As a company is contemplating going to market, they’ll need to craft their story. It encompasses who they are, what they do, their strategy, and more. It’s often a company’s first impression in front of potential buyers, so it needs to make a positive impact.

“It's a critical, if not the most critical element,” says Timber Creek Resource President Steve Everett. “It's easy to talk about deals and talk about the numbers, but the reality is the numbers often come later.”

It’s natural to be intrigued by a story, so story crafting for the business by the management team and the ownership means creating alignment around what the business is currently but also its trajectory.

“Buyers are buying the future,” Everett says, so business leaders heading toward a sale need to paint the picture and provide a vision that buyers can wrap their arms around and believe is achievable.

“It's that process early on that's going to engage the most number of buyers, which is frankly going to be to the seller's benefit as the process evolves and you get to those more numbers-based discussions,” he says.

Story crafting begins well ahead of a sale process, according to James Rubright, vice president and CFO of TIDI Products.

“If it hasn't started already, it needs to start right now,” Rubright says. “You have very little time, relatively speaking, in front of a potential buyer to describe the company and to tell the story.”

Ideally, the company’s story is already ingrained in the culture — it's not an event that the management or leadership team needs to undertake. That’s important because a transaction introduces an element of chaos to an organization as efforts and focus shifts to the process, so the last thing business leaders want to do is try to figure out that story while going through a transaction.

Robert Macklin, a partner at Epiphany Law (now part of Davis|Kuelthau), points out that buyers are typically considering a high volume of deals at any given time, so distinguishing your company through the story is essential.

“We might have a list of 50 to 60 active targets at any given time in various stages of deals,” Macklin says, which could be anywhere from on the radar to actively engaged. “To the extent that those targets actually have a story that you can remember when you gather around the table once a month with your corporate development team, you'll remember those companies that have great stories, that have those great brands, that are tight on their strategy,” he says. “As a seller, that moves you to the top of the buyers list, and that creates excitement.”

At this year's Milwaukee Smart Business Dealmakers Conference, Macklin, Rubright, Everett and Wipfli Managing Director Paul Ouweneel talked about ways to strengthen the foundation of your business by addressing common challenges faced by companies looking to sell. Hit play on the video above to catch the full conversation.