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M&A pipeline management: strategies, resources, and tools

blue and red pipes running across a wide open field

Like many capital markets organizations, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) teams must manage complex, sophisticated deals over long timespans. M&A pipeline management, by necessity, can require a lot of work on the part of deal teams—unless you have the right tools.

Many firms are stuck managing an M&A pipeline with inefficient workflows, manual processes, and legacy mergerware and technology—and it’s causing them to lose deals. A technology-focused pipeline management solution that builds off of the best M&A software platforms that helps your deal team better manage their M&A pipeline and deal flow gives your investment banking firm a competitive edge. 

Read on for a better understanding of M&A deal stages, ways to improve your current pipeline management, and actionable tips and best practices for managing your M&A pipeline and deal flow. 

What is M&A pipeline management?

“Mergers” and “acquisitions” are terms that are often used to mean the same thing—but the process behind each is unique. A merger is when two different companies agree to come together as a combined entity. An acquisition is when one company takes over or buys out another company and institutes itself as the new owner. Though they’re unique deal types, the relationships, activities, and financial transactions required for both mergers and acquisitions are prolonged and complicated, and pipeline management is critical.

M&A deals involve a standardized series of steps or stages, and “pipeline” refers to the sequence of events. For most deal teams, pipeline starts with deal sourcing, moves to acquisition strategy and planning, then goes on to negotiations, due diligence, and finally, a closed deal and integration. A well-managed M&A pipeline—and good M&A project management—accelerates this complex process while giving every member of the M&A deal team a good understanding of what stage each deal is in at any given time.

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What are the stages of M&A pipeline management?

Managing an M&A pipeline can feel like a juggling act. There are many steps in the workflow, and most deal teams are managing many deals simultaneously. The most efficient teams establish standard workflows and M&A processes—and they use pipeline management software to make sure everyone is following them.

Here are some of the most common pipeline stages for M&A deals:

  • Deal sourcing or deal origination. The M&A deal lifecycle begins with sourcing. Here you identify targets for acquisition based on clearly defined criteria. It’s critical that acquirers think through standards like strategic fit, competition, and financial performance at this stage before building the target list.
  • Connecting with the seller. This is a crucial relationship-building stage—and where M&A dealmakers need to get preliminary information from the prospect before moving forward.
  • Analysis (also known as desk study). At this stage, M&A deal teams collect further information on suitable targets from publicly available real-time metrics and data sources. This research is done before an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) is established.
  • Due diligence. The due diligence stage begins with an NDA in place. Deal teams ask targets for confidential information in order to uncover any potential challenges before the deal moves any further along. The due diligence process is where M&A pipeline management software with secure virtual data rooms (VDRs) really comes in handy.
  • Transaction. If due diligence doesn’t turn up any major hurdles, and after any identified problems have been solved, the M&A deal team moves forward with the purchase agreement and financial transaction.
  • Closing. Both parties close the deal after the purchase agreement has been finalized. At this stage, the documents are signed.
  • Integration. In M&A transactions, closing isn’t the end of the road. Now it’s time to integrate the companies into one entity.

While each investment banking firm’s M&A workflow, deal management, and paths to deal closes will be unique, it’s important to establish beginning and ending points for each stage so it’s clear when a deal is ready to move to the next step.

Common difficulties managing M&A deal flow & pipelines

Managing your M&A pipeline may still come with challenges. The most commonly reported difficulties around managing M&A pipelines are:

  • Task management: Assigning, managing, and tracking tasks across pipeline stages.
  • Deal tracking: Staying up to date on where each deal sits in the deal process.
  • Keeping tabs on communications across channels: With conversations happening remotely across email, phone calls, social media, and Zoom, combined with in-person meetings, most M&A dealmakers rely on manual data entry and some kind of CRM to keep track of it all—and this process is ripe for human error.

How to build your M&A pipeline

Managing your M&A pipeline is critical to dealmaking. Once you’ve established your basic workflow and standardized the pipeline stages across your team, how do you use your newfound M&A funnel efficiency to keep a pulse on what’s happening across your organization and accelerate deal flow?

