Change, even if it’s a change for the better, can create stress, and there are few changes bigger in the business world than mergers and acquisitions. Throughout M&A activity, you may be focused on the business aspects of your deal, but it’s also important to carefully consider how the change will impact two vital groups of people: your customers and your employees.
Jeff Ton, SVP of Product Development and Strategic Alliances for InterVision, says the most important thing you can do to ensure a smooth transition during a merger or acquisition is to plan. Earlier this year, InterVision acquired Bluelock to expand its Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings. Ton, formerly of Bluelock, says a key is getting your marketing department involved early — in fact, as soon as you are able to disclose information about the deal to anyone, talk to marketing first.
“Our marketing team helped us develop messaging for external and internal communication,” Ton says. If you can think through what people’s concerns will be in advance and be prepared to answer their questions, you can set the tone for the entire process and make it easier to execute. “Marketing drove that. If you don’t have an in-house marketing department, hire someone to help you through it,” he advises.
How to Communicate with Customers
Once your customers are aware that a merger or acquisition will take place, they are sure to have questions for you. Be ready with an explanation of how the deal will benefit them and the changes, if any, that they can expect. Ton says it helps to put yourself in a customer’s shoes and imagine what their concerns would be, such as whether products will still be available or service delivery would change. Share those points with the marketing department to help prepare talk tracks for your sales team to help them address concerns with customers. “It’s not a script,” says Ton. “It just helps them be prepared to respond to questions and think through what they’ll say.”
Ton says Bluelock managers reached out with a personal phone call to its major clients prior to the announcement, to explain the benefits of the acquisition. The company also evaluated its customer list to identify those who could be at risk and proactively reached out to them. “It helps to just communicate your plan and address their concerns,” Ton says. “One customer was concerned about not being able to work with the same people. We had already thought that through and told them their reps would still be in place. We were able to allay their fears by just communicating our plan.”
Preparing to Make the Announcement to Employees
When making the announcement internally, Ton says, above all, you have to be ready to answer one question: “What about me?” “It’s the first thing employees will want to know,” he says.
Bluelock chose to address all employees at once in a company meeting, in which the CEO used a slide deck prepared by the marketing department. Afterward, each executive had a meeting with their teams to address their questions and concerns.
Ton also advises transparency when discussing what the merger or acquisition will mean to your organization. “We didn’t make changes to our staff, but whether or not you’re eliminating employees, you need to be upfront. You don’t want people abandoning ship,” he points out.
Shoring up Defenses against the Competition
Once the word is out, you’ll also want to keep an eye on your competition, to monitor their activity and, if necessary, defend against it. Watch for press releases and social media activity, and pay attention to competitors reaching out to your clients. “You can’t stop it,” comments Ton, “but you can be ready for it. Don’t shy away from controversy on social media. And if your clients bring up the fact that a competitor has told them things about the change, use it to your advantage to talk about the strength of your product and your business.”
He also says to stay alert for indications that recruiters are calling your employees after they’ve heard about M&A activity. “It comes down to communication,” Ton says. “It’s so important, not just once, but every single day, to talk to your employees about what’s going on and where they stand. It helps people know you’re on the right track.”
Throughout the transition, Ton took his team offsite once a week to talk about their concerns — and sometimes just to blow off steam. “It helped to have the ear of an executive and to ask questions. And if I didn’t know the answer I told them I’d get it for them. It was also good for them to know I valued their input.”
Share the Added Workload
It’s also vital to remember that a merger or acquisition adds to everyone’s workload. Ton says planning again is the key that will help you set priorities, execute tasks and keep things running. “Our mantra was ‘Don’t break Bluelock.’ No matter what changes were occurring or work we needed to do, we weren’t going to break what we built.”
To keep things running smoothly, Ton says they strategically managed change to minimize disruption and constantly took the temperature of the staff to see how they were managing with the increased workload.
At the executive level, the team worked together to share responsibilities, especially if one person was shouldering a heavy workload. “A good, cohesive team can do those things,” says Ton. “Some areas will be impacted more than others. Stay aware of that and help each other.”
A Final Word of Advice
Ton says to remember that change can be advantageous for everyone, and attitude plays a large part in achieving a smooth transition during a merger or acquisition, “On an individual level, you can learn more and gain more experience. It can be a great adventure,” he concludes.