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The Acquisition You Don't See Coming

July 21, 2014 | By Julie Ogilvie

Acquisitions can sometimes feel like a shower of falling meteors, with a flash and an explosion.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “New ideas come into this world somewhat like falling meteors, with a flash and an explosion, and perhaps somebody’s castle-roof perforated.” Acquisitions can feel like this as well. They often happen with little warning and produce a mixture of excitement and terror for those involved. The balance of positive and negative elements often determines whether or not the acquisition achieves its growth goals.

The Acquisition You Don't See ComingWe recently held two forums on the topic of aligning communications and demand in the context of an acquisition. Here are some of the common issues that surfaced (and how to address them):

We didn’t get enough (or any) advance notice.

In many organizations, the mergers and acquisitions team operates at a distance from marketing. There are many valid reasons for this, but this means that when an acquisition occurs, the marketing team has very little time to react, and its insight into the marketing aspects of the acquired company is deficient. For this reason, it’s important to prepare for the possibility of an acquisition with the same rigor as planning for a crisis. Develop a variety of acquisition scenarios (e.g. acquiring a competitor, entering a new market, being acquired) and, based on these scenarios, identify key internal players and create templates for known content needs in advance.

Sales teams were slow to get onboard.

Salespeople are on the front lines when it comes to fighting off the competition, so an acquisition can come as a shock when the hated competitor suddenly becomes a colleague, and the product that had been the subject of derision is now an integral part of the solution. A unified sales engine does not form overnight, and the communications team should prepare for an extended transition process. This involves working closely with the sales enablement team to get feedback from the field and provide support for reps’ evolving communications needs.

There's a lot of new work, but no new resources.

An acquisition places a lot of stress on marketing teams, and a common complaint is that no resources are dedicated to handling the additional workload. Existing programs and productivity suffer from neglect in an atmosphere of uncertainty. There is no magic bullet for this problem, but strong leadership can make a difference. Appoint project leads as early as possible to direct work streams and keep the productivity lag to a minimum while the details of integration are worked out. Look to agency partners to fill in the gaps during peak times.

Years have gone by, and the integration is still not complete.

Some organizations fail to fully digest their acquisitions and end up with a hodgepodge of brands that make no sense to the market and are expensive to support. Sometimes the failure to fully integrate shows itself through bitter internal politics. These problems won’t just disappear over time. It’s never to late to address them, but it takes a concerted change management effort. Help senior leaders understand the impact and what issues need to be addressed.

Julie Ogilvie

Julie Ogilvie is a Senior Research Director of Strategic Communications Management at SiriusDecisions. She has held a variety of leadership roles in marketing and communications in her 20+ year career, for both B2B and B2C companies. Follow her on Twitter at @julieogilvie.

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