PATRICK WILEY has experienced a variety of reactions when introducing himself to employees who’ve just learned that their company has been bought. “We had one guy stand up in a meeting and [tell the owner], ‘I can't believe that you've done that to me.’ He walked out and never came back,” recalls the CEO of Aldridge, an IT solutions provider that has acquired 13 small MSP businesses over the past 15 years. Conversely, the Houston-based company has retained employees from some of its first acquisitions who are thriving.
Obviously, buyers hope for the latter rather than the former. To ensure the onboarding process goes as smoothly as possible and results in an acquisition that provides maximum ROI, Wiley says, it’s important to remember the acquired company’s employees and customers did not choose you, and so the change can be a shock.
Buyers therefore need to develop a project plan that addresses how personnel, tools, and customers will be organized; assign a team to oversee it; and develop a cadence of communication to employees and customers that is well timed and well thought out.
That’s according to Michael France, managing partner and COO of coaching firm the Taylor Business Group, who adds that the plan should build on a collaborative effort that starts between the buyer’s and seller’s teams along with legal and accounting prior to the close. “It's not developed in a vacuum … because everyone's unique in what the underlying challenges are in either side of the business.”
Even with a plan, onboarding is a huge project with lots of hurdles, acknowledges Mike Fowler, CEO of Dallas-based Iconic IT, which formed with the merger of four MSP firms in 2019 and has since made other acquisitions. “First and foremost, it’s putting more work on people who are already overloaded and working hard,” he says. “Make sure you've got the staff to handle the challenge.”
Another challenge, Fowler says, is taking your high-level plan for the acquisition and following it up with a more granular one. For instance, he explains, “There are hundreds and hundreds of things to do to integrate someone into ConnectWise. And if your plan says, ‘integrate into ConnectWise,’ you have essentially failed to plan and it won't work.”
Fowler’s onboarding project plan template has more than 3,000 steps. “Not all of them are hard, but you can't skip anything.”
A third hurdle is the fact that every MSP has their own processes and clients are used to doing things a certain way, “even if it's not the best way,” Wiley says. “As humans, we hate to change. And so just even the slightest change in process … really puts a strain on the relationship of a client.”