As the CEO of your business, one of your responsibilities is to continuously be evaluating all of your options for growth. Whether you are growing organically or considering acquisitions, your business is either growing or shrinking relative to your position in the market. You are also responsible for developing and executing a playbook to utilize your resources to optimize for growth.
I am fortunate to be able to speak with 20–30 CEOs per week about their growth objectives for their companies. That is what I love about this work - the ability to speak to brilliant business people that have a vision to create, change, disrupt or disintermediate a market. From time to time I hear CEOs talk about mergers and acquisitions from an interesting perspective. They tell me that businesses are bought, not sold. I always listen carefully to the rationale behind this type of thinking about selling one’s business. This philosophy isn’t necessarily right or wrong, per se, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.
So to be provocative, here are a few ideas to show why this type of approach (“businesses are bought, not sold”) may not be ideal for your business.
Are your products bought, not sold? Even the most dominant brands are always selling. Take Apple for example. When I was purchasing a Time Machine router for my home, the Apple representative asked me if I was going to pay with Apple Pay. When I told him no, he asked me why and went on to share his experience with using Apple Pay from his iWatch. One can easily see that this Apple employee was selling even when I was checking out and purchasing another product. The point is that great brands and companies are always selling.
Take LinkedIn as another example. If you look at LinkedIn’s SEC filing for the sale to Microsoft, it is clear that even an iconic brand such as LinkedIn was selling themselves as they hunted for a possible acquirer. Not only did they engage in a competitive bidding situation, they orchestrated the sale to maximize value.
If you were to only wait until customers came to buy your product, would your business survive? Likely not. You are always selling your products to your customers — in order to remain a viable business. The same holds true for selling your company. While selling your company is different than selling your company’s products, once you have made the choice to sell your company, your probability of an optimal outcome goes up significantly if you are actively engaged in selling your business instead of waiting for a buyer to come to you. It is actually counter-intuitive to wait for someone to come to you to buy your business. The numbers below tell the story.
1) Statistically, we know that the first buyer’s offer is most often the lowest offer. We’ve actually found that in a global search, 75% of the time other buyers are willing to pay more than the first party that approached you.
2) We also know that the average improvement from the first offer to letter of intent with an active professional M&A process that creates a competitive environment is 48%.
As CEO, you have an obligation to your stakeholders to continuously be looking to grow your business, whether it is organically, through acquisition or through finding a partner that has the ability to scale faster than you, based on a stronger distribution channel or technically superior product or marketing strategy. It is imperative that you are continuously evaluating all of your options — remember, you are ALWAYS “selling” your business. You just don’t realize it. You always need to be ready to sell your company and this is a sign of strength and being present to the market and its dynamism. Exploring all options for growth is a continuous process — one that keeps many a CEO up at night.
In technology and software markets, you are in a race against time. In addition to the reasons above, if you wait for a buyer to approach you about acquiring your business, you are at serious risk of diminishing your value as your market develops or dissipates. Now is the time to prepare and calibrate your value.