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Overview Of Steps In The M&A Process

The processes behind mergers and acquisitions can be quite complicated. Each deal is unique and has its own level of intricacies. However, all M&A transactions tend to follow a basic framework of steps. Most M&A advisory firms follow this basic framework, but bring their own methodologies to the table. This outline will give you a rudimentary view of the process.  

What Are The Steps In The M&A Process?

1. Target List Creation

In order to engage in the selling or buying of a business, you must have potential buyers or sellers. Suitable M&A targets can include competitors, vendors, or customers. This is also a good time to consider how much geographical factors should be taken into account.

2. Contact Initiated

Once the target list is established, contact is made and discussions begin to gauge the interest level of the buyer or seller.

3. Sending of a Teaser

A teaser is a document that sellers send to buyers. It supplies just enough information to entice the buyer into wanting to know more. It showcases topline info such as the company’s product or services, its unique selling points, industry overview, ownership structure, potential areas of growth, and high-level financials.

4. Confidentiality Agreement Signing

This ensures that all sides in the deal agree to keep all discussions and materials confidential.

 

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5. Sending of the Confidential Information Memorandum (CIM)

The CIM serves is drafted by the sell-side of a transaction and serves as a type of handbook. It provides all the information a buyer needs to ascertain whether they want to make an offer, such as company management, operations details, financial data, future projections, customer diversification, market opportunities, competition, and other relevant specifics.

6. Submissions of Indication of Interest (IOI)

Upon their review of the CIM, the buyer then expresses interest in moving forward by submitting a non-binding written offer. An IOI typically provides a valuation range for the sale price, transaction structure, timeframe, and other important details. It limits the buyer’s time and financial resources devoted to the deal if the proposal falls short of expectations and other bids. For the seller, an IOI helps them to measure the market appetite for the company, compare different buyers’ views on value, and perform preliminary due diligence on the buyer’s ability to complete the transaction.

7. Management Meetings

After the initial communications that establish interest on both sides, it is time for the buyer and seller to meet and take the conversation further. Both sides take this time to learn more about each other to get a better idea of compatibility and whether it is a good fit.

8. The Letter of Intent (LOI)

The buyer submits a detailed document with a price and deal structure that details items such as closing dates and conditions, an exclusivity period, any break-up fees, management compensation, escrow, and so on. These are usually non-binding, but they can be denoted as binding.

9. Formal Due Diligence Process

This important phase is when all documentation and records are compiled by the seller and provided to the buyer. The findings help the buyer assess their risk and improve the decision-making process. Due diligence examines an extensive level of information on the company, including all financials, intellectual property, customer base, management, talent, synergy, outstanding litigation, technology, infrastructure, stockholder issues, production, inventory, supply chains, real estate, marketing plans, and anything else that is relevant to the business.

10. The Purchase Agreement

A Purchase Agreement supersedes any previous IOI and LOI. This binding document lays out the final terms of the deal including the purchase price, a detailed list of definitions used in the agreement, timeframes for the delivery of final statements, executive provisions, representations, warranties, schedules, indemnifications, closing conditions, and break-up fees.

11. Pre-Closing Period

Sometimes there is a pre-closing period during which the seller and buyer prepare all deliverables and fulfill closing conditions such as government approvals and third-party consents. The duration of this period can vary depending on the closing conditions.

12. Closing

Once all of the closing conditions are met, the transaction is ready to close. Funds are exchanged and the buyer assumes possession of the business.

13. Post-Closing Period

After the deal closes, there are usually post-closing financial adjustments and integration topics to be addressed between the seller and buyer.

Ready to Make a Deal?

Our M&A experts at Benchmark International would love to hear from you regarding your company and its potential. Our world-renowned team offers the unparalleled transaction experience, remarkable resources, and global connections that you need in your corner to in order to get the most value possible out of your M&A deal. Learn more about our unique Benchmark Fingerprint Process here.

