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One of the ways companies grow is by acquiring other companies. In 2016, Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO at Gallup, pointed out the number of publicly traded companies on the New York Stock Exchange had dropped from 7,300 in 1996 to 3,700 in 2016. Today that number is closer to 2,800. The 60% decrease in publicly traded companies over the last 25 years means that, even in a private company, you may need to respond to a past or pending merger in a proposal.
In response to a merger or acquisition, proposal professionals at both organizations must:
- Respond to questions about the merger in your proposals
- Write fresh content for new or additional products and services
- Design new templates and proposal graphics in response to changing company branding: name, logos, signage and color schemes
- Identify new subject-area experts as roles within the new company change
- Develop relationships with and set expectations for new sales teams
Without a sound plan for addressing every aspect of a merger or acquisition directly and indirectly in a proposal, you risk losing. Competitors will use a merger against you in a competitive bid situation by positioning themselves as financially stable and growth oriented. They will also highlight the longevity of their project team personnel and minimal employee churn companywide. Competitors may even use their independence from another company other than their parent as a differentiator.
How do you manage the proposal process and continue to win business throughout a company merger? Read on for some helpful strategies.
1. Strategize upfront, as soon as the merger is announced.
As soon as the merger is announced internally, start developing a proposal response strategy. You may be restricted on what, if anything, you can say legally about a pending acquisition or merger in a proposal. You can, however, address the merger indirectly and proactively in every proposal.
Develop a five-paragraph write up addressing each of these issues. Each paragraph should directly address every potential merger-related objection a prospective client may have, or a potential weakness a competitor may exploit. For example, to overcome objections about financial stability, you may want to highlight your Dun & Bradstreet or other agency credit rating and how it has not changed for a certain number of years. For situations where there could be a perceived conflict of interest between your organization and the one you are merging with, highlight the laws and regulations that effectively create a firewall between you.
My first proposal writing position was at Merck-Medco Managed Care, a wholly owned subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc. Every RFP had the same question: Please disclose any potential conflicts of interest between your organization and your parent company, and the same response: Federal regulations forbade Medco from promoting Merck’s drugs over any other manufacturer’s products.
By proactively developing responses to merger-related issues your competitors may exploit, you will be better prepared to respond to those questions when they appear in an RFP.
2. Find synergies between each company’s products and services.
Even if your companies offer the same essential products and services, there will still be minor differences: A product’s warranty could be longer or shorter, or the account management procedures could be different. Set yourself up for success by gathering data on the specific products or services each company offers.
First, set up a master folder called “NewCo” in your proposal database. In that folder, create subfolders for the different products and services the company you are merging with offers. Spend a few minutes a day adding information to this folder. This information can include brochures, links to product sites, specification sheets, old proposals — whatever you think will be useful to highlight in proposals. Specifically look for, and point out indirectly, synergies between products and services. Make plans after the merger closes to connect with subject-area experts in the new organization to gather additional information.
As a proposal development manager for Tyco International as it was merging with Johnson Controls in 2016, my team made sure every fire alarm installation proposal highlighted how Tyco’s Simplex brand of fire alarm systems could be seamlessly connected to building automation and HVAC systems such as the York chillers manufactured by Johnson Controls.
By learning all you can about the new company’s systems and highlighting the advantages of each company’s solution, you reassure clients that they are not losing anything and that, in fact, the merger is a win for them because they will have access to new products and capabilities.
3. Reassure your clients that only the name is changing.
When a company is merging, proposals must reassure existing clients that only the name on the door is changing, not the quality of their service. Take advantage of the RFP process to instill confidence in your customers that only the company name is changing. Wherever possible, highlight that the same personnel will continue to service the account. Mention that call centers will remain open 24/7/365. Offer established clients a toll-free number or a single point of contact to call with questions before, during and after the merger closes. Use the RFP to make future-focused recommendations and highlight plans to improve the customer’s infrastructure. Clients will believe in the stability of a company that, even when it is merging, is not afraid to make long-term plans for critical improvements.
4. Connect with your future colleagues.
One of the most difficult parts of a merger process is when subject-area experts unexpectedly leave the company or are unable to assist because their job duties have changed because of the merger.
I was literally in the middle of a proposal once when the chief product engineer in charge of service delivery was let go in a merger-related redundancy layoff. The bid was due in a few days, exceptional service delivery was a key proposal theme, and I had minimal data on the topic. I ultimately did get the data I needed, and the bid was submitted on time, but I could have saved myself a lot of trouble — and my Apple Watch the perception I was having a heart attack based on my high pulse rate — if I had taken the time to get to know who the equivalent SMEs in the new organization were.
Save your heart rate by asking for an organization chart of the company you are merging with and developing an updated SME list with contact information. If you cannot access their contact information immediately, use tools such as LinkedIn and ZoomInfo to collect, at the minimum, email addresses. Store this information and update it after the merger closes. That way you will not be caught short if you lose an SME.
It is equally important to learn about the sales teams you will be working with. Use the same approach of tracking down sales leaders in the new company via LinkedIn or ZoomInfo. Invite them to connect with you on social media. Take notes on their strengths, key wins, etc. Use this information to build a rapport with your new sales teams so you can work together more effectively when proposals for the merged company start rolling in.
5. Collaborate across boundaries to rebrand and recreate.
Proposals must address mergers proactively, but so must legal and marketing departments. New contract language must be developed. Merger-related legal statements must be drafted and approved. A new company, or newly merged company, requires new branding, logos, graphics and templates. Take advantage of the merger process to build relationships with your existing and new legal and marketing teams. Offer to collaborate on common proposal deliverables that can benefit these departments, such as template and graphic development, contract language suggestions and responses to common legal questions such as the ubiquitous “please list any lawsuits” requirement that appears in almost every RFP. In this case, you can be the subject-area expert. You know your clients, and you know the types of contracts they present. You also know what graphics are needed and what colors render best on print and in PDF format.
Schedule separate meetings with your legal and marketing teams. Offer the resources you have and a designated individual from your team to assist them in dealing with the merger and developing their standard materials. Not only will you be able to influence the development of proposal-friendly materials, but you will establish a cross-functional team to ensure timely support for future proposals.
Mergers are never easy on an organization, whether both organizations go into the merger as equals, one company is the acquirer or if you work for the acquiree. By using these strategies, you will make managing proposals through a merger less stressful and be able to continue to maintain your win rate and, potentially, win even more business.
Cristina M. Miller, CP APMP, is a proposal team leader and editor typically found with a cup of coffee in one hand and a dog-eared RFP in the other. She manages commercial bids for mid-to-large sized businesses and lives in New England with her husband, son and two (former) rescue dogs.