M&A Sellers: How to Call Strategic Buyers

Finding the right person to receive an M&A proposal at a strategic firm can be a bit trickier than finding the right person at a private equity (PE) firm. After you find that person, your pitch is straightforward: give the prospective buyer a quick run-through of what he needs to know about the company for sale.

The first point to remember is that the larger the company, the more complex the process of simply finding the right person. As a result, calling the general number on a company’s website without knowing whom to talk to almost certainly gets you routed to a time-waster who can’t help you.

Search the company’s website and/or use a fancy online research site if you have access to. You’re looking for anyone with “corporate development” in their title. If you can’t find a corporate development person, go ahead and call the company’s main number.

If you have to call the main number, don’t ask for the CEO. CEOs make two or three decisions a year. Seriously. Now, those decisions are enormous and typically impact the direction of the entire company.

But the CEO doesn’t make a slew of small, nitty-gritty decisions. Those are for the CEO’s lieutenants: VPs, directors, and all sort of sundry underlings. As far as acquisitions are concerned, the decisions the CEO makes are usually of the “go make acquisitions” variety.

Instead, ask for the office of the CFO. This line is great because you’re not asking for the CFO. The CFO is a good bet, but depending on the size of the company, the CFO may fancy himself a quasi-CEO and therefore only make a handful of decisions each year.

Most corporate phone-answerers are trained to be very careful about whom they route to those C-level executives. Asking for the office of the CFO implies you aren’t looking to speak to the CFO, which immediately becomes a point of relief for the person who answered the phone. Now, that person doesn’t have to argue with you about how he’s not allowed to connect you with the CFO.

After your call is being routed to the office of the CFO, you’ve got it made. Whether the CFO’s assistant answers the phone or whether you get voice mail, you want to say the same thing:

Hi, my name is [your name], and I represent a company that is for sale. I think your firm might have an interest. I’m hoping to have a quick chat with the person who handles the initial screening of mergers and acquisitions opportunities to see if this opportunity might be a right fit. Can you help me out?

The secretary may ask a couple clarifying questions about your company (product/service, size of company, that sort of thing), but because you have a script or talking points, that’s a breeze. Most likely he’ll tell you whom you need to speak with and what that person’s number (and perhaps e-mail) is and then connect you.

If a seemingly earnest person says she’ll find the right person for you and forward him an e-mail for you, realize that this exchange will most likely result in nothing. Don’t expect someone else to do your job. Make sure you get the name and contact info of the person you want to speak to. This anonymous stuff never works!

As a second choice, send an e-mail to that person’s secretary with explicit understanding the e-mail will be forwarded to a specific person.

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