We all talk about business development, but what does “business development” even mean? To explore this topic, we have a special two guest episode with Heather Madland, Partner and Head of Business Development with Huron Capital along with Polly Mack Director of Business Development for Gryphon Investors. We open the show by listening to our guests’ thoughts on business development and what it means to them. After hearing about creating and maintaining credibility and building your brand both internally and externally, Polly and Heather expand on the balance between being an expert and nurturing your brand. We then turn our attention toward the challenges that come with growth and change before hearing about what it takes to be successful in business development. So what does it take? Polly and Heather walk us through why reputation is so important and which soft skills you can make special use of, like empathy and cultivating a humble nature. Toward the end of the episode, we look at how to be an intricate communicator and why communication comes from listening. To find out more, be sure to join us today!
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[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders Podcast; helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:21] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. I’m excited for today’s, we have two special guests to help us continue exploring what business development really means and how to excel at it. Pollly Mack, Director of Business Development for Gryphon Investors and Heather Madland, partner and Head of Business Development with Huron Capital.
We unpack what success in a business development role looks like and the common challenges that we all face. Heather and Polly also share their thoughts on what skills are most important to develop and the mindsets necessary for success. I hope you all enjoy.
[00:00:57] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.
[00:01:05] AD: Polly, Heather, welcome to Branch Out Podcast. I’m looking forward to this conversation today. Now, talking to our listeners for a minute, we’re here to talk about business development. I couldn’t think of anyone better than to women that have done really well in private equity business development and I’m excited to just really dig in here. Maybe let’s start the conversation out and say, Heather, why don’t you just share what are your thoughts on business development? What does it mean to you? If I’m coming up to you and saying, you’re successful, you’re a partner in a private equity firm in business development, what do you do? What does that mean? Help me understand.
[00:01:38] HM: Hi, Alex. Thanks for having me. I think most people think about business development as very externally facing, and that is a really important part of the job and that’s part of building your own brand and your firm’s brand and all of that. But I also look at it as very internally focused as well. I mean, you are trying to be a credible person of influence, both to your market and to your firm. In order to do that, you have to go beyond just the branding and awareness piece to become a thought leader in your industry, whether that be and M&A, whether that be consumer products or whatever company or industry you’re in in selling. You have to be a thought leader and it has to be credible. Because you want the person that you’re prospecting or the referral source you’re talking to really believe that you have influence at your firm, you know what your firm wants and doesn’t want.
Then your firm, also the people in your firm, you have to have credibility with so that they believe you’re not wasting their time on opportunities, deals, whatever you’re selling, that you’re not wasting their time. So you have to build that credibility and thought leadership by understanding your marker, by sharing information. I mean, it goes well beyond the external part.
[00:02:50] AD: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. I like the understanding that it’s both internally and externally focused and the thought leadership component I think is really important there. Polly, I would love to just get your thoughts on thought leadership and how do you — as you’re trying to establish yourself an expert in really in business development and put yourself out there and generate the deal flow that you need for your firm. How do you present yourself as an industry expert, or as a thought leader and continue to build your personal brand around that?
[00:03:18] PM: Alex, thanks for having me. It’s a great question. I think it’s constantly evolving and, in our roles, you really are kind of a cog within the overall wheel of the organization to help keep it moving, which not — I don’t think everyone always appreciates, depending on the firm. But as Heather said, there are these internal and external dialogues, interactions that are really crucial to the role and your main focus here is building that credibility and awareness in the market. And how you become a thought leader is really constantly looking how to learn and evolve yourself, right? The tactics that might work, might have worked last year don’t really work in pandemic.
You’re testing things out of how to interact with your key market or constituents, constantly trying new ways to engage them. I think there is – the people that are really successful at that are willing to put themselves out there. Frankly, sometimes I fail it doing it, and learn from and that tends to be how they get better.
[00:04:33] HM: That’s funny, Polly. I have this thing in my office that says, “What have you failed at today? What have you tried that worked? What have you tried that didn’t work?” Because that’s how you end up learning, right?
Alex, I just might add one more comment to Polly’s because I think what we’re talking about is not just business development as a role, right, just external and transactional but we’re talking about it as a career. We’re curating our networks, we’re curating and prospecting new opportunities and referral sources, and we’re being thoughtful about the ways we’re going about doing that. Because that network will follow you for the rest of your career, whether you’re at the job you’re at today or the job that you want in the future.
Unfortunately, for us, LinkedIn does that really easily, right? Your network follows you everywhere you go and you’re marketing it. You’re leveraging your network to sell yourself, not just the firm when you’re ready for that next job or that next promotion.
[00:05:28] PM: As someone who just recently did move firms, I can say that’s actually extremely helpful. And the amount of people that did reach out because of the brand and the reputation that I had built myself, not to toot my own horn here, but clearly there is enough of an impact. Not only that my new employer obviously found that compelling, but people really did reach out and engaged with me and it started a host of new dialogues that are really important. In fact, that’s what I’ve been hired to do, so it does continue with you and it’s something that people really do need to think about all the time. This is not limited to where you are today.
[00:06:04] HM: Yeah, they hired you because of your network and because of your ability to build relationships and leverage that network for the good of the organization that you’re representing and that’s extremely valuable.
[00:06:14] AD: I want to come back to the network side of this sentiment. I do want to hit a point that Heather you made and Polly you hit on. This idea of learning and if I want to one, be a thought leader; two, I want to be good in the BD role, build these relationships. Part of that is learning, evolving and constantly finding opportunities for growth. Heather, your point of what if I fail that, how have I failed? Because ultimately, if you’re succeeding it, literally everything you do, then you’re clearly not pushing yourself outside of some boundaries and comfort zone that really does allow that opportunity for growth and change.
