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7 Secrets to Keep Your Acquisition from Going Over the Cliff

by | Bank Acquisitions

7secretsSo you’ve decided to acquire another bank. For nearly 25 years, I’ve been giving the same advice about acquisitions: DON’T DO IT.

I’ve had good reason to give that advice. Many banks try to solve their inadequacy of systems, education, and strategies by acquiring. And many banks are poised to do exactly that this year. So now you’re going to get a finger-wagging lecture from me, right?

Not necessarily. If you have your house in order, this could be the year for a few great acquisitions. The blue light specials are going to be plentiful in 2013, and a few could actually be good strategic moves.

Did I just say that? It looks like I did. But, notice the crucial IF statement, and don’t even think about making an acquisition if your own house is in a shambles. Problems only compound when the scale gets bigger.

If you didn’t know how to systematically achieve organic growth before, an acquisition will make that worse. Don’t think for a minute that you’re the exception to that rule.

If you don’t have a system to assure a great culture, the “us-vs.-them” games will multiply. The passive-aggressive CYA strategies will get refined to the point that “big company disease” will rob your ability to get any financial benefit out of the acquisition turned nightmare.

This doesn’t just happen once in a while. Three overview studies in the Strategic Management Journal show that acquisitions fail to increase value an astonishing 70-80 percent of the time. Do you really think you’re immune to those numbers?

No one is immune. But you can increase your odds of landing in the success column if you keep a few basic principles in mind.

Don’t think that the primary job of an acquisition is to align products and MCIF systems. You have to do that, but that’s just one little piece of making an acquisition successful—and the least significant piece at that.

Here are three much more critical areas that can reduce the potential for a breakdown if you think them through carefully:

1)   Create power-packed strategies to keep ALL of the best customers

In an acquisition, customers and employees are what you are really buying. So how do most acquiring banks go about “buying” their new customers, convincing them to stay aboard? One little letter saying, “We’re nice people, let’s all stay together” isn’t the most impressive strategy for getting customers to stay with you and become raving fans and evangelists, now is it?

But that’s what most banks do. And it’s not nearly enough.

So how do you know the biggest concerns of these new customers? How can you speak to those concerns, create killer unique selling propositions around them, and get those articulated to them, so they see tangible evidence that life is going to be infinitely better under your leadership?  If you don’t have them at “hello,” you’ll probably be hearing some “goodbyes.”

2)   Build an ongoing kiss-‘em-on–the-lips-until-they-chap plan to make sure the honeymoon lasts

Since the number one reason people leave their banks is indifference after the sale, imagine how much indifference they experience if they feel abandoned by “their bank”—and now these strangers come along. They don’t trust you because they may assume the worst.

It takes some time to build reputational equity…and goodness, you better be investing that time.

Well-executed strategies are imperative. Think about these: What’s your Top 100 strategy? Your Top 1000 strategy? Your center of influence strategy? Your blitz strategy? Your first 90-day strategy? Your segmentation plan? Your plan to fully own each client? Your referral plan? Well, this could go on forever…but you better have laid out a number of strategies to make sure you actually get something for your money AND that you have a step-by-step implementation process to make sure this thing called acquisition doesn’t go boom in the night.

3)   Stop the “us-vs.-them,” two-year, profit-sucking conversation immediately

Remember the campaign mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid”? Well, in this case, it’s the people, silly.

After helping a multitude of banks make acquisitions, all of which, (yup, 100 percent) turned out to be a great ROI, let me assure you that the predictable demon that robs from your dream of an acquisition being a good ROI is the finger-pointing, victim laden, those-people-over-there-are-stupid culture that will happen every time without a massive strategy in place—and an equally massive execution of that strategy.

Whenever you have an acquisition, the executives of the acquiring bank immediately think their IQ just went up 10 points, while the acquired lost those same 10 points.

Because the acquired executive team and managers feel talked down to and unloved, they begin a “stick-it-to-the-man” rallying cry. In front of their employees, they begin to describe the acquiring team as the “evil empire” or the “ivory tower” to explain why they themselves are powerless and helpless.

Of course, the employees jump aboard that bandwagon quickly, and resentments build. Instead of people picking up the phone and suggesting improvements, they complain endlessly about the “idiots over at corporate.”

Reading that probably brings back some unhappy memories if you still have the scar tissue of an acquisition.

It’s real. And it happens almost every time.

That’s why your strategies MUST include a well-thought-out strategy of how to engage the executives (while probably asking a few to leave and demoting a few others), how to get them welcomed to the new team and feel inspired to add value, how to get the right people in the right slots to avoid costly mistakes, and most important, how to get all of the team on the happy bus and embroidering your logo on their pillowcases.

Tricky things. And you aren’t allowed too many mistakes because remember; they’re laying for you and looking for the mistakes so they can prove they are, in fact, much smarter than you are.

If you don’t get them to love you in the first two weeks after the acquisition and to understand there will be zero tolerance of “us-vs.-them” under any circumstances—well, bless your heart. Still, you’ve got two really miserable years ahead of you, and there’s almost no fixing it without massive intervention.

Culture is the leading predictor of future growth and profitability, and now you have a much larger organization to scatter your energy; you’ve lowered your capital ratio, so you have more risk at the very moment new legislation is requiring much higher capital, and you now have many more people wandering aimlessly with no idea how to get organic growth and premium pricing. So the problem just compounded.

No worries. It doesn’t have to be ugly. You just need to get your own house in order quickly. It’s really not that hard, but you have to get it right the first time. The three principles outlined above will put you in the right frame of mind. Now it’s time for the seven secrets that all successful acquirers know.

Even these won’t guarantee a slam dunk. But following this time-tested checklist will reduce your chances of an acquisition debacle.

7 Secrets for a Successful Acquisition

1)   Have your systems in order.

Do you have well-defined and high-functioning systems for all key business processes? For example: Do you have an impeccable proven process checklist for hiring a branch manager? What is the job performance progress plan for a “hunter” type commercial lender? How is the weighted sales funnel coached to each week, and what levers get pulled if it doesn’t match closed business?

2)   Create a plan to get it right the first time by putting executive team members in the right slots.

What testing do you use to get everyone reallocated to the slots where they are most likely to win and add value? What did your human capital audit reveal about the weaknesses of your current executive team that can be shored up through this acquisition? How will you deal with those demoted or released and the emotions of those remaining? Take this time to get the right people in the right slots throughout the organization in alignment with their emotional intelligence.

3)   Build your iron-clad plan to “wow” their customers at hello and make each of them more profitable relationships within six months.

4)   Plan your kick-off to make sure team members drink the Kool-Aid and fall in love. Not in like…IN LOVE!!!

5)   Assess culture before and after to make sure you don’t get surprised by looming problems. You can get the complete Breakthrough Banking High-Performance Preparedness Program™  by clicking here.

6)   Build a sequenced plan for the performance-improving limbo dance. Raise the bar every week on expectations, and have a celebration process with every win to build confidence and bring them to ever-higher levels of performance.

7) Create your “celebration to accountability” plan to make sure you build confidence and get control of results during your first 90-day window.

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