During a fundraising assignment where LANCEA has arranged a meeting between a client (fund manager or corporate) and a potential investor, here are some guidelines, short of dedicated coaching, which we recommend clients consider in advance. These guidelines are a culmination of several careers’ worth of attending such meetings! Most are statements of the obvious designed to minimise the risk of catastrophic errors or reasons for easy turndowns and which most individuals who have experience in fundraising will undertake naturally in the ordinary course, but some may be less familiar. First, a few preparatory words around the meeting.
In addition to getting the design and content right for the pitchbook – an area where LANCEA has significant expertise – the client must always practice the delivery in advance and, if necessary (where inexperienced), should have had at least one run through with a coach, professional or otherwise (eg LANCEA or a friendly third party). Pitches improve with practice. A video recording often helps to identify faults. Beyond the pitchbook, another of the important tasks is to perfect the 90 second elevator pitch (the 90 seconds statement of why it is worth investing in this fund/business) – one needs to leave something memorable to capture investor mindshare; if one doesn’t, another proposition will.
The client can be represented by one, two or three persons in the meeting. Generally speaking, our preference is to have two reps, but often one will suffice. Three is definitely a crowd and increases risk. Occasionally, an investor appears with one or, more rarely, two colleagues depending on organisation.
Another LANCEA preference is that a pitchbook be physically present, which the investor may or may not have seen in advance (increasingly the former, or at least a summary ie more than just a flyer). The client is responsible for bringing sufficient numbers of physical copies to the meeting. Laptop presentations (sometimes linked to a projector) have inevitably become more prevalent; but, on balance, our preference is always for hard copies, if practicable. The reason is that meetings are generally held in a “one on one” type format across a table thereby enabling a more informal conversation to take place, promoting a direct personal relationship between client and investor. One of the goals of the meeting is to establish a relatively intimate two way flow rather than conduct a formal lecture; the client should be seeking to create an “enthusiast”, someone who will really want to sponsor him/her internally. Laptops don’t quite dismantle all the barriers; eye contact can be reduced.
The investor should be given copies at the start of the meeting rather than being held back tantalisingly “McKinsey” style in the middle of the table. This is because investors often like to flick through the pitchbook themselves; one runs the risk of irritating them by denying access, even though you want to have his full attention (which is the McKinsey point).
After the traditional “socialisation” preamble at the start of a meeting but before the pitch formally commences, the investor should be asked how much time he has available and be invited to interrupt with questions at any time. In addition – and crucially – he should be asked to give a short overview/heads up on the investor’s organisation, strategy etc. This request is the responsibility of the LANCEA rep who will have briefed the client beforehand on the investor’s profile as well as, crucially, imparting any knowledge of the audience’s idiosyncrasies or line of questioning (eg costs!). However, there’s no substitute for asking the investor at the start of the meeting to outline the key points as well as enquiring as to what particular areas that interest him/her as that will offer invaluable clues as to how to steer the pitch.
At the beginning of the pitch the client should say a few words about himself/herself and then give a short potted history of the firm; above all else, a story is being told into which one wants to draw the investor emotionally. The client should aim to avoid as much as possible endless rote sequential “page flipping” as this quickly becomes boring, repetitive and one sided. A pitchbook should be seen as a reference tool which one should dip in and out of as the conversation flows; “surf” the deck. This takes practice and confidence!
You should always:
- Be yourself, don’t try to convert yourself into something you’re not – be natural
- Speak clearly and concisely, not too fast – English may not be the first language of meeting participants
- Be polite and truthful – you want to build trust and belief
- Convey passion for your subject, but restrain hyperbole
- Listen to the investor. Try to understand what he is interested in
- Answer the question directly. Investors hate anything which sounds evasive, woolly or too “salesy”. If you go off on a tangent, make sure you return to answer the question!
- Keep up momentum to avoid audience boredom. Don’t get bogged down talking about, for instance, macro-economics (the investor usually already knows). Always seek to show mastery of the details but avoid endless recitations of performance figures (he/she can see the numbers, he/she can analyse them at his/her leisure)
- If “negative” topics come up of, say, high team turnover or why you’re not top quartile or why an investment failed, explain any failure or weakness but always provide “lessons learned”. Failures can usually be neutralised or converted into a positive provided you deal with them constructively otherwise it’s an easy turn down
- Project long term commitment to the business and to investors. If marketing a fund, this means the start of a relationship over several future funds (because that’s how an investor will see it). If marketing a corporate opportunity, this means the start of a long term serial business relationship with an investor. Any hint of a “here today, gone tomorrow” personality type is usually fatal
You should never:
- Be late. Investors can, but not the other way round. If unavoidable, make sure they know in advance
- Dress sloppily. Be smart formal or smart casual, always clean. Show respect
- Interrupt, contradict, argue with the investor
- Interrupt, contradict/disagree with a colleague (often occurs in a misplaced desire to be seen to be “collegiate”) – usually fatal as the investor will likely conclude team discord, lack of leadership. Always agree
- Appear disengaged, bored, tired or too relaxed. Control body language. Sit upright.
- Play with your phone or take a call (turn it off!), eat, look out of window, fold arms, scratch head etc
- Raise your voice, get over excited, laugh too loudly. Never, ever swear (no matter how mildly)
- Try to overly please the investor, oversell or try to be too cute eg inventing a strategy “ex-post“ – you’ll be found out
- Don’t over promise – don’t say you’ll do something you know you might not be able to deliver