I would love to ask you first Heather and Polly I love your reactions as well on this. What are some of the challenges, right? You know you have to fail, you have to go and hit certain some challenges and overcome obstacles to be good at business development. What are the challenges that you’ve hit in your BD career so far?
[00:07:04] HM: We’ve been in this for a long time and I think we constantly talk about BD being a long game if it’s career versus a job. Polly said it very well, you have to continually evolve and change, so one of the things I’ve learned is acknowledging that what got you here won’t get you there. That’s been a challenge, right? It’s figuring out what am I good at, what is my highest and best use. And yeah, tactics and things that worked for me early out in my career to sort of get me into it worked then. But as you’re moving up in your career and taking on bigger leadership roles within your own firm and becoming a thought leader, both externally, internally, like those tactics no longer work anymore.
I hired a presence coach three or four years ago now, because I saw that shift happening in my career and knew that the skills that I’ve had and I’ve grown historically is great and I’ll always have that. But I needed to evolve and I needed to change the way that I communicated internally, which isn’t necessarily the same way that you would communicate externally. So I had to go through a lot of personal growth in work to better understand that about myself and how little changes here or there could be really helpful in propelling me in my own career.
[00:08:19] AD: I think that’s great point. Polly, what about you?
[00:08:21] PM: I think the follow on that, there’s a few things. Some of the challenges are the lack of clear-cut KPIs. What you’re doing and how you measure success, measuring it itself can be difficult. For business development and private equity, I don’t consider success just receiving more teasers. That’s not me doing my job well because there’s no conversation then around quality, there’s no conversation around what got us an edge. Realistically, it’s not just me. Going back to your previous question here, we aren’t the only ones doing BD and we’re not always the leader. As a cog in this machine, I might be actually pushing other people to be more forward facing in the organization than they may want or feel comfortable doing.
How do you measure how you’re being successful can certainly be difficult, you really need alignment between business development and the entire organization. Heather said this this early on. If we are going one of the first people in many cases that management teams or investment bankers may engage with. As a representative of that organization, they need to trust that we know what we’re talking about. So you need good alignment, you need to be empowered, you need to have constant communication on what the firm’s interested in.
At Gryphon, my firm, we’re constantly evolving the sectors in which we spent time. We’re really a thesis-driven firm. So I need to know how they’re changing to properly articulate it to the market, so that we could be effective. That constant dialogue is really key in order to be successful.
[00:09:57] HM: That is so true, Polly. I’ll add to that in saying, one of the challenges even deeper than kind of measuring it is, all the tools, and the innovation, and the technology around data analytics and BI that now we have at our disposal to extract data. And I think the challenge is obviously, staying ahead and in front of that technology, but the other one is just extracting the right data, and cutting, and slicing and dicing it the way that makes sense for your business to extract what does it mean for how successful or effective am I being in my job or as my team being and finding the right opportunities that are actionable and winnable.
I think that’s been one of the true joys actually of my career on has just been figuring that out and what is the data telling you about where you should spend your time. I think that’s been tremendously helpful but it requires you to stay on top of all of that.
[00:10:56] PM: Yeah. Time management is a huge challenge to the role as well, right? I think there’s a reality in business development that like, you have to accept you’re not in an 8:00 to 5:00 job and there’s — your personal life and your professional life are often — I will at least speak for myself, extremely blurted.
[00:11:17] HM: Actually, in a pandemic when you’re working from home.
[00:11:20] PM: One of my closest friends are people I met through work, which is amazing from a work perspective, obviously. But actually, it’s also really nice because I get to work with my friends in our organizations.
[00:11:29] HM: Absolutely.
[00:11:31] PM: But because of that, you’re talking about a job that really there is no barriers to and you’re really — we can talk at some point about the importance of being authentic and really bringing yourself out there. But with that, you have to accept a certain level of vulnerabilities. You really got to be really confident in yourself.
[00:11:54] HM: One of the challenges I faced was just under appreciating or undervaluing how critical marketing is to business development and how much they are so closely intertwined. Having to look at myself as a creative person, which I’ve been analytical and financial my whole career and all of a sudden, what? I have to be a marketing person too?
Well, we can all leverage the resources we have internally and of course hiring the right resources externally to help us out. It’s also learning and evolving to learn a skill set that maybe you didn’t think you really needed, but now you do. That’s been also exciting and challenging at the same time.
The use of data as Heather said is really important to figure out where that time is most effectively spent. Because realistically, you have to try a bunch of things and figure out what’s also a waste. The people who do this well are constantly thinking through that and evolving it. I’m not saying I’m the best of that for sure. It is something I am constantly working on and trying to think about myself.
[00:13:19] AD: I want to really dig into that for a minute, just around the data side and using that from a time management and keeping yourself focused on success. I’m going to go with my own soapbox here for a minute around this. In networking and relationship building and business development, one of the biggest challenges that I hear a lot of people struggling with is staying focused, staying motivated, kind of keeping the consistency up. We know that the real key to that relationship building is that consistent touch, that consistently building out those relationships. So often, I think it becomes difficult to stay motivated and focused because there is a very small correlation between your direct efforts today and the actual results they produce tomorrow.
Everything in this game is a long-term game. It’s, plant the seed and wait for years until something end up coming there. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s not value in tracking deal flow in referrals, in relationships and all these things that can help you become smarter about what you’re doing. And assess, and allocate your time and reflect on what’s being successful, what’s not so that you can have the highest and best use of your time and just become smarter about that.
