Owners are usually skeptical or defensive when asked about selling their “not-for-sale” company. In fact, many will hang up or refuse to consider your offer. If you do manage to break through and get the owner to agree to a first meeting, your job is to put them at ease, dissuade fears and communicate the strategic value of an acquisition. A positive first meeting is essential to executing a successful deal.

One of the best ways to make an owner comfortable is to meet on their terms. Let the owner pick the restaurant and meeting location. This has a number of benefits: the owner will naturally be more comfortable and open to discussions in a familiar settings and you will also learn a great deal about the owner and their personality.

Prior to the meeting make sure you do your homework and have an understanding of the seller as both a business owner and as a person so that you can discuss their hobbies, family or any other topics they enjoy during the first meeting.

Most importantly, you should behave as if you were their guest by being respectful and listening. You do not want to come across as a hostile acquirer who wants to take over their business, but rather a potential partner that will bring mutual success to both companies.

Learn more about contacting owners in our webinar “The First Date”: Contacting Owners and Successful First Meetings on April 20.

After this webinar you will be able to:

  • Explain what typically motivates owners to sell
  • Describe effective contact strategies for getting and keeping owners on the phone
  • Detail how to use market and prospect research to gain credibility with an owner
  • Outline steps for a successful first face-to-face visit with an owner
  • Develop a persuasive first meeting presentation to highlight the strategic fit between your company and the prospect

“The First Date”: Contacting Owners and Successful First Meeting

Date: Thursday, April 20, 2017

Time: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EST

CPE credit is available.

When meeting an owner for the first time, your goal is not to instantly sign a deal. You first want to get to know them and make them feel comfortable about selling their business to you. In order to do this, there are some important questions to ask and subjects to broach, which I’ve covered elsewhere. Today, let’s focus on some of the topics that you should avoid.

Here’s what NOT to say to an owner in your first meeting:

Politics and Religion

In general, you want to stay away from anything potentially controversial. As with family thanksgiving dinners, you should avoid politics and religion. You don’t know the owner or their perspective, so don’t risk losing the deal by inadvertently offending someone. If they do start talking about one of these sensitive topics, gently guide the conversation back to safer waters.

If the owner starts speaking about politics and you’re in agreement, it may be ok to go to down that path, but it’s always safer to let them do the talking or to change the subject.

Getting Down to Business Immediately

At dinner you want to get to know the owner, so don’t be too focused on discussing the business. Far too often leaders forget about the human aspect of mergers and acquisitions. You don’t want to barrage the owner with a list of questions from a checklist. Many owners think of their company as their baby and are selling for the first time. It’s important to remember to connect on a personal level as well.

Talk about families, hobbies or their community. Inevitably some information about the business will weave its way into your conversations, but that should not be the primary focus. You’ll have plenty of time to discuss the business in the meeting the following morning.

Financials and Other Specifics

When speaking about the business, avoid pursuing too much detail, especially financial. Remember, this is an introductory meeting so there will be many unknowns that can be determined at a later stage once you have all the information.

Although you may be tempted to, don’t talk about valuation in the first meeting. The owner may be eager to discuss price and may even ask you a specific question, for example, “Will you pay $10 million for my company?” At this point in time, you haven’t seen their financials or their operations, so you can honestly say it’s too early to tell and that you need to see a lot more to determine if there is a strategic fit.

The owner may also hone in on other specifics such as if you plan to close any locations or if you plan to keep all the employees at the company. Again, it’s too early in the process to make decisions about such things.

Overall, your goal is to keep the conversation at the right depth during the first meeting. Talk about product opportunities, cultural fit, and why the combination of the two entities makes strategic sense. If the first meeting goes well, you’ll be back for more and you can work out all the details later on.

Think about the last time that you met somebody for the first time: a coworker, a friend, a romantic interest, or even a new barista at the coffee shop.

When you first met this person, whether you consciously thought about it or not, you formed an impression of them, even though you didn’t really know them. Depending on your interaction, you may have found them kind, exciting, rude, or boring. On the other side, they also formed an opinion of you.

Once formed, a negative opinion can be very difficult to change. You only have one chance to meet someone for the first time. We can’t go back and change the past if the meeting goes poorly. That’s why we try hard to make a good first impression in a job interview or on a first date.

In acquisitions, by the time you make contact or meet with an owner, you have already dedicated significant time and resources formulating your strategy, researching markets, and identifying quality acquisition prospects. You don’t want all your efforts to go to waste because of a silly mistake.

