, you started as a recruiter and then you had had a transition from recruiting and said, “Well, where do I add value? What do I want to do? Where do I see a problem in the marketplace?” and you stepped back and said, “I believe that I can help private equity find the right service providers by developing my network of service providers and do the right diligence, build the right relationships, build the right trust and really advice and help private equity find the right providers.”
To you and we talked about the importance of this, this all comes down to those providers have to be doing good work, right? They have to do good work. They have to provide, they have to have the right reputation and that just to our listeners, it speaks to the importance of doing good work as a provider but what you also talked about is you build real relationships and that is something that you’re good at, that you right yourself on that you enjoy and that you’re at a point in your career where you can really lean in to building real authentic relationship.
Part of what we talked about was strengthening those relationships and building trust and the importance of building trust in the industry because it is a relationship-driven industry and you have been very successful in doing that and going out there and just looking for ways to help, looking for ways offer and just sitting down and asking questions, “What are you working on? What’s going on in your world?” and thinking about all the other conversations you’ve had and asking the right questions and looking for ways to just help bring knowledge and to help people learn something new, learn something from others or ultimately save money in what they’re doing.
It’s all been built on your ability to build the relationship, to build that trust and just to lean into the network that you have and add value. Lori, is that a good summary? Did I get out conversation summary?
[0:28:01.6] LG: That was such a good summary, thank you Alex.
[0:28:03.8] AD: Thank you.
[0:28:04.1] LG: Good job.
[0:28:05.1] AD: No, absolutely. It was a great conversation.
[0:28:06.7] LG: You did this very well.
[0:28:07.6] AD: Thank you. I take notes. I can’t take all the credit. Our call to action for this week, what I really want everyone listening to do is sit back and find 30 minutes to just write down a list of ways that you can take your existing network of people you know and go ask for ways to help them, right? Just find people that you may already know and just reach out and say, “Hey, how can I help you? What is going on in your world?” and just with no reason other than to have a conversation, ask some questions and see what you uncover because I think if you really start putting time and thought into that, you’ll be shocked if some of that that you can uncover and ways that you can truly add value just by asking some questions and looking for ways as Lori mentioned earlier, right?
Helping people gain knowledge or learn from others, right? There is so much to be said about that, so again, call to action is find 30 minutes of time to identify people to reach out to and go do that. It will make a meaningful impact and, Lori, for our listeners, how can they get in touch with you?
[0:29:01.8] LG: I can be reached, my website is soulequitysolutions.com. You can find me on LinkedIn of course or you can reach out to me at my email, [email protected].
[0:29:14.5] AD: Awesome, and we’ll make sure that’s all linked in the show notes below. Lori, thank you so much for coming on here. I appreciate the conversation and looking forward to talking to you again soon.
[0:29:22.2] LG: My pleasure, thank you so much, Alex.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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