While life sciences companies are, first and foremost, scientific organizations working to advance human healthcare, they are also businesses. And, all businesses, I would argue, have to participate in the sales process on many levels. At Locust Walk, we are immersed in the sales process. We sell our transaction advisory services to clients. In turn, we help our clients pitch their asset(s) and capabilities to potential partners and investors. While the sales process can be daunting, the reality of effective selling it is actually much simpler than it might appear. To try to demystify the sales process, I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve learned, which hopefully will be helpful to your strategic and financing transactions. This list is not exhaustive and is most relevant for potentially large transactions.
- Transparency and trustworthiness is critical
This is a tricky piece of advice as there are certainly situations where you might not want to disclose much information or perhaps just enough information to get what you want. Keeping the lens that deals are long-term relationships between people, building trust via transparency and with relationships will help speed up a transaction and encourage the other side to be more transparent and trustworthy. I’ve been around several deals that were killed by lack of trustworthiness, usually started by selective disclosure of information and mistrust. Nothing can kill deal momentum faster than one side figuring something out disappointing in due diligence that could have been disclosed by the other party. Better to air dirty laundry proactively than to have it discovered.
- Relationships matter
The most important lesson in selling is to build a relationship with the person on the other side of the transaction. This isn’t to manipulate the person to agree to what you want. On the contrary, you want to help them accomplish what they want and need while enabling them to help you achieve your goals. People who have relationships don’t typically walk out on each other in a negotiation. Furthermore, if you have a difficult ask of the other side, a relationship can help bridge any gap and enable you to save face should it be a bridge too far. Deals are done between people, not companies. Without a strong relationship, even if not in place upfront, it is often required by the time you close. Unless you are selling your company in an all up-front transaction, which is technically a zero sum game, most deals involve long-term relationships like that of an investor or strategic partner. Disputes and disagreements will happen. If the proper time is invested in the relationship before the deal is closed, it will certainly make things go more smoothly after the close.
- Communicate regularly
Part of the “relationship matter” and “transparency and trustworthiness” sections is the method by which you establish trust and communicate transparently. Regular communication engenders such feelings and builds momentum (which is discussed next). The best deal makers that I’ve interacted with were in regular communication with either the other side’s advisors or relevant deal professionals. Even if the calls were short, they keep the deal on track and reinforce the key points in the deal process/workplan. They ensure that all relevant due diligence questions are being satisfactorily addressed and facilitate the internal process for the other party. It is a good practice during a deal process to schedule regular telephonic updates to keep momentum and/or address the inevitable issues that develop.
- Build momentum
Deals and sales are living and breathing creatures. When executed properly, they take on a life of their own. Momentum is something that you can feel. It has a cadence. It is very hard to quantify. Once you have it, you need to maintain and continue to build it. If you lose it, it is something that is very hard to bring back. Once a deal has momentum, it is harder for either party to walk away (unless of course there is a better offer, which is the objective of a seller!).
Transparency and trustworthiness is paramount to building relationships. Relationships and regular communication are critical to build deal momentum. Deal momentum is fundamental to get over the finish line.
- Removing the Emotion
The one thing that I have seen kill more deals than anything else is when one side gets overly emotional. Life sciences executives are, by definition, passionate creatures. Unfortunately, with enthusiasm often comes volatility. I have been part of numerous negotiations where one side or the other acts irrationally because they are irritated by the actions of the other side. As we don’t think it’s a good idea to squelch the passion of either side, our suggestion is to consider engaging an outside advisor to help, not only provide advice along the way, but also to provide a calm port when the deal “seas” get rough as they inevitably do.
We at Locust Walk are eager and available to help you achieve your goal of maximizing the value of your asset(s) or securing the right asset(s). If you would like to discuss how we can be of assistance, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Geoff Meyerson