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Sellers Vs. Buyers Disparate Interests in the Transaction Process

Buyers and Sellers approach a given transaction from different perspectives. The seller wants to receive as much as possible, as quickly as possible, with little or no potential liability to the buyer or parties associated with the seller’s pre-sale operation of the business. The buyer wants to pay as little as possible, defer payment as long as possible, contractually obligate the seller to indemnify the buyer against actual or potential known or unknown liabilities and ensure that the seller can make good on those obligations by escrowing sales proceeds or deferring payment. The give and take, or push and shove, over these issues takes place during the entire transaction process but predominantly during the negotiation and drafting first of the Letter of Intent and later the Purchase and Sale Agreement. 

Relative bargaining power, from whatever source, often determines which side controls these issues. The other major determinant is the level of experience and degree of sophistication of the parties’ M&A advisors and legal counsel. It is essential, but not sufficient, that a transaction party’s representatives understand what is in that party’s best interest. They must also understand what motivates the other side and how their representatives are likely to try to realize those goals. If both the seller and the buyer stand fast concerning their positions, no transaction will occur. This is where experienced M&A advisors are critical. Helping the parties understand which positions are crucial to their goals and which can be negotiated away is a key function of the professional advisor.

Below are several negotiating points common to many middle-market transactions, and the normal positions of the seller and the buyer with regards to those issues.

Material Terms in the LOI

Sellers are often best served by requesting as many material deal terms in the Letter of Intent as possible. This is because the maximum point of the seller’s leverage is just, before the execution of a Letter of Intent. At this stage, the buyer has expressed interest in the transaction and is unaware of issues that may surface in due diligence. The seller has not yet agreed to exclusivity, and the seller’s M&A advisors have created a competitive environment or at least the illusion of one. 

The buyer is best served by negotiating an exclusivity agreement and skipping the LOI altogether. That means, proceeding directly to the negotiation of a definitive purchase agreement. The buyer’s fallback position should be negotiating an LOI with as few binding terms as possible, except for exclusivity. Either approach gives the buyer strong negotiating leverage and the time to complete due diligence before negotiating material terms. These tactics also minimize the risk that the LOI will be considered a binding agreement giving rise to damages in the event the deal is not consummated. 

Stock vs. Assets

Nearly every corporate seller should sell stock rather than assets if the buyer will agree. However, nearly every buyer will refuse. The benefits to the seller from a stock sale include 1) potential tax savings if the target is a “C” corporation, 2) passing disclosed and undisclosed liabilities on to the buyer, and 3) a generally less complicated and less time consuming, thereby a less expensive transaction. On the flip side, an asset purchase generally provides buyers with a tax-advantageous step up in the basis for the assets and avoids liabilities other than those expressly assumed. Except for “successor liabilities” imposed by public policy such as environmental, product liability, employee benefits, and labor-related issues and liability under “bulk sales” laws. Experienced buy-side advisors will also be aware of potential “fraudulent conveyance” concerns by ensuring that adequate arrangements are made to pay the seller’s creditors and/or restricting distribution of proceeds to the seller’s equity holders until creditors are paid. Although this aspect of transaction structure is generally presented as a “fait accompli,” the seller, the buyer, and their respective advisors should be aware of the issues and how they bear upon the cost, timing, and structure of the deal. 

 

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Caps and Baskets

The buyer will insist upon the seller’s representations, warranties, and indemnifications going to issues that materially affect the buyer’s benefit of its bargain. The seller wants to avoid being “nickel and dimed” for minor issues and serving as the buyer’s insurer against the normal risk of doing business.

The seller will negotiate a cap on liability and attempt to avoid carve-outs from the cap for specific issues. The cap is often a percentage of sale proceeds, and from the seller’s perspective should be negotiated in the LOI. The cap or, lack thereof, can materially affect the value of the transaction and the seller is not well-served by giving up exclusivity until it has been negotiated.

The basket is, in effect, a deductible that must be satisfied before indemnification obligations begin. Accordingly, the buyer can only recover for the aggregate amount of damages over the basket (and below the cap). Variations on this theme include mini baskets related to specific issues and whether or not indemnification begins at the first dollar or is limited to amounts over the basket.

Non-Reliance

An important risk allocation to be negotiated is a non-reliance provision contained in the acquisition agreement. The seller wants this provision to force the buyer to acknowledge that it is relying solely on its due diligence, and the seller’s representations and warranties contained in the acquisition agreement. The buyer is precluded from asserting liability against the seller based upon statements, projections, and oral representations made outside the four corners of the document. The buyer will resist this provision.

