Business owners will often convince themselves that a certain buyer is, without a shadow of a doubt, the BEST buyer for their company. Why is that buyer the best buyer? There are many possibilities: The owner’s company helps to expand the buyer’s served end markets, expands the buyer’s product offerings, offers new technology to the buyer, expands the buyer’s geographic footprint, provides the buyer with a specific skill set that is difficult to develop internally, provides the buyer with much needed capacity (the buy vs. build decision), the cultures of both companies are similar, and/or the two companies could be combined to reduce redundant labor and overhead to make an even more profitable combined company.
Any one or a combination of these possibilities could cause the owner to get their heart set on a particular buyer that they think is exactly the right fit. After all, the owner thinks to themselves, “I must be right. I just have to be. I have never lost a negotiation with myself!”
Nonetheless, for all of the owner’s conviction that they indeed know which company is the perfect buyer, for whatever reason, the so-called “right buyer” may not be taking the bait, despite the owner’s best attempts to lure them in.
There are a myriad of reasons why the “best buyer” (in the owner’s mind) may not be biting:
The “best buyer” does not agree on the fit between the owner’s company and their own company, or they are not seeking the characteristics of the owner’s company.
Perhaps the “buyer” just finished an acquisition so they are not currently considering other acquisitions. In other words, the timing is not right, since they are busy “digesting” the company that they just acquired.
They would like to pursue the acquisition, but they are not the best buyer because they do not have the financial resources to do the deal. Perhaps they recently made significant capital investments or spent a large sum buying out their partners, or they simply do not have the cashflow to dedicate to acquisitions.
They are currently focused on organic growth rather than growth via acquisition(s), or perhaps their corporate culture shies away from acquisitions in favor of organic growth. Maybe they made an acquisition that did not turn out well which has soured them on considering future acquisitions.
The “buyer’s” board of directors has put a halt to acquisitions for the time being for any number of reasons.
Or perhaps, the “buyer” is just not hungry or motivated to do a deal right now, even though the “buyer” admits that they should be interested in this opportunity; they simply cannot or will not commit the time and resources to seriously consider this opportunity.
No matter the reason that the “best buyer” is not biting, the chief takeaway is that owners must have a backup list of buyer candidates to be assured that they will consummate a successful sale transaction.
Other categories of buyers might include a private equity group (PEG), a family office that acquires private businesses, the company’s existing management team, or a well-backed individual that is seeking to acquire a company to own and operate. Sometimes, the perfect buyer is one the owner has not even considered and it is only a matter of time until the stars align and that buyer is identified.
Keep in mind that selling a business is a complex process, and one that requires the owner to be honest with themselves about what they are seeking to achieve through the sale. Once the owner clearly understands their goals, they can develop an exit strategy and identify prospective buyers, including the ultimate buyer candidate followed by the “A” list and then the “B” list – ranked based on the highest potential for helping the owner achieve those objectives. With careful planning, owners can execute a transaction that will be satisfactory, not just financially, but in other ways as well.
Owners are well served by being flexible and having an open mind with respect to the categories of buyer candidates when developing the list of buyer candidates. By casting a wide net, the owner may end up with exactly the type of buyer they hoped for, even if they did not arrive there by the most obvious or direct route. In a lot of ways, finding the perfect buyer is like fishing. Sometimes, the owner has to throw out a lot of lures before reeling in the “best buyer.” Just like a fisherman, it is important for the owner to be patient and be prepared for the “right buyer” to bite at exactly the right time. As the saying goes: “It only takes one!”
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