PE Funds that Win - and IB that Tries

TLDR: I'm a MM sellside banker looking for feedback on what best practices PE firms are seeing on pitch processes. To pre-emptively reciprocate, I'm happy to provide some anonymous feedback on what my clients love about top PE firms they ultimately partner with.

In the same way that incoming bankers are looking to break into the industry and want feedback on their resumes and interviews, as a junior originator, sometimes I wish I could get feedback on my pitches and what it takes to win mandates. While I've been modestly successful recently, I would love to up my game if anyone at PE firms could give feedback or pointers on best practices or elements they've seen that have really swayed them to choose one banker over another, especially in competitive "bake-offs or beauty pagents". Situations for both IB and PE where we didn't just win on "valuation".

Below are some notes on what I've seen from some of the best PE firms that have ultimately won in competitive processes and considerations more than just price.

Pre-Emptive Reverse Diligence

One of the early signs of a strong PE firm is when they do a well thought out presentation as their intro for a management presentation. The best ones I've seen are situations where they don't just introduce themselves and their firm, but also some relevant portco's and talk about their thesis in the space. They'll do a short presentation (15 to 30 minutes) on who they are, firms they've invested in, why they are interested in this company/industry. The very best PE firms have a differentiated angle/ability to add value beyond just "capital" and "M&A expertise". 

Culture and Good Relationships with Portcos

The best PE firms have good cultures and strong relationships with their portcos. This is especially important for founder owned businesses. In the same way PE will diligence an asset to see how it performed in tough times, businesses want to know that their PE fund will be there, not just to support the growth, but also during tough times. Quick recent example: one business was expecting a rough patch through covid and was looking at laying off staff. However, although near term looked difficult, they wanted to take care of their employees. While many other competitors were doing RIFs and layoffs, they made a tough decision to keep their staff. The positive news is when things started to look better, they were able to ramp their business back up faster than anyone in the space and win a lot of new business (while the competition was looking to hire staff during a broadbased HR shortage). Lucky? Perhaps, but they couldn't have done this without their PE sponsor's blessing.

Senior Attention and Strong Juniors

Another hallmark of a strong buyer is they have the right people in the room. This usually consists of one or two senior bankers (perhaps even a firm founder or chair person - who says hello at the beginning), one or two mid/junior team members, and an operating partner or two (or the appropriate staff from the portco). It's a red flag when there is limited senior attention to the deal, or it doesn't look like they have enough junior resources to staff the transaction properly.

Certainty to Close

As PE firms put their hand up and self select in being more serious as part of a process, the PE firms that have done an extensive amount of diligence on the asset at earlier stages are typically more likely to win. Besides the fact that they are just more knowledgable on the asset itself, it also inspires confidence in the selling company and banker that they are emotionally invested. It also provides confidence that they won't find something unexpected later that they will retrade on.

Another consideration as it relates to certainty to close is being well funded and having ready access to capital. To the extent you already have the money in your pocket, it helps making the closing process shorter and less complex which helps increase certainty to close. Long drown out closing processes, not being commercial on purchase agreement terms, or still needing additional layers of approval (outside of standard regulatory approvals) makes it tougher to move forward.

Long-Term Relationships

In any given deal, if I reach out to 100 buyers, I will get 99 "Nos". I'm just looking for that one solid "Yes". The best PE firms I've worked with have been quick and responsive (even with "Nos"). The best "Nos" that I get often come back with healthy feedback too: helping me understand why a particular opportunity is not a good fit so I can be smart and thoughtful about what I show them next time. I want to avoid showing them opportunities that don't align with their style and mandates because I want them to continue to take my calls.

Epilogue

Hopefully this is helpful . To the extent anyone has any pointers on an IB version of this and what PE firms like to see in pitches (or in their relationship with IBD as a whole) I'd be very interested to hear back.

