Direct sourcing has grown in importance and popularity as private equity and investment banking firms transition to more sector-focused and thesis-driven strategies. As Alpine Investors’ Director of Business Development Ajeet Gautam stated in a recent webinar, “I’m hard-pressed to find a PE firm out there that doesn’t have some form of BD [function] these days.”
Shifting from a focus on relationship-driven, indirectly-sourced deals to proactively reaching out to relevant opportunities is giving firms more control over their pipelines — but it’s also creating anew set of challenges. Founders and operators are being flooded with emails and phone calls, requiring firms to find fresh ways to stand out from the crowd and make meaningful connections.
That’s why we’ve partnered with our friends at MiddleM Creative, an agency that provides differentiated business development, digital marketing, branding, and public relations services exclusively for middle-market PE and investment banking firms, to help. Together, we pooled decades of experience and dozens of client anecdotes to compile this list of 10 data-driven outreach tips to help you book your next meeting.
First Things First
All good outreach starts with the right lead list. No one wants to waste the BD team’s time chasing the wrong opportunities. Fortunately, the latest data service providers have accelerated what used to be a highly manual and time-consuming list-building process —particularly when it comes to the millions of investment-grade bootstrapped companies that are so hard to research.
By using data signals, BD teams can build detailed, highly accurate lists of relevant companies that match their firm’s thesis criteria in minutes. These signals include industry, ownership, conference attendance, and key growth indicators like new hires, job postings, and website traffic.
With the correct list in place, it’s time to begin structuring your outreach.
Tip #1: Score and Tier Your List
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 Vice President Tricia Forbes recommends using these scores to then tier your list and guide your outreach efforts. “Make a list of your top 100 companies and then 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.”
Tip #2: Reach out to the Right People
The goal of direct outreach is to connect with people who have the power to make meetings happen. 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.
“I’ve taken a few meetings, but it’s been through personal connections, like if a good friend of mine is like, ‘Hey, listen, I’m part of this healthcare fund, would you meet with the founder of the fund?’” shares DearDoc CEO and Best of Bootstrapped winner Joe Brown. “I’ve met with people if it’s someone on our team’s friend or relative. I think those personal connections work really well, so if you can figure out a way to get introduced, I’ve taken almost every meeting that way.”
Tip#3: Make It About Them
In the past, dealmakers were often the main subject of their own outreach. Afirm’s reflex was to lead with its history, number of portfolio companies, assets under management, etc. However, Tricia cautions, “When companies are getting bombarded with messages like that, and you’re leaving it to them to filter out why they should care, it’s not really an effective strategy.”
Instead,outreach should focus on what you know about a prospect’s business or sector and why you’re interested in them specifically. One way to do this is by sending thought leadership content that highlights your team or operating partners’ unique expertise in their vertical. Another is offering insight and perspective around the prospect’s competitive landscape.
Tip#4: Personalize All Messages
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 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.
Tip #5: Find a Compelling Event
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. Even if it doesn’t get you a meeting on the first reply, it’s a great tactic for building awareness and rapport over time.
Tip #6: Double Down on Recent Wins
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-industry. 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 tell stories and talk about the ways they’ve impacted portfolio companies,” she says. “If you do it from a storytelling perspective versus from a conceptual perspective, it hits home a lot more.”
Tip#7: Let Others Do the Talking
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.
Tip#8: Warm People Up
You may have heard of the “Marketing Rule of 7,” which asserts 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 keeps you top of mind when they’re ready for that meeting.
Tip#9: Try Incorporating Video
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.”
Tip #10: Track Engagement in Your CRM
Reaching out to dozens of companies, fielding replies, and booking meetings every day gets messy fast. 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.
Ready to Reach Out?
Founders’ inboxes are growing more crowded by the minute as direct sourcing becomes status quo for modern dealmakers. Crafting compelling outreach will soon make the difference between firms that can book meetings and generate pipeline opportunities and those that miss out on deals to competitors.
Following these top 10 tips is a great way to start ensuring your messages stand out from the crowd:
To learn more about how SourceScrub’s private company intelligence platform can fuel your data-driven outreach strategy, request a personalized demo.