August 19, 2015

Showing Up

Investor-relations professionals are traveling salespeople.

Now, we’re not paid commissions and I can see some of you recoiling at the imagery of rumpled suits and satchels stuffed with brushes, a voice saying, “Excuse me, ma’am, do you have a couple minutes?  I’d like to tell you about our brand new…”

Woody Allen said 80% of life is showing up when you’d prefer to stay in bed. Ads play on satellite radio claiming 80% of sales follow the fifth to twelfth contact.  Whether those figures are real, my own sales experience boils down to a single word: Effort.

There’s an article today in the Wall Street Journal about venerable stock-picker Mario Gabelli whom many of us know because of the ponderous way Gamco Investors approaches investment-selection. You can’t quit after the first meeting.

When I was sitting in the IR chair years ago, the sales guy from CCBN – later bought by Thomson Financial and today part of Nasdaq Corporate Services – sold me more stuff than everybody else combined because he was always solving problems for me. He’d observe a need and say, “We could help you do that better.”

I’ve said before that Nordstrom has the best salespeople in retail because they’re concierges. They’re expert at assessing their consumers and matching them with the right products. They’re the unflagging herald helping you pursue sartorial superiority.

This too is the soul of modern investor-relations in a world where our core audience of active stock-pickers shrinks steadily, money like desert sand before the wind blowing to indexes and ETFs. Mario Gabelli despite good performance has seen $2 billion flow from Gamco this year.

IR is about matching product to consumer. We can speak in magisterial terms of the Liaison to Wall Street but at root IR is corporate concierge. We’re Nordstrom for Fidelity or T. Rowe Price, helping them dress well.  And everybody is looking for a garment because that’s what Wall Street does. Fund managers spend other people’s money.

Let’s get right down to handing out Fuller brushes. Say you’ve positioned your company as a growth story.  You craft a growth message, pinpoint growth drivers.  Every quarter you’re delivering financial and performance metrics highlighting sequential and yearly change, percentages metering growth.

But your stock is declining for whatever reason (and we’d know in market-structure data by measuring period-over-period change in behavioral flows no differently than you do with your metrics). Maybe it’s China, the sector is out of favor, the dollar is killing you.

The fact is you’re a value product.  Target growth money when your shares are declining and you won’t sell because the product doesn’t match the consumer. Growth money buys appreciation. Value money buys opportunity. Repeat that.  And there are shades of both. Momentum is aggressive growth money, deep-value high-turnover is aggressive value money. GARP (growth at a reasonable price) is your consistency constituency (say that fast three times).

Every IRO should be cultivating a deep palette of investor-relationships across this money spectrum. These are your consumers. You follow up – knock on doors because 80% of sales take a lot of persistence and if the stats are bogus effort isn’t – with the consumers currently matched to your product.

We produce data for prioritizing this relationship-management effort.  Our action items focus on relationship-management. For instance, you have a tough earnings call and your stock declines. Afterward, you ring top holders and reassure them. It’s protocol.

But wait with the salvo to well-informed prospects you’ve cultivated strategically. Watch the data. When your Sentiment is negative – all the tides of money are out and your short volumes are low – the likelihood your price will rise is high because the first buyer will lift price.

That’s the time to call just your deep-value relationships, the 4-5 you’ve built the past couple years. You have a product to offer these consumers. Highlight value drivers – not growth details. Tell a value story.

If they act, they’ll get an immediate return (call them next only when your product is right for them, and this relationship will become symbiotic).

And now you’re a growth product and story again. Call GARP and growth relationships because your shares will be rising. That’s what you can control. Turn it into an art.  You’ll be the best IRO on the Street because the goal is a well-informed and fairly valued stock (we have metrics for that too).

Remember, 80% of success is showing up. Over and over.

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