You Wouldn’t Sell to Just One Customer at a Time, So Why Sell Your Company That Way?

By: Patrick Ungashick

You Wouldn't Sell to Just One Customer Image

One of the most common mistakes owners make in their exit planning is negotiating with only one potential buyer for their business. Rarely, this works out fine, and the business sells for the desired price. However, more often than not, negotiating with only one potential buyer at a time undermines your exit success—sometimes without even knowing that you lost something.

Here are five reasons why you may come up short if you only talk to one potential buyer at a time:

  1. You don’t know if you are talking to the buyer who will pay the highest price.

For most businesses, there are multiple potential buyers out there. Within the universe of potential buyers, some will be more motivated than others to acquire your company. Remember—the buyer’s motive makes the multiple. So, unless you happen to get lucky, the simple odds are that you are not talking to the most motivated potential buyer for your business. Making matters worse, you have no way to recognize if you are talking to the best buyer or not without other potential buyers in the conversation.

  1. You also don’t know if you are talking to the buyer who is the best fit for your company.

When selling their business, most owners seek more than just the top price. If you are like most owners, when you go to exit, you will prefer to sell to a buyer that is a good fit for your organization, a buyer that will continue your culture, treat employees fairly, and serve customers well. Again, unless you happen to get lucky, the odds are that you are not talking to the best fitting buyer. And, here too, the only way to know is to include other potential buyers in the conversation.

  1. Talking to just one buyer eliminates any competitive pressure in your favor.

If you are negotiating with only one potential buyer, that party knows it has no competition to acquire your company. It has no incentive to put forth its top price or most attractive terms. It has nobody bidding against it. Even if you believe that you want to sell your company to this one buyer, you don’t have a second buyer to create any pressure. Consequently, you have little leverage within the negotiations. Without other potential buyers in the picture, the one potential buyer is mostly free to set the price on its own, dictate the process and timetable, and secure an outcome favorable to itself. The whole situation validates the old saying, “In a potential negotiation between one party with all the money and another party without any, the party with the money will win.” Most potential buyers have a lot more money than you do, and if it’s just you and one buyer in the negotiation, likely they will win.

  1. You have little to no protection during due diligence.

During the due diligence phase, some potential buyers look for opportunities and justifications to lower the final purchase price. (This is called “retrading” the deal.) You can attempt to negotiate with your potential buyer to keep the price up, but you have little leverage short of walking away from the negotiations, and your potential buyer will know this. It is easier said than done to walk away from a deal once you are this far along because you will have months invested in transactions, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and endless emotional capital. With just one potential buyer in the picture, you are at a disadvantage all through the process, but especially during due diligence.

  1. Getting your deal done may take more time and present greater risks.

Without competition, your potential buyer feels little pressure to get the deal done. This leaves them in control over timing. The longer your sale takes, the higher the risks for you. For example, something could happen, which gives the potential buyer leverage to lower the price, such as your business misses a monthly sales forecast. Or, a customer or competitor could learn about your potential sale before you are ready. Time is the enemy of all deals. As time increases, the effort and cost you have invested in this possible deal increase, making it harder for you to walk away—a vulnerable position for you. Potential buyers know this, and use it to their advantage.

Your Exit Plan and Selling Your Company

With few exceptions, business owners seeking to sell their company at exit are better served by working with advisors who will run an organized process that confidentially brings multiple potential buyers into the picture. A competitive process creates positive price pressure, increases your options, and likely leads to exit success.

At NAVIX, we have helped hundreds of business owners plan for and achieve successful exits. To learn more about what goes into an exit plan, start here. Or contact us with your questions.

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