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SELLING A BUSINESS

The Suit Who Thinks Your Baby Is Ugly

If you’re looking to sell your company to a large corporation, you’re likely to run into corporate development executives. Here’s how to handle them.
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Corporate development executives—the big-company suits responsible for buying businesses on behalf of their CEOs—often resemble heart surgeons: you know they're smart, but their bedside manner leaves something to be desired.

This, of course, becomes a problem when you're trying to sell your company and the guy or gal on the other side of the table is getting under your skin. Your business is your baby. You gave birth to it, you cared for it when it was young and fragile, and now that it is all grown up, you love it—warts and all.

So when some MBA-types start questioning everything from your sales model to your hiring criteria to your product lineup, you may find yourself feeling as though your baby is the ugliest in the maternity ward.

For perspective, I had lunch with a friend of mine I'll call Greg who, along with three partners, grew his business to $20 million in sales before having it acquired by a Fortune 500 company. While negotiating with the buyer, Greg found himself in a boardroom full of corporate-development people who were trying to understand his business model. 'I took my business very personally, and I didn't like the feeling of being second-guessed. It felt like all the corporate development guys could see was a bunch of spreadsheets, but we were negotiating the sale of our baby.'

Greg went on to successfully close the deal and now finds himself on the other side of the table as the vice-president of strategy and international business development for a multinational. Ironically, Greg is now the suit.

Since he's seen both sides, I asked Greg for his advice to business owners coping with a clinical group of dealmakers. 'Don't be afraid to ask to meet with the people in the company you are going to be working with (on the deal),' he said. 'Once the deal is done, the M&A (mergers and acquisitions) guys will go on to their next deal, and you'll be left working with a different team. If you have a relationship with the business unit you'll be working for, it can smooth out any hard feelings you experience as the corporate-development executives do their job of vetting your business.'

Once the suit is confident your business is a good fit, he or she will go to the board or CEO and make a case for buying your business.  Assuming the board or CEO gives approval, the suit's role then shifts. Greg explained, 'Once the acquiring side's board has approved a deal, the corporate development executive is highly motivated to close the deal, so they can evolve from being adversaries to your best allies in getting a deal done.'

Once you understand the role of the suits, putting up with their probes is less like heart surgery and more like getting a flu shot.

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker, and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a sellable company at www.BuiltToSell.com/blog.

Last updated: Nov 29, 2010

JOHN WARRILLOW | Columnist | Sellability

John Warrillow’s new book, The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business In Any Industry will be released on February 5, 2015. John is also the author of Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You and the founder of The Sellability Score, a company dedicated to helping business owners improve the value of their company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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