Three Essential Tips for a Successful First Meeting with a Buyer
The first face-to-face meeting between a buyer and seller is one of those “make or break” meetings. The best way to prepare for it is to think of this meeting like a first date. The dynamics are very similar. You’ve spoken on the phone and you’ve emailed. Now there is enough interest that you both want to meet. Like a first date, the goal here is to get to know each other but, I recommend you do the following three things to ensure this meeting goes as well as possible.
Preparation means three things. First, have a plan for the meeting. Where will you meet? When will you meet, during business hours or after hours? Who do you want to attend from your side? Do you want to have handouts or a formal presentation? Will you be serving refreshments or snacks? Do you know who the buyer is bringing to the meeting? Will you give the buyer a tour of your business? Does the business show well or do you need to do a little housekeeping before buyers visit? Does it make sense to give buyers samples of what you make or sell?
You should determine these things, not the buyer. Once you have a plan send your plan to your buyer. Buyers need to understand how your sales process works and what is expected of them during each step of the process.
Determine your Desired Outcomes Ahead of Time
The primary goal of this initial meeting is to show the buyer that everything you said about your business in the offering memorandum was accurate so they have enough confidence in you and your business to submit a purchase offer or Letter of Intent (LOI) to buy your business. However, you may also have several other goals as well. Below is a list of some typical secondary goals.
- Confirm the buyer’s financial qualifications by asking questions like how much money he had available to invest, what is the source of these funds, where is the buyer in discussions with potential lenders, what is the buyer’s credit score, etc.
- Confirm the buyer’s business experience by asking questions like, tell me about the other businesses you’ve owned, or tell me about your previous business management experience.
- Confirm the buyer’s interest in your business by asking them what they think about your business, how does it compare to other businesses they’ve looked at, does it fit what they were looking for?
- Assess the buyer’s character. It’s important that you sell your business to someone you like, respect, and admire. Chances are if you like the buyer, so will your employees and customers. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right about the buyer, it probably isn’t
- Determine the buyer’s timeline. Business brokers are fond of saying “Time Kills All Deals” and it’s true. Another important goal is to determine how quickly a buyer is prepared to move and to determine if their timeline and your timeline line up.
Have an Agenda
Preparing an agenda ahead of time will help ensure that you accomplish your goals for the meeting. A sample agenda for a successful buyer meeting might look like this.
- Introductions & Welcomes – 10 minutes
- Buyer Background. Ask Buyer to describe their background, experience and why they are looking to buy a business – 10-15 minutes
- Seller Background. The seller describes how the seller got into the business and why they are exiting – 10-15 minutes
- Business Update. The seller gives the buyer a summary of how the business has performed since the offering memorandum was prepared and provides the buyer with a current year-to-date P&L statement. 10 minutes.
- Q&A. Seller to answer any questions the buyer has. 15-30 minutes
- Tour. Give the buyer a tour of the business and continue to answer questions throughout the tour. 15-30 minutes.
- Buyer Feedback. Return to your office or conference room and ask the buyer what they think. Discuss what they like and what they didn’t like. Get a list of any additional information the buyer would like from you.10-15 minutes.
- Next Steps/Action Items. Tell the buyer what your timeline is and if they are interested, the next step is for them to submit an offer or Letter of Intent. Determine if they plan to submit an LOI and if so, when they plan to do it. 10-15 minutes.
Of course, this is just a suggestion. Feel free to modify it to suit your particular situation. However, please note that the entire meeting is designed to last between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 hours. Try to keep the meeting to around 2-3 hours, max. Sometimes, the chemistry between a buyer and seller is great and the conversation can continue for four or five hours, but I don’t recommend it. If that’s the case, I recommend scheduling a second meeting rather then let the first meeting go for more than three hours.
Asking and Answering Questions
Now that you have an agenda, the next steps if to prepare a list of questions you want to ask the buyer. Keep this with you during the meeting as a reference so you don’t forget any of your questions.
When responding to a buyer’s questions, try to only answer the question asked. It’s best to keep your answers factual and not share long war stories or go off on tangents about things the buyer didn’t ask about. For example, if a buyer asks what are your Average Days Receivable is, just answer the question. Don’t tell a story about the one customer who refuses to pay within 30 days, and often stretches you out to 190 days, so you told him he now needs to pay in full when he places an order.
Building a Positive Relationship
It goes without saying that you should do everything possible to keep the meeting polite and respectful and to avoid any discussion about politics or religion, which often can be hot points.
Nothing builds a more positive relationship than truth, so make sure that all of your answers are truthful, accurate, and complete. While you are trying to sell your business, you don’t want to come across as a salesperson. Let y our business sell itself. The best way to do that is to as real and as honest as possible.
For example, if a buyer asks who your competitors are be truthful. Every business has some level of competition. So don’t pretend that your company has no competition. This will simply make the buyer skeptical and make him wonder what else you may be fibbing about.
One last word of advice. Be sure to do your homework on the buyer ahead of time by asking the buyer to send you a copy of the buyer’s resume before your meeting. That way, you can do a Google search on the buyer and the companies he’s owned or worked for so you can assess during your meeting how truthful the buyer is being with you.
If you follow this advice, you will greatly increase the odds that your first meeting with a buyer will accomplish all of your objectives.