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How Seller Due Diligence Maximizes Business Value

Selling a company is a momentous life event for any business owner. You have worked hard to build it and want to achieve the highest acquisition value possible when you are ready to sell. To do this, you should be fully prepared for any prospective buyer to conduct rigorous due diligence, which means you should be prepared to do your own.

What is due diligence? A comprehensive appraisal of your business to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential. 

If you carry out thorough due diligence before putting your company on the market, it will be primed and ready for the buyer to conduct their due diligence process. By being sufficiently prepared, your business is going to appear more attractive to buyers.

Planning Ahead is Crucial

First things first: plan ahead and plan early. Give yourself enough time to optimize the company’s value before putting it on the market. A carefully planned sales strategy is sure to garner better value than what appears to be a hasty fire sale. It is best to wait to sell until you have done everything that you can to maximize your company valuation. When you take the time to position your business attractively for the marketplace, it reduces the odds of a negative outcome.

Start by identifying the key value drivers for your business and how they can be improved. This will help you find obstacles to a sale before a buyer does, and give you time to address any issues. These drivers include:
• Skilled, motivated workforce
• Talented management team
• Strong financials and profitability
• Access to capital
• Loyal and growing customer base
• Economy of scale
• Favorable market share
• Strong products/services and mix of offerings
• Solid vendor relationships and supplier options
• Sound marketing strategy
• Product differentiation and innovation
• Up-to-date technology and workflow systems
• Strong company culture
• Research and development
• Protected intellectual property
• Long-term vision

It is common for buyers to be especially concerned with company culture and existing customer relationships. Make sure your employees and your customers know what to expect and share your vision. If there is misalignment in these areas, it can unfavorably impact the post-sale performance of the company.

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Why Documentation Matters

Having all your documentation in order, ensuring its accuracy, and putting it all on the table is going to make you a more trusted seller and increase the value of the business. It will also help you avoid constant back-and-forth requests from a buyer, which can be a distraction for you while you’re trying to run a business.

Creating a secure and efficient virtual data room (VDR) for storage and review of documents offers major advantages. A VDR is a secure online document repository that enables efficient collaboration between parties in any location so they may share information at any time during the pre-deal phase. A VDR also makes it easier to compile and verify every document internally and avoid duplicating efforts. Plus, it offers exceptional security to safeguard against confidential information ending up in the wrong hands. Once you have your VDR completed and vetted internally, you can open the files up to outside partners. Overall, the VDR is your secret weapon in making sure all of your documentation is centralized and that you are presenting your company in the very best light.

You can learn more about the documentation you will need to compile here.

Timing is Everything

You want to sell at the right time based on the market, which is always changing. Being adequately prepared to sell means being ready to act when the time is right. And selling at the right time means getting more value for your business.

Something else you must consider is if you are truly ready to sell. This is not the time to be emotional. Once you’ve initiated the sales process, the last thing you want to do is change your mind when buyers are already involved in the conversation. This will give you a reputation of being disingenuous and not being a serious seller, scaring off potential buyers in the future and devaluing your company.

Professional Help is Key

If it sounds like preparing for the sale of your company is an exhaustive undertaking, that’s because it is. But you do not have to do it alone. If you enlist the expertise of a reputable mergers and acquisitions firm, they can lead the way and help you get the most value for your company. A good M&A Advisor will know better than anyone how to steer you through the due diligence process.

They will also know when the market is in the right place for a sale, and give you access to quality buyers that you can trust. It is also important to note that buyers are going to take you much more seriously when you have partnered with a highly regarded M&A firm.

At Benchmark International, we’re here for you. Our experts are ready to partner with you to exceed your expectations and make great things happen.

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A Seller’s Guide to a Successful Mergers and Acquisitions Process

The Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) process is exhausting. For most sellers, it’s a one-time experience like no other and a marathon business event. When done well, the process begins far in advance of the daunting “due diligence” phase and ends well beyond deal completion. This Seller’s guide summarizes key, and often overlooked, steps in a successful M&A process.

