The private equity and deal advisor landscape is currently ablaze with fierce competition, reaching unprecedented heights and continuously expanding. Professional service providers working in the sector must showcase their unparalleled expertise, captivating the attention of target companies. Joining us today to help navigate the intricacies of building a brand as a consultant in the space is Jack Vawdrey, a marketing consultant for private equity. As a seasoned consultant, Jack meticulously guides clients through the intricacies of strategic comprehension. He also facilitates the implementation of robust systems, seamlessly harmonizing the blueprint with operational execution. Jack’s expertise lies in orchestrating the entire process, ensuring that every facet aligns flawlessly, ultimately propelling the businesses toward success. In our conversation, we discuss what makes the private equity space unique, the requirements for building a reputation in the space, and what sets it apart from other sectors. We dive into the various key pillars of effective marketing in helping you build your brand, from effective messaging to the power of public relations. We unpack the complexity of the market, list curation management, business development, and much more.
Key Points From This Episode:
- What makes the private equity market unique.
- How the unique nature of the sector allows for targeted marketing approaches.
- Building a brand within the private equity space, including cost structure.
- We unpack what determines the buying behavior of a customer.
- Outline of the differences between outbound and inbound marketing.
- Jack explains messaging in a nutshell and how to leverage it effectively.
- We unpack list curation management and why it is vital.
- Business development in the private equity space.
- Why content marketing is essential and what value it drives.
- Learn about the role of public relations in marketing.
- Advice for listeners who want to differentiate themselves in the space.
[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
[0:00:23.2] AD: Jack, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m looking forward to our conversation today
[0:00:27.0] JV: Yeah, thanks for having me, Alex.
[0:00:28.6] AD: So Jack, why don’t you start with just sharing a little bit about yourself so the audience can understand some context of the work you do today, and then we’ll take the conversation from there?
[0:00:36.8] JV: Sure, I’m a marketing consultant for private equity firms, as well as for firms adjacent to the private equity space. So on the private equity side, I’m helping PE firms market to intermediaries, like investment banks, as well as to prospective portfolio companies to try and stay in front of them.
For professional services firms, they’re selling into private equity typically and so I’m advising them, you know, how do you kind of create content, how do you stay top of mind, how do you do your business development. A lot of times the firms are familiar with even just basic business practices and so I’ll assist them with that to stay in front of those PE firms.
[0:01:13.9] AD: So let me ask you a question, stepping back a little bit in marketing and just talking about the private equity or deal space as a whole. What makes it unique both if you’re in the private equity seat marketing or if you’re in the professional services seat marketing to private equity? Just give me a sense for some of the unique nuances that you’ve seen within that space.
[0:01:33.8] JV: Yeah, so my take on both of those spaces is usually you can identify your kind of fixed universe of people that you want to reach out to as supposed to like consumer brand or venture capital firms where who you want to reach is fairly anonymous and you have to use kind of inbound signals to find those people.
In private equity where you’re investing in established profitable companies or professional services selling into private equity, you can usually go out and assemble a good list of people you want to market to, right? And so one of the beautiful benefits of that is that you’re not marketing to the void.
You can kind of organize your marketing, resources, and efforts around that kind of fixed universe of people and so that just creates some really awesome account-based marketing opportunities.
[0:02:22.4] AD: So let me ask, let me just give an example off the top of my head here kind of tying back to what you were saying. So in this world with that kind of identifiable universe if for example, I am a law firm that wants to market my services to private equity firms and their kind of ultimately their portfolio companies through by proxy, through the private equity fund, I can identify who I’m going to.
I can generally dignify, “Here’s the universe of folks that I want to build a brand reputation and relationship within the market” versus and it’s called maybe more of a traditional consumer market or something, where it’s a much wider aperture without being able to easily identify who the potential is.
I may be focusing heavily on the SEOs, that’s kind of a larger more of a, “I hope I can get some top of the funnel in here that aware of me that didn’t know of me” or build more or radio and TV ad. I’m thinking mass media type where again, you’re saying this, you can be very targeted on because of the unique nature. Is that a fair way to think about it?
[0:03:24.9] JV: 100%, yeah. So I think about online marketing at the highest level in two buckets. You have inbound and outbound and they’re both kind of digital marketing strategies. Inbound is more SEO-driven paid search, where you’re trying to catch intent as people are looking for a solution for their problem but whereas outbound, the goal is to create intent by putting content out there, by kind of putting your brand in front of the right audience.
The nice thing is that outbound approach, given your cost structure works for that, the wonderful thing about it is that you can stay in front of people that are really – you really care about, that you have high confidence are in your target audience.
[0:04:04.2] AD: So talk to me about that a little bit more. Both fee, the cost structure element but also the understanding why it’s okay to have that narrow focus and how that ultimately plays out here.