With owners of not-for-sale companies, making a good impression is essential. It’s the first step in building a relationship that could lead to a successful deal. It’s important not to forget the human aspect during this critical first meeting.

Tips for Making a Good Impression

Here are some tips for making a good first impression when meeting the owner of a potential acquisition:

  1. Be knowledgeable – Do your research before contacting the owner so you are educated on their specific industry and company. An owner will form a better impression of someone who has invested time in understanding their business. It shows that you take acquisition seriously.
  2. Customize your materials – If you’re sharing any kind of documentation or presentation, be sure to reference the target company and add details specific to their business. This will communicate that you have particular interest in them, and they are not just one prospect on a list.
  3. Demonstrate strategic value – Why should anyone sell their company to you? Make sure you have a compelling answer in terms of a long-term strategy that shows growth for both their entity and yours.
  4. Establish trust – Understandably the owner may be wary in your first interactions, but establishing trust early on is incredibly important. By following the tips above, you’ll be on your way to developing a positive relationship with the owner.

Make a good first impression in your next owner meeting. Join our upcoming webinar on April 21 to learn best practices on approaching owners.

“The First Date”: Contacting Owners and Successful First Meetings

Date: Thursday, April 21, 2016

Time: 1:00 PM EDT


Photo Credit: Franklin Heijnen via Flickr cc

It goes without saying that the introductory meeting is a crucial step of the acquisition process. If it goes well, your partnership could result in a successful deal. If it goes badly, you may be throwing away a great opportunity and have wasted hours of time and resources chasing the deal.

Your goal for the first meeting is to impress the owner or management team of the acquisition prospect and keep them interested in learning more. In not-for-sale, strategic acquisitions, it’s especially important to convey your strategic rationale and vision for the future. The owner is not looking for a reason to sell, so it’s up to you to convince them to even consider it — and why you would be the best buyer of their company.

I’ve found that, without proper guidance, buyers tend to make the same mistakes in first meeting with owners. Here are 5 common errors:

1. Using a Generic Presentation

Failing to customize your presentation for each target company is a huge mistake; a generic presentation is the best way to get ignored or even kill a deal. No one wants to receive a boilerplate presentation that is irrelevant to their business and current situation. Take the time to tailor the presentation to the acquisition prospect. Think about what you have learned about the company during research and your introductory call. What are the owner’s hot buttons? And what might motivate them to consider selling? Even simple touches like adding the prospect’s logo to the footer of the presentation really make a difference and demonstrate that you are serious about the deal.

2. Bringing In Lawyers Too Soon

Lawyers and advisors are necessary and important figures in M&A, but lawyers aren’t needed at a first meeting. That only elevates tensions and can close off communication with a seller who may be less experienced than you in M&A. Even if the seller decides to bring their lawyers, leave yours at home. We once had an anxious owner who scheduled our first meeting at his lawyer’s office. We agreed, but said we wouldn’t be bringing any lawyers. Upon hearing this, he changed his mind and we ended up meeting at his company and even getting a tour of his plant. Not having lawyers completely changed the atmosphere of the meeting and our conversations. Our client was able to connect on a deeper level with the owner that ultimately led to a successful acquisition.

3. Not Selling Your Vision

Even though you are the buyer, you are effectively trying to sell your vision of a successful acquisition to the owner. How would the transaction benefit both companies? Why do you want to acquire this specific company? Why are you the best buyer for their business? These questions should already be answered and your goals should be clearly defined before you even approach an owner about acquiring their company. Then, once the owner expresses interest, you’ll be able to share your vision and strategic rationale in a clear and convincing manner rather than scrambling to put together an explanation.

4. Taking Charge

Demanding the first meeting be on your terms, or on your turf, puts sellers on the defensive. Let them pick the location and allow them to be your hosts. Making them comfortable may mean they are more willing to talk openly about the possibility of an acquisition.

5. Talking too Much

One huge mistake buyers make is saying too much too soon. The introductory meeting is like a first date. Don’t spill all your secrets right away or expect the owner to tell all. It’s important to keep some information back until a later time. A great way to make sure that you don’t put your foot in your mouth is to limit the time spent during your first visit. Typically we will have a dinner the night before and a three-hour meeting the next morning. Specifically, avoid having breakfast with the owner, and do not stay for lunch. The simple rationale: If you stay too long you may be tempted to fill dead air and venture in too deep too soon. Remember, if all goes well there will be more meetings and more opportunities to share information.


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.