Termination Fee (Reverse Breakup Fee)

A tactic not often addressed in middle-market transactions, but a valuable one is the termination fee. The seller requires the buyer to pay a fee, equal at least to the number of the seller’s expenses and perhaps as high as ten percent of the purchase price if the transaction is terminated at no fault of the seller (for example, if the buyer cannot finance the transaction). This type of liquidated damage provision may reimburse the seller for its out-of-pocket expenses, but it will not compensate for lost opportunity costs for failing to pursue alternative transactions because of exclusivity. Again, the reason the buyer will reject or seek to severely restrict such a provision is obvious.

Termination fees are sometimes referred to as reverse breakup fees because they turn a breakup fee on its head. Breakup fees are paid by the seller to the buyer if the seller won’t or can’t consummate the transaction at no fault of the buyer. The seller changes its mind, finds a better deal, or has insurmountable issues discovered during due diligence that adversely affect its value. In the middle-market, these provisions are generally intended to compensate the buyer for its out-of-pocket costs, rather than opportunity costs.

MAC Clauses

A MAC (Material Adverse Change) clause is one of the more contentiously negotiated provisions in the acquisition agreement. In a MAC, the seller warrants that as of a date certain (usually the closing date) there has been no material adverse change in the seller’s business. The M&A counsel has a field day negotiating the specific language. What is the applicable period? Are business “prospects” included? Should the target and its subsidiaries be taken as a whole or viewed independently for purposes of determining materiality? What should be excluded from the operation of the MAC provision? Simplistically speaking, if the seller’s business performance has declined during the relevant period or is an indemonstrable risk of decline (prospects), then the buyer can rely upon the MAC provision to terminate the deal and recover expenses.

In the middle-market, MAC clauses can be a significant cause of transaction failure. To boost enterprise value, the sellers often rely upon very recent favorable EBITDA numbers. If that performance cannot be sustained during the course of the transaction, for whatever reason, the buyer may rely upon the MAC clause to terminate or renegotiate the deal.

Escrows

A favorite buyer tactic is to attempt to escrow a portion of the purchase price to ensure that funds are available to compensate the buyer for breach of warranties by the seller. Sellers resist escrows and attempt to limit their impact. For example, the sellers should ensure that any escrow is held by an independent third party so that the buyer can’t just unilaterally offset. The seller should negotiate limitations as to the length of time the escrow is held and seek to restrict to the extent to which the escrow can be applied. If the seller cannot avoid an escrow, it should seek to limit the buyer’s recourse to only the escrow proceeds and preclude additional recovery.

Conclusion

The foregoing is just a few of the issues that may arise between the seller and the buyer is a strategic transaction. Every transaction is different; the relative positions taken by the respective parties will vary based upon their circumstances at the time. Experienced, knowledgeable M&A advisors, on both sides of the deal, are critical to the success of every transaction.

 

Author
Don Rooney
Transaction Director
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Rooney@benchmarkintl.com

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How Much Time Will The M&A Process Require Of Me?

As a business owner, you may be curious regarding how much of your time you should expect to invest in the process of a merger or acquisition from start to finish. First and foremost, it is important to recognize that any M&A deal will take time. This can be anywhere from several months to years, depending on various circumstances such as the state of the current market and the type of business. The good news is that if you hire an experienced M&A advisory team to handle the transaction, it will not require much of your time at all in the early stages.

The Preliminary Phase

A quality M&A team will handle the vast majority of the necessary work required to facilitate a transaction with the understanding that you have a business to run and you need to stay focused on doing just that. This early phase of work includes:

  • Compiling due diligence documentation
  • Studying the market
  • Assessing the data
  • Creating a solid marketing strategy
  • Vetting potential buyers

Of course, you should constantly be kept informed of all developments in the process, but you will not need worry about doing all the legwork and dealing with time-consuming details. An M&A team will guide you through every step, making sure that all communications are clear and concise, and that you can stay focused on your day-to-day life with some peace of mind.