[0:04:14.7] JV: Yeah, so when I speak to a cost structure, either there’s some sort of recurring aspect to it. So the resources you have to allocate to gain that new customer, you can gain that back by kind of recurring services or multiple transactions together or just a higher ticket item, right? If I’m selling sneakers to consumers, right?
I can’t be kind of promoting ads constantly to try and get that sale versus if I’m selling equality of earnings report or services, that’s a much higher ticket item and probably is going to repeat over a few different transactions.
[0:04:45.0] AD: So let’s talk about in maybe a more traditional marketing term would be customer acquisition cost, right? That’s something that if you’re looking at marketing spend and specifically when you have a measurable way of looking at dollar spent versus dollars generated, you can understand or customers generate it.
You can understand that the cost of acquisition of the customer and then you can also understand, they call it the estimated lifetime value of the customer, right? And what you’re pointing to is that oftentimes, in the case of professional services or private equity investing in this B2B type businesses where you are targeting that outbound outreach, it’s because the lifetime value is often substantially higher.
Whether that be in a one-off per purchase or in an aggregate of what that customer can generate, a client can generate over a duration of time, which allows for you to have a higher acquisition cost, right? Without getting into the specifics of breaking the math down on that just at a high level, is that correct?
[0:05:43.2] JV: That’s correct, you’re spot on. I don’t have anything to add to that statement.
[0:05:46.0] AD: Okay, okay. So now, we know all that, let’s back up, let’s look at this. So what we know is that as a whole, in outbound marketing, we can generally invest a greater level of resources per outreach that we’re doing, which means that our efforts are likely to be more targeted, take more effort to be successful, right?
It’s not going to be the low cost, high volume, it doesn’t mean there’s not elements of that but it generally is going to be hard-earned and take kind of more effort per outreach in one way or another. What other dynamics are we going to see in that situation?
[0:06:17.8] JV: So I think the biggest one is when we think about digital marketing, oftentimes there is this optimization mindset where it’s like, “Oh, we need to get the colors just right, we need to get the wording just right. Let’s apply consumer psychology here” and those are certainly important but I think the biggest thing that determines buying behavior is whether or not someone is in market for your service or not, right?
And the flip side of outbound marketing is unlike with inbound, where you have those search intent signals, you don’t have that in outbound. You don’t know when someone’s in the market and so while the universe is smaller in terms of who you’re reaching, volume is still important because if only one to 3% of our audiences in the market for what you provided in any given time, you need to try to reasonably reach as many of those people as possible without, I guess, making them angry by reaching out to them too much and that’s what, we can get into that why multi-channel is important for that reason.
But the dynamic there is, you don’t know when somebody is in market and so finding good ways to reach out to them and stay in front of them over time so that when they are in market, you’re the first service provider that comes to mind. That’s super important.
[0:07:33.6] AD: So I like the term and I guess I frankly have not necessarily thought of it in the sense of finding the customers that are in market. The term I’ve always used is top-of-mind business, right? This is the top-of-mind business and I think a lot of folks that do especially deal or transactional relay at work will agree, it is a top-of-mind business. What you’re saying is really, I think, the other side of that statement.
It’s a top-of-mind business because people are sporadically in and out of market and doing things. There are different needs that have different cycles and timelines that behind them and oftentimes, it’s relatively unpredictable. There are certain things that are predictable, certain cycles to follow but there’s a lot of unpredictability that comes behind it and just by nature of a transactional base, you know, business and the service lines.
So that means that this is something that you want to stay top of mind, you want to be doing that outreach and being in front of that, that individual, so that you remembered when the time comes, is that right?
[0:08:29.1] JV: Exactly, right. Yeah and it’s funny, I have one client who is an analytics provider of business intelligence, selling to private equity and they’ve done very well but they recognize they could do a little bit more and one of the kind of basic things we worked on together was finding more ways to stay top of mind via LinkedIn and sharing of content on LinkedIn.
And within a month or two of us starting to work together, him, posting just some – nothing mind-blowing, just some basic text post on LinkedIn, people that were already in his network, he resurfaced in their feed and they were reminded, “Oh, I forgot about this service” or “I remember that we’re working on a deal and we need this” and so it really is like you said, a top-of-mind business for people that are in market.
[0:09:13.4] AD: Well, and think about it, just even thinking from my own personal experience. When there’s a problem or a challenge I need solved, I oftentimes, maybe I have someone I know who to reach out to but a lot of times it’s like, “You know, I know I’ve talked to somebody who would know that. I know – who was it again?”
And maybe I dive into the CRM and maybe I took good enough notes and maybe I can search and find it or maybe my memory jogs because I remember I saw a post from someone or had an interaction or something along the way and it’s kind of whoever you thought of first is usually who you would reach out to, right? That’s the typical way that that scenario plays out, so I see we’re kind of having that, you know, again, that touch point.
