Channel investors, Mergers and Acquisitions, Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and Acquisitions: 6 Steps Before You Begin Negotiations

Business meeting
Author: Gary Miller
Author: Gary Miller

It was late. Time was running out and negotiations weren’t going well. It was Larry’s third trip to the headquarters of his acquisition target to hammer out the final terms and conditions of the deal.

After three days of going back and forth, it seemed that Wayne, owner of the target company, was picking away at the purchase price from every possible angle. Both men were tired and becoming increasingly frustrated with the negotiation process. After some consideration, Larry, having run out of patience, stood up and abruptly ended the meeting and led his deal team out the door.

This is an old and familiar story.

In business, buyers and sellers must be able to know when or when not to walk away from a deal. It is key – whether that means deciding against an acquisition that on paper would create significant synergies, or when the price is becoming unreasonably high. Other reasons to walk away include culture misalignment, a toxic workplace or due-diligence that reveals major problems. For the most part, you can go with your gut instincts. But there are other signs to look for that aren’t as obvious.

Six Steps to Take Before Merger, Acquisition Discussions

Below are six recommendations that could prevent you from walking away from a potentially good deal or signal that walking away is your best option.

1. Prepare long before you start the negotiation process. Knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have the more leverage you have when negotiating. Research your acquisition target and the industry carefully; learn who are the major players and examine the major trends that might affect your current business strategy — with or without an acquisition. If trends are changing significantly, then an acquisition could be less expensive in the long run than attempting to adapt to those changes without an acquisition.

2. Establish with your deal team what things are deal breakers before you begin negotiations. Identifying the potential deal breakers early can save everyone time, effort and money, not to mention the stress of a high-stakes negotiation that winds up breaking down. For example, not having a walk-away price might lead to giving away too many concessions during the negotiation process. Be sure to cost out each concession before granting it so that the concessions do not exceed your walk-away number. Having a firm number is absolutely crucial.

3. Establish a rigorous due-diligence process that goes beyond verifying the financials, operations, customer records, sales and marketing forecasts, disaster recovery, cyber security and other items before you enter into negotiations. Too often, due-diligence becomes an exercise in verifying the financial statements and a few other items, rather than conducting a fair analysis of the company’s strategic value and the logic supporting the strategy. For example, does this acquisition fit my growth profile and strategic business plans? Can the acquisition deliver results on schedule to deliver the value I need? Deal-making is glamorous; due diligence is not.

4. Develop a binding detailed letter of intent (LOI) subject to a satisfactory due-diligence review vs. a term sheet (TS), which often is more like a skeleton to be filled in later. The LOI is more detailed and focuses almost exclusively on the major business issues vs. the legal issues. Legal issues, business terms and conditions, representations and warranties are addressed in the definitive purchase and sale agreement that follows the LOI. The LOI can flush out major issues early that are going to be difficult.

5. Determine how much time and effort will be necessary to realize the synergies expected from the acquisition. Ask yourself, is this a cultural fit for my company? Are we in alignment with common goals? Does this acquisition fit our criteria? What am I really buying?

6. When you do enter into negotiations be constantly aware of inconsistencies during the process. Inconsistencies can be the root of future problems and could be a sign of trouble to come.

Deal-making is as much art as science. If you decide to walk, you’ve said “no.” And “no” is a very powerful word.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. By walking away from a potential deal, you’ll learn how much the other party wants to work with you. I’ve walked enough times that I’ve learned to appreciate the power of “no.” If the target is seriously interested in working with you, pulling out will force them to try to get you back. Or they’ll be relieved and let you walk. Either way, you’ll get resolution.

Gary Miller ([email protected]) is the CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., an M&A consulting firm advising middle-market private business owners. Read more of Miller’s blogs here.