 

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There are many reasons why enlisting an M&A advisory firm as your partner offers you a major advantage in a deal. You could try handling a sale yourself, say with the help of your lawyer or CPA, but it is a complicated process that makes it very difficult for a business owner to juggle running their business while dealing with all the minutia involved in an M&A transaction—especially when you have no prior experience in selling a company. Think about how much you really know about corporate and antitrust laws, securities regulations, and where to even find a buyer. Not to mention that experienced buyers will recognize that you are in unchartered waters and will not hesitate to take advantage of your lack of practice. Keep in mind that it is firmly established that the majority of mergers and acquisitions (70 to 90 percent, according to the Harvard Business Review) fail. This makes it even more crucial that you have an experienced team working on getting you results. Experienced M&A advisors know how to get deals done because they do it every day.

But there is more to it than that. Selling your company is an emotional journey. Your personal feelings can easily cloud your judgment regarding a sale. It is incredibly helpful to have a team in your corner that is looking out for your best interests while being able to assess buyers on their true merit. A good M&A advisor will have empathy for you during this difficult process and know how to help you through it while getting a high company valuation and the results that you deserve.

 

The Later Stages

Once you agree to an offer, it will require a little more participation on your part, but in a way that you should welcome, because this great milestone is finally nearing completion. You will be introduced to prospective acquirers and presented with their letters of intent. Contract negotiations and financing strategies will be underway. Your M&A deal team will work with you to evaluate the top bidders and narrow down the options, and get you across that coveted finish line to an exit strategy that is designed specifically to fulfill your unique aspirations for the future. Once you have decided on a buyer, you will need to work together to formulate integration strategies for the ultimate success of the business.

Thinking About Selling?

Even if you have not made up your mind to sell, it can still be fruitful to have a conversation about the possibilities for your future. The M&A experts at Benchmark International would love to discuss your options and help you gain insights into what and when is right for you, your company, and your family. If you choose to sell, our proprietary methodologies and global connections will help you find the right buyer and get the maximum value for the business you have worked so hard to build.

 

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How Long Does It Take To Sell A Business

Selling a company can take several months to even years, depending on factors such as the state of the business, the industry, the market, and the economy. At Benchmark International, we have created an efficient process that we use as a framework to guide any merger or acquisition from start to finish. While not every deal will follow this timeline exactly, it is what we strive to adhere to and what you can expect from the process, keeping in mind that when several parties are involved, timing depends on when they each do their part.   

The 120 Days Prior to Going Live: Strategy Development & File Preparation

First, in order to determine the “go live” date (when we take the business to market) we carefully assess your needs and priorities as the business owner, the completion of audits and taxes, the harmonizing of the business’s external image, and the M&A market calendar. 

In the 120 days prior to “going live” with your company, we will go through a preliminary preparation period. This period begins when you and your Benchmark Deal Team sign the engagement and we deliver a data request list to you in order to obtain the relevant information we will need to facilitate a deal. The initial delivery of these documents to us usually takes about two weeks. Then, two weeks after that, we conduct a Q&A session with you regarding the financial data to resolve any outstanding topics. This is when we dig in and do an even more thorough assessment.

A few weeks later, we have our first meeting with you for the presentation of any issues that we found, we request any additional data, and we conduct a preliminary discussion of a marketing strategy. In another 20 days, we have a second meeting to verify the completion of the harmonization of the company’s public image, finalize strategy, and recap any additional data still needed.

Then, in about three weeks, our deal team delivers drafts of the company Teaser and Confidential Information Memorandum (CIM). In the week subsequent to that, we will meet to finalize materials, we prepare market intelligence, and then we are ready to go live.

 

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Two Months After Going Live: Solicitation of Candidates & Expression of Interest

Now that we are ready to go live, we move into the next phase of the process. We start by approaching prospective buyers. We begin obtaining non-disclosure agreements and screening candidates. Within about three weeks, our deal team delivers an interim candidate report to you, classifying candidates into three categories. We then meet to determine authorized recipients of the CIM out of the candidates delivered. Following this meeting, we deliver CIMs to a second round of prospects. You can expect us to be one month into this process when we deliver a finalized candidate report to you, which again classifies the candidates into three categories. Soon after, our team will meet with you to determine the authorized recipients of the CIM out of these candidates. Following this meeting, we deliver CIMs to a second round of invitees. By day 60, expression of interest is due from these candidates.

