Considering buying software for your M&A business? What is the best way to go about it?

In my years of helping M&A shops answer that question, I’ve noticed three different ways advisors go about evaluating a platform to manage their deals and relationships. Hopefully, this may help you refine your buying approach so that your organization can reap some of the technology’s benefits faster. Allow me to be your quick guide.

Approach 1: Get Me Off Excel

What advisors first realize is that the business can no longer be reasonably managed on spreadsheets and sticky notes, and so they begin evaluating vendors on very basic items like contact management, email integration, auto alert notifications and data security. This may be where you are at now.

Most advisors here delegate the vendor search to an IT manager or analyst who uses a tech-oriented checklist to compare vendors. The good news is that this approach works most of the time, if the goal is to get you off of excel. In theory, the idea is to walk before you run, by focusing on extremely simple needs such as contact management. The bad news is that if you end up picking the wrong system, you may be walking in the opposite direction.

Approach 2: Speak My Language

Accordingly more advisors are now prioritizing their business objectives over the technology. The basics are no longer enough, and so advisors at this stage begin challenging vendors to differentiate themselves in a way that speaks to function-specific business goals. Common questions I encounter during this stage are:

  • I need a better way to nurture more leads through the long sales cycle. What can you do to help enhance my marketing and business development?
  • How can you simplify the deal management process for our growing team? 
  • Does your system provide control over the deal lifecycle from start to finish?

Advisors following this approach test how the vendor can address their day-to-day business challenges, instead of focusing on software features and functions. They’ve realized the cloud means entering into an ongoing interactive relationship with a vendor, ideally one who is an expert in the M&A space, not just a software jockey.

Approach 3: Show Me the ROI

A third approach deployed by some advisors involves having the vendor demonstrate the platform’s exact benefits. They do this by tweaking their business objectives to be more realistic and measurable, generally within a six month time frame.

By way of example, a boutique advisor based in New York recently asked me how Navatar M&A could help close deals faster. His ask was very specific: “I believe we can shorten the deal closing process by 20 percent if we double our pool of qualified buyers. Can you help us accomplish that?” Needless to say, our success team focused on that one goal during the implementation process (I will report back soon on whether the benefit was realized).

Which of the three approaches would I recommend? In reality, they are all valid approaches and the one you follow is more of a function of your level of experience using software and working with software vendors. Most often, if your firm has never used any software before, you are more likely to follow approach one.

That said, as a general rule, I believe the more you can articulate your business needs and expected benefits, the more you can get out of a software or a vendor, mostly by forcing them to focus on your priorities, as opposed to boilerplate software features.