Does your sales funnel align with your preferred exit strategy?

Whether or not you’ve planned it, your business has an exit strategy. You will, at some point, exit your business.

It could be an intentional exit (like when you sell your business) or it could be an unintentional exit (upon your demise). Even if these exit strategies haven’t been stated formally in a business plan, they are still the preferred exit strategies of a business. (There are less desirable ones, too).

Your business has an exit strategy. But the question should be asked: does your sales funnel align with your preferred exit strategy?

Even if you haven’t planned either, your business has an exit strategy and it has a sales funnel. If you hope to achieve a preferred exit strategy, you need to ensure that your sales funnel aligns with it.

EXIT STRATEGIES

In my experience, there are 5 preferred exit strategies, which I’ve generalized at a high level, below:

  • Sell the business as a whole: The business owner sells the entire business to a buyer (who probably intends to run the business themselves).
  • Sell the business in parts: The business owner “parts out” the business, selling various assets to various buyers. For example, they might sell the website address to one buyer and the mailing list to another buyer and the leftover inventory to a third buyer.
  • Transfer the business: The business owner freely transfers the business to someone else (often a family member) who will take over the business.
  • Close down the business: The business owner will simply shut down the business and walk away. This might be as the result of a lack of success or it might be the simplest way to end the business after years of profitable success.
  • Run the business until your death: Upon the demise of the business owner, the business ceases to exist operate. This is the default option for many business owners who have not considered or planned for their exit strategy.

Which of these options is your preferred exit strategy? It’s a good idea to work intentionally toward one ideal exit strategy but to plan for at least one or two others, just in case.

(You should also check with your local laws on how your business structure (i.e. corporation, LLC, etc.) impacts your exit strategy because not all business structures can be easily passed on or continued after your death.

SALES FUNNEL

Once you’ve decided on a preferred exit strategy, you need to make sure that your sales funnel aligns with it.

Below, I’ve listed each of the preferred exit strategies from above, as well as some sales funnel tips to remember when aligning your exit strategy and your sales funnel.

  • Sell the business as a whole: Your sales funnel needs to be clearly written and repeatable. Your business’ buyer is not just buying the equity of your business’ name, they’re buying your entire “formula” with the expectation that they can continue running the business as successfully as you have been. Your sales funnel is part of your success. Record your sales funnel and keep track of what you do at each stage and step in your sales funnel.
  • Sell the business in parts: It’s not likely that you will be selling your entire sales funnel to a single buyer. (If you did, that’s basically your entire business and therefore your exit strategy would be the one above this one). However, by noting the various stages and steps and channels that you’re using in your sales funnel, you will find that you can target buyers more effectively when parting out your business. Instead of selling a mailing list, for example, you can sell a list that has a certain percentage of Audience, Leads, and Prospects, and you can clearly identify where they are in the sales funnel and what they’ve gone through already. You might even earn more for a list of Evangelists, for example, because you’ve noted that they are not only active Customers, they’re also telling their peers about their positive experience with your business.
  • Transfer the business: As with the exit strategy of selling your business in its entirety, this exit strategy requires you to “hand over” your formula to the recipient of your business. By creating a recorded, repeatable sales funnel, you empower the next generation of business owners to continue running your business in the same way.
  • Close down the business: If you sell an ongoing service, this could cause an issue among your Customers who are still expecting service even though you are finished with the business. Contracts will need to be honored, guarantees will need to be honored, and don’t forget that your online marketing may still be sending potential buyers to a website that is no longer running. Your sales funnel still matters here, even if you decide to stop your business quickly! When you choose to shut down, you can do so cleanly by staggering the end date of your marketing (ending your Audience interaction first, then your Lead interaction, then your Prospect interaction, and then your Customer interaction).
  • Run the business until your death: No one wants to talk about their own demise but your current and future Customers will appreciate it if you gave it a few minutes of thought. Your sales funnel will still run after your death. Imagine what would happen if someone bought an ebook from you, then contacted you about a problem they were facing with downloading, only to never hear back from you. Yes, they can get their money back but the Customers who hoped for good service from you would be disappointed. As uncomfortable as it may seem, seriously consider creating “upon my death” instructions for a friend or loved one to handle your business affairs. Prepare an email to send out to your list, perhaps with a recommendation for another service provider who can help them instead. Is it morbid to think about? Yeah, it is. But if you care about your sales funnel contacts now, the reasons you care for them don’t disappear after you pass away.

Every business has an exit strategy and every business has a sales funnel. Successful business owners will articulate both and will ensure that the two are aligned.

For more information about exit strategies, and to download a list of 10 exit strategies, check out my blog post Business exit strategies.

Want to take this idea even further? Consider some undesirable exit strategy scenarios (i.e. bankruptcy, natural disaster, defamation, disappearance of the target market because of an unexpected competitor) and create contingency plans that align with your sales funnel. For related information about contingency planning, read Top contingencies to plan for and I accidentally stabbed myself today. Here’s why you should be worried.

Business exit strategies

Exit Sign
Image by mtellin via Flickr

The Frank Peters Show is an internet radio show for angel investors and venture capitalists. In May, Peters interviewed John Huston, who is the chairman for the Angels Capital Association and is on the management team of Ohio TechAngels. (Note: ThisĀ  interview is no longer available online).

During the interview, Huston referenced something he calls his “10 exits” list in which he describes the spectrum of potential exit scenarios that an angel investor might experience. Some are positive exits that should be an ideal goal; others are negative exits that should be mitigated at all costs. (Disclosure: I wrote about this for an article in VentureHype recently).

This list of exits, though, is great for more than just angel investors. All business owners will eventually exit their businesses (although very few plan for it). This exit strategy list is a great resource for these entrepreneurs. While they might not all seem relevant to every business owner, they do nicely demonstrate the spectrum of good-to-bad exits that could occur and the compel the business owner to think carefully about what could happen in the future when it’s time to step away from the business.

Download a pdf of John Huston’s 10 exit strategies here.