Two to Four Months After Going Live: Evaluation of Candidates & Offers

Now that we are two months into the process of having gone live, your Benchmark team presents the expressions of interest on behalf of prospective buyers to you. Next, you instruct us as to which candidates should be invited to bid. We then confirm each invitee’s continued interest and they are provided access to a preliminary data room.

At about three months in, letters of intent are due to us from the bidders. We revert to them with any questions raised by the letters of intent. Next, our team presents the letters of intent to you and follows up on any questions you have for the bidders. At this stage, around Day 107, we work closely with you to reevaluate the top bidders, and negotiations begin with one to three bidders. By Day 120, the letter of intent is executed and the counterparty is granted access to the complete data room.

Ready to Sell?

We’re ready to help. Contact our M&A advisory experts at Benchmark International to formulate effective strategies to grow your business or plan your exit strategy and sell your company for the highest valuation possible. 

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10 Things Most People Don’t Know About The M&A Process

1. Most M&As Fail
According to collated research and a recent Harvard Business Review report, the failure rate for M&A is between 70 and 90 percent. To effectively complete a deal, there must be a clear strategy and open communication among all parties.

2. Expect Due Diligence
Experienced buyers conduct meticulous due diligence. They want to know exactly what they are taking on, and that includes factors such as obligations, liabilities, contracts, litigation risk, and intellectual property. As a result, sellers should be prepared to provide very thorough documentation.

3. Priorities Change
Your company may be a good strategic fit today, and in a year from now. But people are fickle, and priorities can change, so a good offer today could be a non-existent offer later.

4. Employees Will Have Questions
In any sale of a business, employees are going to have questions about how the transaction will affect them. Also, the buyer will want to know how specific issues are handled. Will there be layoffs? Have confidentiality agreements been signed? What about any stock options? How will management be changed? These are just a few questions that should be anticipated.

5. Don’t Overlook Technology
These days, virtually every industry is impacted by technology. In the M&A process, it is important to think about how IT platforms will be consolidated or integrated, how technological changes can affect inventory, and how cloud management will be used, among many other factors.

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6. M&As Are Often Funded by Debt
Low interest rates on loans encourage M&A. In 2015, acquisition-related loans worldwide totaled more than $770 billion, the most since 2008.

7. Competition Will Result in the Best Deal
The more bidders there are on a sale, the more favorable the conditions are for the seller to negotiate a higher price and better terms. Even if there is only one serious bidder among several, the perceived level of interest can lead to brokering a better deal.

8. Synergy is a Must-Have
For an M&A deal to succeed, vision and strategy need to be synergized at the executive level and communicated to all management. M&As can fail due to a misalignment of vision for the culture, the industry, each company’s role, and more. The cultural fit of two companies can be crucial to how successfully they meld.

9. It Can Take Awhile
From beginning to end, most mergers and acquisitions can take a long time to be completed, usually in a period of around 4 to 12 months. The length of time depends on how much interest the seller has generated and how quickly a buyer conducts due diligence.

10. You Need an M&A Advisor
An experienced M&A advisory team can help ensure that the complex process of selling or buying a company goes smoothly, addressing all of the issues mentioned above on this list.

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7 Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the M&A Process

When it comes to the M&A Process, sellers often times have many questions. Here is a list of 7 frequently asked questions about the M&A process.

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Questions You Should Ask a Potential Buyer

Once you have decided it is the right time to sell your company, it’s time to find the right buyer. You are going to want to sell to someone that shares your vision for the business that you worked so hard to build. At the same time, you do not want to waste your time on prospects that are not serious or financially fit. An important step in the vetting process is knowing what information you should request from potential buyers. Start by reviewing this list of questions to generate additional ideas and help you manage expectations. 

“Do you have prior experience with acquiring a business?”