But all of that said,I see so many times when people want to track how much revenue they’re generating or how many deals they’re closing based on their networking. You will go crazy trying to keep yourself focused on it when you’re like, “I did all this work and I had all the success, but nothing came out of it.” Well, because that’s how BD works, until one day you get a phone call from someone you talked to two years ago that you barely remember their name and they’re like, “Hey, by the way, I have a deal for you.” Right? That’s how this game works. It’s very unpredictable. It’s very random. It doesn’t mean you can’t use the data. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t again help you prioritize and drive your efforts in the right place.
But don’t get yourself hooked up on only measuring something that frankly you have no influence over. Measure the stuff that if you really want to measure your BD success, measure the stuff that you have influence over. How many meetings did I have, how many interests did I make, how many — what are the things that I did. Not necessarily what are the impacts, what is the reaction of that. Those are good to measure too, because it can give you an understanding the magnitude of your efforts and what’s working. But again, make sure you’re measuring the right things to stay focused.
The reason I wanted to kind of go into that is, Polly, your point around time management, I talked to people all the time about not working. For the two of you, your job is to BD network and build relationships, right? Fundamentally, that’s your role. It’s also — we talked about this a little bit before we hit record today, that that’s the role of more than just the two of you in your firms. But frankly, it should be the role of all professionals in the firm, right? There’s always some level of interaction and relationship building in the marketplace that can be happening. But the reaction I always hear from people is, “I don’t have time for it. I just don’t have time.”
So talking for a minute to — just put yourself on the mindset of we’re talking to someone who does not do BD as a full-time job but does have some level of BD responsibility or some level of — they’re professional that wants to excel in their career, so BD is part of it. What do you say to someone who just says they don’t have any time, Heather?
[00:16:31] HM: Yeah. I mean look, you have to say you cannot be all things to all people. You just can’t be. I guess in our industry, we say a little bit of boil the ocean, right? I mean, you have to be so shameless and unapologetic about how you spend your time and you use the data to figure out if you’re spending the time to Polly’s point is effective or not. But you really have to put boundaries around those activities that are meaningful and driving short-term value, but balancing that, Alex, based on what you said, they are also driving long-term value.
Like I know building this relationship today may not get me a deal or any business in six months, but in two years, this relationship is going to be really important to me. So it’s balancing those two things, but it’s really setting boundaries around, you can’t be everywhere, you can’t be all things to all people and really focusing in on your highest and best use and prioritizing your activities accordingly.
[00:17:31] PM: You also can’t get frustrated in the beginning that you’re not seeing results, because this really is a career where the results snowball. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and the first six months, first two years, frankly, are very different conversations that I was having versus where I am today. I benefited from going to a firm that have well-established business development functions, so I was very lucky as a place to start anyway. In many ways, a lot of the network sort of handed to me, but I still had to foster it on my own and build my own brand. I couldn’t just ride on the laurels of the firm itself, and that really takes time. So I think some people as you said, they don’t have time for it or they expect those quick results and you need to understand that even what you’re getting a few years and it’s going to be different than 10 years. This really is a long game.
I think furthermore, people need to understand that as you said, even though your title isn’t BD, everyone impacts the overall business development of an organization. If you’re an accountant at a firm, you’re an assistant, if you’re complaining to your friends if you’re not happy at that job, that travels and hits the market. So obviously, as a management of an organization, you need to treat your employees well, right? It’s good that everyone should be ideally happy because we project that energy to the market and make people want to work with us. Private equity in particular is a relationship business, right? You can go by fact and no one really can tell you whether or not you get to buy it. But when you’re buying a company that the management team actually gets to choose.
[00:19:14] HM: It’s a wonderful thing.
[00:19:16] PM: I’ll have to be that face of the firm.
[00:19:19] HM: That’s right. What’s funny, Alex. I’m actually doing a business development training and onboarding for our associates and some of the new hires we’ve made recently. And we do a whole deck around what is business development, what do we do every day, how do we do it and how can you contribute to what we do in business development. A lot of it is, these guys sit at their computer all day, looking at spreadsheets. How are they possibly able to contribute to BD? Well, they’re the ones negotiation NDAs, they’re the one sometimes turning down deals, asking questions about deals early on in the process, talking to bankers and every opportunity. Whether you’re on the phone or in-person, there’s an opportunity be marketing and developing future business and building relationships with those at your level. The younger associates building relationships, because in 10 or 20 years, they all are going to be the leaders of the firms and the ones that you’re looking to. And those are going to be the people in your network.
[00:20:12] PM: It’s so funny. I hate that this is going to probably come out wrong. But like the moment I realized I was old, was that —
[00:20:20] HM: How many instances does this happen every day now?
[00:20:23] PM: The moment I realized I was like old was that all the like key deal people at banks were like friends of mine. [Inaudible 00:20:33] like someone else’s debt.
[00:20:35] AD: Yes, because the relationship grows.
[00:20:38] PM: Oh, I get it. Yeah. We went to college together, yes, I know. So you think back in the day like, “Oh, I don’t know this people that well” or like — I remember I wasn’t actually in private equity the whole time, certainly not in-house, so I maybe didn’t always value that as much. It’s really funny now because I’m like, I know these people so well and these relationships I’ve actually had in some cases for 15+ years. Long game indeed.
[00:21:03] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders Podcast.
[00:21:13] AD: Well, all this comes back to long game, right? One of the things that I fundamentally believe is success in relationship building in general is a mindset thing and it’s about really having that long-term mindset. What I heard both of you say loud and clear was, that you have to make sure you’re thinking about how every action you do impacts the relationship with the human on the other side of the table. If I’m signing an NDA, I’m the associate signing the NDA. And Heather, you worked really hard to build a good relationship with someone, I just didn’t. For lack of better way of saying it, an asshole in this NDA negotiating process. Let me tell you, as a former investment banker, I’ve sat on the other side of some private equity firms that just I think that was just a game to see what we can do in the NDA.
