While 2016 hasn't been an explosive year so far for mergers, we've seen whoppers like Microsoft's purchase of LinkedIn, Anthem's proposed purchase of fellow health insurance giant Cigna, Charter's buy of Time Warner Cable, and a bid by Bayer AG to take over Monsanto.
Acquisition activity in the tech sector has remained robust, too. The Internet of Things space, for example, accounted for nearly two dozen mergers and acquisitions in the first four months of 2016, according to Strategy Analytics.
Many M&As are marriages of competitors, of course, so as acquisitions continue to take center stage in corporate growth strategizing, figuring out when the time is right to acquire a rival has become a crucial question for business leaders.
As I learned earlier this year when my company purchased another player in the cyber security market, there's a lot more than meets the eye to the decision and process.
Here are six lessons to keep in mind:
1. Do it for the customers
For fast-growing technology companies, adding the capabilities of a competitor through acquisition can be an effective way to advance the product roadmap and capture new revenue. But, ultimately, it needs to provide a better solution for customers. If two companies have different approaches that complement each other, they can either keep battling each other in the marketplace or join forces to present a better outcome for clients. Simply put, the right time to acquire your competitor is when it makes sense for your customers.
2. Don't go on fool's errands
Imagine that a rival company offers a key capability that yours doesn't. Your company might be able to build what's needed in 12 to 18 months. But what would be the cost of doing that, and how much revenue would you lose in the meantime? Those are the kinds of hard questions you must ask. You well may find that the smart move is to combine forces and be able to offer the capability sooner rather than later
3. Aggressively solicit top customers' feedback
No one can provide a deeper understanding of customers' perspective than customers. Think about showing your competitor's sales deck to leading clients. Ask them how they feel about it, if they see additional value in it, and if they would feel better about your company if you added the competitor's offering. With that real-world feedback, you can have a much stronger sense whether to acquire or not.
4. Get things on paper right away
Prepare a term sheet outlining the deal and have both parties sign it sooner rather than later. As with VC rounds, acquisitions can take months to finalize. The acquisition process is complex, and things can go sideways pretty fast. It's a good idea to formally establish the high-level details of the agreement early in the process that can serve as the foundation throughout the proceedings.
5. Make sure the people and culture a fit
To decide that an acquisition makes sense is one thing; to actually make it happen is another. It's important for the merging companies to click. The leadership teams should travel frequently to each other's headquarters during the process - not just to spend time with each other but with employees as well. Take time to understand the other company's culture and values. In an acquisition, it is important that there is synergy across the people, not just the products.
6. Establish trust early
Laying a foundation of mutual trust early on invariably makes things easier when complexities arise. As lawyers and board members got involved and things inevitably get tense, you want to be able to bring the conversation back to that core understanding and trust. That can make the difference between a closed deal and a sidetracked one.
If all these elements are in place, the time may be right for a company to expand its business through an acquisition.