In our last article, we discussed five of the 10 attributes that we believe typify a great client. We acknowledge these characteristics may be somewhat subjective — our version of a great client may differ wildly from that of another business advisor — but we have worked with a number of clients over the years, and these are the attributes we have experienced that make for a fruitful advisor-client relationship (and if all goes well, a successful transaction).
Here are the second five of our 10 attributes of a great client, in no particular order:
6. They are willing to strategically spend money as a means to an end. There are specific instances during the course of the sale process when it becomes necessary for the owner to spend money to improve the process or to hire an expert to assist with a specific issue. Taking this action demonstrates that they are serious about selling their company and willing to take action to successfully complete the transaction. For example, the owner may need to invest in setting up a virtual data room so everyone involved in the transaction can easily access diligence information, or to engage experts to address a particular issue, such as an environmental or an ERISA compliance concern. Simply put, a great client is willing to spend strategically to navigate potential bumps in the road or to smooth rough patches during the course of the sale process.
7. They deliver on their promises. An ideal client is one who under-promises and over-delivers, or at least one who is reliable about doing what they say they are going to do, every time. For example, it is more than reasonable to expect owners to be responsive to inquiries that arise during the course of the sale process. And by responsive, we mean answering a question or providing information within a day or two, not becoming incommunicado, then answering a week or two later, if at all. Lack of responsiveness and communication tends to put a crimp in the momentum of the deal, which can ultimately delay its progress and send negative signals to the buyer — something neither side (nor their advisors) wants. As such, great clients deliver on what they say they are going to do and demonstrate the qualities and stamina necessary to follow through to get the deal done.
8. They have realistic expectations that remain consistent over time. If you are familiar with the television show Pawn Stars, it is all about expectation-setting. The stars of the show set expectations in order to help sellers understand what outcomes they can expect. Similarly, business advisors set owners’ expectations at the outset of a sale process with respect to the fair market value of their company and the likely structure of the transaction. Many agents will not accept a sell-side engagement with a potential client if they are not in agreement with respect to the expected sale value and terms. However, sometimes owners seek to raise the bar without justification over the course of the transaction and become unwilling to proceed at the previously agreed minimum price and terms. Holding out for better terms or a higher price than their company is worth may ultimately self-sabotage the sale process
9. They address issues head on. Another attribute of a great client is one who will not shy away from the tough issues. Selling a business often exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly of a company, and it is important for owners to be transparent about those issues up front and address them head on rather than trying to gloss over them with the hope that that the issue will go away or self resolve, which could delay or even derail a deal. Regardless of how the issue is addressed, it will rear its head at some point during the sale process, so the earlier and more proactively owners can address it, the better.
10. They are consistent. Tying together some of the attributes discussed herein, a client who consistently delivers on their promises, is consistent in their communication and expectations over time, and handles themselves in a consistent manner (meaning they exhibit the same traits throughout the entire sale process from the first meeting to the closing) is ultimately a “great client.”
We have worked with a variety of clients, each with different personalities, and each of whom conducted themselves differently during the sale process. While everyone’s perception of their “ideal client” is different, the 10 attributes we described here and in our last article are the primary ones we use to define our vision of a great client. Although it can be challenging to complete a deal under the best of scenarios, it is exceedingly less so when all parties get along and can move seamlessly toward the same goal — a sale that meets everyone’s expectations and achieves the seller’s objectives.
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