Potential buyers and customers have plenty of ways to "secret shop" your company. It all starts with your email address.
Think back to the last time you fell in love.
You probably didn’t just walk up to someone and ask them out. Chances are, you observed them for a while - their interactions with friends, how they dressed, what made them smile. You probably didn’t approach them until you knew you were definitely interested.
Buyers act much the same when they’re evaluating your business. One of the first things a potential acquirer will do is mystery shop your company to see what kind of experience you offer new prospects. Essentially, they’re checking you out before they let you know they’re interested. And one thing they’re scrutinizing is how personally involved you are with new customers, because they want to know how sustainable your company will be after you leave.
How do they figure this out? In the case of Loadmatch Logistics, an Inc 500 honoree with about $20 million in annual sales, the “info@” email was the giveaway. Up until recently, co-founder Gary Winstead received all inquiries that came into the general office email account, and he personally responded to all new-customer inquiries. He thought he was being customer-centric.
But he was also unknowingly undermining his company’s market value. “Gary was constantly checking his info@ email address on his mobile device, which meant he was glued to it, especially when travelling,” says Sean Lacy, a partner at Cornerstone Advisory Partners. “Even after he passed on the responsibility of answering these emails to employees, he was still being copied on the exchanges.”
Gary’s business partner finally got him to delegate the info@ email address. Now, if an acquirer starts eyeing Loadmatch, at least one “owner too involved” red flag is gone.
Just as your email can give you away, your Web site can scream “owner too involved,” too. Here are four ways to bulletproof it:
1. Include a bio and picture of each of your key employees on your website and present them in alphabetical order. The traditional organizational hierarchy--with you as the first entry on top--sends the wrong message.
2. Do not list your personal phone number or email address on your website. Instead, delegate inbound inquiries to a contact person you trust to handle each one with kid gloves.
3. Lose the “message from the founder” letter and replace it with a letter from your customer service manager describing how he or she handles all inbound inquiries.
4. Do not respond to email@example.com emails. Delegate all inbound inquiries to someone on your team.
As with all relationships, when it comes time to sell, first impressions matter.