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

How many companies do you need to look at to do a deal? This is a common question we get from clients. Experience tells us you need to look at about 100 companies in order to execute one deal. That doesn’t mean you go through formal due diligence with 100 companies, but you do need to identify and do at least basic level research on them.

The Prospect Funnel

We look at this process of researching and selecting acquisition prospects like a funnel that narrows from 100 companies at the top to one deal at the bottom. In the beginning, you do basic research on 100 companies and measure them against your acquisition criteria. At this stage about half of the options are eliminated, so we’re left with 50 companies to do in-depth research on. Again you measure your findings against your criteria and about 25 companies pass the test. You call up the owners of these 25 companies, and about half of them will meet with you. Then you get maybe six second meetings, and you can agree to terms with at least one, maybe a couple, and out of that you negotiate a deal.

The Prospect Funnel

The prospect funnel is used to research and select the best companies for acquisition.

Have Many Options

Many are shocked when they hear about our approach because it seems like a lot of companies to get to one deal. People will say it takes too much time or resources to research all of the companies. However, as I noted above, you don’t need to do in-depth research and meet with the owners of 100 companies. At each stage of the process as you proceed down the funnel more and more companies get eliminated either because you find they don’t meet your criteria or because the owner doesn’t take your phone call or meeting.

Taking a broad approach at the beginning ensures you take the time to evaluate the marketplace and all of your options and that you have many options for acquisition. We do not recommend only considering one company for acquisition at a time because the deal could fall apart for a number of reasons. The owner could get cold feet or you could discover something during due diligence, and then you’ll have to start the acquisition search all over again.

Not-for-sale Companies

Another common objection we hear is that there are not that many companies for sale in the marketplace, I want to make sure you understand that we’re talking about looking at not-for-sale companies as well as for-sale deals.

We have lots of experience in not-for-sale acquisitions and when we work for a strategic buyer, we’re approaching companies whether they have a for-sale sign in front of their business or not. If it’s the right strategic fit, we’ll call them up and talk to the owner about selling their company or bringing in another company to own all or part of it.

Photo Credit: Feature Photo by Cydcor via Flickr cc, The Prospect Funnel by Capstone

When contacting an owner about acquisitions, don’t be surprised to hear “no.” Most owners, when asked about selling their “not-for-sale” business will automatically refuse simply because it’s unexpected. Remember, for an owner focused on running the day-to-day operations of his business, this offer is coming out of the blue. There are, of course, a number of other reasons why owners don’t want to sell including history, age, family, and community. Don’t be afraid of rejection or give up after the first try. If you are persistent, you may find the owner is open to at least talking to you or meeting with you to hear you out.

However, in some cases, despite your determination, you may find that the owner still is not interested in selling or any type of partnership. So what do you do? Do you keep calling him or do you give up?

When contacting an owner about selling his “not-for-sale” business you must be persistent, but not obnoxious. It’s important to strike the right balance. If you’re at an impasse with an owner who is not budging on his “not-for-sale” position, there are a few strategies you can employ.

Write the Owner a Letter

If the owner is still refusing to meet with you after multiple phone calls, try taking the conversation from verbal to written. In a letter, you don’t seem as pushy and the owner has more time to think through his response rather than react in the moment.

Stay in Touch

If the owner still seems uninterested after a letter, put him on a keep in contact list. We have a list of prospects that we call every quarter to check in and see if anything has changed since we last spoke to them.  A big part of acquisitions is timing and an owner who is not ready to sell today, may be ready six months down the road. When something changes in his business and the switch flips, he may pick up the phone and call you. While there’s no guarantee that the owner will sell, at least if you made the initial approach, when he is are ready, you will be at the top of the list as a potential buyer.

Move on

If you’ve tried both of the strategies listed above and still have not had any success, it may be time to move onto another prospect. You shouldn’t keep beating a dead horse and some owners are really not going to sell their business no matter what.

If you have a robust pipeline of acquisition prospects that you are pursuing in parallel, this won’t be a major setback to your acquisition program. With many options you increase your chances of a successful acquisition.

Finding the right partner is a crucial component of successful mergers and acquisitions and pursuing a deal with the wrong company can be a costly mistake. We’ve all seen the headlines of major mergers and acquisitions that have fallen apart at some point along the deal – whether it’s before the transaction closes or during integration. On the other hand, if done right, with the correct partner, strategic M&A allows a business to grow rapidly and effectively and gain a competitive advantage.

When searching for companies to acquire, it is important to keep three things in mind: Strategy, demand, and options.

Strategy First

Any successful M&A process must begin with a solid, strategic rationale. Why do you want to make an acquisition? What will the acquisition accomplish? How is M&A aligned with your overall growth strategy?

It makes no sense to pursue M&A simply for the sake of it with no real plan in mind. That is like starting out on a trip without a map (or GPS or smartphone) and hoping you will arrive at the correct destination. Make sure you have a plan and strategy.

