It is still with some surprise that despite talking to many CEOs about their plans to sell their companies, when it comes down to it, a lack of clarity as to “why” sometimes still exists. The initial conversations are usually carried out in a confident tone and manner. Listening to the journey they have been on — which I always find fascinating and absorbing — it's strange that when it comes to answering the question “Why do you want to sell?” or “Why do you think the time is right to sell?”, a lack of clarity appears.
This lack of reason is strange when you think how that clarity of thought is a constant thread present in most, if not all, CEOs’ or founders’ arsenal of highly honed skills. The clarity of vision and execution shines through as they explain their experiences, trials and tribulations, overcoming almost every challenge thrown at them. It sets them apart from most everyone else in the company. It always impresses me to hear of their determination and endeavors when going through the formative years of their companies, and the degree of detail they can recall from past years. Yet, when I ask the “why” question, I either get a swift and short response which doesn't seem to fit with their legend, or some combination of events that drove them to start the process to exit. Either way, I often need to dig deeper, which has led to several conversations about why I do so. Simply put, I believe there's a mutual benefit in digging deeper. My experience has shown that understanding the motivation behind an exit will underpin and help the entire process move along much more smoothly.
There are eight stages to the sale of any company. To go through a strenuous and emotionally draining experience such as selling your company, there needs to be a constant thread running through every stage of the process, something that keeps up motivation when exhaustion starts to creep in. Each of those stages, starting with Preparation and ending with Integration, represents a large body of work involving time, effort, commitment and perseverance. Without knowing why they’re selling the company, many CEOs will likely not make it through even half of those stages.
So my point is this: given the six months or more that it takes to run a professional selling process, not knowing the answer to the “why” question can undermine not only the process, but ultimately the optimal outcome the founder or CEO wants.