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Phase I: Preparation – Tidy Up and Create Your Dream Team.

Of course, our own kids are the best and brightest, and bring us great pride and joy. Business owners tend to be just as proud of the company they’ve built, the success of their creation, and the uniqueness of their offering. Sometimes this can cloud an objective view of opportunities for improvement that will drive incremental value in a M&A transaction.

For starters, sellers must ensure that company financial statements are in order. Few things scare off buyers or devalue a business more than sloppy financials. A buyer’s Quality of Earnings review during due diligence is the wrong time to identify common issues such as inconsistent application of the matching principle, classifying costs as capital vs. expense, improper accrual accounting, or unsubstantiated entries. In addition, the ability to quickly produce detailed reports – income statement; balance sheet; supplier, customer, product, and service line details; aging reports; certificates and licenses; and cost details – will not only drive up buyer confidence and valuations, but also streamline the overall process.

Key in accomplishing the items above as well as a successful transaction is having the right team in place. Customarily, this doesn’t involve a seller’s internal team as much as his or her outside trusted advisors and subject matter experts. These include a great CFO or accountant, a sell-side M&A broker, a M&A attorney, and a tax and wealth manager. There are countless stories of disappointed sellers who regretted consummating a less-than-favorable transaction after “doing it on their own.” The fees paid to these outside subject matter experts is generally a small part of the overall transaction value and pays for itself in transaction efficiency and improved deal economics.

Phase II: On Market – Sell It!

At this stage, sellers that have enlisted the help of a good M&A broker have few concerns. The best M&A advisors are very hands on and will manage a robust process that includes the creation of world class marketing materials, outreach breadth and depth, access to effective buyers, client preparation, and ongoing education and updates. The seller’s focus is, well, selling! With their advisor’s guidance, a ready seller has prepared in advance for calls and site visits. This includes thinking through the tough questions from buyers, rehearsing their pitch, articulating simple and clear messages regarding the company’s unique value propositions, tailoring growth ideas to suit different types of buyers, and readying the property to be “shown.”

Most importantly, sellers need to ensure their business delivers excellent financial performance during this time, another certain make-or-break criterion for a strong valuation and deal completion. In fact, many purchase price values are tied directly to the company’s trailing 12-month (TTM) performance at or near the time of close. For a seller, it can feel like having two full time jobs, simultaneously managing record company results and the M&A process, which is precisely why sellers should have a quality M&A broker by their side. During the sale process, which usually takes at least several months, valuations are directly impacted, up or down, based on the company’s TTM performance. And, given that valuations are typically based on a multiple of earnings, each dollar change in company earnings can have a 5 or 10 dollar change in valuation. At a minimum, sellers should run their business in the “normal course”, as if they weren’t contemplating a sale. The best outcomes are achieved when company performance is strong and sellers sprint through the finish line.

Phase III: Due Diligence – Time Kills Deals!

Once an offer is received, successfully negotiated with the help of an advisor, and accepted, due diligence begins. While the bulk of the cost for this phase is borne by the buyer, the effort is equally shared by both sides. It’s best to think of this phase as a series of sprints and remember the all-important M&A adage, “time kills deals!” Time kills deals because it introduces risk: business performance risk, buyer financing, budget, or portfolio risk, market risk, customer demand and supplier performance risks, litigation risk, employee retention risk, and so on. Once an offer is received and both sides wish to consummate a transaction, it especially behooves the seller to speed through this process as quickly as possible and avoid becoming a statistic in failed M&A deals.

The first sprint involves populating a virtual data room with the requested data, reports, and files that a buyer needs in order to conduct due diligence. The data request can seem daunting and may include over 100 items. Preparation in the first phase will come in handy here, as will assistance from the seller’s support team. The M&A broker is especially key in supporting, managing, and prioritizing items for the data room – based on the buyer’s due diligence sequence – and keeping all parties aligned and on track.

The second sprint requires excellent responsiveness by the seller. As the buyer reviews data and conducts analysis, questions will arise. Immediately addressing these questions keeps the process on track and avoids raising concerns. This phase likely also includes site visits by the buyer and third parties for on-site financial and environmental reviews, and property appraisals. They should be scheduled and completed without delay.

