While private equity firms are sitting on a mountain of dry powder, high interest rates, depressed business valuations, and market volatility have made dealmakers and companies hesitant to transact. Yet the firms poised to successfully deploy capital and come out on top once deal volume picks back up are hardly sitting on their hands.
Mounting market uncertainties are creating increased pressure to directly source more deals at two out of three firms. However, the dealmakers doing this right aren't the ones aggressively hitting the phones in hopes of striking gold with a short-term close. Instead, they're using this time to strengthen their reputation, foster meaningful relationships with ideal targets, and grow a long-term deal pipeline.
To help your firm build rapport with the right opportunities, we've partnered with our friends at MiddleM Creative. This strategic consulting firm works exclusively with middle-market private equity and investment banking firms to provide differentiated brand positioning, visual identity, business development, digital marketing, and public relations services. Together, we've pooled decades of experience and dozens of client outcomes to compile 10 outreach tips leading dealmakers are leveraging to play (and win!) the long game.
All good outreach starts with the right lead list. No one wants to waste time and resources chasing the wrong opportunities. Fortunately, the latest deal sourcing platforms have accelerated what used to be a highly manual and time-consuming list-building process "particularly when it comes to the millions of bootstrapped companies that are so hard to research.
In addition to highly accurate executive contact information, these tools provide company data signals like industry, ownership, conference attendance, and key growth indicators like new hires, job postings, and website traffic. Using these signals enables business development (BD) teams to build detailed, highly accurate lists of relevant, investment-ready companies that match their firms' thesis criteria in minutes.
With the correct list in place, it's time to begin planning and conducting your outreach.
Custom scoring helps BD teams prioritize their outreach by ranking possible targets based on thesis fit, highest potential returns, and propensity to close. It involves determining the value of and assigning weights to data signals like employee count, company financing, and industry recognition. The higher a lead's score, the better the fit and the harder the BD team should pursue it.
MiddleM Creative Managing Director Tricia Forbes recommends using these scores to tier your list and guide your outreach efforts. "Make a list of your top 100 companies, and commit to creating personalized, one-to-one outreach with specific thoughts on each company," she says. "Then create a Tier Two list and send each company sector-focused content about what's going on in their industry, weaving in how you help companies like theirs."
The goal of direct outreach is to connect with people who have the power to make decisions. But accurate founder and executive-level contact information isn't easy to find "especially for bootstrapped companies. While a tool like Sourcescrub can help surface leaders' correct contact details, the next best thing is to delve into your network and look for shared contacts.
"Messages and meetings that come through personal connections take priority over cold outreach," shares Tricia. "Use your social channels to find common contacts with owners and operators, whether they're friends, business contacts, relatives, or even third-degree connections, and ask them to provide a warm introduction to help you get your foot in the door."
A firm's reflex is often to lead with its history, number of portfolio companies, assets under management, etc. However, outreach should focus on what you know about a prospect's business or sector and what you can do for them. Try sending thought leadership content that highlights your team or operating partners' unique expertise in their vertical, or offering insight and perspective around the company's competitive landscape.
According to industry veteran Charles Shannon, this outreach tactic extends beyond opportunities themselves. "Inside the markets I focused on, I intentionally called on as many accountants, attorneys, senior lenders, and wealth managers as I did business owners themselves," he shares. "What I found was during uncertain times, business owners would reach out to the advisors they knew and trusted more often in order to seek advice. I made sure I was top of mind in the advisory community by demonstrating I could be a resource for their clients."
While there's not enough time to craft each message with the same level of care and detail "Tier One" opportunities demand, a few small personal touches can go along way with your "Tier Two" prospects. Technology makes it possible to add basic customization like first name, company name, and industry to every outreach with the click of a button.
For example, a leading PE firm, LFM Capital, takes prospect scores and data from Sourcescrub and automatically passes it to their CRM, Altvia. Altvia then sends this information to LFM's Sales Acceleration tool, Outreach.io, which the BD team uses to personalize outreach emails at scale.