So that actually – why don’t we use this as a good segue to dive into one of the things you and I talked about in preparation for this, was this idea of a handful of pillars that are really about differentiating yourself in the marketplace and again, tying this whole conversation together. This is about understanding that you want to be top of mind, you need to have your brand be, that people be aware of your brand, be thinking about you, and be positioned in the market as kind of the authority in whatever service line you’re offering especially and that I think that’s true for all professional services.
But especially true if you’re selling into the private equity space or in and around kind of the deal and transaction advisory space. So all of that said, Jack, I want to toss it over to you. You’ve got some pillars and I think messaging is your first one. Why don’t we dive in there and tell me what you really look at as how messaging affects that in differentiating?
[0:10:39.8] JV: Sure. So messaging in a nutshell refers to you know, how do we communicate the value that we provide to our target audiences, right? And the challenge with messaging is oftentimes, we want to communicate externally the same way we think about ourselves and communicate internally just because that’s what we know.
That’s the curse of knowledge and so one of the biggest hurdles for them to need to get over is kind of rewiring their brains or even just getting out of their own heads when creating their website messaging, their online LinkedIn messaging, anywhere else where you’re sharing marketing materials.
Speaking the language of the target audience and in some spaces, your audience is more sophisticated than others and you might have the benefit of terms that they’re already familiar, like quality of earnings, we use that example already. Your honest point as that is if that’s what you’re pitching.
So that’s great but usually, what I recommend to individuals I work with is before you kind of go on and craft home page copy where you talk about your company history and your founding member’s story, right? Which aren’t wrong but they’re just not the right messages maybe they emphasize on a home page, I usually recommend go out and interview a few of your clients and ask them, “What were the challenges you were experiencing when we started working together?”
“What made us a credible partner for you to select us over the competition? What do the process look like from your perspective, what were the kind of the key milestones that stood out to you, and then what did success look like from your perspective?” and just go and have three or four of those interviews can be really illuminating in terms of understanding, “What do I need to speak about in any sort of interaction online and offline?” So that’s that first pillar of messaging.
[0:12:26.4] AD: Let me ask a question to you on, I think excellent idea and excellent advice and doing what I call a customer survey, a customer engagement, a customer conversation, however, you want to – to think through that and really understanding, “What do we do well, what did you enjoy, how did we benefit you?” and then using that to position what you’re saying in the market and when you communicate to the market, what is it the core message that you want your prospective customer to be hearing?
[0:12:53.3] JV: Yeah. I mean, it depends on what they need, right? So there’s the emotional pain points, like we just want someone who can help us feel less stressed in this or there’s quantitative needs and so forth and so it will vary from industry to industry, which is why I recommend you go directly to your audience and ask them, right?
Some may be like, “I want to be able to pass this to you and you figure it out and I don’t have to look at it or worry about it” versus, “I want someone that’s like a supporting role but I’m still kind of hands-on I the process.” It totally depends I would say based on the industry or the service.
[0:13:25.7] AD: No, that makes a lot of sense and then you also – I think referenced that you want to position yourself as a guide and in that kind of journey, right? There’s a challenge and you are helping your prospective client work their way through a challenge, whatever that challenge might be.
But I think you’re really hitting home on what resonated with me and what you said is this isn’t about showing off your credentials and that’s important. There’s a place, there’s a time to show some of the work or to talk about the history or to talk about the expertise and depth of knowledge and experience you have.
But the – especially in kind of a lead-in element of communication, you need to help the individual reading and on the other side, understand how you’re helping them through some challenge.
[0:14:07.6] JV: Exactly, and the biggest thing is when they land on your website, do they feel like they belong there, right? Is this a place that was designed to help them solve their problem or is this you just kind of touting who you are and what you’ve done? And that’s – part of messaging is positioning yourself as the guide, right?
You alluded to that and so you do need to show your credentials, give some social proof of what you can provide but you don’t necessarily want to lead with that. You don’t want to lead with, “Here’s some challenges you’re probably facing, here’s the service you’re probably looking for if you’re in a more established space” and then come into why your credentialed, qualified, trustworthy partner and help them accomplish that.
[0:14:45.9] AD: I think that makes a lot of sense there. So let’s jump on to the second pillar we have here, list curation and management. Talk to me a little bit about that how that affects your differentiating yourself in the marketplace.
[0:14:56.2] JV: Yeah, so private equity firms first to speak about them, they’re really good at this, right? So they’ll go out and they know what types of companies they want to partner with or they want to invest in and so they can go out and curate lists and lists of these companies and theoretically, a company that can differentiate in that regard that can curate lists that no one else has curated can do fairly well. That’s becoming more and more challenging, given the wealth of tools out there to gather contact information.
[0:15:23.2] AD: You’re saying that the competitive advantage. You’re saying that what historically was a competitive advantage behind there, there is some technologies leveling that field in some ways because there’s just a lot of ways to get available lists of data.