[00:21:55] HM: That was an initial impression. That’s your first impression of that firm as a potential buyer, Alex. You’re right.
[00:22:01] AD: Speaking to the deal professionals on the sell side here, as someone who -- actually, I was speaking to the buy side as someone who worked in the sell side. As someone who exactly as you just said, Heather. My first impression of a buyer is that — and I won’t say the names of the firms, but until this day, and I have been out of banking for 18 plus months at this point, I can tell you their exact name in the firm. There’s three of them.
We showed them most deals we worked on, but oh my gosh, I rolled my eyes every single time because I was like, “Oh, here it is again. Let’s get this one fired up.” There’s to a point where one of the firms, we had like a special NDA set aside. We’re like, “We’re going back to this because I can’t keep renegotiating this.” What I want people to recognize is, if I’m the advisor, I’m sitting in the sell side banker seat and I’m ultimately advising my client where to go in this transaction and I have influence over my client, your behavior, your actions like that. I get it, you have to protect yourself, you have to have certain things in your NDA, but you do not have to go about it in an aggressive way. You don’t have to be rude about it. There’re so many ways to do this friendly.
In that perception, it just makes me say, “You know, you bid close to someone else, we’re going to go with buyer two” because I just — buyer one, they have been a headache to work with. Or maybe I forgot to respond to their email, oops, right?
[00:23:22] PM: Well, how many of us are there? There’s so many private equity company --
[00:23:25] HM: Don’t need to sell to us, you can sell to thousand different — we have a page on that training that I mentioned on how to turn down a deal. Like literally, there is an art to doing that, and Polly understand this from the place and person she formerly worked for. But it not just saying, “Sorry, we’re not interested” after you’ve taken a book and gone through the NDA process, but it’s being very thoughtful about why. And I’m using that opportunity to also tell them, “Well, we’ve been really busy to share with closed ex-deals. We’re looking at XYZ. If you got any registering interest in other sectors and opportunities that may be right for you.” So it all comes back to that.
[00:24:04] PM: So it’s just common courtesy, right? Like people really [inaudible 00:24:06] doing day to day and I totally understand that. But if you’re not responsive, if you’re not just — if someone emails you and ask you a quick question or you realized you’re not going to look at that deal any further, and you don’t write back and explain that you are going to pass and give them a real thoughtful response as to why, considering you’ve had them sit on the phone with you for an hour of their very valuable time, you’re probably not going to get called again. Because there’s a lot of other private equity firms out there. Are money is all green, so —
[00:24:38] HM: Now is better than a long drawn out one.
[00:24:40] PM: Yeah. These things come back to haunt you. As you said, there’s people who don’t get looks at further deals. And the people who really are thoughtful, and are good players and recognize that relationships or reputation matters. Look, most of the deals we look at are ultimately going to be banked, but in some cases, that can help get you in early luck. A great example in the Gryphon portfolio is Mechanix Wear. So the former CFO one of our previous portfolio companies, Dough Hood was really good friends with the family that had founded the company, Mechanix Wear, and they make effectively premium work gloves, that has like a cult enthusiast following within the PPE category.
Based on Doug Hood’s experience with working with us, he knew that they were contemplating a transaction and he made an early introduction to Gryphon. Now, as a CFO, I mean, at a former company, he had obviously had a fair amount of exposure to our firm. So he knew a lot of the people here, he knew exactly how we operated and how we treated our partners. The companies that we invest in again, are of the size that we — it is rare for them to not go through a banker to process, so we know that. But getting those early introductions were really key for us in that process and gave us a really drastic edge over everyone else. How do we get that? From being good partners, right? Really simple.
[00:25:59] AD: I think this does conduct come back to mindset, it comes back to valuing people on the other side. If you ever find yourself having a mindset of, “That’s just not important, I don’t need to respond or I don’t care. It’s not a success because we’re passing on the deal, so what does it matter if I give them a better reason.” If you start those types of thoughts, it’s that negative mindset, that view that, “Well, it only matters if we’re succeeding, if we’re getting a deal done or if there’s something that we had right now” versus thinking about that long game, that long-term relationship and understanding that relationships everywhere can lead to something. The better you can do, the more goodwill you can put out there. The better you can do in establishing and building those relationships in every situation you find yourself in professionally, the better it is.
Again, I go back to my role in being a professional and saying if I’m out there and again, whether I’m talking to a private equity buyer, I’m talking to a client, I’m talking to an account doing quality of earnings, I’m talking to lawyers writing the documents. It doesn’t matter who in that ecosystem, all of those are opportunities to build relationships into making a good impression that can come back in the future. Heather, to your point earlier about the associates and especially the deal team side. We’ll speak more broadly. This is frankly for any professional out there that’s interacting in the professional ecosystem, whether that be with other advisors, with clients.
Just because you’re not in that client lead generation or that BD-type role, you are still 100% in a relationship building function. You are turning down great opportunities to build good working relationships and future opportunity if you do not focus on making sure those relationships are priority. It's a mindset, you have to believe that, you have to put the time and energy, and you have to make sure that you’re always asking yourself, how would this be perceived? Am I being an asshole? Am I being rude? Am I being unreasonable? I get like things happen. People bump heads in the deal world and it definitely happens. But you have to do your best to work your way through that and keep those relationships alive.
[00:27:58] PM: If you don’t, I mean you’re probably in the wrong industry. It’s certainly for private equity, although — and maybe within finance, that there are certainly some roles where you don’t have to worry about interacting with anyone else, and you can be as much of a jerk as you want. But in even other industries, I don’t know why I was thinking about this. Like Walmart has greeters. They have people when you walk in to say hello and they even — like the face of the company as you walk in.
[00:28:23] HM: First impressions make a difference.