A buyer’s track record is paramount when considering whether or not they have the necessary resources and competencies to handle an acquisition. What is their experience? Do they have any success stories? What about failures? Nobody wants to sell to someone who has acquired businesses only to see them fail.  

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“Why are you interested in buying my business?”

Understanding a buyer’s motives is crucial when seeking someone who is going to operate in the best interests of your company. If they share a passion for what you created and have a solid plan to build upon that success, they are far more likely to take your business in the right direction. Asking this question can also help you ascertain how serious they are about working towards a deal.

“How do you plan to finance the sale?”

Securing capital is often complicated and you can learn a great deal about a buyer from their answer to this question. It will demonstrate how experienced and how serious they truly are, helping you to weed out the dreamers. How do they plan to structure the deal? Can they prove that they have the funds available? How much cash is on the table? A serious buyer is going to be adequately prepared to answer this question and may even provide documentation.  

“How long have you been looking to acquire a business?”

This is a serious question when it comes to avoiding giant wastes of your time. There are people who will claim to be eager and ready to invest in a business, but they really are more interested in talking about the idea of it, as opposed to actually sealing any deal. How many deals have they passed on, and why? Ask for explanations. Sometimes deals simply do not work out. But if someone has a routine of waiting around for the perfect deal for years, you probably want to move on.

“How do you plan to carry on the legacy of my family business?”

If you have a family-owned business, it is likely that it matters to you that the company’s legacy remains in tact. This means you need to find a buyer that cares about maintaining its heritage and has a plan to do so. If you have family that will continue to be employed with the company, you will want assurance that the new owner is including them in their plans.

Don’t go it alone.

There are many considerations when seeking the right buyer for your business. To help you navigate the entire process, it is vastly beneficial to partner with a mergers and acquisitions firm that has the connections and resources to match you with the right investor. A firm that cares about the future of your business. The experts at Benchmark International will do all the homework for you and protect your interests to ensure that you get the very best deal possible.  

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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.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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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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, every 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.

Do you have an exit or growth strategy in place?

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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. 

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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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M&A Mistakes to Avoid

The merger and acquisition (M&A) process requires careful planning, professional support, and an understanding of the deal dynamics involved in the negotiations. Completing a transaction is not easy. Many sellers only do a transaction only once in a life time. Companies that have not been engaged in many M&A transactions frequently make mistakes that can result in a less favorable price or terms. They can even potentially destroy the deal.

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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:
Billy Van Buren 
Senior Associate
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (512) 861 3312
E: VanBuren@benchmarkcorporate.com

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A Seller’s Guide to a Successful Mergers & 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.

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.

Author:
Leo VanderSchuur
Transaction Director
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (813) 387 6044
E: VanderSchuur@benchmarkcorporate.com

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The Benefits of Choice in Formal M&A Process: Partnership Essentials

After an M&A deal has been concluded, it is unusual for the seller to depart a business immediately. Whether it is a short-term work out or a longer-term growth plan, invariably there will be is a period in which the buyer and seller will operate in partnership.

In all partnerships, be they personal or professional, the ability to achieve the outcomes and aspirations sought relies to some degree upon the compatibility of the individuals. Almost all studies on the essential components and attributes of successful partnerships, unsurprisingly, conclude that the dynamics of a partnership are determined by the same criteria as any relationship, namely, the personalities involved.

The reason for failed M&A transactions has been studied extensively by academics and professionals alike, but these studies contain little to no data comparing the success and failure rates of transactions concluded with the aid of a formal competitive M&A process and those without. However, common to almost all studies of failed M&A transactions, and often deep into the reports, are cursory references to cultural integrations, yet these are rarely addressed or understood during negotiations.

To truly understand whether the fundamentals for an effective and successful partnership exist in a new relationship is not simple, but it is an exercise that can be explored in the context of a process that exposes the business owner—the seller—to choice. It is a common misconception that the M&A processes only generate choices through the creation of price competition.

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Benchmark International Closes 14 US-based Deals in the first half of 2017

Following on last year’s impressive 26 closings, Benchmark International’s US offices represented sellers on 14 transactions in the first six months of 2017. This was due in no small part to a 30-day span in which Benchmark International closed ten deals globally, with six of those being for US-based sellers.

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