Does this sound familiar? You want to grow through acquisitions, but there are no good companies to acquire. While it may seem like there are absolutely zero acquisition prospects, usually that is not the case.

Many companies struggle to find acquisition prospects because they are focusing on only on industry partners, suppliers, or competitors they already have a relationship with. We call these companies the “usual suspects.” There’s nothing wrong with looking at the “usual suspects” for acquisition opportunities, but if you find you are hearing the same company names over and over again without getting any results, it may be time to try a new approach.

Here are four more ways to find quality acquisition prospects in addition the “usual suspects”:

  1. Market Research – In researching the market you will naturally uncover a few potential acquisition prospects. You will also have the advantage of gaining a deeper understanding of the market which will help you select the best companies to acquire, evaluate potential acquisition candidates, and negotiate with owners.
  2. Trade Shows / Associations – Both are an excellent source for finding many companies in your desired industry in a short amount of time. Walk the floor of a trade show and you’ll see dozens of companies all in one location and many trade associations also member companies listed on their website.
  3. Internal Input – Use the resources you already have. Your sales team is filled with folks who have their ear to the ground and are up-to-date on key players and new developments in the industry.
  4. For-sale Companies – Looking at for-sale companies is never a bad place to start your search. Just make sure you don’t limit yourself by only considering these opportunities. Including not-for-sale companies in your search will increase your chances for a successful acquisition. Remember, every company is for sale, for the right equation.

For more tips on finding companies to acquire join our webinar Building a Robust Pipeline of Acquisition Prospects on March 23.

After this webinar you will be able to:

  • Approach the search for the right acquisition prospect systematically
  • Understand effective research methods for identifying prospects
  • Develop criteria for your ideal acquisition prospect
  • Use tools for objective decision-making during the acquisition process

Building a Robust Pipeline of Acquisition Prospects

Date: Thursday, March 23, 2017

Time: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EST

CPE credit is available.

Photo Credit: patchattack via Flickr cc

Not finding the right company to acquire is the top challenge for middle market companies seeking to grow through mergers and acquisitions. According to Capstone’s survey of middle market executives, 28% noted lack of suitable companies as the strongest reason for not considering acquisitions as a tool for growth.

Finding the right company to acquire is critical to the success of a deal, especially for strategic acquirers who plan to hold onto the newly acquired business long-term.

The lack of targets may be because most leaders are only focusing on for-sale companies. Many wrongly assume that if an owner is not actively seeking a buyer, a there is no chance for a deal. This is simply not the case. Once you begin to consider not-for-sale acquisitions, the universe of options expands.

Pursuing not for-sale acquisitions allows you to take charge of your acquisition strategy and seek out the best companies to acquire rather than accepting whatever opportunity happens to come your way.

For many I realize the idea of pursuing not-for-sale deals can be intimidating, and many assume that if an owner is not actively selling their company that there is no chance for acquisition. This is simply not true. While searching for and approaching companies that aren’t seeking buyers requires a different approach, and more effort, than reacting to whatever happens to be for sale, there are some tricks to approaching these owners.

Finding an Owner’s “Hot Buttons”

One of these best practices is to find the owner’s “hot buttons” to determine what the right equation will be for them to consider selling. A “hot button” is any issue an owner would insist on addressing if they were to sell the company. Price might be one such “hot button” but it’s unlikely to be the only one. The owner may love his or her work, in which holding a position after the acquisition would be a priority. There may be a succession issue if the owner has family members in the company they want to take care of. The owner could have longstanding ties to the community—or may even be the biggest employer in town—and would want to ensure the business stays in the area.

Being informed about these “hot button” issues, and handling them sensitively, opens up the whole field of so-called “not-for-sale” companies.  Now, as you develop your acquisition strategy, you have far more choices, and much better chance of finding the company that truly matches your over-riding strategic goal.

Because approaching “not-for-sale” owners takes great skill, it often it makes sense to hire a third party expert who has experience in this work and is not perceived as any kind of competitive threat by the owner.  Your acquisition advisor can also help you tease out the precise equation that would prompt the owner to sell.

For more insights on middle market M&A, download our report State of Middle Market M&A 2017.

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Sometimes an acquisition that looked promising turns out to be less than ideal as you get closer to finalizing the deal. The question becomes: Should we proceed or should we back out?

Join me for our new M&A Express videocast, “When to Walk Away,” on May 13th. M&A Express is new, complimentary resource for middle market executives that teaches essentials of mergers and acquisitions in 20 minutes or less.

When to Walk Away

May 13th, 1:00 PM – 1:20 PM ET

Register here — it’s free

In this important videocast, you’ll learn clear criteria for abandoning an acquisition before it’s too late. The information here can save your company millions of dollars and years of heartache.

After the videocast I will be answering questions, so please have your questions ready. In the meantime you can contact or submit questions at any time by commenting on this post or using the contact form.

Learn more about M&A Express.

Subscribe to the blog.

How do you go about finding companies to buy? Do you begin your search by contacting a list of usual suspects? Rather than falling back on the usual suspects, consider using a truly strategic approach to finding the right company to buy. A demand-driven approach to picking acquisition targets will help increase your chances of successful M&A.

Join me for the second videocast in the new Capstone series, M&A Express: “Where to Start Your Search.”

You’ll learn how to look beyond the “deal” to consider long-term market forces that can make or break the success of your acquisition.

Where to Start Your Search

April 9th, 1:00 PM ET

Register here — it’s free

The information in this videocast can make the difference between a successful acquisition…. and a disaster.

