So you’ve placed your business on the market for sale via a blind ad and have started receiving buyer inquiries.
Once these leads come in, we always recommend that the broker interviews potential buyers and take them through our qualification process.
But after a buyer signs an NDA, receives confidential information, and displays interest, you may be wondering, what’s the next step?
At MidStreet, once we have qualified buyers for your business, we will introduce you and the prospective buyer via a virtual buyer-seller meeting.
Why do this virtually? Shouldn't the buyer come to your business first?
While you will meet them in person before accepting an offer, this virtual call is designed for you to meet buyers for the first time and narrow down who you would like to move forward with.
At MidStreet, we've conducted many virtual Buyer-Seller meetings over the years. We’ve found them to be a time-efficient, safer way to allow you to get to know the potential buyer and have learned a lot about what to do, and what not to do.
To give you a clear idea of what to expect in a virtual buyer-seller meeting, we will go over what it is, what can and cannot be talked about, a typical agenda, takeaways you should get from the meeting, and more.
Why Do a Virtual Buyer-Seller Meeting?
Once your business is listed for sale, your broker will be fielding many buyer inquiries. Before accessing confidential information, buyers will go through a thorough buyer vetting process.
Once buyers indicate interest to your broker, they will start to have questions about the business and will want to meet with you. We have found it is best to start with a virtual meeting. Why?
The virtual meeting is created to protect your time and confidentiality.
You might have as many as 5, 10, or even 15 buyer-seller meetings before accepting an offer, depending on the market and desirability of your business, among other factors. Conducting all of these meetings in person would be a nightmare.
Think of the virtual buyer-seller meeting as a virtual first date. It is an efficient way to get to know the potential buyer, answer their questions, and get more comfortable with them. An in-person buyer-seller meeting is typically done after-hours, takes multiple hours out of your day, and poses a higher risk to confidentiality.
In some cases, meeting in-person first makes sense - like when the broker has met the buyer before, you own a Main Street business (less than $1 million in revenue), or you are already familiar with the buyer.
What Will be Talked About in The Virtual Meeting
Depending on the industry and desirability of the business, we’ve seen anywhere from 50 to over 300 buyer inquiries. Not to mention any outreach we perform!
Potential buyers that inquire vary drastically in terms of their level of sophistication, seriousness, and intentionality.
Some buyers will focus on building a relationship with you from the very beginning, asking questions to focus more on personality/cultural fit, and what your skills are to learn what they would need to learn to take over or hire out after they purchased the company.
Other buyers focus heavily on the financials and batter you and the broker with a list of 30 questions after receiving the marketing package.
We found that the best buyers strike a perfect balance of the two, learning just enough about the financials and the business to be interested and feel comfortable while focusing on building the relationship with you (the seller). After all, they will have all of due diligence to confirm what was represented.
Many sellers don't realize it, but this initial call is the beginning of the negotiations process. Even though we specifically discourage buyers from bringing up any points of negotiation (price, terms, etc), this meeting sets the tone for future discussions and negotiations with the buyer. Many prospective buyers will attempt to gain control of the meeting so set the frame and prod to get you to reveal certain things that will help their negotiating position.
Because we have a fiduciary responsibility to our clients to represent their best interests, we run a tight ship when we get to the virtual buyer-seller meeting. We send out a predetermined agenda to the buyer in advance. This helps us set expectations with the buyer that they will follow our process.
Here is a basic version of an agenda we like to use:
- Buyer introduction (2-5 min)
- Seller introduction (2-5 min)
- Buyer questions (30 min)
- Seller questions (15 min)
Chances are you’ve never sold a business before and haven't yet been through the process of selling. We like to coach our clients before their first virtual buyer-seller meeting to set them up for success.
While we always encourage sellers to be fully honest and transparent with prospective buyers, first impressions are everything and it is important you feel comfortable with the meeting structure. The last thing you want to do is miss out on the perfect buyer because you made a bad impression in the first meeting by accident.
Here is a simplified version of how we prepare clients for this meeting:
1. Be honest and transparent - Never lie. It is important above all else that the buyer believes what you are saying and the best way to do that is to be authentic.
2. Read the agenda - This is to give you an idea of what to expect during the meeting.
3. Prepare questions ahead of time - We will prepare you for questions you may want to ask the buyer. Check out our download above with sample questions.
4. Prepare for questions the buyer will ask - The number one question the buyer is going to have is “Why are you thinking about selling the company?” You need to have a good answer that you feel confident in sharing. If you hesitate here, the buyer will think you’re lying. Remember step 1.
5. Learn about the buyer - We will share information with you about the specific buyer you are going to meet with.
Even though many buyers will pepper you with questions about you and the business seemingly endlessly, it is important for you to walk away from the meeting comfortable with the buyer and know if you would be interested in taking next steps with them. Make sure you ask questions that you’re curious about.
You need to strike a balance of being interested in what the buyer has to say and their potential as a fit for the business while alluding to the fact that you have multiple interested parties (assuming you do) and are confident in the valuation of the company. You don’t want the buyer to think they’re the only one seriously looking at the business, as it gives them significant negotiating leverage.
You should take advantage of this time to ask the buyer any questions you have for them. The broker should have covered most of the high-level questions you would have in the initial interview, but you may still have questions that you want answered. After all, nobody knows your business like you do.
