Basically, there are three major negotiation methods.
1. Take it or leave it. A buyer makes an offer or a seller makes a counter-offer – both sides can let the “chips fall where they may.”
2. Split the difference. The buyer and seller, one or the other, or both, decide to split the difference between what the buyer is willing to offer and what the seller is willing to accept. A real oversimplification, but often used.
3. This for that. Both buyer and seller have to find out what is important to each. So many of these important areas are non-monetary and involve personal things such as allowing the owner’s son to continue employment with the firm. The buyer may want to move the business.
There is an old adage that advises, “Never negotiate your own deal!”
The first thing both sides have to decide on is who will represent them. Will they have their attorney, their intermediary or will they go it alone? Intermediaries are a good choice for a seller. They have done it before, are good advocates for their side and they understand the company and the seller.
How do the parties get together in a win-win negotiation? The first step is for both sides to work with their advisors to settle on the price and deal structure positions. Both sides should be able to present their side of these issues. Which is more important – price or terms, or non-monetary items?
Information is vital to a buyer. Buyers should keep in mind that the seller knows more about the business than he or she does. Both buyer and seller need to anticipate what is important to the other and keep that in mind when discussing the deal. Buyer and seller should do due diligence on each other. Both buyer and seller must be able to walk away from a deal that is just not going to work.
Bob Woolf, the famous sports agent said in his book, Friendly Persuasion: My Life as a Negotiator, “I never think of negotiating against anyone. I work with people to come to an agreement. Deals are put together.”
Due diligence is generally considered an activity that takes place as part of the selling process. It might be wise to take a look at the business from a buyer’s perspective in performing due diligence as part of an annual review of the business. Performing due diligence does two things: (1) It provides a valuable assessment of the business by company management, and (2) It offers the company an accurate profile of itself, just in case the decision is made to sell, or an acquirer suddenly appears at the door.
This process, when performed by a serious acquirer, is generally broken down into five basic areas:
• Marketing due diligence
• Financial due diligence
• Legal due diligence
• Environmental due diligence
• Management/Employee due diligence
It has been said that many company officers/CEOs have never taken a look at the broad picture of their industry; in other words, they know their customers, but not their industry. For example, here are just a few questions concerning the market that due diligence will help answer:
• What is the size of the market?
• Who are the industry leaders?
• Does the product or service have a life cycle?
• Who are the customers/clients, and what is the relationship?
• What’s the downside and the upside of the product/service? What is the risk and potential?
Two important questions have to be answered before getting down to the basics of the financials: (1) Do the numbers really work? and (2) Are the seller’s claims supported by the figures? If the answer to both is yes, the following should be carefully reviewed:
• The accounts receivables
• The accounts payable
• The inventory
Are contracts and agreements current? Are products patented, if necessary? How about copyrights and trademarks? What is the current status of any litigation? Are there any possible law suits on the horizon? What would an astute attorney representing a buyer want to see and would it be acceptable?
Not too long ago this area would have been a non-issue. Not any more! Current governmental guidelines can levy responsibility regarding environmental issues that existed prior to the current occupancy or ownership of the real estate. Possible acquirers – and lenders – are really “gun-shy” about these types of problems.
What employment agreements are in force? What family members are on the payroll? Who are the key people? In other words, who does what, why, and how much are they paid?
The company should have a clear program covering how their products are handled from raw material to “out the door.” Service companies should also have a program covering how services are delivered from initial customer contact through delivery of the services.
The question is, do you give your company a “physical” now, or do you wait until someone else does it for you – with a lot riding on the line?
Important questions to ask when looking at a business…or preparing to have your business looked at by prospective buyers.
• What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Does it include real estate? Are some of the machines leased instead of owned?
• What assets are not earning money? Perhaps these assets should be sold off.
• What is proprietary? Formulations, patents, software, etc.?
• What is their competitive advantage? A certain niche, superior marketing or better manufacturing.
• What is the barrier of entry? Capital, low labor, tight relationships.
• What about employment agreements/non-competes? Has the seller failed to secure these agreements from key employees?
• How does one grow the business? Maybe it can’t be grown.
• How much working capital does one need to run the business?
• What is the depth of management and how dependent is the business on the owner/manager?
• How is the financial reporting undertaken and recorded and how does management adjust the business accordingly?