The third and final due diligence sprint involves negotiating the final purchase contract and supporting schedules, exhibits, and agreements; also known as “turning documents.” The seller’s M&A attorney is key in this phase. This is not the time for a generalist attorney or one that specializes in litigation, patent law, family law, or corporate law, or happens to be a friend of the family. Skilled M&A attorneys, like medical specialists, specialize in successfully completing M&A transactions on behalf of their clients. Their familiarity with M&A contracts and supporting documents, market norms, and skill in selecting and negotiating the right deal points, is the best insurance for a seller seeking a clean transaction with lasting success.

Phase IV: Post Sale – You’ve Got One Shot.

Whether a seller’s passion post-sale is continuing to grow the business, retire, travel, support charity, or a combination of these, once again, preparation is key. Unfortunately, many sellers don’t think about wealth management soon enough. A wealth advisor can and should provide input throughout the M&A process. Up front, they can assist in determining valuations needed to achieve the seller’s long-term goals. When negotiating offers and during due diligence, they encourage deal structures that optimize the seller’s cash flow and tax position. And post-close, sellers will greatly benefit from wealth management strategies, cash flow optimization, wealth transfer, investment strategies, and strategic philanthropy. Proper planning for post-sale success must start early and it takes time; and, it’s critical to have the right team of experienced professionals in place.

The M&A process is complex, it usually has huge implications for a seller and his or her company and family, and most sellers will only experience it once in a lifetime. Preparing in advance, building and leveraging the expertise of a dream team, and acting with a sense of urgency throughout the process will minimize risk, maximize the probability of a successful M&A transaction, and contribute to the seller’s success and satisfaction long after the
deal closes.

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Preparing for Due Diligence: Sell-Side

Due diligence is a buyer’s detailed investigation into the matters of your company in preparation for a possible sale transaction. For many business owners, this is one of the most dreaded parts of selling their business. After a letter of intent (LOI) is signed and a price range is agreed to, buyers have the right to dig into the business to ensure that they know what they are buying, and to identify any potential risks of owning the business. While buyers and sellers have different objectives and motives, both parties benefit from a thorough and efficient processes. Whether your company is pursuing a capital infusion or positioning itself for an acquisition by a strategic or financial buyer, due diligence is a critical component of every investment.  It’s an intrusive process and, like everything else about the sale of your business, you need to be prepared.

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When a potential buyer assesses your company, they will want to fully understand the essentials of the business such as organizational information, financial records, regulatory matters and litigation, employment and labor matters, and many others. When your company is well-prepared for the exit process, long before it is anticipated, not only will it make the company look more attractive to potential buyers but it will also maximize the value and expedite the transaction timeline. If not properly prepared, this can result in an incredible demand on a company and its resources, give a buyer the perception that the company is disorganized, and create operational difficulties within the company.

Below are four ways to prepare for due diligence and secure the deal you want:

Start with a Due Diligence Checklist

Most buyers will provide the target company with a due diligence checklist but, before receiving that list, sellers should ensure that common checklist items are available, up-to-date, accurate, and organized. The data needed for the due diligence process should be in order and ready to be uploaded to a virtual data room within a couple of days of initiating due diligence. This is not only necessary in the event of an acquisition, but it is also a valuable discipline to maintain as the company grows.

Invest in Professional Accounting Practices

The due diligence process is dependent upon the strength of the seller’s accounting system. It is essential that the company’s financial reports present potential buyers with a clear story, allowing them to fully evaluate the company’s earning potential. Buyers will be concerned with all of the target company’s historical financial statements and related financial metrics, as well as the reasonableness of the projections of its future performance. A business’ financial records should be clearly stated and easy to follow. If not, this could create confusion, misunderstanding, and devaluation.

Planned transactions have failed, even though the business itself was healthy and growing, when the financial reporting was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete, and the buyer could not trust the data. Accurate financial statements are also necessary for the seller to support the business valuation. What assets does the business have? How profitable is the business? What is the working capital? What are the growth trends? All of these are major factors in the valuation of the business, so the data representing them needs to be accurate and precise.

