What is The Empathetic Buyer™?
For most sellers, the sale represents the culmination of their life’s work, the handing over of their clients and friends to another steward, and a change in their life from trusted advisor, to former trusted advisor. The very state of mind that makes an entrepreneur successful; a desire to control his or her destiny and build something based on his or her vision and belief system, vanishes with one stroke of the pen. A big check, while very nice, rarely eradicates subsequent seller’s remorse. Many sellers tell us that even though they know that a good advisor has purchased their firm and the clients will be well taken care of, a profound feeling of loss creeps up on them that is far more disheartening than they had previously envisioned.
For the advisor with little or no future plans for retirement, this can be both discouraging and downright frightening. By the way, “my spouse wants to travel,” or “I play golf” do not pack the positive punch it takes to mitigate these feelings.
The Empathetic Buyer™
This dynamic sets up a situation in which an advisor-buyer who is not willing to be sympathetic, or at least empathetic, with what the seller is experiencing can easily say the wrong thing at any point along the process. It is not necessarily the buyer’s fault. This is especially true of a first-time buyer. He or she is so focused on getting the numbers right that the feelings of the seller seem to be less consequential to the process. The assumption, often incorrect, is that the seller would not have entered a negotiation if these emotions had not been dealt with.
To be an Empathetic Buyer, does not mean that you fail to negotiate with the seller. It does mean that you remain respectful of what the seller has built and that you look for ways to find common ground between the seller’s needs and your own. We always tell buyers and sellers that we want “everyone to get what they want.” Obviously, there are limits and as a buyer, if your potential seller’s needs do not jibe with yours, then you have a bad match and should simply move on.
The overriding idea as an Empathetic Buyer is that you need everyone on the same page and enthusiastic about the transition of client accounts and relationships.
Suppose you have purchased a seller’s book. Now comes time for the transition. Clients will now be informed that there is a new owner of the book. Consider the following two scenarios when the seller goes to his clients:
1. “Bill, you have been a great client for me for the last 20 years. It is extremely important for me to trust your account going forward with someone I trust. It has taken me 5 years or more to find someone who I feel can be the person to serve you as I would hope. I have found such a person in Casey, here. I know that he will have your best interest in mind and I hope you will give him the chance to do so.”
2. “Bill, let me introduce you to Casey; I have sold him the business. “
Keeping in mind the fact that clients make the final decision on who their advisor will be, which scenario do you think gives Casey a better chance of holding on to the clients? Both options would fulfill the contract of a sale, and this discussion could also take place privately, between seller and client.
The empathetic approach extends to the buyer, his or her staff, and even the buyer’s legal team. Anyone who will come in contact with the seller or the seller’s representatives needs to be aware that actions and words can affect the ultimate outcome, positively or negatively.
Try to communicate in clear thoughtful ways, always examining the possibility that your words, whether written or spoken will be misunderstood or that they might send a message that you did not intend. For this reason, we recommend judicious use of email and almost eliminating the use of text between buyers and sellers. When was the last time a text that you sent was misunderstood? If you are like us, it was very recent.
If this sounds like common sense and a little too polite, then you probably have the idea just about right.
(The Empathetic Buyer™ is a trademark of Moisson Partners, Inc.)