[0:15:35.0] JV: Exactly, right on and so there are still some firms that are kind of dipping their toes and figuring that out and it comes with that mindset shift from, “Oh, we’re present online so that people can find us” versus “We’re present online so that when we go find people and then they come to our website, we don’t drive them away because our website is crappy or our messaging is not on point” right?
And so with the professional services, if you’re selling at a PE, it’s about going out and curating lists of private equity firms and knowing, “Okay, these are the types of firms they want to work with so that we can market just to those people” and that tees you up nicely for the other marketing pillars that I work with.
[0:16:13.5] AD: One question on the list curation because I very much agree with this one, it’s something that I’ve tried to do in myself and I’ve helped others do in some ways but I really for myself have been very focused on, “Here’s kind of the audience of people I believe that could potentially be buyers of my product” right?
Buyers of my service whatever the – and knowing that it allows you to be much smarter about where and how you’re spending your time, specifically if it comes down to any, we’ll call the hand-to-hand combat of BB and sales. The meetings, the one-to-ones, the calls, the conference, you know, checking with people at conferences, the stuff where there’s not a lot of ways to hyper-scale it.
There’s not a, you know, there’s you and you have to be there and having a list to work from and know what you’re trying to accomplish instead of saying, “Well, I guess I’ll see what I bump into.” It makes it much, much easier to be strategic and thoughtful in your efforts.
[0:17:03.8] JV: Sure and it gives you higher confidence with the money you’re spending on marketing is money well spent, right? Because if I’m running a LinkedIn ad and then targeting based on the pharma graphic data, “Okay, here’s the target title I want to market to, here is the geography, the company size” and I’m doing in a LinkedIn ad blasting that information out, unless someone is kind of raising their hand and coming out of the ether to me that I don’t know if I’m giving a good ROI from like a brand awareness perspective.
But on the other hand, if I have a fixed universe of people, a thousand, 2,000 people and I’m running that LinkedIn ad just to them theoretically, even if no one necessarily raises their hand from that ad campaign if they’re engaging with it and they’re learning from it and I’m also reaching out to those people on other channels, then not to say that every ad that operates on that model is worthwhile but you can have higher confidence that you’re making impact on in your universe of people that you’re actively pursuing trying to do business with.
[0:18:05.5] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, A connection Builder’s podcast.
[0:18:13.3] AD: Well, and maybe the second, maybe what you’re really driving at that I think is the, one of the core parts of this that curation plus management of that list, being it’s not just getting the data. It’s not just gathering and it’s not just – it’s being thoughtful about what’s going to be in it and managing that and more than anything, narrowing that list down over time, right?
And being very thoughtful and smart, because that process of just simply managing what that list looks like, forces you to be thoughtful about where to focus your efforts, right? It’s going to highlight questions that forces you to step back and think through the things that bring greater clarity to where you are focusing your efforts, which more than anything, it will, like you said, it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect and it doesn’t mean there’s a perfect formula or a simple way of boiling it down.
But it does mean that putting that effort in is going to yield better results than not putting that effort in more likely than not. Let’s talk about business development. I think in kind of the real raw business development efforts, tell me about that. What do you – how do you view BD? How does that affect differentiating yourself in the market and how does that drive value?
[0:19:13.3] JV: Yeah, so in professional services in private equity, my view is BD is the harvesting function, right? If you’re not doing BD, then you’re not doing anything, right? You have to get your messaging right and you need to have lists to kind of get started with BD but then, if you’re just focusing on other marketing efforts and not really doubling on a BD, you’re just not going to get great results because in this space, it’s a relationship space, right?
People are transacting with other individuals, they’re not buying sneakers on a website and so you have to really kind of put yourself out there in that one-to-one email basis to kind of kick-off that relationship, and I kind of alluded to this again, we think a lot about psychology and trying to craft that word-smithed email just right to kind of convince people like, “I’m the right provider to help you with this thing that you need.”
And in reality, the biggest thing that people – that determines my behavior is whether they’re in market or not and so just getting organized to a point where you’re regularly sending emails to as many people as you can without kind of overflowing the same people over and over again, that’s really important. The most important criteria is, “Are you getting emails out to people?”
[0:20:29.9] AD: Tell me more about that.
[0:20:32.5] JV: So yeah, it just kind of comes back to that, “Are they in market?” right? And so I guess, think about two different workflows here. So one workflow where first day of the week, I spend an hour getting my list organized and so, “Okay, here’s my universe of people I’ve been nurturing to that haven’t reached out to in a while, that I believe to be in market for X service based on X, Y, or Z trigger” to the extent that I can determine that.
I may not be able to but if I can, I’m going to assemble that list. A good example is, “I’m going to this event next month, are you going to this event next month?” or “I know you’re going to this event next month and we should meet up, okay?” So day one, I get my list ready. Days two, three, and four of the week, I am just blasting through those emails.
