Pros & Cons of Selling Your Company to a Strategic Buyer

When it’s time to sell your business, you will likely have multiple buyer types to choose from. You could receive offers from strategic, financial, and individual buyers.

As you start thinking about selling your business, think about what’s most important to you in a sale. Different buyer groups tend to operate by different playbooks. Understanding what each group typically has to offer can help us target the buyers who are the best fit for your business.

A strategic buyer is an existing business that operates in the same industry, or a synergistic industry. Strategic buyers may be a competitor, a client or a vendor to your business. It’s almost just as likely, however, that you will have had no prior business relationship with the strategic companies interested in acquiring your business. Sometimes, you won’t even have heard of them before. A strategic buyer is generally looking at your business as a path to growth with a long-term hold. Your business may represent an opportunity to move into new territory, new product lines or services, new customers or a new distribution channel.

Pros of selling to a strategic buyer

  • Higher value:  Strategic buyers are often willing to pay more than financial buyers. That’s because strategic buyers may be able to realize immediate synergistic financial benefits. Usually though, they won’t pay more unless they have competition at the negotiating table, which is where we come in.
  • Faster exit:  If you are feeling burned out or you’re just anxious to get started on the next chapter of your life, strategic buyers typically enable you to walk away in the shortest time frame. This assumes they already have experienced leaders who know your business and don’t need a long period of transition support.
  • Smoother due diligence:  A strategic buyer already understands your industry and probably has a good grasp on how you do business. That means the due diligence process may go faster. They will still take a close look at your financials and business practices, but they can use their industry knowledge to streamline their analysis and decision making.
  • Easier financing:  A strategic buyer is usually a larger established company with ready access to capital. Financing is less likely to be a hurdle than when selling to an individual or investment group that isn’t already funded or will rely heavily on new debt financing.
  • Better opportunities for employees:  A strategic buyer may be able to offer your employees a richer benefits package and greater opportunities to grow. Large companies can offer new career challenges and advancement opportunities.
  • Advantages for your clients:  Strategic buyers tend to be larger and more developed than the companies they acquire. That means your clients may gain access to a stronger service team, more advanced technology, or a wider breadth of services.

Cons of selling to a strategic buyer

  • Employee reductions:  Buying a business typically affords the acquirer some economies of scale. Unfortunately, that can lead to redundancies in management and administration. Worst case, certain businesses (e.g., small manufacturers) could be acquired by a company that just wants their customer list and has capacity to absorb all their existing work – leading to a total shut down.
  • Legacy:  When selling to a strategic, your name may not stay on the sign out front very long. It’s often just a year or two until your business is fully integrated into the acquiring company.
  • No equity options:  A strategic buyer is typically going to purchase 100% of your business. If you were looking to maintain a minor equity stake and stay on to help the business grow, a strategic buyer is probably not the right one for you. Also, equity opportunities for your key people are usually limited or don’t exist.
  • Culture:  Ideally, you’ll be able to find a buyer with the same work style, values and cultural norms as yours, but don’t expect your company to look and feel the same for very long. Strategic buyers usually look to shift your business practices to their way of doing things.

I should also point out that there are exceptions to every rule. I recently worked on a deal where my seller client selected a strategic buyer over a financial buyer, even though the value was not higher (though we got them to nearly double their initial offer) and the due diligence was not expected to be smoother.

At the end of the day, every business seller has different goals and priorities. There is no best type of buyer – it’s a matter of what’s best for you. The better your advisor understands your personal goals, the better opportunity they have to find a buyer that meets your ideals.

Al Statz is President and founder of Exit Strategies Group, a leading California-based M&A advisory, valuation and exit planning firm with decades of experience. For further information on types of business buyers or to discuss your exit plans, confidentially, contact Al Statz at 707-781-8580.