Insight Software's CEO discusses what makes for a successful M&A deal
Jim Triandiflou, CEO of Insight Software, sees his company as the go-to provider for CFOs and financial organizations, regardless of their size, industry, or geography. And that vision is borne out by the company’s extensive portfolio of easy-to-use enterprise resource planning (ERP) and enterprise performance management (EPM) reporting solutions that help companies do everything from financial reporting to yearly budgeting, and a base of more than 28,000 customers across more than 150 countries.
Triandiflou says that one great thing about his company is the pervasive applicability of it solutions. He notes, "Every company has a finance team. So everyone has to deal with budgets and everyone has to do financial reporting and we work across all different industries.”
Mergers and acquisitions are a fundamental part of Insight Software's DNA. In fact, the company was formed in 2018 when Private Equity firm TA Associates acquired and then merged Global Software, Inc. and insightsoftware.com International, two leading ERP reporting and corporate performance management software companies. Since its formation, Insight Software has viewed M&A as a strategic approach to filling holes in their portfolio.
That approach has led to 18 successful M&A deals over the last few years, one of them the acquisition of Corum-client Bizview Systems, a Swedish software solutions provider for forecasting, budgeting, reporting, analysis and consolidation. That acquisition gave Insight Software entry into the Nordic market, and expanded the number of automated, intelligent reporting and budgeting options for its partners and customers.
We sat down with Triandiflou to get his insights on what makes for a successful M&A deal.
The first thing Insight Software looks for in an acquisition is the strategic fit of a target company. Triandiflou notes that there are 20-30 types of software that a financial organization needs to do its work efficiently. He sees 15 of those categories as pertinent for the office of the CFO. To be an attractive target for acquisition, a company needs to fit into one of those 15 categories that Insight Software wants to fill.
Triandiflou cited a recent example. "We bought a company a few months ago called Logi Analytics, a company that does operational reporting, something we wanted. So we proactively went out and looked for companies that did operational reporting. We talked to many companies and found Logi.” With their robust operational reporting solution paired with Insight Software’s solutions, Triandiflou feels his company can provide customers with the ability to report on every area of their business. Logi Analytics is also a leading provider of embedded analytics, something that Triandiflou says opens a whole new market opportunity for his company.
How the market views a target company is particularly important in Triandiflou's view. "We work with an outside firm to help us understand the market and how customers view a company that we're going to buy. Are they viewed as a leader? Are they viewed as having a good product? Do they provide great service, or not? These are all things we consider before making an acquisition.”
A big part of that market view is customer retention. Triandiflou put it this way, “If you're not holding on to your customers, you're in trouble. And so we look for companies with a high customer retention rate. If their retention is under 80%, then it's probably not going to work for us. If it's over 90%, that's good.
Perhaps the biggest predictor of a successful deal is the trust established between the buyer and the seller. Triandiflou says, "Trust is a foundation. Deals can look great on spreadsheets and they can even make great strategic sense. But if you don't build trust with the key folks in the companies that are coming together, you're in trouble. You want the seller to believe that you're going to do what you say you're going to do, and then you have to do it. You have to earn their trust and not break the trust."
Deals often fail because there is a lack of trust. Triandiflou recalled a case where the selling company broke that trust. "We were looking at a company in the reporting space. They told us they had migrated their product to the cloud to be a true multi-tenant SaaS. They told us this a few times. But when we looked at the product in due diligence, it really wasn't true. It was still an older technology. It was on premises. So we walked away from that deal, even after agreeing on a price, because they didn't accurately represent the product."
Like trust, good communication is a foundational aspect of a successful M&A deal. Good communication is not only required between buyer and seller. It's also a requirement among the buyer's team. Triandiflou stresses the importance of communicating a clear vision of why the company is making a deal. He recalls, “When we bought Logi Analytics, we knew the one thing we wanted is a really good product. We weren't buying a customer segment. What we needed was a good product to fill that hole in our product portfolio. So just always remember why you're buying, focus your due diligence on that. “
The integration of companies in an M&A can be the true test of a deal. Triandiflou thinks a lot of deals fail, not because it was a bad idea, but because the integration just got really painful and ended up with the loss of a lot of talented people.
Triandiflou keeps in mind a piece of advice from management consultant Peter Drucker about successfully integrating companies. Drucker advised, “Take one of your best people and put it in the other company and take one of their best people and put it in your company and you start cross-pollinating.”
At Insight Software, Triandiflou says, “We’re believers in integrating fast, but doing it in a way that works. At the end of the day it always comes down to people working together."
Advisors such as investment bankers can provide a big assist in ensuring the success of an M&A deal, as witnessed by Corum's guidance in the sale of Bizview Systems to Insight Software. However, Triandiflou points out that as a buyer you need to understand that things tend to go a little slower with a banker, but they also tend to be more thorough. He says, "You have a middleman with a banker, which keeps you objective, but it also makes it harder to build close relationships. I've certainly worked with some bankers and we have some that we work with regularly that just really do a great job in understanding the business and presenting it in the best light."
Triandiflou also highlights the importance of picking a banker that knows the pertinent market well. He looks at it like this, "There are a handful of people that really understand the office of the CFO. They're in touch with the various companies. They have a good set of knowledge and that makes a difference. Because we're such an active buyer, we have advisors bringing us deals all the time. And sometimes you look at it and think, “What are they thinking, this isn't close to what we're trying to do?’ And then other times you think, ‘Oh wow, that's really creative thinking. I'm glad they brought that. We hadn't thought about that.’ So you need a good eye for that kind of thing.”
The Value of M&A
As Triandiflou sees it, M&A is a great way to accelerate the growth of a business. He says, "You can get into new product areas. It can get you to new parts of the world. It can get you into new market segments, for instance if you're in one vertical and you want to get into another vertical." But it needs to be done correctly. He cautions, "It can also tank your company. If you mess it up, you can be set back a year or two by a bad deal. So I would say personally, we are not crazy risk takers."