Notes from a CMO: integrating acquisitions into your marketing plans

Here’s what you’ll want to know if you’re involved in one of the record numbers of M&As expected around the world this year.

Having seen deals up close from both sides, Ashley Estilette, CMO at Mitratech, explains how the marketing team should be stakeholders in the process…

The global mergers and acquisitions (M&A) markets are positioned for another record-setting year. After an unprecedented 24% jump in the number of announced deals globally between 2020-2021, a recent Deloitte M&A Trends survey confirmed that 92% of respondents expect deal volume to stay the same or increase over the next 12 months.

And when you think about this from a value-add perspective, it makes a lot of sense. Mergers and acquisitions offer companies the unique opportunity to expand their services and capabilities, increasing shareholder value while evolving the customer experience with new features and integrated solutions. Plus, it's a consolidation story right now; more customers want to simplify their day-to-day and remove unnecessary complexity from their environments with a single partner.

I've overseen four acquisitions and a product rebrand during my tenure as Chief Marketing Officer at a tech company, but also been on both sides of acquisitions numerous times throughout my career. If there's one thing I can say for certain, it's that a successful M&A process focuses more heavily on integration and collaboration than it does on rapid growth. 

While the public perspective points to expanded market share and/or an exciting new customer base, the internal mission is so much more. It's to strategically blend your company's resources, roadmap and objectives – your brand – with the right company to deliver more value to your customers, employees and partners than you ever could have on your own. 

With a strong foundation and the right M&A execution strategy in place, there's no limit to the innovation you can unlock when you get a team of experts marching in the same direction. Here's what that process can look like from a marketing perspective.

Get the right stakeholders involved early and often 

The key here is the RIGHT stakeholders; it's often not who you think.

Once you have shareholder buy-in and the management team is confident the acquisition will move forward, it's time to get your dream team together from relevant departments – HR, finance, customer success, IT, marketing etc. The goal of your meetings will be to outline key partnership details, objectives, action items, deadlines, and KPIs so that everyone is on the same page from day one.

Not every company remembers to involve marketing this early in the process – there's an old-school perception that marketing just brings in leads (yikes). But it's critical in M&A to remember that your marketing team is the heartbeat of your brand voice and identity. Knowing that the early M&A game is more about integration and communication, marketing should be looped in from the get-go to start conceptualizing this newly-conjoined company's positionality in the market. This typically involves building a MarCom strategy across both companies that includes a clear value message to customers and the market (it's always about the "why"!), a plan for short- and long-term website migrations, tools for equipping go-to-market teams with topline messaging on Day 1, plans merging event schedules.... the list goes on!

Though the obvious focus may veer towards financial targets and legal procedures, the successful convergence of your organization's brands and cultures will go a long way in driving customer and employee retention.

Develop a robust communications strategy 

A lot can happen behind closed doors during the initial stages of a merger or acquisition; decisions are made on new team structures, policies shift, and roadmaps are revisited. Employees at every business level should have access to this kind of insight and feel empowered to share information with their teams or approach leadership with questions. Equally important, the entire enterprise must know which information can be made public, to whom, and when, to avoid an unwanted press leak or compliance concern.

Marketing should strategically partner with the executive leadership of both companies to develop a rigorous internal communications plan, including dates of important public announcements, key messaging for customer-facing assets, and, most importantly, your leadership's vision for the conjoined company. When Ecolab acquired water technology company Nalco in 2011, CEO Douglas Baker Jr vocalized the organization's mission to raise awareness of global issues. Now one of the world's leading hardware, software, and chemistry suppliers, Ecolab's journey to one of America's top 100 most valuable firms started with a vision to help manufacturers and service firms become more efficient water users. 

The next step is to develop your conjoined brand’s external communications strategy, which involves partnering with sales on the messaging and positioning of this deal for clients. How has your product or service been enhanced? What can they expect regarding price, features, or use case updates, now and in the future? At this stage in the M&A journey, it's time to start thinking through some creative ways that your company can support customers during this transition, from hosting hands-on workshops to immersive webinars. 

Stay ready to pivot 

You never know what you will discover about your company or product during the M&A process, and it's essential to remain agile and innovative. Take Google, for example – a behemoth of a company that has acquired over 200 subsidiaries since its founding. Just this month, Google's executive leadership demoed new features that indicate their intentions to once again break into the e-commerce market, a space that's predicted to be worth $2.27tr by 2025. The goal here is not to directly outcompete big-name e-comm players like Amazon, but to constantly upgrade Google's services in innovative new ways that align with the evolving needs of its customer base. 

Remember: the clients that stay with you through a merger or acquisition value your ability to co-innovate. To honor that relationship, it's ideal to keep your roadmaps customer-led, relying on user groups, steering calls, and open product requests to dictate the future features they want and need.

When in doubt, focus on building trust

The merger and acquisition processes are inherently bumpy, and establishing a high-trust environment for both companies begins with bi-directional transparency and empathy. Things aren't always perfect, and it's vital to over-communicate as plans shift. 

The benefit of maintaining open lines of communication – both inter-departmentally and between companies – is two-fold: you demonstrate a united front to the market, and you see higher returns on innovation. A trusting environment where employees feel safe and empowered to take risks will always see its ideas executed more quickly. And when you have that trust and innovation locked into place, you're on your way to developing real market traction and resiliency.