Comments (17)

Dec 6, 2021 - 1:02pm

Great write up.  Might want to post in the PE forum to see if you get anymore traction.  Always curious about this as well and literally had this conversation with my roommate (also a banker) this weekend. We both want to build to a position where when we hit VP/Director we are driving rather then stumbling to get business.  

  • VP in IB - Cov
Dec 6, 2021 - 1:05pm

Done. Good advice.

Also, good on you. I don't know about you, but at every firm I've ever worked at, that inflection point from "engine room monkey" to "BSD originator" is a huge move. I've seen many people get promoted to Director level and get paid significantly LESS than when they were a top VP because their comp structure changed (varies by firm, but you get the idea). I swore I'd use my Associate/VP years to prep for being Director/MD and so far it's worked out well. Good luck!

Most Helpful
  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Dec 6, 2021 - 2:41pm

My two cents as a LMM PE investor (so take all this with that in mind):

Experience

Having a track record of advising/selling companies in the same sector, or even a competitor helps a lot. It leverages some of the same materials / feedback from that process to apply to this one. Certain analyses or ways to position that you had thought about after the fact that would help this process would be helpful. Also if you've developed a relationship with someone who was interested in that last process but missed out, this provides an opportunity to say "hey sorry you guys missed out on that one, but here's another good one." 

Process Considerations

This one is a bit tougher, but get a sense of what kind of process the firm wants to run. Does the firm want to churn this out to 300 PE / 50 strategic buyers in a broadly-marketed process, or maybe 2-8 particular buyers? Lots of firms get turned off when they know it's going to the entire universe and pre-emptively pass because they know it'll be too competitive. But if they're told that there's a focused set, they might get more interested and try to think through their specific angles. It also makes them feel special. As someone who has looked at the buyer list in a sale process, there were definitely some names that I was wondering why they were on there (ex. PE buyer that focuses on tech-enabled services was on the list for a mfg/service business). 

Attention / Staffing

Same thing with attention. Is the MD going to dedicate the proper attention to this deal, or are they going to hand it off? That's fine if that's the case, but it needs to be known. It's fine if the MD has particular connections, but otherwise we want the proper attention that a multi-million dollar fee deserves. And with the team, we generally want to see more than just MD/Analyst working on this.

Materials

I was a former banker, and it seemed like for every pitch there was a 50+ page deck full of credentials and other mindless market updates. Quality, not quantity. Make sure to do proper research on the company and/or sponsor so that you're not regurgitating info in the deck itself. Yes, we know your bank is #1 in x M&A League Tables (fn: of deals between $X-Y in the last 15 years excluding 2008, etc. etc.) Most of that is completely unnecessary. We also don't need to know what our portfolio company's products and services are. My personal opinion is that pitches should be no more than 20-25 pages at most. What we're looking for most are valuation thoughts and who you would think would be a good buyer.

Market Intel

A good differentiator is someone who is plugged into the market. In a given sector, everyone knows who is up for sale at any given time through industry scuttlebutt. You don't have to put this in the materials, but market intel on other companies for the following are super helpful and a differentiator: valuation, process, who looked at it, who passed, who was interested and put an LOI but didn't win, who wants to get into this sector badly, etc. Yes, there are NDAs, but everyone in this world knows that info gets leaked one way or the other. 

Anyway, just some quick thoughts.  

  • Works at Other
Jan 3, 2022 - 11:50am

Great post and seconding the staffing - don't bait and switch the teams especially if it's a specialized sector.

On that, probably let your junior team know that the main reason why they are on the deal is to do the stuff that we don't want to, so while the workload might be lighter (vs. a corporate client that you have to do the modelling and board presentations for), they still have to hop to it when they get a request.

Bad junior bankers do actually get remembered and bitched about to the entire firm.

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  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Dec 6, 2021 - 2:45pm

I was never a banker so I want to ask, what does a good relationship look like between banker and private equity junior / mid level. Sometimes bankers are chummy and it feels semi-collaborative (informal, can call, every email doesn't need everyone cc'd, can just get work done) whereas some are super formal (all formal emails, formal lines of communication only, all messages must be painfully calculated as if playing chess, etc.)