Photo Credit: bachmont via Flickr cc

“I felt so vulnerable. I didn’t know what to do or what to talk about,” Dan told me. As the CEO of a food manufacturer who was pursuing acquisitions, he had a first meeting with an owner of a packaging facility before he engaged Capstone. When we met he expressed feelings of uncertainty and how he realized that he was out of his depth with the CEO. While his meeting didn’t end in disaster, it also wasn’t a resounding success. Dan certainly wished he had been better prepared.

This scenario is quite common, especially for first-time acquirers who are pursuing not-for-sale acquisitions. Meeting with an owner and convincing them to let you buy their company is a daunting task for anyone. Depending on the owner, it can be challenging even for me with over 20 years’ experience. Broaching the topic of acquisition can be awkward, even emotional.

Here is advice for meeting with an owner whose company you are seeking to acquire:

1. Remember the human factor

Don’t forget that the owner is a person who wants to be respected and listened to, just like you. The acquisition process is about developing a relationship, from that initial call to your first meeting and to subsequent meetings through due diligence, closing and integration. It may sound like simple advice, but common courtesy matters.

2. Put your best foot forward

In some ways, meeting the owner is like a job interview. You only have one chance to make a first impression so be fully prepared. Share why allowing you to buy their company is the best decision. Write down what you will actually say to the owner and practice this answer out loud. Role play with a member of your staff if you need to get comfortable and make your argument convincing.

3. Prepare materials

One way to make a strong impression is to prepare a first meeting presentation and takeaway materials. These should demonstrate the overall vision you have for the acquisition without appearing to be abstract or vague. Address specific areas where you see synergies between the two companies.

4. Leverage your research

At this point you likely have a wealth of information from market  and prospect research conducted during the M&A process. Use this research to your advantage to demonstrate your level of interest and to strengthen your credibility.

5. Understand your audience

Especially with not-for-sale acquisitions, it’s important to understand what motivates the owner. What will convince them to sell? Prestige? Money? Health insurance for their entire family? Community activism?

For example, we once won a for-sale auction even though we were not the highest bidder. Why did the owner sell to our client? As part of the agreement, our client planned to keep the factory open and retain the entire staff. The owner told us, “I live in this town … if they had shut down the plant, a lot people – including friends and family members – would have been hurt.”

To find out more about contacting owners, read my article in AMA Playbook “Approaching an Owner for a Possible Acquisition? Don’t Write, Call.”



As an M&A consultant, I’m often asked exactly how we persuade the owners of not-for-sale companies to sell.  My years of experience speaking with owners and facilitating acquisitions makes the process easier, but the real secret is understanding owner psychology.

In contacting an owner, you can’t lay out a detailed acquisition plan. The key is selling your vision, not your plan. The owner won’t sell the company over the phone but may be willing to listen to a credible partner with a strategic vision for the future.

This means you must give credibility to your vision, by demonstrating the depth of your knowledge. This is where exhaustive market and company research comes in. Sometimes the biggest return on your investment in research appears in the first few moments on the phone with an owner. Your understanding of the owner’s role in the company’s history, strengths, and business environment establishes a personal link that could lead to a successful acquisition.

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

Photo Credit: swanksalot via Compfight cc

Here is a thought that many miss when they embark on an acquisition process: There is an inherent asymmetry in acquisition that puts the buyer and seller on different planes. You can buy companies over and over again, but the owner can sell his company only once.

Though you, the buyer, may be taking significant risks with making an acquisition — financially, strategically, perhaps personally — nevertheless, there is a likely far more at stake for the owner.

This asymmetry naturally makes the owner more cautious and skeptical.

Understanding owner psychology is critical to successfully contacting owners and securing a face-to-face meeting. This will be my focus at my next webinar, this Thursday, April 18 at 1:00 PM EDT.

I invite you to join me on Thursday, and be sure to have your questions for me ready. You can register for the webinar here.

During the webinar, I will discuss how best to make the first contact with an owner and how to secure a meeting. I will also guide you through the meeting itself — your “first date” with an acquisition prospect.


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

Personal connection matters, especially when it comes to the first connection with an owner of an acquisition prospect. This first connection is a decisive step.  Handled correctly, it can initiate a positive relationship that may eventually lead to union. Handled poorly, that one phone call can terminate your opportunity to buy.

When initiating contact with an owner, I highly recommend using the phone. This may seem unremarkable, but I have found the idea of contacting owners by phone is actually somewhat unusual. I estimate that 85 percent of third-party advisers, including investment bankers, first contact a prospect by letter.