[00:28:25] PM: It makes a huge difference, right? Those are just little things that ultimately people remember. It is in retail, it’s in private equity. It’s everywhere.
[00:28:35] AD: Relationships are everything. Relationships are, and especially in today’s world, we are more interconnected, hyperconnected than we ever have been. I always say this, especially our client base and our listener base being a middle-market service provider. You are a commodity at the very core of what you do in every way. In private equity’s case, you bring dollars. You know, your dollars are green. Polly, your dollars are green. Heather, your dollars are green. I bet I can spend them the exact same way. If you’re a lawyer, ultimately if I hire you to get my legal work done, I hope you get it right and you both do it the same way. If I hire two accounts to do my taxes. I sure hope you get the same answer. If not, I want to know who got the lower answer for me.
But ultimately, the ideas are, you really are a underlying commodity provider and the only way you can have that competitive distinct edge is the relationship and the different knowledge and insight in ways that you can add value because you’re good at building those relationships and communicating that. That really leads me into a topic, Heather, I want to get your thoughts on to start with. We talked before we jumped on recording here, around the skill sets that ultimately are needed in being successful in this role. I know as you mentioned here, you’re working with — training up with some of the associates in your firm on this.
Talking to someone who doesn’t do a full-time BD roll today, but says in the future, “I want to do BD.” What’s important? Not just private equity BD, and obviously that’s a core of your expertise. But in general, what does it take to be successful at BD?
[00:30:05] HM: Yeah. I mean, I’ll hit this in two areas. One for that person who’s maybe not in it in a full-time role, Alex. But I hit on this a little bit before, but being a lifelong learner, faking it until you make it can only last for so long, until you just got to admit you don’t know. Then you got to go and learn what you need to learn in order, so the next time that question comes up or the topic comes up, that you are more credible in talking about it. So it’s learning what you don’t know and seeking to be that lifelong learner, and being open and vulnerable to admitting that. Then fixing it and learning. It’s also knowing that your brand and reputation will follow you throughout your career.
Unfortunately, we know what happens online stays online. We also know that the same is true of your behavior on the road, or at conference or in a public setting. People remember those things and that will follow you through your career, good, bad and indifferent and you kind of want to be the good part. That’s remaining true to who you are, and being authentic and not trying to be someone you’re not, because that will only take you so far in your career.
I think the other part, Alex of it is the skillsets required for BD transcend beyond being a great communicator and building leveraging relationships. It’s having that technical and analytical mindset to make sure you’re measuring your success effectively. And then also being a strategic and big picture thinker figuring out in the grand scheme of my activities, what is my end goal for my firm, for myself and making sure that the activities that you’re doing, the people and the conversations that you’re having are moving you toward that end goal as well for both your firm and for yourself.
I felt like my career in business development really started shifting when I put on that visionary mindset of being strategic for my firm, and putting words and data to our strategy around business development marketing as a firm over the longer term. That’s a game changer for a lto of firms when you can have that mindset.
[00:32:14] AD: Polly, so Heather shared the lifelong learning, your reputation follows you and the value of big picture thinking. I want to come back to a couple of those. I think those are all spot on. What’s your reaction to that? Maybe where else do you have some other thoughts that you would say to someone trying to break into a BD career?
[00:32:30] PM: Well, she’s spot on reputation, Alex, you said so yourself that you remember people who were difficult to negotiate NDAs with and how you behave in a process or PE, people remember that and it’s going to impact future deal flow. I think another skillset that’s really core is being really, recognizing that you’re an influencer within the organization. Not just an influencer to the market, but you need to actually influence people internally. Often to do things that they might not initially feel is their core skillset. It may not be comfortable. This is getting people to pick up the phone and talk to bankers. This is getting other people in the organization to be on panels who maybe don’t like to be in front of.
[00:33:15] HM: Or mentioned in news articles.
[00:33:17] PM: Yeah. So we are really steering kind of the overall outbound communication, but a lot of that, it just doesn’t happen overnight. You have to get everyone else aligned and there’s a lot of soft skills that I think I even discounted myself as being so crucial to PE when I was right out of college. I didn’t there was such an important role for that. But I’ve come to see, it really is fundamental to the long-term success of an organization, that you need to have people who are constantly thinking about what is a reputation, how are we being perceived in the market. Thinking about keeping that deal flow going. But in order to do it it’s not just that person, it’s everyone else so we have to keep everybody moving to keep them all aligned.
[00:34:04] AD: Let’s talk soft skills for a minute. We hear this all the time. Everyone always says soft skills are important. I’ve never met anyone who says, soft skills aren’t important and I’ve certainly met people who don’t prioritize the development of soft skills. When we say soft skills, what are some things that jump to mind? Polly, I’ll go to you first on this one. What are just maybe some certain or some areas of soft skill where like, “This is really important to my success as a professional?”
[00:34:30] PM: I think empathy is really important. You need to be able to — and a lack of ego.
[00:34:37] HM: And stay humble, yup.
[00:34:40] PM: You need to be as comfortable talking to the CEO as you do the mailman within a company, and you have to treat everyone with respect. So this is about how — your composure in these organizations, and ultimately get the people to trust you and want to work with you, right? That comes through, you don’t force it, you don’t say, “You have to go get in this panel” or “You have to write this article.” But it’s understanding they do have other priorities, and how do you also get them to feel aligned that this too is a noteworthy priority, and that comes from them really feeling like you hear them and you know what they’re doing, right?
It’s kind of circular admittedly, and you can’t go with like writing with an ask to people, but you really have to also couch things and frame it as to how this is good for them long term. None of this should ever feel like I’m trying to push someone in one direction or I obviously said, it shouldn’t feel like I’m selling. You need everyone to mutually feel like they’re aligned and winning or at best, that the other parties thinks that they’re getting the biggest benefit out of this, and less so than me, like that’s wining. And how you frame things, like that’s a skill of learning how to do that.
