Over the last few months I have talked to three different business owners who, in hopes of selling their businesses, reached out to a single potential buyer they believed might be interested. They conducted carefree discussions with the buyer, sans the assistance of an M&A advisor. In each instance, I thought to myself: “Well, that seems like a silly way to sell a business.”
Maybe these owners nostalgically compared these rendezvous to days of courtship in our youth. We can all remember times long ago when serendipity strikes and we are introduced to a pretty girl or boy. The effortless conversation that follows was electric. Dopamine and oxytocin flood the brain as our confidence soars to record highs.
Even if this hasn’t happened to you, I’m sure you’ve watched a few rom-coms in your day to imagine what this moment might feel like. I believe many business owners might get a similar high when reaching out to a single prospective buyer that seems to be a fit.
Here are some reasons why many business owners love to flirt with a single buyer, but also the truths around this approach as it relates to the sale of your business.
Just because it’s easy to do, doesn’t mean you should. Get your mind out of the gutter, I don’t mean it in that way.
Here’s how you fantasize the initial conversation with your targeted buyer will go:
“Hi, I am the business owner of XYZ Corp and I think our businesses would be a great fit together.”
The prospective buyer, with an intoxicating sultry voice, replies, “Well, hello. Thank you for reaching out. It’s a coincidence that you called, because I have been admiring your business from afar for months. You have been doing a wonderful job in your market. Your products are extraordinary. Your services are second to none. Maybe I can buy you lunch sometime when I’m in town.”
And so begins the journey down the path of selling your business. It’s easy and it’s wonderful.
The Truth: Rarely does the initial conversation go down like that. The targeted buyer is often caught off guard and the dialogue is awkward. Maybe they are acquisition virgins or have capital resources committed to other corporate initiatives. Even if they do show some interest, they are usually unprepared, so the process is messy and slow.
Again, what you’re thinking is not what I meant.
When approaching a single buyer, the thought that you can sell your business for an extraordinary price without having to pay an exorbitant fee to an M&A advisor may cross your mind.
The Truth: As previously mentioned, approaching a single unprepared buyer can take more time than a structured process using an M&A advisor. The cost saved by not hiring an investment banker will likely be reduced with the increased fees from another advisor (such as a lawyer) to deal with the chaos that ensues from inexperience. Also without a dedicated M&A team, more effort from you, the business owner, will be required and this takes energy away from profitably running your company.
By far, the costliest consequence of only approaching one potential buyer is the fact that competitive tension is removed from the game. Playing hard to get and having multiple suitors increases the attractiveness (and value) of your company. Without these factors, few buyers would be seduced to pay the price that you deserve.
No One Will Know
By flirting with only one prospective buyer, you hope no will find out that you are considering the sale of your business. You worry about your employees leaving the company because they refuse to work for a new employer. You stress about your customers switching to your competitors because they can no longer trust the continuity of your business. You fear that your most savage competitors get their hands on proprietary corporate information that they can leverage to crush your business. Although some of these concerns can be valid, from my experience rarely do they happen.
The Truth: Experienced M&A advisors employ strategies that minimize the risk of confidentiality breaches. Fear of potential information leaks during the sale process should not be a deterrent in bringing the best prospective buyers to the negotiating table. As a best practice, the process for maintaining confidentiality does not remain static throughout the entire time frame of selling a business. Protocols for maintaining confidentiality will change depending on the stage of the sale process and the types of buyers to which the information is being disclosed.
Playing the field
Unlike when searching for a life partner, you really need to consider all potential candidates when selling your business. Approaching one single buyer is a bad strategy for many different reasons. It is likely that you will only get one shot to sell your business, so stop looking for the cheap and easy way to do it. Take the necessary time and put in the right effort and resources to do it right.