Be Demand-driven

Once you have developed your strategy, you should determine the right market to focus before you being looking at individual companies. This “markets-first” approach allows you select markets that have a healthy, stable demand for your acquisition partner’s products or services. Without taking future demand into consideration, you risk acquiring a company in a shrinking market where demand for its products and services are in decline. Avoid pursuing these unqualified acquisition prospects by selecting the best markets for growth before researching acquisition prospects.

Have Many Options

While you may only be acquiring one company, it’s not enough to only pursue one acquisition prospect at a time. You do not want to spend all your time and effort pursuing one company only to risk having the deal fall apart in the end. Deals fall apart for a number of reasons – the owner get cold feet, you can’t agree on the deal terms, a competitor comes along, etc. If you have only looked at one company you will find yourself back at square one with nothing to show for all your time and effort spent chasing the deal.

In fact, it takes up to 75 to 100 candidates to identify the right deal. It’s not enough to have a plan B, you need a plan C, D, E, F, and so on. We encourage you to broaden your search for prospects to include not-for-sale companies. Not-for-sale simply means the owner is not actively considering sell – not that they will never sell the company. By including not-for-sale companies in your search you significantly expand your universe of potential acquisition prospects.

Think of your prospect pipeline as a funnel. Gradually, as you move forward in the M&A process, you will eliminate candidates that are not an ideal fit with you strategic rationale for acquisition. With the “funnel” approach you can move prospects along simultaneously, in a systematic and efficient manner.

Learn more about Building a Robust Pipeline of Acquisition Prospects in our webinar on March 17.

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 1:00 PM ET
CPE credit available.

Photo Credit: Barn Images

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.

Photo Credit: boltron- via Compfight cc

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.

By John Dearing, Managing Director

McKinsey & Company recently published an article on using M&A as a tool to give your company a competitive advantage. The article addresses some key aspects of M&A we find important at Capstone. You should develop your strategy first when approaching M&A and always have a full pipeline of acquisition prospects so you can compare and contrast for better decisions. Ultimately, you need an M&A process in place if you seek success.

Photo Credit: Victor1558 via Compfight cc

If you have started to look at individual acquisition prospects, you may be wondering, why use a prospect funnel? That’s to say, why pursue lots of possible acquisitions, rather than focus on just one?

I have frequently been approached by clients after a deal suddenly fell through—a deal they had been working on for months or even years. I recall a manufacturer of agricultural equipment that was convinced from the start that they had found the ‘‘Holy Grail’’ of acquisition targets. They believed this prospect was the perfect fit for their external growth needs. They cast aside all other candidates and poured all their energy into the pursuit of this one company.

After months of positive negotiations, the prospect abruptly got cold feet and backed out. The owner decided he wasn’t ready to sell a business that had been in family hands for multiple generations. The agricultural equipment manufacturer was left to start the entire acquisition process over.

The lesson is clear: Have one reason for making an acquisition, but have many viable prospects. Don’t just have a Plan B. Have a Plan C, a Plan D, and so on. Create a funnel and fill it with likely prospects. This approach yields many benefits.

The concept of the Prospect Funnel is that you begin by considering a broad sweep of companies. It could be dozens or even hundreds. Gradually, you filter this list through your prospect criteria, eliminating weaker candidates step-by-step.

At each stage, as you move down the funnel, your research becomes more detailed and your analysis more exacting.  Finally, you identify a handful worth engaging personally, and from these you select the company or companies with whom you initiate negotiations for a purchase.

The Prospect Funnel is an insurance policy: Your acquisition process can continue unhindered if there is a breakdown with a favored prospect. There are other benefits, though. Having several well-researched prospects gives you a sound basis for comparison as you gather more and more information on your priority targets. Finally, the funnel approach enables you to tee up for the next acquisition the moment the first purchase is complete, and in rare circumstances, it allows you to consider buying multiple companies at the same time.

 

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

When you’re on the path of acquisition, there’s a shift that happens when you turn from the bigger strategic questions to looking at individual prospects.  Now you’re dealing with real companies and real people.

At this point, I have noticed that acquisition teams tend to become much more emotionally involved—sometimes to the detriment of the process. The solution as always is a strong system, because only a system enables you to take the emotion out of your decision making.

To be clear, I am not saying that the pursuit of prospects should be undertaken without a measure of excitement or passion. To ‘‘take the emotion out’’ means to conduct your search using a structured process and objective tools, and returning to those tools at the key decision points.

The basis of the system I recommend is what I call the Prospect Funnel. Anyone familiar with the traditional sales funnel will recognize the principle at play here: a progressive narrowing of focus from the many to the few. This is achieved by grounding all your activities in clearly defined criteria. The end result will be a short, organized list of companies with whom you can initiate negotiations, confident that they are the most appropriate candidates for a successful acquisition.

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

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