After the videocast I will be answering questions, so please have your questions ready. In the meantime you can contact or submit questions at any time by commenting on this post or using the contact form.

See you on April 9!

Learn more about M&A Express.

Subscribe to the blog.

When you’re pursuing an acquisition, making meaningful connections with the right people at the right companies can be challenging.

Who is the right person to contact? How can you go about contacting them? And once you do get in contact, what do you talk about to capture their interest?

These questions are I frequently hear from company executives.

One client of ours received no response after contacting both the owner and the CEO of an acquisition target about a potential partnership. He put it this way: “We have our people talking to the same ten key contacts, but there’s little to show for all our efforts.”

While he knew the right person to speak with, he was still unable to open the door to begin a meaningful dialogue. It’s not enough to know the players; you have to understand how to approach them and how to keep them interested. Here are three common questions we hear and three answers to help you with your contact strategy.

1) Who is the right person to contact?

Typically in a privately held, not-for-sale acquisition you’ll want to contact the owner or owners of the company. You might also contact the company CEO, president or another executive. Usually this information is listed on the company’s website or some secondary source of information. But first, do some primary research with lower-level employees in sales or operations without disclosing your interest in acquisition. They can provide you with additional insights into the company so that you’re fully educated and prepared when speaking with the owner.

2) Why haven’t they called me back?

Was it something you said? Maybe. Or maybe they never received your letter or email. Unfortunately you may never know why they didn’t respond. This is why I recommend calling instead of sending a letter. It’s a lot easier to get feedback from a live dialogue and to gain deeper insights. You’ll at least know they heard your message through all the clutter.  This is also a great reason for having multiple target companies… there’s bound to be a percentage of owners who never respond to your invitations.

 3) How do you keep the target interested?

Your goal during a first call is to draw the owner of an acquisition target into a conversation. Don’t try to get them to sell their company over the phone – no one is going to do that! Instead keep them on the phone by demonstrating your knowledge of their company and business and your strategic vision for a partnership (whether that be 100 percent acquisition, joint venture, strategic alliance, or minority investment).

Our clients find that they may have trouble opening doors with the correct people, even if they are familiar with many of the players in their space. These tips should help, but speaking with owners does require a certain amount of expertise and practice. Even after 20 years of experience, we still hear the word “no” on occasion. Each contact you make with an owner is a link in the chain that could lead to a prosperous acquisition. Don’t ruin your chances for a successful acquisition by making preventable mistakes. Make sure you’re prepared.

You can learn more about contacting owners in our upcoming webinar: “The First Date”: Contacting Owners and Successful First Meetings.

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Learn how to find the best companies for acquisition in Capstone’s webinar on November 20. For over twenty years I’ve helped clients pick top-notch companies using a unique demand-driven approach.

It begins with formulating a strategy and using research to select the top markets for growth.  Then, we search for the companies that meet your strategic needs in those high-growth markets. During this webinar, I will show you how to approach the search for the right company systematically and efficiently using effective research methods.

After completing this webinar, you will be able to:

  • Approach the search for the right acquisition prospect systematically
  • Understand effective research methods for identifying prospects
  • Develop criteria for your ideal acquisition prospect
  • Use tools for objective decision-making during the acquisition process

Date: Thursday, November 20, 2014
Time: 1:00 – 2:15 pm ET
Registerhttps://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/479774158

CPE credit is available.

 

“Keep your pipeline full,” I often tell clients when speaking about their acquisition prospects. By this I mean that in pursuing M&A you should research 75 to 100 companies. That’s a lot of companies and research, which of course you must record in an appropriate manner.

How can you keep track of all your data? What member of your acquisition team is best qualified to monitor, control, and update the pipeline database?

The short answer is someone who is extremely detail-oriented and organized. Think of this person as the M&A librarian. I recommend the librarian is not the acquisition champion because this role will require a fair amount of work. The librarian will meticulously keep track of all the information gathered by the acquisition team and catalogue it appropriately.

My clients often use tools such as Microsoft Access, Salesforce, Act!, or other data management software to organize all the data. Recording your findings in an orderly, accessible fashion is critical to ensuring your data is useful and meaningful to you during the acquisition process.

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Many executives engaged in M&A believe in creating a long list of acquisition prospects. However, the goal of your M&A process should be to find the right companies. Obviously, it’s good to fill your pipeline with prospects, but you want to be sure these prospects match your strategic criteria. What good is a long list if none of the companies fit your strategic vision?

Learn more about this strategic approach to building your target list at our next Capstone webinar “Finding the Right Companies” on Thursday, November 21. The webinar will explain the most effective methods for identifying prospects that match your M&A strategy.

Click here to register.

CPE credit is available.

Acquiring the right company is the key to acquisition success. Your target should fit into your company’s overall strategic vision and add value to your business.

To determine what this company looks like and to find it, develop prospect criteria. Keeping in mind your business strategy, sit down with your acquisition team and write your description of the perfect acquisition target company. Use criteria and metrics to describe the ideal candidate. Try to limit your criteria to no more than six, focusing on strategic aspects.

For example, your criteria could include “strong management experience,” with “executive team in place for at least five years” as your metric. It’s very important to include objective and measurable metrics because these criteria will be used for evaluating actual companies.

An objective system lets you evaluate and prioritize your prospects. While reality may never match your ideal, this exercise will yield a very effective list of criteria for your search.

*This post was adapted from David Braun’s Successful Acquisitions, available at Amazon.com

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