What Will Not Be Discussed in The Virtual Meeting
To ensure that the virtual buyer-seller meeting does not derail or stress you out, we set expectations with the buyer of what will not be discussed during the meeting. We will advise both you and the buyer to not talk about the following:
Without these parameters, the buyer may try to nail you to agree or admit something during the meeting off-hand, like room for a lower purchase price or a lack of interested parties.
While you should be honest and transparent, there is no need to bring up all of the skeletons in your closet all at once. If a detail is not highly relevant to the buyer deciding if your business is a good fit for them or not, we recommend you disclose it later in the process.
While you shouldn’t lie to the buyer, there’s no reason to volunteer information that gives away your negotiating leverage. Keep the meeting at a high level and positive.
Takeaways From The Virtual Meeting
This meeting will help you and the buyer decide if you want to move forward. If either of you are not interested after the virtual call, you will have saved everyone involved a lot of time. It only cost you an hour!
The goals of the meeting for you:
1. Decide if it makes sense to take next steps with this buyer
2. Get comfortable with the buyer
3. Ask the buyer any questions you have to determine if they would be a good fit for the business
4. Answer any questions the buyer has (truthfully) to get them excited about the business and help them get more comfortable with the opportunity
5. Authentically convey the reason you are selling
The goals of the meeting for the buyer:
1. Determine if they are still interested in potentially acquiring the company
2. Get their high-level questions about the business answered
3. Become comfortable with you (the seller) and see themselves able to work with you in the future
4. Answer any questions you have so that you are comfortable with their ability to buy the business and operate it successfully
5. Make a good impression on you and the broker
The Benefits of Having The Virtual Meeting First
The virtual meeting saves time and money and lets you (the seller) get comfortable with the buyer before they show up to your location. We will send the buyer a Confidential Information Memorandum and marketing video of your business to give them a sense of your company before hopping on the virtual meeting.
Some benefits of having the virtual meeting first include:
1. It is efficient - Many buyers will come in the door and if you have an in-person meeting with everyone who is interested, it is going to take up a lot of time.
Even if your broker qualifies the buyer through an initial phone call and questionnaire, there are still many factors that could disqualify them or cause them to lose interest. A virtual meeting is as simple as clicking the virtual meeting link and hopping on the call for an hour.
2. It saves time - We like to budget these meetings for an hour, as per the schedule we laid out above. The in-person meetings take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours, depending on how big the facility is and if we are going to jump in the car to look at different locations.
3. It is easier to schedule - Because the virtual meeting is not an in-person meeting, you and the buyer will have to take less time out of the day to conduct it. It is easier to fit into your daily schedule because it will only take an hour and can be done during work hours.
All you have to do is close your office door, head home, or park your car somewhere nearby the office. Doing this meeting first will reduce the time between when the buyer displays interest and when you meet, increasing the likelihood of success.
4. It lowers confidentiality risk - When you meet in person, you will probably want to do it after hours to minimize confidentiality risk. However, even after hours, you run the risk of an employee seeing you meet with a potential buyer.
While they might not know that you’re meeting with a buyer specifically, it is awfully suspicious to be meeting at night with someone likely dressed in business casual attire.
5. It allows the broker to manage the sale efficiently - Since the meeting is virtual, the broker can record the conversation so you and the broker can focus on the meeting without having to take notes. It is important for your broker to let the buyer know that the meeting is being recorded, but is not going to be used to hold the buyer to anything.
Also, depending on the size of your company, the broker will likely have to drive to your facility, which can eat away hours of their day. You want your broker talking with prospects that might be a good fit for your company, not wasting time on the road!
Once potential buyers are qualified further and your top candidates are selected, in-person meetings make more sense.
The Benefits of Having a Broker Conduct The Meeting
Brokers are intermediaries. They balance out your desires with those of the sellers and foster productive meetings. The manner in which a virtual buyer-seller meeting is conducted is critical. During a virtual buyer-seller call, the broker will lead the conversation, laying out the agenda, keeping the conversation on the rails, and keeping track of time.
A couple of years back, I was conducting a virtual buyer-seller meeting that was going very well. The buyer and seller were hitting it off. It was obvious that the buyer was very interested in pursuing the business further and that the seller was getting comfortable with the buyer.
Towards the end of the meeting, the buyer asked the seller if he would be interested in selling the real estate even though it was advertised as “for lease” and the seller wasn't interested in selling it right away. The seller told the buyer “No.” I cringed - while it’s true that the real estate wasn’t for sale NOW, the seller told me they would be happy to sell the building to the buyer after a couple of years.
I jumped in and shared with the buyer that the seller had previously talked about potentially offering an option to purchase after a two-year period. We then mentioned that this was a detail that we could sort out later down the line and changed the topic.
The deal ended up closing successfully and the buyer purchased the real estate from the seller after a couple of years of owning the business.
Assuming the virtual buyer-seller meeting goes well, the buyer will likely have follow-up questions and want to meet you in person to tour the facility and get comfortable.
To prepare for a successful in-person meeting, you should know what to expect. Learn more about the in-person meeting by reading “Best Practices for a Buyer-Seller Meeting in a Business Sale.”
Do you want to know more about how to prepare for the sale of your business? Call us today and we can walk you through the process.