How do I navigate an acquisition?
I am at the end of an option to acquire agreement and my business is about to be acquired by a parent company, which will help it to grow internationally and attract bigger clients. How do I navigate this journey while maintaining client relationships, staff understanding and morale, and working with other businesses within the group effectively?
A. Simon Lawrence writes:
Businesses usually acquire other businesses to enhance their overall go-to market proposition – “the sum of the parts should be greater than the whole.” So, first and foremost you must be thinking about the synergies between your propositions well before completion. If you are being acquired by a listed company, the analyst community, as well as your competitors, customers and employees, will be looking to see what value there really is in the acquisition.
Failing to move swiftly on this will lose all of the attention and excitement generated. It is vital the new joint vision is first agreed at board level, then communicated consistently and regularly throughout the business. This won’t happen overnight, but it is critical.
In terms of managing the acquisition process, there are three crucial areas you need to focus on: internal and external communication, practical integration of functions, and cultural change. Most importantly, you need to protect the very product you are selling.
People are the lifeblood of most companies, so a major challenge for an acquisition is ensuring staff and teams continue to function well. Good communication is absolutely vital to making the process efficient and minimising conflict and uncertainty.
Try to plan regular updates for your staff, using both emails and meetings. Senior staff must be briefed as early as possible, empowering them to play a key role in staff engagement throughout this process. Invariably acquisitions will result in some level of change in the business, so ensure you have time and budget set aside for training sessions and workshops, which will bring employees up to speed on new processes and ways of working.
You also need to reassure your clients as soon as possible. Let them know that the service will not be affected and encourage them to speak to you about any concerns they have. Be open and use the opportunity to highlight the benefits to them. For example, you may be able to offer a better international service post-acquisition, so emphasise this early on.
Any kind of M&A activity will involve some level of integration, even when companies continue to operate relatively separately. As much as possible, prepare key teams such as accounts and IT for these changes so they are ready to go before the paperwork has been signed. But be aware that while logistical changes should happen rapidly, managing the cultural shift will inevitably take longer and can’t be rushed.
One of the best tips I can give you on integration is to stay true to your own culture. As much as you should embrace your new position as a business within a larger group, your culture is what your clients relate to and what your business is built on – so try to look at it as an evolution rather than a revolution.
Adapting the business to work within a larger group of companies means you need to understand the position you now hold within the group, what your specialism is, and how you can promote this. The first three to four months after the deal has gone through are hard work and a crucial time, but with careful planning and clear communication a smooth transition should be possible.
In 2002 Simon established Information Arts, which has grown to become the UK’s leading B2B marketing consultancy. The company was acquired by marketing group Harte Hanks in September.www.information-arts.com