Dec 6, 2021 - 3:23pm

This doesn't answer your question, but I always enjoyed the dynamic between junior bankers and the junior PE staff.  There are many factors that influence the dynamic (i.e. round 1 vs. round 3, personalities of both parties, neuroticism of sr. bankers, etc.), but I was always interested in cutting through all of that as fast as possible.  Typically we're both being asked to do shit we don't want to do, amongst countless other tasks, so I found being able to have a professionally-candid relationship was mutually beneficial.

The personal connection brought on by getting ribbed about exaggerating the capabilities of the business in the CIM and then giving it right back by calling out their stupid "probability weighted contributory age-based revenue by cohort" analysis was always a small joy.  Years later, I'm still in touch with some of them and they've been great resources for sharing ideas/sanity checks. 

  • VP in IB - Cov
Dec 6, 2021 - 4:03pm

That's awesome and a large joy I found in otherwise mundane work. I also sincerely enjoyed "growing up" with some of my counter parts in PE. There are some PE firms I would love to work with again, whether it was buying or selling.

I used to say the same thing with my IBD Analysts (when I was an MBA Associate): we are grinding in the $hit now, but when you leave to join a PE fund, remember that we used to work together in the trenches and how much blood, sweat and tears we put in for our clients (who you will be some day) and how much I will for you.

Dec 7, 2021 - 8:19am

I'll preface that this is an LMM experience ($5-$10Mish of EBITDA) - previously worked on the sell-side as well in LMM. The key point I'll add from the great stuff already provided above is:

Invest in the asset - assuming your shop is competitive in that sector and has the right quals, my belief is that you can absolutely differentiate yourself well ahead of a bake-off. Don't leave coverage of interesting assets to your "PE Coverage" team - spend time with the deal team on that asset, have quarterly calls, understand what they are working, actually invest in the asset. Coverage guys are really great brokers of information, but there is significantly more a firm can offer. One way to accelerate your position? Show add-on acquisitions that aren't worth your time to run a process on (could be too small, company not looking to run an auction, doesn't meet minimum fee, etc.). Time is a super scarce commodity and MDs in LMM and MM have a tough time covering and doing BD, especially in this market. But it's that same scarcity effect that allows differentiation if that makes sense. Just can't emphasize this enough.

All too often in pitches, bankers are using templated language on go-to-market, strategy, competitive position, etc. If you spend time with the asset, you'll get to actually know the gems, and the warts - so you can thoughtfully position to the market accordingly

One of my close friends moved from execution on the MM Sell-side, to basically leading a BD function for the MM to address the lack of consistency in sales efforts (like you see in other industries). He and I talk about BD all the time because whether its sell-side or buy-side, it's the name of the game as you move up. We both are fortunate to still swim in the same lanes so we are able to refer business to each other, but in all our convos, investing time in the asset and the firm before the pitch has consistently been a key theme to gain the edge.

  • Assistant in Research - Other
Dec 7, 2021 - 2:25pm

How many years in execution did your friend spend before moving into a BD-type function? Sell-side BD in the MM/LMM i something I'm quite interested in exploring at some point, I am just curious to know how much experience in an execution role is necessary/adequate to be effective.

Dec 7, 2021 - 8:42pm

Roughly 2-3 years at elite boutique and I believe a couple years in corp dev as well. My candid response is this execution experience only matters to a certain extent, it's your ability to talk to business owners and gain trust is the most critical. Don't get me wrong, having M&A experience is extremely valuable and will likely accelerate the velocity of career growth via relationships with your senior bankers that you'd be referring the deal ultimately to. It's this dynamic that in the MM banking side often results in people who are great at execution, but struggle with building out a client base. Many people plateau at the senior vp/ MD level in MM because of the struggle to do BD (hence the comment on the ability to talk and gain trust as critical vs execution experience). 

Dec 11, 2021 - 2:48am

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