Within the decision to sell are many, many smaller decisions. Key among them is determining what exactly you want to achieve. Bryan Hollenbach, executive vice president of Green Bay Packaging, Inc., says it’s critical for business owners to define their sale objective.

“I can't overstate that,” Hollenbach says. “What do they want out of the process?”

Owners’ chief goals could be to get the most money out of a deal, preserve their legacy, ensure their employees’ future or their family members' future with the business is secure, and whether or not (and to what degree) the owner wants to have an ongoing active role in the company.

“That really needs to be defined,” he says. “If that's not defined, it can really lead to failure.”

Hollenbach has seen up close the consequences of the failure to define a sale objective. He says Green Bay Packaging was very close to acquiring a company years back. Through negotiations, it was clear Green Bay was made clear that taking care of the target company’s employees was important. The owner also wanted the name of the business kept the same, and wanted to stay active with the company. Two weeks before closing, the target company was offered more money by another acquirer, and decided to sell for a higher dollar amount. While the owner got more money, the acquiring company changed the business’s name and made reductions to the workforce.

“That previous owner wasn't too happy with the process, but the failure there was he had not defined his objective — what did he really want?,” Hollenbach says. “Did he want the most money? Or did he want to have a legacy? Or some combination of both? And that leads you to what type of potential buyer you're going to sell to.”

Similarly, it’s important, when multiple stakeholders have ownership, to talk with and be clear about the desire to sell, and ensure buy-in, well before going to market.

“You got to bring them into the process very early on,” Hollenbach says, “before you actually start putting it out for bid so that you're all aligned.”

In another example, Hollenbach says he attended a presentation by a majority owner at which it became clear, after a few questions and answers, that the minority owners not only didn't know about the potential sale of the company, they didn’t seem to be for it.

“That's an obvious watch-out for a potential acquirer of a company,” he says. “So, my recommendation is you bring those stakeholders in very early and you just have to have a honest conversation with them and be clear on what your objective is.”

At the recent Milwaukee Smart Business Dealmakers Conference, Hollenbach spoke along with John Kvamme, senior vice president & wealth advisor at Associated Bank, and Steven Szymanski, shareholder at von Briesen & Roper, about the steps business owners should take before selling their company. Hit play on the video above to catch the full conversation.