In my over 20 years of pursing strategic, not-for-sale acquisitions for clients, the most important piece of advice I have is: be prepared. It may sound simple, but I cannot stress enough how critical preparation is to M&A success. This applies to every stage of the Roadmap to Acquisitions, our M&A process, from initial strategy to research, to due diligence and integration.
Develop a Plan
In the early stages of the M&A process, you must develop a carefully planned strategy to guide your search for the right acquisition. This means that before running off to pursue companies to buy, you take the time to really examine your business and your vision for the future. Think about your overall strategy, how M&A can help you achieve it and what steps you will be taking to execute. The point of pursuing acquisitions is not for the sake of buying another company – rather, executing an acquisition should be a tool for reaching your strategic goals.
This foundational step will determine the success or failure or your program. Acquisitions are inherently risky and those who come to the table armed with a plan increase their chances of success.
Do Your Homework
As you move along the acquisition process into conducting market and company research, preparation remains important, especially when it comes to primary research. When calling key contacts in the marketplace or owners of companies, it’s important to be knowledgeable about the industry so that the caller takes you seriously. We call this “doing your homework.” This means, that before you even pick up the phone to conduct primary market research, you have already conducted secondary research by accessing articles, websites, reports, and databases. And before making contact with an owner, you have already analyzed the market, researched the owner and studied the company.
Without preparing for these conversations, it’s difficult to maximize the value of your discussion and ask the right questions. You may miss out on an opportunity to gain new insights, the caller may refuse to speak with you or you may even damage a relationship with a potential acquisition prospect.
On the other hand, if you have prepared well, you may gain new insights about the market or the industry, and begin to develop a relationship with an owner that may turn into an acquisition.
When it finally comes to executing the deal, a lot of your hard work and preparation pays off. Ideally you have identified the best candidates for acquisition in the most effective way by following your strategic acquisition program and by thoroughly researching markets and companies.
It’s also helpful to have all your documents and financing ready in order to maintain momentum. Nothing kills a deal like stalling and you do not want to be scrambling at the last minute to put together a financing package or paperwork for the deal.
Being prepared is important even after the deal closes. Integration issues remain a top reason for acquisition failure. Slow integration can interfere with the effectiveness of a deal, and in some cases it can even lead to acquisition failure. After the deal closes, you only have about 100 days to implement changes, or employees become resistant. And there are a number of mission critical items that must be addressed on Day 1. One way to mitigate, or even avoid integration issues, is by developing an integration plan long before the deal even closes. This way, you’ve had the time to anticipate integration challenges and develop solutions and your integration plan is ready to be deployed on Day 1.
No Short Cut, Just Hard Work
There is no short cut to preparation. It takes good old-fashioned work, strategic thinking and attention to detail. While it does take time and effort, it’s the most effective way to increase your chances of acquisition success.