What are some questions business owners should ask investment bankers before selecting them?

By Barbara Taylor | Last updated: September 15, 2023

I know that what I look for in a client is probably what a client should be looking for in me, namely a good fit. Fit can mean a number of different things. There is a personality aspect, although I wouldn’t say that’s mandatory. Certainly, you want to hire an M&A person that is competent above all else, regardless of whether or not you care for their personality. With that said, you are going to be involved in a year-long process with this person and it’s going to be quite stressful, so keep that in mind when you’re interviewing multiple M&A people. I highly recommend interviewing at least three. Keep in mind that you’re going to be going through a difficult and complex process with this person, so you need to not only trust their abilities but also get along well with them to some extent.

My husband and business partner, Chris, and I tend to get a lot of husband and wife couples as clients. I think that’s because we sort of mirror back to them what they are, which is a team, whether or not they are both still working in the business.

I would say that you need to ask the business broker or investment banker, depending on the size of your business, if your business is similar to other businesses they have sold based on size, industry, and types of buyers. I don’t feel that getting an industry specialist is necessary, by the way. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but, assuming you have a highly sellable business, a good M&A person should be able to make a market for any type of business, get attractive offers, and get a deal closed.

I would definitely ask for references from a variety of sources. These could be both sellers and buyers that the investment banker has worked with, as well as attorneys, CPA’s, and financial planners. Don’t be afraid to ask for multiple references from different sources, not just past clients. I would ask them about their process and make sure that you understand the work involved on their end. I would ask them for examples of their work product, too (valuations, teasers, selling memorandums, etc.). I wouldn’t hesitate to sign an NDA if they ask, so that you can get an idea of the quality of their work. You want to be confident in how they are going to represent your business in the marketplace.

On a softer note, I would listen to the types of questions they ask you. Obviously, they are going to ask you a ton of questions about your business. But see if they are interested in things like your post-exit plan, what your family thinks about this decision, your motivation for selling, and what your expectations are about the process. I find that good M&A people are very concerned about setting appropriate expectations with the business owner, and some of that might have to do with family members or other issues outside of the business itself.

Lastly, I would look for an M&A person who you feel is being brutally honest with you. One of my pet peeves is advisors who tell you what you want to hear. Selling your business is not the time or place for that: The stakes are too high. You want to be dealing with somebody who will not hesitate to give you their opinion about your business, buyers, deal terms, or anything to do with the sale; good, bad, or otherwise.


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Written by Barbara Taylor

Barbara Taylor
Barbara is the co-founder of Allan Taylor, a boutique M&A firm located in Northwest Arkansas. She began her entrepreneurial journey after moving from Seattle to Northwest Arkansas with her family in 2003. Seeing a need for a decent cup of coffee, she and her husband started the first drive-thru espresso business in the state of Arkansas. They successfully built the business into a popular micro-chain, and eventually sold it to an outside buyer. In her role as a business broker, Barbara combines her first-hand experience as a selling owner with her extensive knowledge of the selling process to help business owners cash out and move on.

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