Choose Well

Steps to Selling your Business Part 38.

As we bring this exploration of the process of selling your business to an end, I want to reiterate the principle that will determine the quality of your success:


Fail at that, and you jeopardize the outcome of the entire sale.

The barriers to anyone holding themselves out to be an M&A advisor are low. The implications of choosing the wrong one are enormous.

To use a military analogy, there’s a big difference between being on the front line with a gun and driving a truck around the base. There are a lot of people who say they have been involved in transactions when all they were doing was driving the truck around the base.

These would be people who have done the financial analysis, handled the administration, proofread documents, or written some marketing material. While this is all transaction-related experience, it is not the experience you need from the firm you will hire to sell your business.

You need the firm with the team who have been in the trenches, the team that has negotiated transactions, led the deals, and successfully got them over the finish line.

We have found a few screening questions can bring critical insight into a firm’s ability to achieve extraordinary results for you.

Four key questions to ask:

How many transactions has the team been involved with in the past two years?

What was each team member’s role in those transactions?

How many transactions has the team closed in those two years?

Which of those transactions were an international global sale process?

Keep in mind that working on a transaction is not the same as closing a transaction. Being the junior on a transaction team is not the same as being the lead strategist and negotiator. Doing fairness opinions is nowhere near close to finding the perfect buyer and moving them to pay the optimal price. Advising an owner behind the scenes on a single negotiation is not the same as selling your business.

Please, listen carefully to the answers. Do not settle for “okay” when dealing with your most valuable asset.

You only get the best experience and outcome with Advisors working far above the baseline.

Over my years in the business, I’ve observed five common traits the very best M&A Advisors have. I value all these qualities and have woven them into our daily practice at Stillwater, so I can confidently tell you that you’ll find everything on this list with us.

Whatever firm you are considering engaging to help sell your business, I urge you to look for the following, and if they don’t have it, keep looking.


With over 100 successful transactions and a 95% success rate on sell-side transactions, we have first-hand skills gained only through experience.

You need experts looking at your numbers, personable Advisors negotiating beside you, and people who understand the legal process related to your unique circumstances.

The only way you can be confident your Advisors have all these moving parts working in sync is by their track record. When considering an M&A firm, pay close attention to its history.


At Stillwater, we know that the better prepared the seller, the better the outcome. Your Advisors need to help with the heavy lifting at every step of the process, but not every firm does so.

In the preparatory phase, you should be prepared to give your M&A Advisors a significant amount of time and information, and they should be learning everything they can about your business; so much of the success in later phases depends on their having answers and strategies ready for all eventualities.

The market outreach phase places demand on your Advisor and your team’s work ethic. You need a team to support you. A team that will do what is required to move the sale of your business without delay. We know the importance of a dedicated team serving the demands of the market-leading sale process.

In the closing phase, there are thousands of granular details that can all have a significant impact on your sale. Your Advisors can’t cut and paste their way through this part of the process. They need to put considerable time and effort into finding the best outcome for you.  If they have the work ethic you are looking for, here is where it will shine. Hard work shows in the details.


M&A Firms that are truly advanced in their craft know that standard, off-the-shelf solutions can’t compete with systems and processes they create and own themselves.

This is a point of pride for us. We care about what we do. We have created an environment where the collective wisdom of our entire group is brought to each client’s project. We’ve invested in resources and developed proprietary systems that give us a unique edge in the sales process. Our people are really our people and not a loose affiliation of contractors coming together from time to time to pitch in on someone else’s job.


You’ll need to fine-tune your antennae and trust your gut as you look for this quality, but I think everything depends on it. A team of Advisors acting with (or without) integrity will have more impact on the outcome of your sale process than perhaps any other factor.

When screening potential Advisors, listen for the spin and act accordingly. Here is a quick integrity test for your potential M&A team: in an early conversation, bring up a known weak point in your company’s story, and ask them how they would deal with it. If you sense that your risk will be disguised, downplayed, or swept under the rug—move on. Experience has taught me that a deliberate, honest approach to your risk and negatives is only beneficial in the hands of skilled negotiators. People of integrity inspire trust, and trust puts buyers at ease.

And finally,


Most good M&A firms will get you a reasonable price for your company from a good seller.

But a great M&A Advisor knows that it’s about much more than that— have your prospective M&A Advisors asked you about your future plans? About how your family feels about this next step? Do they listen when you tell them the small but critical things you want in your purchase agreement to protect the employees you are leaving behind?

Great Advisors will help you prepare for and understand the impact this decision will have on your life and those around you. Put things in place to help guarantee the outcome of your decisions.

And please, be aware that there are sharks in these waters; there are M&A Advisors in the marketplace who, while they might get your business sold, will leave you questioning – is this the best we could have done? Their inexperience has built their profit, but what has it done for yours? The bigger picture of your life is of little value there.

You need to have people around you who make you the priority. Your relationship with your M&A Advisory Team is temporary (if intense), but the fruit of that relationship will have a personal impact on the rest of your life. So, I’ll say it one last time:

You must choose the right Advisors.

To put it in perspective, one client, whose business we sold some years ago recently, sent me this email, “We think of you often and appreciate the incredible job you did for our family.”

That is no regret selling!

If you’ve begun to consider what the possibilities of selling your business would entail, you can learn the basics by starting at the beginning of this series. You also can reach out to our team anytime by sending us a message through the contact form above. We look forward to hearing from you.

If you are planning to divest your business or have questions for one of our Advisors, please contact our team today.

←Blog 37

Written by: Douglas Nix