When it comes to dealmaking, it’s not the financial side of the transaction that excites Suzy Teele. She enjoys the people side of solving the M&A equation.
“If it is a true merger or acquisition, how do you bring those two teams together? What are some of the cultural issues that you have to deal with, which quite frankly, are harder and take more time than the financial stuff,” she says.
Teele used to work for a software company that bought its biggest competitor. The two were bitter market rivals.
“I remember, I walked in that location — I was based here in Pittsburgh and they were out on the West Coast — and they said, ‘Oh, we hate you.’ That’s the first thing they said to me. ‘We hate you, but we admire the fact that you were able to figure out how to beat us.’
“OK, how do I channel this talented group of people who were a worthy competitor that now are part of my team? How do I channel them to all work together?” she says.
Today, Teele is the head of marketing and communications for the Advanced Robotics in Manufacturing Institute, a national public-private partnership focused on advancing robotics and workforce development to grow U.S. manufacturing. She’s also a co-founder of WELD’s Pittsburgh chapter, which helps advance women’s leadership to strengthen the economic prosperity of the communities it serves.
Over the course of her career, Teele has helped at least 50 companies grow to become market leaders, either as a consultant, adviser or executive. She and her husband, Ted, also founded the software company, SnapRetail LLC.
In this Dealmakers Q&A, Teele talks about how entrepreneurs can build relationships to create partnerships or find investors to grow their companies.
What do you enjoy about dealmaking?
What I really enjoy, honestly, is figuring out what the right strategy or message is. Ultimately, I’m a marketing person, so what’s that compelling business reason why I can help you be more successful and why you would be interested in working with me. To me, that’s just fun.
You’ve helped startups form their message so they can get funds for growth. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
The most important thing is to really study the person that you want to have the relationship with, whether you’re asking for money or whether you’re looking for a partnership. You need to understand their business model and where you can fit in. Because it’s a sales job and you need to be able to convince them that you are the right partner to help them achieve their goals.
Ultimately, you have to look at it from their perspective, and say, ‘Where would they see the most value in working with me?’ Many companies say things like, ‘This is what I can give them’ and they don’t look at it from the other perspective. Or, ‘they need me’ instead of saying ‘why would they need me?’
What are other lessons you’ve learned about building these relationships?
The second thing that I learned is that you start at the top. If you have a list of people that you want to have either a strategic partnership with or you want to get money from, start at the most prestigious. Oftentimes, small companies think that big companies won’t talk to them and so they start at the bottom of the list. They fail to realize that it takes just as much work to convince a smaller, lesser known organization to consider a partnership or an investment with you, as it does a very large one.
Lesson number three is ask for the biggest deal that you can think of with a straight face. Oftentimes, you see companies underselling themselves, or they have something that’s so preposterously high that people will laugh. It’s really good advice. I actually got it from my husband.
What is your approach when the relationship experiences a setback? How should the entrepreneur get that back on track?
So, there’s two kinds of setbacks — one, which you cause and one which you don’t. If it was a setback that was caused, that means that somebody was probably dishonest in the negotiation.
I’ll make my statement: What’s the biggest thing you can ask for with a straight face, and also with integrity? The biggest problem that I’ve ever seen in relationships is that ability to overpromise and under deliver — and that’s why I say a straight face. That means you have confidence that if you work hard and you do the right things, you can hit that. It could be a stretch goal, but you feel like it’s not just a pie in the sky.
What about a setback that’s out of your control?
Everyone needs a champion within the other organization because that’s your point person, and that’s the person who sells you. But you have to make sure that you have multiple champions — and they need to do the same thing in your organization — so that when that champion goes away, the deal doesn’t go away.
If you’re negotiating for funding and you’ve only ever talked to one venture capitalist at the organization and you never made the effort to meet the others or asked them at the VC to introduce you to the others, then you’ve put yourself at risk. Because that VC could quit or go work someplace else, and vice versa.
Make sure that as many people as possible at that other organization know and understand the value you’re bringing as a result of either that investment or that partnership. That can help with some of those issues.