So for me, I set a looping timer for every 15 seconds and I pull up an email template. I look through it, make sure everything looks clean, personalized to the extent that I can within 15 to 20 seconds and I click the send button and I move on to the next one, right? And that’s for me to get through as many as I can to make sure I’m getting a significant volume for those people who are in market.
So compare that to getting to my CRM, poking around a little bit say, “Oh, this one I haven’t talked to in a while, let me kind of figure that out.” I’ll shoot him a message, I’ll go check out their LinkedIn profile for a little bit. “Yeah, they still look like they’d be a good customer and maybe I should email them” and after all that said and done, it’s been five minutes and for one person, and they may or may not be in market for what I did, right?
So you’ve got to find other ways to nurture those relationships that are a little more asynchronous while also making sure you are dedicating specific time to prep your lists for real-life business development activity and then doing the business, the activity.
[0:22:19.1] AD: So I want to – something you said that I think resonates with me a lot and something that I’ve tried to use is batching if you will and list organization is essential to being able to effectively batching and even, you know, we were joking about this, we were talking a little bit about this before we started recording, just being in conferences, we were both at different conferences last week and I came back with call it 45 to 50-ish follow up setting to do from some conversation rather.
I had a pretty good system of tracking and writing down and capturing what those action items were in real time but one of the things I did, this is what I – a little bit thinking about it on the plane home but really kind of the first day I was back and set up and looking at my computer, I spent a few hours organizing them in bucketing and groups and I’ve even got super detailed with it but just like, “Okay, these kind of five or six are roughly the same type of follow up.”
“These are different” and what it allowed me to do was to write personalized emails that probably at about 80 to 85% of the words in the similar form, right? You’ve written a block and you’re going to say roughly the same thing and then that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t thoughtful and intentional and sending personalized like actual messaging to people, it just meant that because I did a lot of things that were really similar and because I was organized enough to know that all the similar items were near each other, it was easy to replicate pieces of that work at scale in a much more leveragable way, right?
Then templating to your point is almost just that especially if you have kind of ongoing email communication, that becomes very easy or some kind of check-in system or touch point tier that you’re going back to, you can leverage that more and more but that is all about being organized and knowing who and where you’re going to go. If you want to get any of that leveraging that comes from a template or batching or anything like that.
[0:24:03.5] JV: I think that’s great. I love that even batching. I typically refer to them as micro-funnels where I identify this kind of small universe within your broader universe of prospects that have some sort of kind of triggering element or let’s say you are creating a piece of content focused on just their sector that allows you to be kind of still personalized but works scalably in terms of kind of running through that batch as quickly as you can.
[0:24:28.8] AD: No, the micro-funnels are a good one. I like that term. Let’s talk content marketing and how that kind of – because I think that ties in some ways to what we’re just talking about. How do you leverage content marketing and how do you – first off, what does content marketing mean to you? Why does it matter and then how does it tie into differentiating yourself?
[0:24:44.9] JV: Yeah, so content with a big C can mean a lot of different things, right? That good that it can mean so many different things. I think the default that we’ll go through from mid-2000s is like blog content, which is absolutely still content that you have, you could categorize most, anything online that shares a message as content, right? So the role of content marketing is not to replace business development, it is a complement to business development.
The way I see it is small biz dev is the harvesting action, content marketing is the cultivating action of your firm, right? So any messages that you would love to communicate to someone on a phone call if they would just, darn it, pick up the phone, those are things that you should be talking about in the content you put out there, right?
Because to the extent that you can find other ways beyond phone calls to get in front of people and communicate those same messages, it just reinforces your credibility for when you finally do get people on the phone, which is a consequence of whether or not they’re in market for your service and potentially whether or not your content has kind of helped them pushed them in market and I am not going to say that’s like you can push 10% of your audience in market.
But there are certainly people out there who have not been thinking about what you do and by virtue of seeing some of the messages you’re putting out there realize, “Oh wow, I actually could really use that” right? So in that way, in this space, I don’t see a lot of people raising their hand and saying, “Hey, I’m over here, come help me” unless you initiate, you usually have to be the one to send that link and connection request to send that email.
But after or in tandem with that outreach with that biz dev touch point, if you are sharing helpful material, it is a way to, again, nurture that relationship, stay top of mind and it’s something you and I spoke about earlier is because especially if you’re signing with PE and it’s a very transactional relationship where we’re closing this deal, we’re selling this company and we need you involved in that, you have to kind of keep reminding them what you do and how you provide value.
Because there is probably a lot of service providers and they’re probably thinking, “Maybe we’ll try this one or maybe we’ll do work with this guys, or what happens if we do this in-house” whereas if you’re constantly putting yourself in front of firms then they’ll probably work with you more often that way.