To avoid issues, it is recommended that, before going to market, a seller contacts an independent accounting firm to review or audit the company’s financial statements. This will help to ensure that the company financial data is accurate and complete, will instill a sense of confidence from the buyer, and will more likely result in an efficient and successful due diligence process.

Engage Qualified Representation

A team of good professional advisors is crucial to a successful sale of a company. These advisors will steer sellers in terms of what they need to do to get their company ready for sale. Tap into these resources because they will have dealt with enough transactions to know what you should be focusing on to ensure a successful sale. Some recommended professional advisors include, but are not limited to, a M&A broker, an accountant, a tax advisor, a M&A lawyer, a wealth advisor, an investment banker, and a trusts and estate lawyer, if needed. With advance planning and the help of good advisors, a seller can ensure that his or her best interests are fully represented, common pitfalls are avoided, and the transaction will run smoothly and efficiently.

Responsiveness to Requests

During the due diligence process, potential buyers will seek to comprehensively understand the business practices behind a company’s earnings. It is the sellers job to guide the buyer through the learning curve. Respond to the buyer’s due diligence requests in an organized, detailed, and complete manner. If there are requests for missing data, respond punctually. This responsiveness allows the seller to gain credibility with a buyer, and provides buyers additional comfort with the quality of the business they are buying.

Conclusion

Due diligence is a vital and complex part of M&A transactions. Preparing beforehand can help a company position itself for higher valuations, stronger negotiations, and better outcomes. Understanding the importance of due diligence to both parties in a transaction, planning in advance, enlisting the support of specialists, and investing the time to run a thorough due diligence review early in a transaction will help prevent unwelcome surprises and potential liabilities for both parties.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

Author
Kayla Sullivan 
Associate
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Sullivan@benchmarkcorporate.com 

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Five Changes to Due Diligence to Expect in the Next Five Years

Posted on February 15, 2019 By in Online Data Room + Technology + Due Diligence

Due diligence, the start of the end whereby a business is scrutinised by a prospective buyer to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential before purchase. Unfortunately, it is very time intensive and can make or break an M&A deal.

Thankfully, due diligence has evolved and improved, largely due to advances in technology and digitisation, helping those undertaking due diligence avoid physical data rooms and huge volumes of paper documents, instead using sophisticated, intelligent virtual data rooms, complete with digital content libraries and access to automated analytic reporting.

This has led to greater speed, simplicity and security across the entire process, enabling practitioners to close deals faster.

However, it is still a frustrating process, so is it possible that due diligence could become more efficient than it has in the past? Could technology transform due diligence? And what other factors could impact the process in the next five years?

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Supreme Court Makes M&A More Difficult

Federalism has always posed challenges for middle market M&A. While compliance with federal laws and regulation does not typically lead to issues in acquirers’ due diligence on middle market companies, the companies do often have problems with those pesky out-of-state state-level issues. Experience indicates that this is true for a variety of reasons. First, many of these companies have only recently expanded into other states and, as is common in a growing business, operations often get ahead of back office tasks (such as compliance). Second, owners of middle market businesses are often selling precisely because they realize that their businesses have grown to the point that they require additional overhead expenses that the owners are not interested in dealing with. Third, ever states’ rules are different and ever-changing and it is very hard to get a handle on six, or a dozen, or 49 different sets of rules and shape a business compliant with each set. Fourth, and nobody likes to admit this, states can be a bit lax on enforcing their rules, especially on out-of-state companies.  Acquirers are well aware of these facts and, as a result, dig deep on state-level issues in their due diligence.

While very few business owners are attorneys, most have at least a vague sense that when they establish a “physical presence” in a state, they need to start worrying about that state’s laws. Most probably also realize that physical presence is a bit fuzzy and that each state interprets the term differently but the US Constitution places a limit on the breadth of that definition due to the Interstate Commerce Clause. So, this has always been a nebulous issue but at least there was a bit of a bright line test around when a company might have to start thinking about looking at the rules in a new state for things such as income tax, collection of sales tax, workers compensation and the like. 

