Sell Wisely: Navigating the Letter of Intent and Creating Competitive Tension


Whether you have listed your business for sale or have received a wholly unsolicited offer to buy your business, it is essential to be familiar with the elements of the Letter of Intent (LOI). The LOI outlines an offer’s key terms and conditions, including much more than just a purchase price. Since these elements are the framework of negotiations, it’s crucial to understand the details and reach a satisfying outcome. 

Another critical consideration when selling a business is fostering competition among buyers. When handled properly, multiple offers can give you more selling leverage and potentially net you a higher price. Additionally, with a larger pool of interest, you are more likely to find a buyer who can adeptly carry on the legacy of the business you’ve invested your time and energy in growing. 

In the previous installment of our “Sell Wisely” series, we covered the importance of accurate valuation in business sale negotiations, how expert business brokers can boost your business’s profile, and how to avoid risks to confidentiality that may spoil a sale. This piece explores the importance of LOIs, casting a wide net for potential buyers, and enlisting a trusted professional to help navigate these complexities.  

The Letter of Intent

Understanding the LOI’s Purpose and Structure

A Letter of Intent (LOI) is a non-binding document that outlines the key terms and conditions of a potential business transaction, such as a sale of a company or a significant asset. While the specific content of an LOI can vary, it typically includes the following elements:

  • Introduction: The LOI starts with a formal introduction, identifying the parties involved in the transaction, including the buyer and seller.
  • Transaction Overview: This is a brief description of the transaction, specifying what is being bought or sold, the nature of the business or asset, and the scope of the deal.
  • Purchase Price: The LOI typically states the proposed purchase price or the method used to determine it. This may include the purchase price itself and any adjustments.
  • Terms: The LOI outlines the terms, such as the initial deposit, amount of cash at closing, and any contingencies related to financing or third-party approvals.
  • Governing Law: This clause specifies the jurisdiction and governing law that will apply to the transaction.
  • Signatures: Both parties may sign the LOI, indicating their initial commitment to proceed with the negotiations based on the outlined terms. (Note that accepting unfavorable terms in the LOI can limit a seller’s ability to negotiate better terms in the final agreement. The remainder of this article includes important considerations.)


Beyond the Dollar Amount: Terms That Matter

While you may be tempted to focus on the dollar amount mentioned in the LOI, many other considerations can significantly impact your sale. Understanding the foundational terms and topics will help you make more informed decisions. Here are some of the key terms that may be present in an LOI:

  • Asset Sale: In an asset sale, the buyer purchases the assets from a company, and the seller pays off all liabilities. It can offer more flexibility and is often used to minimize potential legal risks.
  • Stock Sale: In a stock sale, the buyer purchases the ownership (stock or shares) of the company. These stocks or shares can include all of the business’s assets, liabilities, and obligations.
  • Working Capital: Working capital is the capital needed to cover a company’s short-term operational expenses. In a sale, the determination of working capital can significantly affect the sale price. The buyer and seller must agree on how to calculate this figure and the target working capital level at the time of closing.
  • Escrow Accounts: An escrow account holds a portion of the sale proceeds until certain conditions or obligations are met, such as settling disputes or indemnifying the buyer for undisclosed liabilities. It can be a crucial mechanism for risk allocation and ensuring the seller’s representations are accurate.
  • Due Diligence: This is the process of thoroughly examining the company’s financial, operational, legal, and other aspects to identify potential risks and liabilities. A well-structured due diligence process is essential for both parties to assess the true value and risks of the deal.
  • Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation Agreements: These agreements may restrict the seller from competing with the business in the future or soliciting its employees or customers. These can be critical to protect the buyer’s interests and the business’s ongoing success post-sale.
  • Purchase Price and Payment Structure: The total purchase price, payment method (e.g., cash, stock, or a combination), and any earn-out provisions (where additional payments are contingent on future performance) are fundamental deal terms that can impact the value and structure of the transaction.
  • Conditions Precedent: These are conditions that must be satisfied before the sale can proceed. Common conditions include obtaining regulatory approvals, securing financing, or achieving specific financial targets.
  • Indemnification and Representations: The purchase agreement typically includes representations and warranties from the seller about the business’s condition. Indemnification provisions specify the seller’s obligation to compensate the buyer for losses resulting from breaches of these representations.
  • Tax Considerations: Tax implications can significantly affect the sale’s overall value. Sellers should be aware of capital gains tax, and both parties should consider how the transaction’s structure may impact their taxes.
  • Transition and Integration Plans: The post-sale transition and integration plans are crucial for ensuring a smooth business handover. Terms related to these plans can affect the success of the sale, particularly in terms of employee retention and business continuity.