While this option may be less costly in time, you get what you pay for. With a letter you have no way of knowing how the owner immediately reacted or even if the letter was actually read.

A phone call allows you to establish a personal link and make a lasting impression.  In the first few moments of a call, you can demonstrate your understanding of the company’s history, strengths, and business environments and show your appreciate for the owner’s role. This creates credibility and demonstrates the depth of your knowledge. You can also respond instantly to any questions or concerns, as well as ramp up excitement by laying out your vision tailored to that specific company.

Acquisition is relationship-driven process. Phone is a far better medium for starting a relationship than mail.

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


Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae via Compfight cc

I have rarely found an owner who, when asked if he would consider selling his business, immediately says, ‘‘Yes, I want to sell, and I want to sell now.’’ If you did actually get an immediate yes, this might well indicate weakness on the part of the prospect. Most often, though, the responses you will hear are ‘‘Probably not,’’ ‘‘Not right now,’’ or flat out ‘‘No, thanks.’’

When you first approach an owner to discuss the possibility of an acquisition, different factors shape an owner’s mindset and affect his initial response—factors such as history, age, family and community.  Older owners may see their company as their life’s work, while younger owners may be less invested emotionally or financially. For most company owners, “no” is a knee-jerk response.” It’s simply a lot easier for them to say “no” than “yes.”

When an owner says “no,” you may be tempted to give up. That would be a huge mistake. In fact, you should embrace every rejection, because if you listen carefully to the reasons, they can lead you to the hidden equation for which the owner will, in fact, sell.


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

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan via Compfight cc

“The First Date”: Contacting Owners and Successful First Meetings
CPE Credit Awarded
Thursday, July, 29 2010; 11:00 AM ET

Hosted by David Braun, Capstone CEO

David Braun, CEO of Washington, DC- based external growth consulting firm Capstone, is hosting a webinar with Capstone Project Manager Gretchen Johnson.

Having identified the target companies you would like to consider acquiring, you are ready to make contact with the owners. The first connection is decisive. Handled correctly, it can initiate a positive relationship that may eventually lead to union. But if you botch it, that one phone call can terminate the opportunity to buy.

This webinar will show you how to approach owners of “not-for-sale” companies armed with the right information and strategy to get your foot in the door and get that critical first meeting. You will also learn about how to approach that meeting – the “first date” in what could be a successful (and lucrative) relationship for all involved.  You will be able to keep owners saying “Yes!” until you say “No!”

After completing this course, you will be able to:
•    Explain what typically motivates owners to consider the sale of their business
•    Describe effective contact strategies for getting and keeping owners on the phone
•    Detail how to use your previous market and prospect research to gain credibility with an owner
•    Outline steps to take for a successful first face-to-face visit with an owner
•    Develop a persuasive first meeting presentation to highlight the strategic fit between your company and the prospect
David and Gretchen will speak for approximately 50 minutes followed by a question-and-answer session.

Date:  Thursday, July 29, 2010
Time: 11:00 AM ET/ 10:00 AM CT/ 9:00 AM MT/ 8:00 AM PT

No Prerequisites or Advanced Preparation needed!

To register, click here:  https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/558113314

Registration Fee: $79

IMPORTANT PAYMENT INFORMATION:  Once you register, we will send you a request for payment via PayPal (may take up to 24 hours).  Once payment is confirmed, your registration will be approved and you will receive the log-in information for the webinar.

CPE Credits – 1 CPE credit in Business Management and Organization will be given for those attending this webinar
Program Level:  Basic
Delivery Method: Group Internet-Based

Please feel free to forward this information on to anyone who might be interested in corporate growth strategies.

Refund policy: Requests for refunds must be received in writing by 1:00 PM ET Wednesday, July 28 and the money will be refunded in full within 5 business days.  After 1:00 PM ET on Wednesday, July 28 a credit will be given for a future webinar.  In the event of a cancellation, you will be given the option of of a full refund or applying your fee to a future webinar.

For questions or concerns, please contact Matt Craft at 703-854-1910 or mcraft@capstonestrategic.com

Capstone Strategic, Inc. is registered with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy as a sponsor of continuing professional education of the National Registry of CPE Sponsors.  State boards of accountancy have final authority on the acceptance of individual courses for CPE credit.  Complaints regarding registered sponsors may be addressed to the National Registry of CPE Sponsors, 150 4th Ave N, Suite 700, Nashville, TN, 37219-2417. Website: www.nasba.org