January 9, 2024 //
During the Market Outreach phase, the three-stage process of buying a business can feel like a school dance in the 1980s—young men clumped together along one wall, young ladies arranged on the opposite side, neither side willing to take the first step. The goal is to get any of them to meet in the middle.
At times, buyers and sellers can act much the same way. The goal of an M&A Advisor is to coax a buyer and a seller out from their respective sides to meet on the dance floor.
Every acquisition is a high-stakes affair. It’s disruptive to the everyday running of a company and involves a lot of work. That’s true for buyers and sellers alike, so it makes sense to be cautious, but communications need to begin somewhere. Your M&A Advisors are there to make those first connections happen.
In this post, I want to give you a simple timeline of the practical steps your advisors go through when making first contact with a potential seller.
Most M&A advisors cover this early in the process; regardless of when it happens in the preparatory phase, you must discuss disclosure boundaries with your advisors before Market Outreach begins. If the initial cold call results in some interest from the prospective seller, your advisors will ensure they know what information about you and your company they can and should share at this stage.
Quality M&A Advisors will have an explicit discussion with you to set up clear boundaries for the subsequent conversations with potential sellers. It is common practice to generate a non-disclosure agreement for the seller to sign before the outreach process can continue.
It often starts with a cold call or an email. I’ll discuss this in detail in a subsequent post. That first call is tricky and crucial; it is our first chance to establish credibility. We have to make it count.
Before the first meeting, your advisors will ask the seller questions about their business. Even though we have a lot of information about the company’s suitability before we make our first contact, this is the moment where serious inquiry and discovery about the nuts and bolts of the business begins. We’re interested in how it’s run, structured, and how the numbers add up. The seller will have questions of their own to ask as well. All this is in service to…
This 30-40 minute meeting is the first serious conversation with the prospective seller. They answer the questions your advisors provided earlier, and more about your company and your intentions are revealed to them.
This is a crucial moment for skilled M&A Advisors to observe the decision-makers in the seller’s company at work. Paying attention to personal details throughout the acquisition process is always smart; it helps us tailor our approach to help ensure the best results in the final deal.
Our goal for our initial contact with the seller and the Q&A meeting is to gain enough information to generate a site report for you on that specific seller. A site report is a simple (but thorough) summary of what we’ve learned and a specific recommendation on whether to proceed with this company.
“This acquisition prospect is worth pursuing because it will fit well with your plans for Strategies X and Y. Here’s how…”
“Not a fit because on closer inspection, their Service Offering X simply will not mesh with your plans for Y and Z.”
It’s worth noting that a savvy advisory team will always follow up with every company after the site report has been generated, even if the recommendation is negative. Over the years at Stillwater, we’ve crafted our process to avoid burning bridges. The company that isn’t a fit for you now might work perfectly with your strategy five years from now; if you’ve already established yourself with some credibility and integrity, you’ll be starting from a position of strength with them when the time comes.
Quality M&A Advisors keep the process running smoothly; they offer advice and counsel and focus your attention on companies worth looking at… but the acquisition is yours to make and yours to live with once the decision is made. Once you have the site report in hand, your advisors will walk you through the details, and then you give them the green light to proceed.
This is a meeting with all sides at the table – ideally, in person. You and your M&A Advisors meet with the seller and the key decision-makers, and the process begins in earnest. Once you’ve locked on to a preferred prospect, the Market Outreach stage is more or less complete, and you’ll move on to the final phase of the process.
A key takeaway is to ensure you have the Advisors by your side who are paying attention to the small details at every step. Making a cold call is Sales 101—anyone can do it.
You want advisors who’ve perfected the art of it and know how to use the call to establish trust and learn valuable information that will be useful later in the process. You want advisors who take the time to set explicit disclosure boundaries, ask the seller careful questions, and make wise and accurate recommendations based on what they’ve learned. You want advisors on duty and at work even in the middle of the process’s most minor, seemingly inconsequential steps. It always pays off in the end.
Contact us to start the conversation about acquiring a business that will help your business succeed.
Written by: Douglas Nix