Negotiating Favorable Terms

Enlisting the help of an experienced business broker is your best assurance of reaching favorable terms, especially if the sale has originated from an unsolicited offer to buy the business. However, if you’re determined to negotiate yourself (or if you want to be more informed about what your broker will be doing), here are some helpful tips: 

  • Know your priorities.
  • Set realistic expectations.
  • Hire experienced advisors.
  • Perform thorough due diligence. 
  • Protect confidentiality. 
  • Ask for clear terms. 
  • Seek a legal review. 

When selling your SMB, prepare to compromise on aspects like the payment structure, timing, and certain non-essential contingencies, such as non-compete terms or inventory requirements. Being flexible in negotiations can help you and the buyer reach a mutually satisfactory deal quicker and with less stress.

However, some non-negotiable elements typically include confidentiality agreements, clear terms regarding employee and customer relationships, and stringent due diligence procedures to ensure the buyer’s capability and commitment. Sellers should also stand firm on issues related to their long-term financial security, ensuring the sale price and terms align with their financial goals and lifestyle requirements. The key is to find a balance between flexibility and protecting core interests when negotiating. 

The Impact of Terms on Post-Sale Life

Negotiating can be one of the most challenging stages of the sale process, and the terms you reach don’t stop impacting your life once the ink dries on the contract. Here are some ways the terms of your business sale can affect you long-term: 

Financial Security

If a significant portion of the payment is deferred or contingent on the business’s future performance, it can affect your financial stability and ability to meet personal financial goals.

Non-Competition Agreements

Non-compete clauses restrict sellers from reentering the same industry for a specified period and within a defined geographic area. The scope and duration of these agreements can limit your ability to start a similar business in the future.

Employee and Customer Relationships 

Terms related to the transition of employees and customer relationships can affect the seller’s post-sale involvement in the business and their involvement in the industry. For instance, if the contract has a non-solicitation clause, you may be restricted from recruiting former employees for a new venture.  

Escrow Accounts

If a portion of the sale proceeds is held in escrow to cover potential post-sale liabilities, the terms governing the release of these funds can affect your access to your own money.

Indemnifications and Warranties 

The extent of indemnifications and warranties you, as the seller, are required to provide can impact your potential liability for issues that may arise after the sale. The sale agreement may require the seller to maintain insurance coverage for certain liabilities post-sale. This can raise your insurance costs and administrative responsibilities.

Non-Disclosure Agreements
Confidentiality agreements can impact the seller’s ability to discuss or disclose aspects of the business, even after the sale. The duration and scope of these agreements can have long-term implications on your ability to work in your industry as a consultant, new business owner, or employee.


Key Provisions and Potential Pitfalls

Understanding the crucial provisions in an LOI is essential because the document sets the stage for the entire transaction. The key provisions you, as the seller, should pay close attention to include the purchase price, payment terms, due diligence, closing conditions, and exclusivity. The purchase price needs to be clearly defined, as it directly impacts the financial outcome of the deal. You and your broker should examine the payment terms to ensure a predictable cash flow and clarify due diligence expectations to ensure they’re not overly burdensome or redundant. You should also understand the closing conditions, ensuring these are reasonable and within your control. 

Other common pitfalls and risks associated with LOIs that sellers should be cautious about include:


Vague or poorly defined terms in the LOI can lead to disputes and protracted negotiations during the drafting of the final agreement. Sellers should strive for clarity and precision in the document.


While LOIs often contain confidentiality provisions, sellers must take measures to protect their sensitive information adequately. Overlooking confidentiality measures can lead to the improper disclosure of proprietary data.

Termination Clauses

Sellers should understand the circumstances under which the LOI can be terminated and the consequences of termination. A poorly drafted termination clause could disrupt the negotiation process.