One of the most effective ways to personalize outreach to top targets is to lead with a recent compelling event. This can be anything from a "congratulations on your new hire" to a "sorry we missed you at the latest conference." Not only does this give your message a purpose beyond trying to book a meeting, but it also conveys an inherent sense of urgency without being pushy.
Steve Dressel, M&A Director of Boathouse Capital, uses this tactic to build awareness and rapport over time with the firm's "Tier One" opportunities. "These kinds of compelling events give me an excuse to reach out to companies in much more timely and personalized ways," he says.
Companies today are looking for more than a capital partner. They want to work with firms that have proven experience, specialized perspectives, and proprietary resources in their specific sub-industries. Proving this can be as simple as showcasing your firm's most recent wins, but be careful not to stumble into self-serving territory.
To keep your outreach focused on what you can do for your prospect, Tricia recommends sharing these wins and experiences as stories. "We've seen firms quickly build trust by telling stories and talking about the ways they've impacted portfolio companies," she says. "If you approach it from a storytelling perspective versus from just a high-level, conceptual perspective, it resonates a lot more."
What's better than telling stories about your firm's success? Letting your portfolio companies speak for you! For example, try sending blog Q&As with portfolio company management teams or video interviews featuring executives from your recent investments.
Similarly, reaching out with partner content and advice showcases the resources your firm has to offer prospects without openly touting them. Engaging well-known operating partners who have a history of leading marquee companies and making them the face of your outreach is another good way to get prospects to pay attention.
You may have heard of the "Marketing Rule of 7," which asserts that prospects must be reminded of your brand seven times before they're ready to interact with you. It's not uncommon for BD teams to have to reach out to the same person multiple times before getting a response, but along the way, they walk a delicate tightrope of building trust without being a nuisance.
The most successful teams "warm-up" prospects before conducting outreach. LinkedIn is one of the best channels to use for this. Posting branded content, sharing your firm's posts, and liking and commenting on prospects' posts help build trust and credibility with your network and keep you top of mind.
Thanks to the COVID-induced ubiquity of videoconferencing, audiences have now come to expect that video content will not always be executed on a set with perfect lighting and studio cameras. This opens a world of opportunity for PE firms to create timely content with stakeholders in separate locations. For example, a PE firm's operating partner could film a discussion over Zoom or Teams with a portfolio company CEO, which can be quickly edited and leveraged in email and LinkedIn marketing.
Tricia does recommend editing down longer recording sessions into shorter clips and leveraging one recording session for multiple videos. "People have short attention spans," she says. "You have to capture their attention within the first few seconds and get to the point quickly. Aim for three- to five- minutes per finished video focusing on two to three key takeaways." Adding graphic elements "such as branded text slides to support points covered in the video "is also a powerful way to subtly remind viewers of the content's source and ensure your firm gets "credit."
Reaching out to dozens of companies, fielding replies, and booking meetings every day gets messy fast "especially when you're playing the long game. Before you know it, you've lost track of whether you called that top prospect, what they said, and when you're supposed to follow up. Failure to capture these details leads to miscommunication, missed opportunities, frustrated prospects, and a poor reputation.
CRMs are a layer of the tech stack purpose-built to track, organize, and centralize all the data you capture about current and potential portfolio companies. This includes information generated over the course of the entire deal flow process and investment lifecycle, from initial outreach to due diligence to realization. Having this data at their fingertips makes it much easier for BD teams to deliver more timely and engaging outreach consistently.
Leading firms are focusing their direct sourcing strategies on separating themselves from the competition, building trust and rapport with investment targets, and filling their funnels with future deals. The ability to craft compelling outreach and connect with the right opportunities will separate the firms that come out on top post-slowdown from those that fall behind.
Following these 10 hot tips is a great way to ensure that your messages help you play and win the long game:
To learn more about how Sourcescrub's private company intelligence platform can fuel your outreach strategy, request a personalized demo.