Unless the offer is made in person by the head of a company or via someone you know well, ask the intermediary the following:
♦ What his/her title and authority is
♦ Whether this is part of his/her everyday role
♦ Whether he/she is on some special assignment
♦ Whether he/she is part of some brokers
♦ Who he/she is reporting to
You could ask whether the possible purchase is being made on behalf of a company or a parent or associate, but at this stage you are unlikely to be told or even recognize the truth. Get rid of the intermediary a soon as you can and check his credentials.
It often happens that you know the person or his company already. Perhaps you play golf with them or have already done business. Even so, still treat him in the same detached, inquiring, and highly professional manner. Remember that this isn't a round of golf. It's the endgame of all endgames. And you are playing for everything you have worked so hard to build up.
If you know anyone who works for the company you may be able to get some background about the tentative purchaser. Another good source of information is the trade press. If you are not satisfied, trust your instincts and have nothing more to do with a deal. However, if it all seems straightforward, write directly to the CEO and ask for written confirmation that they are seriously considering an acquisition and that the person to whom you have spoken has been entrusted with negotiations. If you consider that their representative is insufficiently senior or that the chemistry is wrong, write back explaining that you are only going to feel comfortable exploring possibilities with a more appropriate person. It is in both sides' interest to make sure that you are dealing with a person as high up in the hierarchy as possible bearing in mind the scale of the takeover. If you deal with too low a person, he won't have any real influence. Negotiations will hiccup along as the intermediary takes time to get a yes or a no.
Note Don't be afraid of upsetting the other company's head man. Any CEO worth his salt will not be put off by a tough nut. Tough nuts are a challenge. What a good CEO fears is a fool. Nobody can make money with fools.
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