4 Ways Buffett Overcomes Deal Bumps
“The roads of business are riddled with potholes; a plan that requires dodging them all is a plan for disaster,” says Warren Buffett.
A case in point that we discuss in our new book, “How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett” (www.closelikebuffett), happened in 2003. Thanks to a tip from some MBA students that visited him, Buffett acquired the manufactured housing company Clayton Homes for $1.7 billion (or $12.50 per share). The numbers were great. Clayton operated 32 manufacturing plants in 12 states, and its homes were marketed in 48 states through a network of 1,540 retailers, 391 of which were company-owned sales centers.
But the deal was not as smooth as aluminum siding, and Buffett had to work hard to clear the deal path. The deal quickly led to shareholder litigation that alleged “self-dealing, abusive control and lack of candor.” Despite the fact that the manufactured home industry was in one of the worst slumps in decades and Buffett’s acquisition price was 12.3 percent higher than the Clayton Homes share price at the time, there were still issues.
Perhaps Buffett’s reputation for value investing was the reason behind the shareholders’ hand-wringing. One opponent said that the fact that Buffett had made an offer was proof enough that it was a low-ball bid.
Buffett went to work winning over a shareholder vote. The Clayton Homes deal eventually received shareholder approval, but by a slim margin of 52.3 percent.
Create Tools to Clear the Deal Path
Buffett is by no means the only person who has had to face resistance to a new and truly beneficial deal. Plenty of times when you are selling a deal, the receiving company has some resistors in the ranks. Here are some ways to anticipate and overcome your opponents:
1. Why matters. When you are making a change that has the smallest amount of impact to people in a company, they are going to want to understand why. Change the scale of the impact, and the need to know “why” goes up exponentially. If you work through the language and narrative of the answer to this question for all of those touched by the deal, you will save time answering the challenges later.
2. Give your supporters the tools to win. Be sure you give your deal prospects tools that they can use to defend their decision later. A major part of prospects’ fear of commitment is the conversation that’s going on in their heads during the entire process.
The problem is, prospects don’t make deals just because they believe in the product or service. “Yes, I see what you’re saying, and I believe it, but So-and-So just won’t buy it.”
What prospects do make deals on is what they can sell and defend later.
3. Provide a schedule and safety indicators. If you have consistently performed on or ahead of schedule in similar projects, you should develop a tool that will let you show this. A chart with a list of similar projects, scheduled delivery dates, and actual delivery dates will work. If you are a construction company and you can also include a large number of days without injury or other delay, that would be useful, too.
4. Show your logistics work. Another tool is a visual illustrating your unique logistics system and showing the time spent on each step. Maybe your raw materials are close to your location and can be accessed quickly. If that’s the case, play up that point because few companies have that advantage.
When you create tools, you give the prospect the chance to step right up and say, “Yes, I can tell you why I picked this vendor. Let me show you. Have you ever seen anything so organized and good for us?” This is exactly the discussion you want to facilitate.