[0:27:11.6] AD: So let’s use the QE example because this is one that you and I have talked about and for listeners, QE, quality of earnings, it is typically for all the accountants and CPAs listening, I say it’s an audit light. I don’t – that’s probably a slight misclassification or miss and look at it but just think of it as in a transaction if you are either selling a company or buying a company you pay usually an accounting firm or some advisory firm that will come in and it will look through and analyze the financials and put together a report that supports what the likely, the cash flow of the businesses.
I say likely, usually the proforma or adjusted version of that and there’s ad vax and this is where it gets really nuance-y because we are not attesting to it. We’re saying, “This is what we think it is but disclaimer, we could be wrong” but what this is really about, this is about helping to get the skeletons out of the closet and to help position around things that are value-drivers and to communicate what the financial, historical financial performance of the business was.
To help ensure that the investor or whoever is looking at it buying the business or whoever is selling the business is, has this as a tool to use with the potential investor to help describe what the ultimate cash flow of the business is, right? That at a high level, for anyone listening, if I did a poor job explaining that send me a note and how to explain a little bit better but knowing all of that, that is something that if and this is I use as a joking conversation at times.
If I call three different accounting firms that are all in the top 100, we’ll say all top 100 but take the top ten out of it just to I think well, it’s like [inaudible 0:28:43.9] through and we can do more on however it is but take those firms and say I call any of them and I got to report them, there is going to be some variants and quality. Theoretically, they should all get to write about the same EBITDA number.
I am going to hope that it is all directionally correct and short of a catastrophe or somebody really doing a bad job, I am probably okay hiring any one of those firms and I may not even pick the cheapest one. I’m not necessarily saying I want the cheapest, I want who makes me feel comfortable and I want who I’ve thought of at that time and I use that example because going back to all of this, if that’s the case, if I am the buyer of that service, how do I pick who I’m buying from because what is the difference of who I pick, right?
I mean, back to you Jack on this like how I’m the buyer, you’re the seller, how should you be thinking about getting my attention?
[0:29:27.8] JV: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately, a lot of it goes back to how comfortable do I feel like and a good business and I’m the person who helps other people feel comfortable, right? That usually means that they’re – see, I am a pretty soft – I make a soft sell usually. I am not the one to always be closing like, “So, you want to sign this contract today or next week?” right? That’s not what I meant.
I am very much like, “How do we help people feel comfortable and educate them so they understand all the ins and outs of this?” Content is a great way to stay top of mind and so we have this – humans have recency bias and I don’t know if this is a psychology term, quantity bias. My assumption is that the person who is seen more often not only is it more recent but there’s that kind of like they’re louder and so therefore, they must know more what they’re talking about, right?
So for that reason that I think content marketing is so important to kind of set yourself up for better or for worse. We view firms who have a stronger marketing presence as being more credible, right? That just means that they made a bigger, I mean not necessarily but it could just mean that they made a bigger investment in marketing that the other firm but that’s just how we think.
Like, “Oh, this one who’s marketing themselves really well, who ‘has the Rolex version’ of a website” not that you have to spend a ton but we think that, “Oh, they must be doing really well and they must be really credible because they look the part” and that makes me feel comfortable because I am hiring someone that I feel could do a good job versus maybe getting a deal on somebody who hasn’t figured out marketing but maybe they’re just like some schmoe who doesn’t know what they’re doing at all, no one wants to make that bet.
[0:31:12.2] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[0:31:19.9] AD: It’s the trust, right? It ultimately and this is the interesting part of that because going all the way back to this QE decision, I’m sitting to say, I’m hypothetically I’m sitting on the sell side C and the investment banker sitting in the sell side C looking to engage a quality of earnings firm. Who did I talk to last, what were a couple of conversations? I’m not just going to go to one, I want to go to a handful of people.
I may be able to think one or two names off the top of my head of people I know and if I like them and I’ve had good conversations with them recently, I’d probably go into the process thinking, “Man, I hope they win it” and positioning for them and kind of jockeying for them all the way through but I am going to get one or two others just to make sure. I know fiduciary responsibility, I want to understand what the market looks like in terms of getting a proposal.
Those other two might be who they see popped up in LinkedIn last, who they’re getting – you know of, “Oh, you know so and so from Markham just emailed me the other day, I’m going to reach out to Markham” and okay and that’s about it, right? That’s about the depth of the decision-making behind that because at the end of the day no matter who I pick as long as I have a rapport with them, I trust them through my engagements with them.
They’re probably going to do a just find job. I may over time like people and try to drive more business in one way or another but again, all of this comes back to staying in front of mind, making me, as the buyer, think about you, helping me to trust you in that process and this is back to the messaging and the BV and staying ahead of people knowing how to really position yourself as that authority goes a long way and ultimately, getting across that buying decision process.
