If you’ve worked on the sell-side for more than 10 minutes, you’ve definitely had a client that doesn’t seem to have ever used Excel before or one who doesn’t understand why you haven’t done analysis on every single employee at each and every one of the target company’s vendors. Sure, this job can be as much customer service as it is big business, but that doesn’t mean hearing “what the client wants the clients gets” for the 15th time this week isn’t legit triggering.
But no matter how wild client needs are, no matter how outlandish the customer requests, you’re a pro — and at the end of the day, real pros know how to deal.
Cut Through the Fluff
So you open your VDR (let’s hope it’s Caplinked) to a hundred notifications like, “which of these files are new?,” “what’s BRK-B trading at today?” and other stuff that could be answered in two seconds of having eyes or using Google. And herein lies a critical sell-side skill: cutting through fluffy requests to prioritize crucial client needs.
Oftentimes, it’s as straightforward as driving the conversation back to those critical tasks, illustrating to the client that this is where your time needs to be spent — and once you’ve driven them there, those important tasks are often where they really want to be, too. Remind yourself that “have to” is a strong phrase; you do not have to address every asinine customer request that comes your way, and over time, you can deprioritize clients that routinely make unreasonable requests.
Always Set Boundaries
Until you get to that point, though, boundaries are going to keep you sane. Very much related to cutting through the fluff, setting boundaries from the jump is often the one thing that keeps you from being permanently chained to your inbox. Just a few ways to prevent that include
- Culling your personal impulse to do more favors for clients (we’re looking at you, hardos).
- Clearly expressing days or times of day when you’re not available to work.
- Setting an away message for when you’re doing personal work.
- Getting comfortable with saying “no.”
Expect pushback when you set boundaries, but more than that, recognize how important they are for protecting the mental health and the efficiency of your team, as well as the ultimate profitability of your deal (you can use that last part to sell your boundaries to nagging client-siders, too).
When you get that “Where are we on this?” email from the client-side guy who clearly just feels like if he’s not talking, he’s not productive, it’s tempting to fire off a response immediately. But you know that’s only going to come from a place of frustration.
Whether it’s this or any other flavor of maddening customer request, just pause instead. Take a moment to realign. Write the email, then come back to it later if you have to. We do our best work when we take it slow.
Make It a Collab
Like Ellevest magazine says, “You do nobody — not your boss, not your team — any favors by trying silently to juggle too many balls…and then dropping something important.”
Sell-side analysis takes a team. The more over-the-top client needs you have to address, the more it can feel like you’re pushing a massive rock uphill. But you are not Sisyphus; you have backup, so use it. Engage fellow stakeholders before making big decisions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking for a hand on a frustrating task, and other times, it’s just a matter of asking someone else if this customer request really does sound as crazy as you think.
Know How to Deal
The truth is, no matter how much of a pro you are, there are going to be times when you straight-up feel overwhelmed. The key here is to know some simple strategies for avoiding that state, and for what to do when you get there
- Offer alternatives. Here’s where you subvert “what the client wants, the client gets” by offering them something else. If you know a client-side customer request is a waste of your time, offer them something productive that isn’t (maybe even something you were going to do anyway). For them, the key takeaway is they’re still getting something.
- Compartmentalize your meetings. Meetings can be the most draining part of the M&A process (and often full of cringey buy-side frustrations), so do what you can to get them all organized and scheduled into a condensed, singular block. If you can, make that block far away from the time of day that you personally find yourself most productive.
- Ask why. Sometimes, this simple response to off-the-wall due diligence questions not only buys you time, but it can also either illuminate the difference between a fluffy request and an important one. Or, it can also subtly reveal that the question is — how do you say? — real dumb to the buy-side folks.
Keep Your Cool
Remember, as real as the pressure feels at times, you are not a personal assistant. Your job is to keep information flowing smoothly, and ultimately, to facilitate the sale process. Heed Publicis CSO Ed Tsue’s words: “Accept that clients will never care as much as you do about the work.” That can be a truly freeing mantra.
There’s truth to the cliche that every deal dies three times; don’t panic when things get shaky, and give yourself grace when you make small mistakes along the way. Understand that buy-side people — or even your own team members — might be operating under stress that has nothing to do with the deal, and give them some grace, too. M&A is a journey, not a singular action. And you’ve got to take every journey one little step at a time.
Dan is a Dallas-based freelance and small business writer with more than a decade of experience. In the tech and business worlds, he’s been fortunate enough to collaborate with Samsung, Verizon, Motley Fool, USA Today, Office Depot and many more.
American Society of Administrative Professionals – How to Set and Maintain Professional Boundaries
Project Risk Coach – 8 Ways You Can Better Respond to Unrealistic Demands
LinkedIn – How to Deal with Stupid Clients
JD Merit – Managing Emotions in an M&A Deal