Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) are an ambitious way to gain traction in today’s competitive marketplace. With so many baby boomers approaching retirement age, market analysts expect that there will be plenty of bargains for small to midsize businesses in the coming years. In fact, $10 trillion worth of baby-boomer-owned companies are expected to soon change hands, according to the Exit Planning Institute.
But M&As can be difficult. Deals go bad, new co-workers don’t get along, goodwill evaporates and profits suffer, explaining why 70% to 90% of deals fail annually, according to the Harvard Business Review. If you’re considering a merger or acquisition, here are four ways to steer clear of trouble.
1. Stick to What You Know
When buying a competitor, perhaps the biggest mistake owners make is acquiring targets that lack synergies with their own companies. For example, while a commercial roofing contractor and a residential roofing contractor would seem to have much in common, the two specialties are actually quite different. They require different skills, equipment and employee training. The two types of businesses also vary dramatically in terms of financial structure.
Specifically define your core competencies. Understand what you do best. Then identify an opportunity for growth that’s not going to stretch you too thin or take you too far from your areas of strength.
2. Establish a Unified Management Approach and Work Culture
Every company has its own culture. Some organizations are “top-down” (the boss gives the orders), strict and methodical. Others have a more free-wheeling, collaborative feel. Often, a business is a blend of both — reflecting the will of leadership and the ideas of its workforce.
Ultimately, there’s no single “right way” to establish a company’s culture. But two businesses with vastly different organizational structures, accountability measures, schedules and employee expectations can crash into each other when trying to form a new, combined entity.
For example, company “A” acquires company “B”. Company A has, for years, required all of its sales people to submit daily sales logs. Company B has never had such a requirement. As one might imagine, it may take some persuading on the part of management to get sales people from Company B to comply with the more rigorous reporting rules.
So what can be done? One strategy is to reinforce that all employees are being judged by the same measures. Merging companies must have one set of expectations for everyone from managers to rank and file, and these rules must be clearly defined and communicated to everyone. A post-transaction consultant can help with this process.
Rebranding is another strategy for bringing together a combined workforce after a merger. Establishing a new company name, logo, branding guidelines, mission statement and color scheme can go a long way toward unifying a newly formed team.
3. Don’t Underestimate the Financial Costs
Owners who focus only on getting “a great deal” often underestimate the full financial implications of an M&A transaction beyond the initial purchase price. One way to understand what a merger’s full costs may be is to hire a due diligence team to vet the company you’re interested in buying. Although businesses have a legal obligation to disclose financial information and outstanding liabilities, intangibles such as bad management and a disgruntled workforce may not be captured in the sales proposal.
In addition, you’ll need to work with your financial advisors to come up with reasonable projections regarding, among various factors, debt load, cash flow and tax liability. Getting bigger may not immediately translate to profitability.
4. Communicate Changes to Your Clients
During and after an M&A transaction, it’s easy to focus on assimilating the two companies. But don’t forget about the important people who are along for the ride: your clients.
For contracts already signed and jobs in progress, clear communication is vital. Notify clients of company name changes and new personnel coming on board as soon as possible. For future work, maximize the marketing opportunity. You’re not just a bigger company, you’re a better one. Tell people about the change.
The M&A Journey
Even the simplest merger or acquisition is a journey. It will start with an idea, climb a hill of due diligence and likely run into some unexpected twists and turns. Set your goals accordingly — and don’t be afraid to call for your advisory team’s help when necessary.