I was in 12th grade at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute when I first laid eyes on her. I was at a party to which a number of kids from the rival high school had been invited. Jennifer Beresford came in with a gaggle of friends, and I decided she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. 

Wearing a red-checkered shirt I had just bought, I felt confident, so I thrust out my hand to introduce myself. The girl of my dreams replied, 'Nice shirt. What—did you steal someone's tablecloth?'

It was an inauspicious beginning to what would become a courtship of sorts. I would manufacture any reason to show up at parties I knew Jennifer would be attending. I went to their football games, I canvassed her friends to find out their weekend plans and made sure I had a reason to be there. I even went to her place of work hoping to 'bump into her.'

After months of what Jennifer believed to be serendipitous encounters, I finally mustered the courage to ask her out on a date, and amazingly she accepted.

Twenty years later, Jennifer Beresford now goes by her married name: Jennifer Warrillow. 

Male peacocks display their feathers to attract the attention of the opposite sex. They strut their stuff waiting for a female to approach. Their courtship routine is a lot like selling a business.

First, you identify the company whose attention you want to attract—one you think makes the most sense to buy your business. Then you put yourself on display by manufacturing reasons for the potential acquirer to learn about your company without actually saying you're for sale.

Like dating, part of selling a business is the dance—showing your feathers, raising the desire of the acquirer but remaining aloof enough to keep the interest high in order to get the best possible terms. 

Here are six ideas for displaying your feathers to a potential acquirer:

  1. Join an industry board you know the CEO is part of
  2. Join the golf club where the CEO plays
  3. Speak at a conference where you know the CEO is in attendance
  4. Invite the CEO to speak to an industry event you're organizing
  5. Hire a public relations person to get your company exposure in the industry media
  6. Volunteer with the company's favorite not–for-profit 

You want the potential buyer to learn about your company from other people and ask to meet you. It's important they make the first move to get the best price. Once they initiate discussions, you break bread and build trust, all the while letting key people know you're open to a 'strategic discussion' without actually looking desperate to sell.

John Warrillow is the author of Built to Sell: Turn Your Business into One You Can Sell. He has started and exited four companies. Most recently John transformed Warrillow & Co. from a boutique consultancy into a recurring revenue model subscription business, which was acquired by The Corporate Executive Board. In 2008 he was recognized by BtoB Magazine's 'Who's Who' list as one of America's most influential business-to-business marketers.