Starting a relationship with the elephant - when you have the long term intention to be acquired – is different than if you don’t have aspirations of being acquired.
Elephant employee’s often have the luxury of making acquisition decisions based on who they want to work with – it’s not just about ROI. Not thinking future acquisition? You can be pushy, demanding, manipulative, and even threatening at times. Want to be acquired? It’s okay to be pushy and demanding – but with a smile and a win-win approach. It only takes one person in a position if influence to think you are not someone they want to work with – or that has doubts about if you can be trusted – and thoughts of acquisition are out the door – for years to come. Over the years, I have seen a number of Autodesk partners with great technology – that would have made great high ROI and high growth acquisitions – not happen because the owner or a senior manager alienated a key Autodesk decision maker or two. When you consider the long term value of the marriage to the elephant – five years later when most marriages really start “producing” – is all about the people, there is good reason to not pursue acquisition of companies with senior management you do not respect and trust.
It’s frequently not clear who within the elephant’s organization will be the champion of the marriage (the “matchmaker”) and who are the parents and godfather that you will need blessings from for the marriage to move forward. This means you will have not just one “first date” but a string of first dates.
Who will you need to take out on a first date?
It depends on the nature of your apps and technologies.
If what you offer is a “feature” of an existing product the elephant has on the market, an incremental improvement, you’ll want to get dates with the Product Manager, and Product Line Manager. As well as have an occasional cup of coffee with the head of the Product Division (likely someone with VP in their title) who is likely quick to encourage or discourage courtship. Having a difficult time getting their attention? Sometimes a senior sales manager working for the elephant can act as a matchmaker – pointing out large sales opportunities or losses that you could help them with.
Do you have what the elephant would see as a “whole new product”? Don’t be too quick to say “yes”, as frequently small companies build businesses on products that appear to be “complete solutions” – but that the elephant would view as just a new feature set for an existing product. If you really believe what you have is a new product, you need to get that first date with the Product Line Manager as well as the head of the Product Division. You also want to get some awareness with a more senior person yet - - such as an Exec VP and/or the President – as they’ll likely be part of the review process for a significant acquisition and have “veto” ability.
Are you in a related but quite different business then the elephant is engaged in today? Do you really really think there is a strong compelling reason for the elephant to enter into this new business? Is it really going to provide the elephant a strong LARGE long term growth opportunity or competitive advantage? Again think hard about these questions, as many people are too quick to say “yes” when from the elephant’s perspective it’s often unclear, or downright unlikely. If yes, it’s time to take the President and possibly an Exec VP of the elephant out for a cup of coffee to introduce them to the concept. It’s rare you are going to get a mid-level manager to champion an acquisition outside their area of expertise – and rarer yet they will succeed.
All this talk of who to meet. How do I get meetings with all these people? In my next post.