Good news for junk food junkies. Hostess Brands has final approval from a bankruptcy judge to seek suitors, setting the stage for Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs to find a second life with new owners.

Hostess said in court that it’s in talks with over 100 potential buyers for its brands that have disappeared from store shelves. This once-in-a-lifetime deal-making opportunity will allow some fortunate company to snap up an iconic multi-billion dollar brand without the burden of debt or the costly labor contracts.

Because the bread business has been consolidating over the last few decades, the deal for Hostess may come down to the three major players that are left: industry leader Grupo Bimbo SA; No. 2 Flowers Foods; and good old Pepperidge Farm, which is owned by Campbell Soup Co. The competition to make a sweet deal for Hostess will be intense.

Bring On the Murder Board

If you are faced with intense deal making competition we recommend you prepare with a Murder Board: a committee of selected peers and teachers, preparing a student for oral exams by posing anticipated questions to the student and then providing a critique of the answers. This same process is now used by politicians who are preparing for debates, and we hope you will use it for preparing for key presentations. (Warren Buffett has his own version of a Murder Board: that would be his partner and vice-chairman, Charlie Munger.)

To get the most out of your Murder Board, follow this framework:

1. Assign the voices.   You probably know the people to whom you will be pitching.  For this reason, assign those people’s perspective and personas to members of your Murder Board.  This can be funny, but that’s not the point.  The real issue is that you want finance questions from the finance guy, technical questions from the tech person, and so on.  This also allows your Murder Board participants to be more focused in their listening and challenges.

2. Bucket the questions.  You need to get the questions into context.  It’s not helpful to your cause if there are just random questions.  Although that may be representative of the anticipated meeting, in rehearsal it is more helpful in developing a consistent and coherent answer if you have grouped the questions.  We recommend the inclusion of these categories of questions, but you should feel free to add and edit your categories

  • Compare and Contrast.  Questions asked for you to speak about your company in relationship to the other competitors.
  • Why.  Examples include: “Why should we hire your company?” and “Why did you choose to use that technology?”  These are intentionally challenging because the implication is that another option is better or one that the prospect prefers.  That may not be the case, but the question does challenge your approach.
  • Implementation. These are nuts and bolts questions around working together. Who?  How? When? Using what process?

3. Blind spots.  A good Murder Board member will be looking for those areas that are underrepresented or missing in your solution or presentation.  These need to be declared in the preparation so that special attention can be paid to them.

When you have done a few presentations, you will become very familiar with the areas in your business that are weak.  It may be your size, your technology, your financial strength, or other concerns.  These are your weak spots.  Your strategy is to craft airtight answers in these areas and rehearse them.  We recommend that you do the Murder Board exercise within 48-72 hours of your presentation. This gives enough time to practice and revise without so much time that you second-guess and forget.

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