Once someone works with you once, as long as you don’t do a poor job, it’s much easier they’re going to get. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to stay top of mind, it doesn’t mean they’re always going to come back to you for everything but it’s every time you do that, you are breaking down a little bit more of that barrier. Maybe say instead of breaking down, you’re building up more of that trust, more of that credibility and that ultimately helps you have authority in the marketplace.
[0:33:02.5] JV: Yeah and in terms of the types of content you create, get creative there. You can clear around the formats with messages and so forth. Typically the angles I see people take with creating content are either educational or it’s some form of thought leadership. So when I say it’s education, it’s like if someone knew nothing about your space and you’re kind of building them up and so you have to make that call if that’s appropriate for your industry versus thought leadership like you’re kind of cutting-edge or you’re speaking to trends that others aren’t thinking about.
I think those are kind of two main areas you can go with content and then you determine what you’re comfortable with in creating material. Is it written blog content? Is it micro-content on your LinkedIn profile? That’s what I do because that’s where I like to live. Is it video content, is it a podcast? Is it one-pagers, right? Those PDFs that get passed around in this space that everyone loves, right?
[0:33:59.1] AD: Yeah, I know.
[0:33:59.8] JV: So just kind of figure out what’s comfortable for you and double down on that.
[0:34:04.1] AD: Side note here and anyone who is listening, who’s been involved in the private equity investment banking space, and especially if you’ve been in any kind of a deal source event, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about with one-pagers. I am waiting to see when QR codes are placed when there is some other way to communicate that but still in a PDF format because I like – I don’t know what it is but there’s something about that kind of literal one-page design that seems to be so popular.
But I don’t know about you, I feel like I always get stacks of half a tree worth of paper that I don’t know what to do with other than maybe skim through on my phone and likely just throw away.
[0:34:34.5] JV: Yeah, it’s funny how those manual kind of analog stick around the business card when everyone has a LinkedIn profile, the one-pager when everyone has a website, right? For some reason we just like, “It’s all encapsulated here” right?
[0:34:47.9] AD: It is. It is. Now last week, someone was using the RFI whatever business, the virtual business card like tap your phone to my business card and it pops up the information on your phone. It was cool and I thought technology is cool. I love technology, my problem was if I use the business card as my reminder to follow up and maybe I need a better system at that point but I just – every time someone offered me that I’m like, “Uh, how do I make sure I remember to follow up now?”
[0:35:13.3] JV: Right.
[0:35:14.0] AD: So anyway, I digress. So all right, let’s jump into the last pillar we have here, PR, public relations. Tell me how that affects in this kind of the space and bringing this all full circle.
[0:35:22.8] JV: Yeah. So this is one that is particularly relevant in private equity in terms of when we have a notable announcement like we closed on a new deal, we sold the company, or doing some add-on investments or raise a new fund is a big one, you want to kind of get the most legs out of those announcements as possible, right? So to the extent you have some sort of notable announcement in your firm that you can push out, you should do so.
I think a good analog in professional services would be case studies, right? You can lump those technically under content but anything that provides social proof that you are kind of active and doing good work in the space and sort of awards you get. You know, as much as some people kind of bat an eye and be like, “Ugh, award, did you pay for that?” right? I mean, hopefully, you’re not paying for these awards.
But if you get something promoted, right? Take a few minutes to publicize that but it wouldn’t be the only thing you’re putting out there. I would say for every kind of one piece of content that you’re promoting yourself to five or six pieces of content at least that is educational or helpful to your audience, right? Not only just be beating the chest, actually gotten served with good information but when you have that stuff, put it out there. It’s helpful.
[0:36:43.8] AD: So back to the website and I’m curious, your thoughts on this. I was in a debate or a discussion I should say with a friend or a colleague the other day around home page and this goes back to you build a home page, if you have a bunch of awards that you’ve won I don’t think it’s necessarily the best to litter your home page with all the awards you’ve won. I think your home page has a much better place to tell the story about how you drive value.
If you want it somewhere in your story, somewhere share that you have the awards, that’s a great place. You know, you can communicate that. An award is a great thing to put in the email communication and it is a great thing to post on LinkedIn. It is a great thing to let people know about but when someone comes to you to learn more, putting the first thing in your face as, “Look at this award I won” because to your point, sometimes it does seem that.
Now, I am not saying that’s right or wrong but I am curious kind of your reaction or your thought about that.
[0:37:30.2] JV: Yeah, in the software world, that’s the way it is like, “Oh, we got the Inc. 5000 fastest growing company award” all this stuff, it’s like they put a prominent in their hero section and there’s a reason that first portion of the website is called the hero section is it’s because in that section, you communicate who you think the hero of the story is and if you are putting your own award right at the top, you’re indicating very clearly you think you are the hero of the story and that’s just not good messaging practice.
