Small companies with limited resources need to constantly focus or they will perish in the blink of an eye. Growing your business while planning an exit strategy is essential. CEOs need to be preparing for M&A even before their company is ready. Pursuing relationships with product teams of potential buyers is an important part of this – but make sure you do it in search of revenue (or distribution/partnerships) and not just for potential M&A.
It is very common for a partnership discussion to escalate to M&A interest. As you get to know a team and they recognize your abilities, they often reach the point where they see more value in owning you. Then the conversation turns to "we have been discussing how we might partner with you, and we starting to wonder if it makes sense to do something strategic."
The obvious advantage of this scenario is that they are approaching you, and not vice versa. M&A becomes their idea.
As an angel investor and board member I try to allocate part of the board meetings to a discussion of partners. We start with a matrix of all the companies that might acquire you (and why), and then drill down into potential partner relationships with each one. The end result is that part of the business development and sales bandwidth gets allocated toward discussions with those specific companies. . . but the payoff can be huge.