[00:35:52] AD: It’s the empathy skill, right? If I really, if I want to go and I want to say, “Heather, I really think you need to work on X, Y, and Z.” If I come out at it and say, “Well, Heather, you’re bad at X, Y and Z and you need to get better at it” versus, “Hey, Heather. I know you’re doing really great at this and you’ve done well here, have you considered working on X, Y, and Z, because I think it would really help you in these ways.” It’s a different way of approaching it, instead of — you have to have that mindset of, “Okay.” And this is something I tell myself every day. People are doing their best, I genuinely believe that. I think people get up every single day and they’re doing their best, and that doesn’t mean there aren’t assholes in the world. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad people in the world at time.
But the honest reality is, when people aren’t performing at their peak, it’s not because on their mind, they’re saying, “Well, I don’t want to or I’m not going to do this.” It’s usually because that they’re thinking differently about it, or they have a different mindset or there’s some other challenge that they’re dealing with. If you really step back and just say, “Okay. Let me put myself in their shoes and think about if I was them, how would I want to be treated?” This goes both from providing feedback, helping people grow but also general communication. When you’re positioning and talking to a potential seller about that the value that your fund brings to this investment, well, you need to think about how they feel. You need to think about what they’re thinking in their shoes and how what you’re saying is affecting them.
This all comes back to, you’ve got to let go of that ego so that you’re not thinking about me, me, me, I, I, I. You’re thinking about them, the other person and that empathetic mindset that really does allow for that deeper connection and to resonate with how you communicate with them.
[00:37:34] HM: Alex. I couldn’t agree more. We spend so much time upfront prior to a management meeting with business owners and management teams, learning about them not just professionally but personally. What can we find out about them, where are they from, what college did they go to, what commonalities do we have? And not baking who you are but like making those genuine connections, and finding those common themes that resonates and builds that rapport and trust. That takes a certain skill. That is definitely a soft skill. People are good at it and some people aren’t, and that is okay, but I do think it’s something you can learn.
The presence coach I hired, one of the things we focused on was energy management. The way that we interfaced with folks externally could be, we’re so energetic, we’re so outgoing, we have to just come. And people would say that, “How do you have so much energy? How is that possible? It’s like 8:00 at night and you’ve been up since 6:00.” But when you’re talking to a business owner in a management meeting setting or you’re talking in a boardroom to your partner, it’s about how you want to influence the strategy of business development going forward that may impact the overall firm’s strategy. Those are way different. You’ve got to manage that energy and you’ve got to change that communication style to meet the audience and to succeed in the point that you’re trying to make or get across. It may not always resonate with them and that is okay. You also have to learn when to take a step back and say, “That’s okay. I’m going to go with the organization’s decision on this and get on board and be a team player.” Even if that maybe isn’t an idea that resonated with them.” Those are all very soft skills, but those are the ones that will propel you up in your career, which are critical.
[00:39:25] PM: Yeah. I think knowing who you’re talking to effectively and finding a way to communicate in their language is key. It might be, there are certain people who love big ideas, and they love that energy and then there’s a lot of people certainly within private equity firms, a lot of your deal professionals are going to be more if they want numbers and really can core facts and data, right? So there’s just different people that you’re going to have a different conversation with, that I think the people that are strongest at business development know how to flex in terms of which way or which communication style they’re using, depending on that audience.
[00:40:09] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[00:40:17] AD: It’s dynamic communication ultimately. One of the things that I really believe all the time when I hear an argument or disagreement or someone who has someone who has some kind of breakdown in communication. When someone says, “Well, that’s not what I said, that’s not what I meant.” When you start in — I get that. Yes, that miscommunication happen. But if you’re finding yourself saying that, you have to step back and say, “Okay, it doesn’t really matter what I said. It really matters what you heard.” Because fundamentally, if I’m communicating with you, Polly and I need to tell you something, it doesn’t really matter the words that come out of my mouth. It matters the thoughts that go into your head. Simple as that. Because they’re just error coming out of my mouth saying stuff and it really means nothing other than what thoughts and actions you ultimately take on it.
That comes down to that you have to be very careful in that communication, you have to be thoughtful on that communication and you have to look for ways and be very cognizant of how your communicating and how someone might be reacting to it. That is that dynamic personality, that ability to be able to read the room. That’s a skillset. Heather, you said earlier. Some people are better, some people aren’t and I 100% agree, there’s different personality types that gave strength in that area of reading a room and being better in a social situation. Everyone can get better, everyone. No matter if you’re a strength in it or not, everyone can get better. It does come down to practicing. You have to spend time and energy, and the biggest thing — this goes to my next question here, Heather. I want to go to you at this.
We talked about lifelong learning a bunch and we just talked about soft skills. This importance of having empathy, getting rid of your ego, having good communication. Because again, it’s not what I say, it’s what the other person hear that really matters at the end. I have to continually invest in myself and make sure I’m growing and learning. How do I do that? How do I make sure that I’m always open-minded and being a lifelong learner?
[00:42:11] HM: Wow, that’s being open to critical feedback.
[00:42:14] AD: Vulnerability.
[00:42:15] HM: That understanding, wow. I can really improve upon that. That’s a weakness, acknowledging what you’re not good at and finding ways to change that. Finding a mentor, getting a coach, finding those people that are good at it and asking them how they did it, and really be vulnerable and being open to hearing that feedback, not being defensive about it. I think that’s a natural reaction of people. is just to defend, defend, defend. And even to your point, Alex, you don’t think it’s a weakness. If someone else does, it is and you’ve got to acknowledge that and work on it. Reviews in finance and M&A where we spend our time, they’re so focused on skills, the hard skills.
