When To Sell, Or The Lessons Of Procrastination

exit_strategyHere’s a recent exchange between the two principals in an acquisition we are advising on. Seller to buyer, “So what’s your exit strategy?”  An odd moment in the circumstances. Usually, the last thing M&A buyers have on their minds is offloading the newly combined entity. Seems a bit like talking about divorce at a wedding.

In fact, the seller was revealing a rare foresightedness. Wise company owners keep a constant eye on the exit, and have plans for getting out even as they appear to be getting deeper in.

Few owners I have seen actually exemplify this wisdom. They are too engrossed in the demands of growth, worrying about the next contract, the new hire, the late delivery… They are staring at the ground three feet ahead of them, not the far horizon. So when do they actually get to consider selling? When disaster strikes. A major account is canceled. A new competitor surpasses their technology. Three of their key people leave.

Well no surprise, that’s hardly the optimum time to sell! Do you really want to put your company on the market when it’s worth the least? Better to think ahead while times are good. Having an exit strategy doesn’t oblige you to leave. Planning how to attract a buyer doesn’t compel you to hang a “for sale” sign on the door.

You should not only have an exit strategy, you should keep revisiting and updating it as the market changes.  That way, you’ll be positioned to take advantage of your company’s strengths, rather than risk falling victim to its weaknesses.