Ah, things were so much easier before 2018.

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*  *  *

Then, on October 1, 2018, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., et al. South Dakota was attempting to require the online retailer Wayfair to collect sales tax for online sales for which goods were shipped into the state’s boundaries. Wayfair had a very strong case that it had no physical presence in the state and therefore the state could not force it to do anything, especially not collect taxes for Pierre. The state argued that it had a very powerful statute that said even without physical presence it could force companies to collect sales tax on sales made into the state if the seller had an “economic presence” in the state. Wayfair responded that decades of Supreme Court rulings indicated that this statute violated the US Constitution as an unfair restraint on interstate commerce. The Supreme Court stepped in and changed its mind. 

*  *  *

Since that day, the bright line with regard to when to start worrying about a state has been erased – at least with regard to sales tax. And, in the four months following the opinion, states have begun to rub that big eraser across other areas of law as well. The next to disappear is likely state income tax, then perhaps use tax, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance. As of the writing of this article, of the 45 states that have a sales tax, all but eight have already passed the economic contacts test for sales tax.  (That sure didn’t take long.) How many middle market companies (selling items subject to sales tax) have adapted their practices to this tsunami of a tax change? From what we’ve seen, just about zero. How many acquirers have adjusted their due diligence process? Let’s say the adoption rate there is at least as fast as those of the 45 states - and that is being generous to the states.

The results on M&A already include (i) longer due diligence, (ii) acquirers demanding larger escrows and holdbacks, and (iii) purchase price adjustments. The longer middle market companies go without getting up to speed on the new reality, the larger the potential penalties on the business once the acquirer gets hold of it and therefore the larger the issues will become in the deal process.

Author:
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International
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The Benefits of Data Rooms (VDRs)

The due diligence process for an M&A transaction can be very cumbersome for all parties involved. The usage of a data room is one of the most valuable ways to mitigate the headaches that arise from the motions of due diligence.  There are generally two types of data rooms: physical and virtual.  The former is not the most practical in most larger scale transactions with moving parts in varying geographies. Thus, you will almost always see the usage of a virtual data room (VDR) in an M&A transaction. These VDRs provide organization and security for sellers, buyers, and advisors. 

Organization is probably the most easily identifiable benefit that VDRs provide.  They provide a repository for all documents pertaining to the transaction.  From a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment to the 2016 YE Income Statement to the buyer’s first draft of an Asset Purchase Agreement, it will reside in the data room. VDRs essentially eliminate the need to transmit documents through e-mail.  When there are 10+ individuals across parties needing to review documents, e-mail transmission is not practical in terms of time or organization.  Relying on e-mail may result in an organizational catastrophe, and many documents may quite simply be too large for e-mail transmission. Though it may be difficult to quantify in dollars, VDRs are undoubtedly a cost saver, particularly for sellers.  Many intermediaries such as Benchmark International use and administrate VDRs for their sellers at no additional cost, whereas many transaction advisors focusing on the legal or financial aspects of a deal are likely to charge additional fees for the usage and administration of a VDR. 

Security is a highly underrated and less thought of benefit to using a VDR.  E-mail isn’t the best vehicle to transmit sensitive employee information, tax data, or any other sensitive diligence documents.  While we all will use e-mail frequently to communicate over the course of diligence, it should be a last resort for the transmission of sensitive data.  One e-mail in the wrong hands could easily derail not just the transaction, but the going concern of the business.  Professional VDRs are also more secure than free or low-cost cloud hosted repositories such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive.  These repositories are excellent for personal use or small B2B transmissions, but they don’t provide anywhere close to the same level of security as a VDR.  VDR data centers provide physical security (people and cameras), backup servers and generators, and top of the line digital security by way of multi-layered firewalls and 256-bit encryption.  Another security benefit of a VDR is the ability to layer.  Layers or levels allow administrators to dictate which individuals or parties have visibility to certain documents.  It’s quite possible that certain information will not be accessible until diligence milestones are met.  Layering the data room helps provide accountability, but most importantly: security.  