Sometimes, it just doesn’t get under that layer and so — whether you hire a coach to do this or you do it yourself, this presence coach called six people in my life. Four internally and two externally from boards that I serve on, asking the question of not “Is she good at her job?” but, “What could she do to be better at her job?” Then she pushed them on the soft parts. She accumulated all that feedback and this is something you could just do yourself. You can go and be open to hearing it by asking.
When I’m done with a big project, or I’ve closed a deal, or I’ve done something internally, I will go to three or four people at my firm and say, “How did I do?” Give me some feedback and don’t wait until your annual review to get it. Be constantly searching for it and be willing to hear it.
[00:43:51] PM: Yeah. To follow on that, I think you’d be surprised that the counterparts that you have, being open even in saying, “Hey, I’m still learning.” By the way, how did we do? I do this often with a process, whether or not we won or lost. But go back to bankers and ask them, “How did we do as firm? Are there things you feel like we could have done better? Do you feel like we did what we said we were going to do?” That’s really important in this industry, so we really make a point to find that out. Then I’ll ask them about myself, because they’re obviously talking to my peers at other firms and say, “Is there anything you really wish that I was doing more in terms of how I’m engaging with you?”
I think, Alex, to your comment earlier, that people are trying to do good. I think people have good intentions. You’re willing to put yourself out there vulnerably and say that. I think you can get some really good constructive feedback and people don’t hold it against you. You’re not expected to know everything all the time. And the people that are willing to own that they don't know everything all the time, and they’re focused on getting better, I think they tend to have a better overall reputation in the market because it shows that they’re genuine and that they care.
[00:45:02] AD: I can speak from my own experience in this. This idea of knowing everything and having to admit I don’t know something, that’s a challenge. I think we all struggle with it in our owns, and it is, it’s a level of vulnerability and being able to say, “I don’t know something.” For me personally, something that has really shifted in my mind over the last handful years is recognizing that success, and growth, and the future of my life isn’t about hitting a certain destination or a point. It’s not some light switch, where, okay, once I cross this line, I’m there. I no longer need to grow. I know everything. I’m a master of stuff.” That’s not a place that I ever expected to meet. Rather. those mile markers along the way are just making sure that I’m staying on the right journey and I’m still continuing to move forward. But it is, it’s something that you just continue on. There is no end to that.
Once you start in your mind thinking, “Well, I know all I need to know there. I’m there. I’ve mastered that skill, that’s a problem. That doesn’t mean that you don’t get to a point of mastering where you stop investing direct resources and improving that area, because there may be other skillsets in your life that you can improve. But that never means to me at least that you’re every capped out, you’re ever at capacity. There’s nothing more to learn. I know everything. And if you ever get in that mindset that, “Oh, I already know that. I already know what I need to know and there’s no improvement for me.” It’s a bad mindset to find yourself in.
[00:46:23] HM: Yup. And Alex, I’ll quote Brené Brown again, and I’ve done this in a couple different times but, “You could have courage or comfort, but you can’t have both.” I’m constantly pushing. Our organization are going through some strategic planning and we’re trying to put on paper how — define the culture of our firm, how do we want to be and how do we want to execute on it. One of the guiding principles is get uncomfortable, get uncomfortable and ask — be willing to ask and answer the tough questions. Don’t sail through because it’s comfortable and you’re not willing to address it. But really, as an organization, be willing to do that.
[00:47:01] AD: We’re going to wind this episode down. We’ve covered a lot of great topics. Before I do a quick recap, I want to just say to our listeners this last 10 minutes of this podcast here has been a really great conversation about growth. If you haven’t had a chance yet, go back, listen to the first four episodes of our second season, they’re all on professional growth and really overcoming those mindsets and putting yourself exactly as Heather just said into that discomfort zone, that leaning outside of where you feel good so you can really get into that growth zone. Again, make sure you find time to go back and listen to that.
I want to give a quick recap what we talked about. We hit a lot today so bear with me here. Number one, we talked about BD being an internally focused function, as well as externally. Recognizing that you have to build credibility and influence both in the organization and outside the organization. And part of that is really being a thought leader in saying, “Okay. How can I learn? How can I evolve?” And as we just talked about, this idea of being a lifelong learner and always looking for that opportunity to continue to grow as a thought leader, as an expert, as a person in recognizing that as BD professionals, a relationship builder is any professional that works on building relationships. It’s about building influence and that knowledge and expertise that does come through consistently learning, consistently looking to grow. It’s a career. BD is a career.
I would argue. For those of you that are in a true BD role, absolutely it’s your career. I’d argue for any professional, BD is the core of what you do. We are all entrepreneurial in one way or another and fundamentally, we have to seek to add value to others in the marketplace and that’s entrepreneurship, right? Looking for ideas, looking for problems to solve. So it is a career and it’s something that you really have to embrace if you want to be successful. The reason you have to embrace it is because it’s a long game. You have to look and recognize this isn’t something you can do in six months of going out in BD, and relationship building, and networking. And oh, you’re going to see all this great success, no. It can take a lifetime to really see success, and it is compounding as time goes on, but you have to continue to grow again, grow. Because what got you here will not get you there. I think that’s fundamentally true with anything in life, but especially in the relationship building soft skills side of things.
Next, we talked about the measuring success and if you want to measure your success using data, using KPIs, especially leaning into the technology that’s available can be a very helpful tool in analyzing what’s working and being a reflective tool to help you measure and understand how to make the highest and best use of your time. But fundamentally when you want to track the actual success you’re having, you have to look at the right metrics and not be measuring this based on conversions, revenue generated, deals won and things of the like, because it’s just so hard to really have that correlation between your efforts today and the results tomorrow. And you’ll lose motivation, you’ll lose focus, you’re going to feel like you’re not making any traction if you’re looking at the wrong metrics. Again, use the data but use the data to make sure that you’re becoming smarter and using your time wisely, not necessarily to directly measure the success that you’re having.
