The M&A Growth Bulletin

News and Insights on M&A for the Middle Market

Pursuing Not-For-Sale Acquisitions

3 Ways to Change an Owner's "No" to "Yes"

  • "I'm not interested in selling my business right now."
  • "We already have a strategic plan in place."
  • "We are already talking to another buyer."
  • "Why should I listen to you? I get asked to sell all the time."
  • "I may sell in a few years when my company has a higher value."
  • "Who are you????"
  • "No."

These are the typical responses owners give when contacted for the first time about selling their business. While it can be discouraging to hear "no," it would be more surprising to hear an owner say, "Yes, I am ready and willing to sell you my business over the phone right now!" Experienced acquirers know that an owner's initial "no," is simply a knee-jerk reaction resulting from surprise more than anything else.

The majority of owners of privately-held businesses, especially those that are healthy and run well, are not operating their business with the intent of selling. They are focused on growth and delivering products and services to their customers. Just because someone is not currently thinking about selling does not mean that their company is not for sale.

Your first contact with an owner is the beginning of a conversation. You do not have to convince them to sell their company immediately, you simply need them to agree to a face-to-face meeting. With that in mind, here are three ways to turn a "no" into a "yes."

1. Do your homework

Before you even contact the owner, make sure you have an understanding of the business and the industry. You do not have to be an expert, but you should at least be able to carry a meaningful conversation. It may sound simple, but asking basic questions like "What industry are you in?" is turn-off for owners. Why should they talk to you if you haven't invested the time into researching their company?

An owner, especially of a privately-held, not-for-sale company, is not going to sell to someone with minimal understanding of their products and services. Knowing about the business will also help you communicate your strategic rationale to the owner and why an acquisition makes sense.

2. Pick up the phone

Don't rely on sending emails or letters to contact an owner about acquisitions. The email will probably go straight to spam and the letter will get tossed into the trash. The best way to talk to an owner is by phone because it is more personal and you can ensure your message is heard. In addition, you have an opportunity over the phone to address the owner's concerns in a live dialogue and begin to establish a relationship.

Acquisition is asking for a significant commitment from the owner and picking up the phone lets them know there is a real, live person behind the deal. Yes, calling takes more time and can be a bit nerve-racking for the first-time acquirer, but it is much more effective than simply writing a letter.

3. Get inside their head

Acquisitions are personal, especially when it comes to privately-held companies. Establishing and maintaining a relationship with the owner is crucial; an owner will never sell their business to someone they do not trust. Beginning with your initial call you have the opportunity to establish trust by understanding the owner, their needs, wants, and desires. What is their background? What are their hobbies? What motivates them? Is their family involved in the business? These nuggets of information can be the difference between earning the owner's trust and getting off to the wrong foot. For example, you may find that you both enjoy fishing and swap stories to break the ice. On the other hand, you probably don't want talk about how much you enjoy hunting if the owner is a vegetarian.

As the deal progresses, deepening your relationship with the owner will help you offer a transaction that is attractive to them. There are many "hot buttons," that motivate owners to sell including money, prestige, community pride, and family issues. It's up to you to discover what resonates best with the owner and will help them move from a "no" to a "yes."

Don't be discouraged when you hear "no," instead think of it as opportunity to earn the owner's trust and demonstrate why an acquisition with your company makes sense.

What are you tips for persuading owners to say "yes"? We would love to hear from you so we can discuss your ideas in future editions of the M&A Growth Bulletin. Contact us at 703-854-1910 or

Winter 2017

It's a Big Deal: M&A in the News

AT&T to Acquire Time Warner

Seeking growth amid a shifting telecommunications industry, AT&T has bet on media content. The $85 billion deal in one of the biggest media acquisitions in history.

Dr. Pepper Snapple Adds Healthy Option with Bai Brands Acquisition

Dr. Pepper will buy "all natural" drink maker Bai brands for $1.7 billion. The deal will allow Dr. Pepper to grow despite shrinking demand for soda.

Mars to Buy Pet Hospital

The maker of M&Ms and Snickers will acquire pet hospital company VCA for $7.7 billion. The acquisition boosts Mars' pet care portfolio which includes brands like Pedigree and Whiskas.

David Braun's Tip for Growth

Future demand is king

Anticipating future demand is critical to the success of your business. While business may be booming today, that is no guarantee for future success. Without demand for your products and services you risk becoming obsolete.

Before executing any growth strategy, make sure you ask these two questions: What do your customers want today? What will they want in the future?

The ability to answer these two questions can be the difference.

Coming Your Way … M&A Education

The latest events from M&A U™

How to Pick Top-Notch Markets

Make sure you look at the right markets.

1 PM EST – February 23, 2017

Building a Robust Pipeline of Acquisition Prospects

Learn how to approach the search systematically and efficiently.

1 PM EDT – March 16, 2017

"The First Date:" Contacting Owners & Successful First Meetings

First impressions matter.

1 PM EDT – April 20, 2017

CPE credit is available.

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