John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker LLC
Wherever you are in your BV career, it should be no secret to you that the way you climb the ladder to the top is by being able to do business development. Jobs are sold largely on the basis of relationships. When you don’t have them, how do you build them?
One of the most common approaches is through group presentations. We talked to three senior-level professionals who have been down that road and we asked their advice on the subject. Our interviewees are John Heidebrecht, Berning & Berning, Minneapolis; Mark Rutledge, Adams Capital, Atlanta; and Don Wenk, Ringel Kotzin Valuation Services, Phoenix.
As you’re considering your own career development, how do you really know when you’re ready to start developing and delivering these presentations?
RUTLEDGE: In my career, there came a point where the reality started to hit that what we do is bifurcated into the technician and the rainmaker. There comes a point when you know enough, technically, where you’re starting to be called in to be called in for presentation and support. Someone feels that if questions come up, you can help. Then, when you start to see how the money is distributed, the folks who are making more are doing more of the marketing and presentations. I think you know that you’re ready for that when you’re being asked to go and you have a desire to improve your career.
WENK: For me, I was always brought along with the other people, earlier in my career, to give the presentations. Even though I wasn’t the main presenter, I would be up there with the Partner or whoever was presenting. As time went by, I found myself being able to contribute or to chip in, to interject additional information. At that point, you kind of realize your knowledge base has increased to where you think, “Hey, I can do this if I needed to.” You shouldn’t be shy about asking to go along. I was often the one putting the PowerPoint presentation together, getting the thing ready. Depending on your relationship with the presenter, you could say “I think this is going to be a great presentation. Would you mind if I go along?” I can’t imagine a Partner not wanting somebody there, or not allowing that person to tag along.
HEIDEBRECHT: If you’re at the senior staff and manager level, that’s what you need to be doing. Period. Because your next step is to do business development. And if you can’t, you’re not going up from a practical standpoint.
What are the audiences to look for? Given a finite amount of time to devote to a presentation, what makes some groups better than others?
RUTLEDGE: We have a limited number of people who can go out there. We try to use a pecking order involving the odds of selling to an attorney or accountant and what services might be most in demand at the time. This is from a perspective of not having anyone, other than David [Adams], who is a full-time marketer. We all have work to do, along with our selling responsibilities.
HEIDEBRECHT: It’s groups related to what you want to grow your practice in. For me, you have to define your market. Ask who the main players are. Go after the low hanging fruit and work toward that goal. If you’re after a certain niche, like divorce, you need to get in front of those attorneys. Look for the organizations that are putting conferences together and find an opportunity to speak in front of these audiences.
WENK: The bottom line on that question is: What ratio of people in any audience has the ability to give me work? That’s a simplistic answer. And that’s why we’ve always found that if we’re able to put the presentation together and pick the target audience – those are more effective than where you’re asked to speak to a group that may or may not be a relevant audience for you. If you can select the audience, I think it’s a great benefit.
RUTLEDGE: A lot of work we do includes attorneys. We sponsor the Atlanta Bar Breakfast every month. We started making presentations to the Georgia Society of CPAs. We have memberships in both the National Funding Organization and the Turnaround Organization. We’re active with the Atlanta Chapter of Association for Corporate Growth.
WENK: We target attorneys, but it’s the type of attorney that you kind of have to narrow down, depending on your presentation. Using Martindale-Hubbell, you can specify whether you want to target people in the estate & gift tax/financial planning area, or divorce attorneys, or litigators. When we put on a seminar, we’ll target specific types of attorneys and try to give a two-hour seminar, maybe a breakfast seminar.
Are there some general, all-purpose subjects that you can rely on? Or, is it always better to tailor the presentation to the group?
WENK: I think it’s better to tailor it. Our firm is fairly young and when we started out, it seems like we were always putting information in about how to perform a valuation. What we learned over time is people don’t care about how a valuation is performed. It really needs to be tailored to “what does this audience need?” You throw in some war stories and make it interesting because people don’t really care how it’s done. I wouldn’t go to a seminar on how to be a lawyer. You have to demonstrate how you can help the audience. The only universal thing you have in every presentation is background on you and your firm. After all, you’re there to get business.
HEIDEBRECHT: It’s always best to tailor. The problem is that you may not know the sophistication level of the audience and how you develop the article to fit. The issue may not be so much what the subject is, but really the level at which it’s delivered.
RUTLEDGE: Our general approach is to be somewhere in between. We have a standard presentation that started with thirty or so slides that’s now grown to a hundred and some. It started out as fundamentals of valuation. You can always use that one. Then, you can gear it more to a specific topic or approach, something you can highlight. We just keep adding to it over time. Of course, the danger can be that you’ll end up giving the same speech in too many places. Sometimes we’ll get a request for a customized presentation. Also, there’s the factor of how much notice you have to put something together.
Should you stick to a presentation that highlights what you know you can do? Or, can you use the presentation to expand the scope of what your audience thinks you can do?
HEIDEBRECHT: It depends. It’s a challenge of marketing at what you’ve done before versus attempting to move in a new direction. If you’re in general business valuation, you can be more flexible in how you speak about what you can do. With litigation, on the other hand, you can’t be portraying yourself as able to do something you can’t. If you try to sell something you can’t deliver on you’ve got an issue. I’m only as good as my last time on the stand.
RUTLEDGE: I don’t like to oversell, personally. If I can do it, or know I can’t hire someone to help me do it, I try not to over do it. I don’t know that anybody knows everything about BV, but if you’ve been in it long enough you’ve generally been exposed to enough different stuff that you can figure out how to tackle something. Sometimes you can educate yourself with another report addressing the same issues.
WENK: That’s probably a personal preference. I’m not the kind of person who would feel comfortable getting up and trying to appear to be knowledgeable in an area I’m not really knowledgeable in. I’d like to have all the confidence in the world. I need it just to get up in front of people. It would be one of my worst nightmares to be attacked with questions I really don’t know the answer to and might look like a fool. I would rather stick to the areas I truly know in depth. Other people might be comfortable being the salesperson and getting up there and trying to work their way through it and branch out into areas they don’t know so much about.
HEIDEBRECHT: Trying to sell something you can’t do, things will catch up with you. The sophistication of business owners, attorneys and the bench has increased exponentially. You can be more easily tripped up. You have to stay more up to date on what’s going on. My creed is to be over prepared for anything. That’s to my advantage. I don’t like to say or do things I’m not comfortable with.