There are countless other benefits, but these are some of the most crucial that impact all parties involved in an M&A transaction.  Benchmark International, through its vendor, provides a tailored VDR experience and service to all of its clients to help facilitate seamless due diligence processes and successful deal closings. 

Author:
Robert West
Senior Associate
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (615) 924 8511
E: West@benchmarkcorporate.com

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What is included in the M&A due diligence?

The due diligence process is one of the final steps in an M&A transaction where the potential buyer does its obligation to best confirm and verify the seller's company data and relevant information. This information typically includes but not limited to: financials, IT, operations, legal & compliance, insurance, corporate bylaws, contracts, customers, among other important information. Typically, the due diligence process follows the execution of a letter of intent (LOI), a non-binding document outlining the intent of both parties to commit to the transaction.

Once the LOI has been executed, the buyer will request a list of items to be shared by the seller with the intention of disclosing the selling company’s key details that could uncover risk buyer. As mentioned before, items can range all the way from financials to operations to insurance to contracts, among others. In cases where the seller owns the real estate, additional documents pertaining to the real estate, such as: deeds, mortgages, tax documents, owners’ insurance, etc. will need to be provided. Given today’s advancements in technology, once the due diligence request list has been sent to the seller, the team leading the deal will proceed to open what we call in the M&A world a “virtual data room” or a “data room.” These two terms are referred to as online portals that hold and store the information requested by the buyer with high levels of security only available for certain parties, including: buyer, seller, M&A attorneys, CPAs, advisors, among others. The data room allows activity within the room to be tracked and archived so there is a file of the information exchange after closing should any issues arise.

Once the due diligence starts, it is highly recommended for the buyer to hold, at the very least, weekly meetings or calls with the seller to discuss outstanding items or any questions that may have arisen from the process. As the due diligence process progresses, the buyer will become more familiar with the seller’s company. For an instance, should the buyer find any items that may play against the seller in the due diligence process, the buyer may use this to lower the valuation of the business which may ultimately result in a lower offer price.

In addition, this process can result as a discovery of potential opportunity to better structure the deal, find real synergies among parties, review any benefits and challenges for potential system integrations, and any associated risks that may arise from the result of this potential acquisition. 

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Top Tips to be Due Diligence Ready

It is imperative that during an M&A transaction thorough due diligence is conducted, not least because it helps to establish the true value of a transaction.

Due diligence is a term applied to the work acquirers undertake after signing HoTs (Heads of Terms) and falls into three main categories: commercial due diligence, financial due diligence and legal due diligence. It is a review of the seller’s company and includes looking into areas such as potential risks and liabilities, the seller’s competition, middle management and employees, financial status, intellectual property, and assets.

It is not an easy task to conduct, so here are five tips on how to ease the process:

TIP ONE: IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO PREPARE

An acquirer will want to see an extensive list of documentation which can include copies of contracts with suppliers, intellectual property registration, computer systems and data protection, employment contracts and pensions, and much more.

It is wise to draw up a due diligence checklist anticipating what an acquirer will want to know – most will provide this when the time comes but a checklist early on ensures that these documents are prepared and up-to-date.

Being prepared with this information, before an exit is even on the cards, is important as it can help expedite the transaction and make the company look more attractive to potential acquirers – if information can be provided quickly, an acquirer will know the transaction is being taken seriously.


TIP TWO: USE A DATA ROOM

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Due Diligence – How it can be your Foe, but should be your Friend

Posted on March 6, 2018 By in Due Diligence + Experts
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Due Diligence in Mergers and Acquisitions: A Beginner’s Guide to the Top Five Areas of Interest

Due diligence by potential buyers takes up a serious amount of time in any M&A process. Essentially, it’s designed to make sure the buyer knows exactly what it is that they’re buying – and in other cases, ‘reverse diligence’ helps the target company understand whether a potential buyer or merger partner is right for them.

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