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BATNA: What You Need to Know

I leaned out of my expansive corner office (think: cubicle) and asked my coworker Andrew about an interesting topic I had been thinking about. “Hey Andrew, do you know what BATNA stands for?” I asked. Andrew, who knows most things worth knowing, indicated that he didn’t know. This felt good, as there are very few things that I know that Andrew doesn’t. 

BATNA, which stands for “best alternative to no agreement”, is very relevant to business owners who may at some point want to sell their business. It’s a relatively simple concept with significant implications in the context of negotiations, as the strength of your negotiating position depends on what happens if the deal falls through (i.e., if there is no agreement). Put another way, your negotiating position is dependent on your "next best alternative", but I’m pretty sure the acronym NBA is already being used.

If you have 100 potential buyers lined up, you have a strong negotiating position. If the first buyer backs out of the deal, you have 99 alternatives. But if you have only one potential buyer lined up, you have a weak negotiating position. Simple, right?

BATNA is applicable to many areas of our life: buying or selling a car, negotiating the price of a house, or even choosing which Netflix show to watch. Since I specialize in valuations, let’s talk about BATNA and valuations, and more specifically, fair market value versus investment value.

Fair Market Value

The International Glossary of Business Valuation Terms defines fair market value as “the price, expressed in terms of cash equivalents, at which property would change hands between a hypothetical willing and able buyer and a hypothetical willing and able seller, acting at arm’s length in an open and unrestricted market, when neither is under compulsion to buy or sell and when both have reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.”

Think about fair market value as the price that I would pay for, for example, a Mexican restaurant. I have never owned a Mexican restaurant, but if the restaurant generates favorable returns (and favorable burritos), I may want to buy it. Fair market value is the price that a hypothetical buyer such as myself would pay for the restaurant. 

Investment Value

The International Glossary of Business Valuation Terms defines investment value as “the value to a particular investor based on individual investment requirements and expectations.”

Think about investment value as the price that the owner of a chain of Mexican restaurants would pay for a restaurant to add to their portfolio. This strategic buyer knows that because they already own a chain of restaurants, when they acquire this restaurant, they can reduce overhead, implement several successful marketing strategies, and benefit from other synergies. Because of these cost savings, the restaurant chain owner may be willing to pay more for the restaurant than fair market value (what I would be willing to pay). As this example illustrates, investment value is often higher than fair market value.

As a business owner you may conclude “Well, if investment value is higher than fair market value, I would like to sell my business for investment value.” I agree. I absolutely agree. Unfortunately, obtaining investment value is not a guaranteed thing because of… you guessed it! BATNA. 

Business owners may identify a potential strategic buyer and hope to obtain investment value in the sale. However, in reality, unless the business owner has identified a ready pool of potential strategic buyers (notice the use of the plural here), they may not be in a negotiating position to command investment value. A potential strategic buyer may realize if they are the only potential strategic buyer of a company, they aren’t competing against anybody offering more than fair market value for the business. If there isn’t any agreement, the business owner’s best alternative is to sell at fair market value. Realizing this, a strategic buyer will likely make an offer for less than investment value. 

If you are looking to sell your business, you need to put yourself in a negotiating position to command a premium above fair market value. You need to identify as many potential buyers as possible. With multiple potential strategic buyers identified, your BATNA is investment value. You will have successfully shifted the focus from a competition for your business to a competition among strategic buyers. Now, the strategic buyers will be concerned with their own BATNA, rather than yours. And that’s a good thing.

We frequently encounter clients surprised by the difficulty of commanding investment value for the sale of their business. BATNA helps explain why business owners are unable to attain investment value. 

At BerryDunn, we perform business valuations under both the investment value standard and the fair market value standard. If you have any questions about the value of your business, we would love to have a conversation. Please reach out to me or Seth Webber with any questions. 

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