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5 Secrets to Effective Exit Planning Team Leadership

5 Secrets to Effective Exit Planning Team Leadership

Leading a team of professional peers is a definite challenge that can put all of your leadership skills to the test. You’ll be managing a diverse group of professionals who have different areas of expertise and different ways of getting things done. They don’t report to you, and you have little or no authority to direct their work, but you will be accountable for the team’s ultimate product: your client’s Exit Plan.

Among other things, you will be expected to motivate, facilitate, encourage, communicate effectively, build trust, and resolve conflicts, all the while keeping your client in the loop and happy.

It sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But that’s what an Exit Planner does: serves as the team’s quarterback, constantly moving the team down the field toward the business owner’s goal. This coaching tip will give you a few ideas on how to get the job done most effectively.

Secret #1: Make the Team Feel Safe!

Trusted Advisors are protective of their clients for fear that someone will steal them away. Consider this: You—as the client’s CPA, financial advisor, attorney, or another professional advisor—are suddenly confronted by another advisor who seems to be telling your owner-client that you aren’t doing your job, since you’re not advising him or her about the benefits of doing an Exit Plan. That would make anyone defensive.

But what if you got a call from a CPA who introduced himself and asked for your help? He would explain his role as the Exit Planner, briefly outline his Exit Planning Process, reassure you that he was not there to poach your client, and invite you to be an autonomous member of his Exit Planning Advisor Team.

Now, instead of being on guard, you would, at least, be open to meeting and talking about working together. That’s what we mean by making the Team feel safe.

You must be crystal clear that the client’s expert Trusted Advisor (e.g., CPA, financial advisor) will continue in that role as long as he or she feels comfortable doing so. Explain that there may come a time when a professional with specific expertise may be called in, but only after the client’s expert has been consulted. The expert should have the final say about the Recommendations offered and how they will be structured. Your job as the Exit Planner is to proactively coordinate the Advisor Team to reach the client’s goals, not dictate how the Advisor Team members are to do their jobs.

A word here about insecurity: No one wants to look stupid in front of other professionals. Most of the advisors you will have on your Team are accustomed to working alone as individuals, not as members of a cross-functional team (CPAs work alone, attorneys usually work alone, and even wealth advisors and insurance professionals generally work alone). You may not be able to make the anxiety go away, but you can mitigate it with good communication (more about this later).

Your primary job as Team Leader is to get members thinking as a team first and as a group of individuals second. This will go a long way to making the Team feel safe.

Secret #2: Explain the Benefits of Being on the Team!

There are three main benefits to being on the Exit Planning Advisor Team:

  1. They will make money by selling their core products and services.
  2. They will strengthen the bond between the client and themselves.
  3. They will differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

Let’s explore each of these.

1. They will make money selling their core products and services.

The BEI Seven Step Exit Planning Process™ is full of opportunities for professional advisors to sell business valuations, cash needs analyses, and sale-document creation and reviews, along with myriad other professional services. And the neat thing is the client’s advisor doesn’t have to do any selling! The Recommendations outlined in the EPIC Business Owner Road Map list the products and services needed. All the advisor has to do is reference the Exit Plan and begin working.

2. They will strengthen the bond between the client and themselves.

Very few professional advisors talk to their clients about Exit Planning, much less work on a team to actually build and implement a plan. This unique opportunity will place the advisor in a position to have the client’s undivided attention as his or her “resident expert.”

Additionally, whether the owner is interested in an insider sale or a sale to a third party, the advisor sitting on the team will have the inside track in locking down the business relationship with the new owner.

3. They will differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

As noted above, only a handful of advisors are broaching the subject of Exit Planning with their business-owner clients. Advisors on your Team can point to the fact that they have actually participated in the creation and implementation of an Exit Plan. Quite a marketplace differentiator!

Plus, advisors can talk from experience to business owners and other Trusted Advisors in their sphere of influence about doing Exit Planning, a great conversation starter and unique feature to set them apart from the crowd.

Secret #3: Educate the Team

Every team needs a clear vision of what it’s supposed to do. In our case, it comes back to The Phrase That Pays: “We help our business-owner clients plan for the single, most critically important financial event of their lives: the transition out of their businesses.” If the Team understands the mission, everyone can pull in the same direction.

Team members also need to know the “How” and the “What.” Show them the process you will take: Discovery, Assessment, Plan Creation, Implementation. Let them see, touch, and use the tools, like the Exit Planning Workbook and Assessment Report, the Value Driver Report, and samples of a Business Owner Road Map.

Explain that Exit Planning is much more than succession planning, financial planning, or tax planning. It is a holistic approach that encompasses those planning aspects plus a whole lot more, which requires a team of experts who will build a custom plan based on the business owner’s individual needs, wants, and wishes.

Secret #4: Communicate Before, During, and After

Communication is the linchpin that makes The BEI Seven Step Exit Planning Process work. From one-on-one meetings to introducing yourself, building trust and rapport (see Secret #1: Make the Team Feel Safe), and regular team meetings with all hands on deck, regular gatherings keep all advisors up to date and on the same page. And with technologies like GoToMeeting, Skype, and other live-calling applications, it’s easier than ever to communicate concurrently.

Some BEI Members use a cloud-based, password-protected repository for Recommendation narratives that all Exit Planning Advisor Team members can access at any time. Advisors can post their pieces of the Plan for comments and suggestions from others. (The EPIC Software provides custom templates for individual Recommendations for the responsible advisor to follow.)

Meeting etiquette (e.g., starting and ending on time, having an agenda, giving everyone the opportunity to speak) is always a top communication priority.

Secret #5: The Right People

A smoothly running Team is a joy to work with, primarily because of the synergy the “Right People” bring to the table. Here is a short list of attributes of a quality team member:

  1. An expert in his or her field.
  2. Client focused.
  3. Team player.
  4. Confident.
  5. Open to new ideas.

Be on the lookout for prospective Exit Planning Team Members. They are everywhere. However, not every professional advisor is the right fit to be on your Exit Planning Advisor Team!

The elephant in the room is out of the closet: Not everyone you (or the business owner) invite to be on the Team will play nice. Fortunately, most advisors will be easy to work with. Selfish advisors are the exception, but you will have to be prepared to act quickly if an advisor does not work with the client’s goals at the forefront.

If you run into disruptive advisors, sit down privately and talk with them to find out why they are acting disruptively. Is the work overwhelming? Do they not buy into The BEI Seven Step Exit Planning Process? What’s wrong? Maybe you just need to clear the air.

Maybe they aren’t the right fit. If you feel that’s the case, bring your concerns to your client and discuss them calmly, laying out your apprehensions about advisors who are jeopardizing the Team’s effectiveness. Be professional in your approach and demeanor.

Just remember, the decision to fire the advisor must rest with the business owner. Depending on their relationship, you may end up working with the difficult person anyway.

Leading an Exit Planning Advisor Team can be a fulfilling and profitable way to use your relationship skills. Implement these ideas and you’ll find yourself being invited to work with more and more professionals and their clients.

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