Your customers should be the hero of the story, you should position yourself as the guide to help them realize their story. Star Wars is not about Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s about Luke and his journey and Obi-Wan is there to kind of help him realize his goal and kill his father. Well, I guess that’s not really how it happens but that’s the way it plays out because that’s the story that resonates with us is we see ourselves as the hero of our story and we need a guide to help us accomplish the things.
So with the awards on the page, I have no issue with that and my thought is same with if I am a business owner and a PE firm wants to buy my business, if the PE firm leads with, “We have these accolades and we’ve bought these businesses” I may not care about that as much until like I don’t care about the social proof until I actually am considering the potential relationship, right?
I want to actually know what you do and how and the value provide and then I want to know if you’re good at it, right? I don’t care if you’re good at it, if I don’t understand what you do yet and so prioritize telling that story of your customer is the hero, you are the guide and you’re a pretty darn good guide by the way and I would put those awards below testimonials, right? So if you’re going to prioritize on the page, I’ll always put the awards on the very bottom.
[0:39:16.9] AD: I like that because again, the awards are I think that’s a very legitimate thing to want to communicate. It is a very legitimate thing to want to make sure your potential, your prospects are aware of but in referencing using hero and kind of the, you know, understanding of that to about to fold the hero element of a home page or a webpage and that when you fill that when you litter that full of, “Look at all these awards I’ve won” it starts the messaging of someone lands on it and there is nothing about you, the first thing they learn about you is that you won an award.
Okay, well, they may not know anything about that award or anything that matters and they may leave your site or leave your kind of the thinking about you and who you are before they even understand what you can do for them, right? That’s where you have to be thoughtful about what are you saying and in what order and how are they digesting it, not just, “Well, we want them to know we won.”
Well, I get that but you don’t want them – I guess you want them to know you won but it doesn’t really matter that they know you won until they know that you might be able to help them with something because if they don’t care if they have no desire to ask for your help then who cares if they know you won an award, right? If they don’t see any value in using you then what’s the award do? It is thinking and kind of turning that on its head.
So all right, last thing is kind of wrapping this all together here today Jack. As you, for anyone listening that is saying, “Okay, I really – I want to be competitive, I want to differentiate myself, I want to be successful in marketing my service within the private equity or deal community” what is the number one thing, your number one area you tell someone to go put some effort in and to really focus on?
[0:40:42.6] JV: Again, start with your messaging, right? Does your website reflect the story you want to tell? Websites, companies evolve and websites need to evolve and change too, right? So if you haven’t updated your website in three to five years, it might be worth taking a look at it again and this is one of the funniest things about PE world, they’ve kind of latched onto these three themes for websites.
It’s nature, nautical, and New York and they’re just all about that like the compass and the lighthouse and we’re all rowing together in the same direction. Again, I get what you’re going for but if you want to be different, try and break out of the theme and so go look at your website again and I need to update my website because my company has evolved, that’s how it goes.
So I would start there and then to the extent you already have some lists that you’ve hopefully kind of just gathered even casually over the years of people you want to market to, start thinking about, “How do we kind of get in a good cadence to always stay in front of those people?” and once we’re organized in that front, then I think you can evolve into the more marketing content, LinkedIn, email, newsletter, all that stuff once you organize on the biz dev.
[0:41:51.8] AD: I like that and organization is everything. I think if I look back on our conversation if there’s one thing I really hope everyone sees, organization drives all of this, right? Being thoughtful, being intentional, writing down, being very clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, and organized in how you approach things is what drives BD, success, growth, and sales and ultimately, it’s a never-ending process, right?
Because it constantly gets more complex, it gets bigger, the variables change, and so the organization and perpetual reorganization is always an element, right? It ebbs and flows how much energy and emphasis you need on it but recognizes that just because you cleaned your CRM up three and a half years ago does not mean that it’s good data today, right? No, just because you built the website three years ago does not mean that it’s a good website today.
Just because you built templates three years ago, it doesn’t mean those templates still are working today and it doesn’t mean you have to throw the whole thing over. It just means that you be thoughtful. What are all the assets you have, what are all the different touch points you have? How are you managing that, what’s your system for keeping that organized as you go on?
So Jack, I really appreciate the conversation here. I think we shared some really good insights and valuable ways of thinking to really differentiate yourself in the market. For our listeners that want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to find you and get in touch?
[0:43:04.2] JV: Yeah, probably the best way is find me on LinkedIn, Jack Vawdrey. If you know how to spell it, you’ll find me because there’s only me and one other guy in Australia with that name. So LinkedIn is probably the best.
[0:43:15.9] AD: Well, we’ll make sure that your LinkedIn profile is linked in the show notes below and encourage the listeners to reach out and connect with Jack and start up a conversation and I am sure there is much more to learn there. So Jack, I really appreciate you again for coming on here today and sharing your thoughts with us today.
[0:43:29.3] JV: Sure, thanks for having me, Alex.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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