Middle market owners hoping to sell their businesses can do it themselves or hire a middle market advisor. Investment bankers aren’t cheap, and this can deter some owners from seeking their advice. So does hiring an advisor offer value?

A new study suggests they offer significant value. The research, from economists at Fairfield University, is one of the first of its kind to look at hard data on the value of hiring an advisor.

The survey included 85 owners who had sold companies with values ranging from $10 million to $250 million over the last five years. Researchers presented them with questions about their experience of the process and the role that investment bankers had in the process. Most firms (62%) conducted an auction.

Owners universally reported that M&A advisors conferred significant value on the transaction. Managing the complex M&A process and strategy was the most significant source of value, according to the survey. A competitive, disciplined process ensures that sellers get the best possible deal, and investment bankers can help nurture this process.

Structuring and negotiating the transaction were also key drivers of value. Sellers reported that allowing the advisor to lead negotiations freed their time to continue running their businesses. It also helped them maintain a positive working relationship with the new owner. Sellers who attempt to manage the challenging negotiation process on their own can see their relationship with the buyer quickly fall apart. This can affect value, integration, and even whether or not the business ultimately sells.

Sellers also reported that experience and creativity among bankers helped incrementally drive value and achieve the sellers’ objectives. The right deal structure limits buyer risk while ensuring a favorable tax structure for sellers. When bankers can successfully balance and negotiate the interests of both seller and buyer, the timeline to closing may be shorter and the deal is more likely to succeed.

During the interview process, one of the first questions many owners present is about the ability to find a buyer, or the advisor’s level of experience in the industry. Despite seller perceptions at the outset of the process, many sellers ultimately reported that identifying and finding a buyer ended up being the least important role a banker filled. Investment bankers can tap their professional networks, industry research, investor databases, and more to find the right buyer. So while sellers ended up reporting that this was less important overall, they also emphasized that hiring a banker did improve their access to qualified buyers. This is because the value of finding a buyer tends to pale in comparison to the myriad other services skilled bankers offer.

The study further found that middle market M&A deals which relied on an investment banker had higher sale prices than the initial sale estimate. Investment bankers added moderate to significant value by closing experience gaps and leveling the playing field between first-time sellers and experienced buyers.

In an industry that’s often high on promises and light on evidence, this study offers clear and compelling evidence that business owners who hire investment bankers get demonstrable value. Though not all owners need an investment banker, the evidence shows that the overwhelming majority can benefit from hiring one.