Then we talked about the need to have alignment of the team, so especially if you are in a true BD role and you’re a professional where your job is to go out there and build the reputation, and the relationships of the firm. You need to have the firm support you, you need to make sure that other members of the team realize that. Part of that is because you’re not the only one responsible for BD. It may fall on your shoulders to lead those efforts, but everybody in the firm has an obligation and a duty to build those relationships if you really want to be successful, if you really want to excel at the BD function. It is taking the entire team to be aligned with that and supportive of that.
Polly, you brought up the personal, professional mix and I thought this was so great. Understanding that at the end of the day, if you want to be successful in relationship building, it’s time management. There is a limited number of hours in a day and you as a professional, as a human are the same human personally at your work and life. All of that is going to mix together. There’s so much to balance, there’s so much going on there and it can be really hard at times. There’s no other way around it. It can be really, really hard.
Just remember that it can be hard, but remember that if you show up as your authentic, genuine self, that’s where you’re going to perform the best. You’re going to really enjoy the best, but you have to really believe that you can’t go into a BD role, a relationship building role and say, “Well, I’m going to do that for work. But in my personal life, I don’t want anything to do with it.” You’re not going to be able to draw that line, especially in this world of COVID and interconnectivity that we live in today. I think that time is long gone.
Heather, you brought up the point of, you have to be a creative person and I think so many people, especially as a professional in professional services, you start in a highly technical and analytical role and then move your way into this relationship building role, this BD role. And there is a level of creativity that has to come when you have to sit back and think, “Okay. How can I get creative about positioning, and branding, and marketing, and building relationships and helping people see what makes me and my firm unique and how I can bring value to the customer, the client or the person on the other side of the table?” And you simply have to get creative around that. For those of you that think you’re not creative, find time, find white space. Creativity will come. Everyone has creativity. Some are better than others, but you have to find the space for it. Creativity does not pop itself up into your life unless you make time for.
Then we talked about all touch points mattering. And realizing that touch points, the example that I used was, as a banker signing an NDA with a private equity buyer. The way that relationship is handled has an impact far greater than just that one interaction. So recognize that the goal is to consistently have the mindset of building relationships.
Now, we shift the conversation into soft skills and learning and what it takes to be successful, and we dove into again, open to learning, looking at how to constantly find that opportunity, recognizing that your reputation will follow you. So be careful, be thoughtful on how you act and how you behave because it is far greater than, again, that one instant, it will follow you farther. The best way to do that and to be successful at that is to remember that everyone is an influencer in a BD role in one way or another, and you have to be a big-picture thinker. You have to be thinking about that endgame. You have to really step back and realize this isn’t just about the one interaction today. This is about the big game. This is about the long-term effect that this is going to have. If I want to be successful, my actions today are going to impact the future and I have to be thinking about that future to be successful.
Finally, tapping out on soft skills here. We went over empathy and lack of ego and really the need to communicate clearly and understanding that it’s not about what you say, it’s about how the other person interprets it and thinks about it and hears you. To really be good at communicating and to building those relationships, you have to let your ego go and you have to look and find empathy so you can connect with the other person.
The last topic we hit on was feedback. Well, that was a heck of a list. The last topic we hit on was feedback. My call to action for this week and what I really want to ask all of our listeners to do in the next week, find an opportunity to go seek feedback, open-minded feedback, where you really just sit down and say, “Hey! How can I get better at this? What could I’ve done better in this situation?” or “What went well? What didn’t go well? Again, how can I improve this?” Be open-minded, don’t defend it. If you find yourself saying, “Well no” or “This is why” or making an excuse, then you’re totally negating the value of that. Just sit, listen, understand and take that in and look for opportunities to improve on that.
Polly, Heather, I really appreciate you coming on here. Do you have any thoughts or anything I missed in that, that recap list to add in here?
[00:55:05] HM: That was great, Alex. I didn’t realize we covered so much content.
[00:55:11] AD: It was a lot.
[00:55:12] PM: That was incredible.
[00:55:14] HM: Hop on. I like to talk.
[00:55:14] AD: It was a lot of fun. I really appreciate both of you coming on here and contributing to the show. This was a great episode, a lot here for our listeners to go back. Listen twice, listen three times here. If you’re listening on 2x speed, you listen to it on 1x. There’s enough in there. You really need to digest that.
For our listeners. Polly, how can they get in touch with you?
[00:55:35] PM: Sure. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or you can email me directly [email protected]. The only other thing I would add is, being at our role. We’re like ideas people, like you have the best ideas, and the best meetings and the best conversations. If you don’t follow up, it’s completely worthless. So like if there is one skill at the [inaudible 00:55:59], don’t think about having 500 meetings. Just have five where you actually follow up. You will get so much further along, right, and it’s something that I think people forget. It’s like the most basic, easy —
[00:56:12] HM: It truly is. My mantra to young people is follow up and follow through. That’s it.
[00:56:16] AD: What great advice to end on. Polly, I really appreciate that. That’s such a great point there. Heather, follow up, follow through. How can people follow up and reach out to you? What’s a good way to get in touch?
[00:56:29] HM: Yeah, same as Polly. Find me on LinkedIn, happy to connect and my email is [email protected]. It’s really fun, Alex. Thank you.
[00:56:38] AD: Awesome.
[00:56:39] PM: Thank you again.
[00:56:39] AD: Thank you both. It’s been so fun.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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