(Avoiding conflicts with the buyer) is the single most important reason to use bankers. Negotiating a sale of a company is one point in time at which your interests are not aligned with those of the buyer. It is very easy for the negotiation to turn acrimonious.
The sale of the company is not the end game, but only one step in its development. You will have to work with the buyer for the foreseeable future and must thus maintain a good relationship with him.
Whether negotiating the price or the details of the stock purchase agreement (SPA - representation and warranties, etc.), I always let my lawyer and bankers take the lead in the discussions. This way I can blame everything on them – they are greedy and difficult while I am the reasonable guy willing to make compromises.
Speaking from the context of a US-based VC, Brad Feld thinks entrepreneurs should use an agent if they raising late-stage capital, but go direct if they are raising funds for a start-up.
Many early stage VCs - especially those that are in saturated geographies and see a lot of deal flow – don’t pay much attention to deals that are promoted by an “investment agent.” I know a number of folks who simply “hit delete” on an email (the virtual equivalent to tossing the physical PPM – the document most agents insist on putting together – in the trash.) In the early stages, the entrepreneur is by far the best fundraiser for his company and there is a knee jerk negative reaction by many VCs against early stage deals that “require” an agent. At the early stage, an entrepreneur is much better served by finding an advisor (or set of advisors) or angel investor that has good VC connections and fundraising experience who can get actively involved in the company as advisor, board member, consultant, or even chairman.
Later stage companies and larger capital raises are a different story. The universe of later stage investors is very dynamic – consisting of corporate (strategic) investors, high net worth individuals, private equity firms, and hedge funds – in addition to later stage VC firms. Many firms enter and exit the market regularly for a variety of reasons (e.g. a number of hedge funds have recently started doing what traditionally look like late stage / mezzanine VC deals). An agent who is active at raising later stage capital will typically have some relationships with folks currently in the market, can run the drill of identifying the primary suspects for the entrepreneur, and can help manage what is typically a more complicated and less structured financing process (e.g. there often isn’t a clear lead investor in a later stage deal.)
Update: IDG Venture's Jeff Bussgang has more on this topic here
Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.