When an Exit Planning Advisor is working with a prospective client, it is common to be faced with a variety of objections and hesitations from business owners who don’t want to Exit Plan.
Some note time and financial constraints, others don’t see it as an urgent need, and some simply don’t know where to start or assume another one of their advisors will handle it when the time comes.
Regardless of an advisor’s specific background or industry expertise, it can be tricky to move past these doubts and make forward progress. There are several strategies we have gathered from BEI Members over the years that have helped them create the tipping point and get business owners to act and hire them as an Exit Planning Advisor.
6 Key Strategies
Strategy 1: Leverage Peers
Successful business owners are usually aware of what is going on in their community and their industry. They constantly seek out best practices and efficient business models that they can replicate in their own business to avoid re-creating the wheel.
So, how do we, as advisors, share stories about what other business owners are doing?
Ideally, Exit Planning Advisors should pair data with real-world scenarios to show business owners both sides of the coin. Many professional organizations, BEI included, compile Business Owner Reports (stay tuned for a new BEI Business Owner 2022 Report coming soon!) that provide meaningful statistics to share about the state of the industry. For analytical, data-driven business owners, providing them with the facts is key in showing them what their peers are up to.
In addition, you likely have many stories of your own or that you have gotten from your own advisor peers that can give context to an issue the prospective client is facing. Being able to apply the story of another business owner to a prospect’s current situation gives them the emotional connection that might get them to act.
Strategy 2: Put Clients in the Driver’s Seat
Many business owners start a business so they can make decisions and run the business on their terms. Framing Exit Planning work in a light that shows owners they will still be in control is crucial. Present the planning work that you do as an advisor, as well as the solutions you offer, as things that they can take charge of and be responsible for.
Many advisors present this control by way of a phased approach. For example, propose starting with one component of the Exit Plan – say, business continuity or something the owner deems most important – and start small. Once completed, owners tend to use the momentum that is created by the first phase to move on to other steps.
Additionally, prioritizing the exit map and planning process helps owners to visualize the entire process, which usually means they will be more likely to engage. Show them how the first phase connects to the entire process and pair it with a checklist or to-do list that they help create. Keeping them in the driver’s seat while the process improves the probability that they’ll move forward with an Exit Plan.
Strategy 3: Demonstrating Magnitude
Magnitude is all about connecting business issues and the scope of those issues in terms of Exit Planning vs. not Exit Planning. You want to show the business owners the consequences that come from not planning, and the successes they will have if they do.
Showing the significance of Exit Planning can be illustrated in case studies. By sharing a case study on a common and specific business problem, you can share with business owners real effects that resulted from Exit Planning. Case studies can be framed in a negative way by sharing negative impacts due to lack of planning, or in a positive way due to proper planning.
Either way, sharing tangible results such as how a company grew business value, increased net income, minimized financial risk, or whatever the case may be, makes a difference in highlighting magnitude.
An alternative way to show magnitude is to ask high-quality questions of the business owner. Playing “devil's advocate” gets them to look at the business from a unique perspective. Ask questions about their relationship with the business – vendors, banks, family, employees, etc. - and get them to consider how those relationships might be impacted if they were no longer involved in the business.
Strategy 4: Carry the Burden for the Business Owner
Be wary of giving prospective clients too much homework. They already have a lot on their plates and to debunk their belief that they “don’t have enough time” to Exit Plan, try to carry the burden of kickstarting an Exit Plan as much as possible.
Namely, be sure that prospective business owner clients are aware that you are prepared to take the quarterback role. As the Exit Planning Advisor, you will manage the multiple advisors on the Exit Planning team. While you aren’t the ultimate resource, every advisor has a role in the Exit Plan, and you can track down the answers to their questions when appropriate.
Further, consolidate and share the information that you gather from the business owner. This creates efficiency and saves the owner the time of having to relay their business challenges and personal information in each meeting. Keeping a record and keeping every member of the Team of Advisors aware of progress and conversation relieves some repetitive work for the client.
Strategy 5: Reflect Concerns
Similar to the note on recording information mentioned in the above strategy, it is equally important to make note of the business owner's concerns and challenges.
Those familiar with BEI’s 7-Step Exit Planning Process know that the first tasks of any Exit Planning engagement lie in the first two steps to determine values-based goals. Regardless of what the business owner’s exit path might be or what their objectives are, completing a vision and mapping exercise with them is important to identify their top concerns and priorities.
Some advisors also conduct a priorities assessment where they ask every prospect the same series of questions that will get them the answers they need to determine priorities. No matter how you choose to gather information regarding concerns and challenges, it is key that you come back to the business owner later to clarify concerns and priorities with them.
This will give them a sense that you were not only listening to what they were saying, but are really there to work for them and make plans to ensure they are making the most of their lives’ work.
Strategy 6: Highlight Progress
Business owners are typically progress-sensitive. Being able to articulate what you’re going to do, how the action items consider their biggest concerns, and communicate who is going to do what and when, is extremely valuable to a business owner on the fence.
Highlighting progress can be done by using a consistent, custom process. Owners are looking for something they can understand – so be as clear and articulate as possible! Exit Planning Advisors who use BEI planning software also have an advantage because they can say they use a known process that has found business owner's success repeatedly.
Be sure to share elements of project management and checklists with prospects. Business owners appreciate being able to see what is left to do, who is responsible, and checking things off a list can be a great tactic to get them to realize the importance of Exit Planning.
Action Items for Exit Planning Advisors
Securing new Exit Planning clients and getting them to understand the importance of an Exit Plan is no small feat. Whether focusing on the pain points, honing in on opportunities, or another preferred style to move clients forward, using one or more of the above strategies will ultimately result in more Exit Planning clients.
At BEI, our mission is to provide indispensable tools for advisors like you – that's why we’ve designed tools to save time, create consistency, and deliver high-quality solutions to current and prospective business owner clients.
To explore more Exit Planning content that will help you get business owners to act, start with diving deeper into: