Posted by Ari Salonen
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The M&A software market is relatively new to the B2B technology landscape. Consequently, prospective buyers often approach their sales process without a firm grasp on the questions they should be asking—as well as the criteria they should be leveraging—to effectively narrow down their search for the right solution.
In many cases, preceding this investigation into uncharted territory is the definitive realization that the current way of planning and executing M&A-related tasks simply isn’t working as well as it should be. Perhaps pipeline management or post-merger integration hasn’t gone as smoothly as intended, or an undocumented process was overlooked during an acquisition gone awry. Whatever the catalyst for change may be, it’s still important to take the time to evaluate your options through the proper buyer’s lens.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to listen to M&A software provider pitches and get a little too comfortable during sales presentations – coming to the conclusion that much of what is being explained to you sounds indispensable. And to a degree, those initial sales discovery calls all seem “reasonable” at the very least.
What you really need to know as a buyer is: why does this particular product matter to you? How is it actually going to help you make better deals, build your institutional capability, mitigate risk and more quickly capture synergies?
To find these answers, the opportunity to experience a fully functional trial run of a given platform becomes that much more critical. If you plan on purchasing an M&A software solution but your so-called “free trial” doesn’t allow you to input all of your actual M&A information (if you so choose), or worse, you’re unable to access all of the platform’s features, then what is the point in putting that product to the test? It may come as a shock that many solution providers won’t let you try the real deal – yet more often than not, this is the case in the M&A tech space.
That’s why it’s important to seek out a partner that offers a true free trial, where your M&A department head and integration specialists are able to enter all of their M&A pipeline deals and data to see if the platform really works for their company. Of course, the added benefits of this arrangement are that onboarding is streamlined, time devoted to training is significantly reduced and “going live” becomes a non-event. Plus, your trial period will serve as a mechanism for you to see and experience the necessary platform features in action.
It’s no secret the M&A process is a complex one – every case is different, and it could take multiple years before a prospective deal is brought to fruition. Therefore, the technology you use to manage this process should have your back, not hold you back. That being said, here is a breakdown of the eight M&A software attributes that should be addressed when you’re on the hunt for the solution to your M&A pains…
- Great User Experience
Operating your M&A technology shouldn’t feel like work itself. The solution you choose needs to support your process, essentially fading into the background as you carry out any number of M&A tasks. Therefore, investing in intuitive, user-friendly software is critical. Particularly for stakeholders or teams that are not involved in M&A day in and day out, it’s important that the interface is simple enough where they’re able to quickly make sense of what they’re seeing on the screen and hit the ground running when they’ve been given access to an account. Also with respect to simplicity, it’s important these stakeholders see only the activities assigned to them – and all tasks, dependencies, instructions, issues, etc. specifically associated with those activities. This omits the complexity of the entire M&A process, and immediately lets them know exactly what they need to do.
Moreover, it’s important that the M&A software design is able to incorporate the most effective pieces of your process already in existence. Can company playbooks be uploaded and repurposed as templates? Are templates easily modifiable after a post-mortem meeting? It must be as stress-free as possible to make changes to your documented process as it evolves, without the involvement of IT developers or engineers. Remember, if you opt for a clunky system or a solution riddled with every bell and whistle imaginable, members of your team will quickly revert back to the “old way” of doing things.
- An End-to-End Solution
A surprisingly large number of companies currently manage their M&A processes across a variety of disparate applications, resulting in mistakes and countless unnecessary working hours, as well as an increased risk of compromising information security. The most active and sophisticated acquirers need an end-to-end solution that brings together all the pieces of the M&A puzzle under one convenient and secure roof. If you’re investing in M&A software, why should you have to leave the platform to carry out any single M&A task in the first place?
What’s more, all completely up-to-date versions of instructions, schedules, dependencies, pertinent documents, collaborative emails (and the list goes on!) must be accessible in real-time by all stakeholders with the strict permission to view a particular deal. Is the M&A Head able to see how acquisition opportunities are progressing and impacting organizational goals? Can the Integration Lead drill down into any one of thousands of tasks and see its status, who it’s been assigned to, and any risks or issues identified for that particular task? This real-time visibility will often make or break the value of a software solution.
- Topnotch Security
Perhaps most importantly, when it comes to the security of your data, there should be absolutely no surprises. Your organization’s M&A plans and all associated information—plans that represent your company at its strategic core—must be guarded with the utmost care and technological savvy.
Ironically, many companies do not realize how insecure their current practices are, from the communication they use with external stakeholders to engaging with customer service support teams via email – which, with a simple click of the mouse, can accidentally be forwarded to the wrong contact. That’s why your M&A platform must provide you with the tightest permission controls, include collaborative chats and integrate all other confidential email communication, and pass the very best in security certifications (namely, the ISO27001 Certification) in order for you to even consider purchasing the software for your M&A program. Plus, there should be a detailed audit log to track each and every action executed through the platform. If these criteria are not met, it’s simply not worth the risk.
- Streamlined Reporting Functionality
Every M&A software solution should exhibit a core set of features and functions that help M&A Leads easily do their jobs. Among these core features should be the ability to access detailed analytics – including reporting functionality that enables M&A managers to efficiently find and export the data they need in order to present executive team members with the clear picture of the M&A pipeline they’re looking for. And to that end, authorized users should have access to as high-level or granular of a view as they like, giving them the opportunity to drill down to a detailed view of the execution status of an individual deal – so they can quickly see which tasks have already been completed, which tasks have not yet been started, what milestones have been met, and so on.
- Outstanding Customer Service
Everyone wants to work with the experts; there’s no doubt about that. But how can you separate those who walk the walk from those who just talk the talk? One way of evaluating an M&A management solution provider’s expertise is by examining their website content. Can you access customer success stories? Are clients providing rave reviews and testimonials with respect to how the software has dramatically improved their M&A process? In essence, what is the proof in the pudding?
Of course, from a SaaS (Software as a Solution) industry perspective, is the service component of the product exceeding your expectations? It should be. For a business process that must be handled as delicately as large-scale M&A deals, it’s important that you invest in a partnership – not just a product. Does the software provider demonstrate a clear willingness and ability to spend time with the customer? The ideal partner is not only highly responsive and technically adept, but they also act as a thought leader, giving their clients new ideas to enhance their M&A process while providing educational resources that highlight their expertise.
- Ability to Create Templates
When examining your provider options, it’s critical that you find out if and how you are able to create comprehensive templates within the tools at your disposal. Templates are fundamental to building the buy-side’s own institutional capabilities, serving as the company’s playbooks for a number of M&A scenarios, e.g., service company acquisition, real-estate acquisitions, and a number of other business transactions.
Your software solution’s templates should be able to include all process steps, documents, schedules, issues, etc. appropriate for each specific type of deal. They also should encourage the re-use and accumulation of best practices, as each new deal created is based on the relevant template which takes into account any valuable lessons learned from past transactions. What’s particularly important about this ability to create effective templates is that these documents innately make M&A knowledge and execution less dependent on people; the intelligence and experience is essentially embedded right in your tools. So the systemization of M&A, as well as the onboarding of new employees is streamlined – and the risk of error is drastically reduced.
- Ability to Support Multiple Processes
It’s best to search for an M&A software solution that is inherently flexible in terms of its usage – especially for companies that are not high-volume acquirers. What does this flexibility mean? For starters, the platform should enable business users (if permitted) to easily and speedily configure and improve processes without the help of their IT department or consultants.
What’s more, though M&A is certainly the primary function, it should be possible to use the platform to effectively manage a variety of processes—ranging from other M&A activities (for example, divestitures, alliances and partnerships) to tasks unrelated to M&A (large sales contracts, patents, developments in R&D and other cost-saving initiatives, etc.). In fact, one of our clients effectively used Midaxo to successfully split the company in two.
- Hidden Costs
Last, but certainly not least, there’s just about nothing more irritating than paying for a product and then later finding out that you still have to pay extra for consulting services, startup costs or an additional onboarding fee. Although you’re paying for a premium product and budget isn’t necessarily your primary concern, there should be no hidden costs that crop up after you’ve made your decision.
As companies move closer and closer to the point of purchase, it’s important to take all aspects of a potential M&A software solution into account. Remember to focus on the attributes that matter most: security, service, and a streamlined end-to-end solution accentuated by a uniquely intuitive user experience and design.