 

Don’t let relationships fall through the cracks

M&A deals are complex and long-term, and it’s easy for deal team members to lose track of key relationships across the many deals they’re managing. Use a modern CRM to keep tabs on all the players—from buyers to sellers, and from stakeholders to peers—and stay in contact consistently and thoughtfully. A good pipeline management software solution for M&A will include robust CRM features to make this much easier for deal teams to manage.

turning your CRM data into relationship intelligence - download our guide

Modern M&A software like Affinity adds automation functionality to help your team members keep up with this task. Affinity highlights at-risk relationships, so you can create smart tags and notes for any contact or company. Affinity will also remind you if you forget to reply to a contact’s message, or if one of your contacts hasn’t replied to you yet.

 

Automate data entry

Only 46% of sales reps say their pipeline is accurate and dependable. One big reason is that most pipeline management software and CRM solutions require users to input all data manually. Considering all of the contacts, companies, and activities involved in a typical M&A deal, this is a recipe for forgotten data entry, mis-keyed details, and huge gaps in critical information. Put simply, manual data entry invites human error.

Automated data capture is a key feature for dealmakers today, and streamlines almost every part of the M&A deal process. When data is automatically captured from emails, calendars, and public sources, it dramatically reduces errors and gaps in the data. It also saves your entire deal team huge amounts of time—hundreds of hours per person, per year. And when your deal team saves time on manual data entry, they can then spend that time building relationships and filling the pipeline with quality deals.

Software M&A deal teams use to manage deal pipelines

M&A deal pipeline and workflows are complex, it’s true. Where things get really complicated with M&A pipeline management, however, is managing the vast amounts of data. Most deal teams choose either spreadsheets or CRM software to keep tabs on contacts, companies, and activities. 

 

Spreadsheets

M&A teams—especially those in smaller or newer investment banking firms—often turn to spreadsheets to manage pipeline and deal flow. It’s natural to think of Excel or Google Sheets when you need to track contact and activity data. And considering how inefficient most traditional CRM tools are, managing a spreadsheet can seem like an easier way to do things.

When learning how to manage your M&A pipeline, you may have been taught that a spreadsheet is the right tool for the job. But while spreadsheets are great for crunching numbers, they’re not so great for building relationships and understanding the synergies among them. A spreadsheet requires manual data entry, which leaves room for missed details and incorrect information. When all of your team members are using their own spreadsheets, it silos deal data throughout your organization, too. 

Collaboration becomes impossible when your deal team isn’t working off the same data on the same platform. Finally, spreadsheets don’t work well with M&A workflows. You’ll spend too much time and energy switching back and forth from your email to your spreadsheet to your calendar.

 

CRMs

Most capital markets professionals, from venture capital to private equity to investment banking, are familiar with CRM software. SaaS solutions like Salesforce, Navatar, and 4Degrees make it easier to track and manage contacts and activity across the M&A pipeline—but unfortunately, most of these legacy CRMs also require manual data entry.

This is the difference between traditional, transactional CRMs made for linear sales processes, and CRMs built for M&A. A CRM designed for the M&A deal process, like Affinity, works seamlessly with relationship-driven interactions that support investment banking mandates. Affinity automates data capture and simplifies M&A pipeline management workflow. And Affinity’s relationship intelligence technology does so much more to help M&A deal teams meet the challenge of long-term dealmaking:

  • Capture a complete historical view of communication and activity to surface your team’s interactions with a contact or a company and ensure consolidation of the information.
  • Instantly calculate relationship strength with Affinity’s patented, AI-driven algorithm.
  • Create custom lists of relevant connections by location, industry, and investment stage.
  • Set smart triggers and reminders so nothing falls through the cracks.

How leading M&A professionals manage pipeline and deal flow

Now that you’ve discovered the secrets of modern M&A professionals and how they manage their pipeline in this guide to using relationship intelligence to support M&A pipeline management, it’s time to abandon spreadsheets and manual data entry for good. Managing your M&A pipeline shouldn’t require hundreds of hours of pounding the keyboard—quality M&A deals are driven by relationships, not data entry.

Talk to an Affinity sales team member today and learn how a relationship intelligence CRM can keep your investment banking firm and your corporate development teams ahead of the competition.

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