Unfavorable Terms

Accepting unfavorable terms in the LOI can limit a seller’s ability to negotiate better terms in the final agreement. Sellers must review thoroughly and, if necessary, negotiate the LOI to their advantage before proceeding.
Failing to consult with legal counsel during the LOI negotiation process can expose sellers to legal and financial risks. Legal guidance can help sellers navigate complex provisions and protect their interests.

Navigating the Non-Binding Nature of LOIs

The non-binding nature of Letters of Intent (LOIs) has several implications for both buyers and sellers in a potential transaction. Firstly, LOIs do not impose legal obligations on either party to complete the transaction, allowing the buyer or the seller to withdraw from the deal without legal repercussions, even after signing the LOI. This inherent lack of commitment provides a degree of flexibility in negotiations, as both parties can explore different terms and conditions without the constraints of binding agreements. However, the non-binding nature of LOIs can also give rise to potential disputes and disagreements, as differing interpretations of the LOI’s terms can lead to contention during subsequent negotiations. This underscores the importance of clarity and precision in LOI language and the need for expert guidance to navigate these complexities effectively.

The Power of Competition

Creating Competitive Tension: Why and How

Fostering competition among potential buyers can be advantageous  in achieving the best possible outcome during an SMB sale. Competition creates a sense of urgency and can drive up the purchase price, resulting in a more favorable deal. Additionally, having a wider range of buyer options increases the likelihood of finding one who aligns with your long-term vision for the company.

Here are a few strategies to help create competitive tension when selling a business: 

Confidential Marketing

Maintaining confidentiality during the sale prevents potential buyers from colluding or sharing information that could reduce competitive tension. Restrict the disclosure of sensitive data until a prospective buyer has demonstrated a genuine interest and signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Controlled Information Flow

Provide potential buyers with information incrementally, only revealing more detailed data as the negotiation progresses. This ensures that buyers continue to compete for access to valuable information.

Auction Format 

In some cases, sellers can run a structured auction process to elicit competitive bids. This involves setting a specific date for all interested buyers to submit their best offers simultaneously, creating a transparent competition that can maximize the sale price.

While these strategies are all useful, they can be difficult to implement without extensive expertise in juggling multiple offers at once. Having a reputable M&A broker on your side is your best chance at both accessing a pool of qualified buyers and ensuring you avoid any missteps that could jeopardize the deal.

Leveraging Multiple Offers

To effectively compare and leverage multiple purchase offers, sellers should meticulously assess the purchase price and other critical deal components, such as the payment structure, contingencies, due diligence, and the buyers’ credibility. Knowing how each buyer—and the deal they’re proposing—stacks up against the others ensures you have the comprehensive information needed to negotiate strongly.  

Competition among buyers enhances your selling position by stimulating bidding wars and motivating buyers to present their most appealing offers. Fueled by the desire to outbid rivals, this competitive tension frequently results in higher purchase prices and more seller-friendly terms. With this advantage, you can create a sense of scarcity and issue strategic counteroffers to secure a more favorable outcome in the sale.

If you feel out of your depth at any point in the process, consult an experienced business broker. It’s wiser—and almost certainly more cost-effective—to enlist a pro than risk reaching unfavorable terms or losing the deal entirely. 

Handling Exclusive Offers and Sole Buyers

Even if you don’t have a bundle of deals to sort through, you’ll still want to approach negotiations with care and diligence. You may not have the benefit of competitive tension, but you can still take steps to maximize the outcome. First, understanding the buyer’s motivations, financial capabilities, and specific goals can help you strategize negotiations and identify areas where you can create value for the buyer. 

For instance, if you’re a small retail business fielding an offer from a large retail chain, you might learn that the buyer wishes to expand their market presence in your region. Understanding this motivation, you can tailor your negotiation strategy to highlight the strategic advantage your store provides. You might emphasize your store’s prime location and loyal customer base, which could help the buyer strengthen their regional presence. By showcasing how your retail business aligns with the buyer’s expansion goals, you can negotiate effectively, even without multiple competing offers.

You should also conduct a rigorous due diligence process to identify any challenges the buyer might present during negotiations, such as a potential inability to secure financing. By proactively addressing such issues, you can decrease the chances of something going wrong with the sale.

Lastly, effective communication and a willingness to collaborate with the buyer can also go a long way toward a smooth negotiation process, even without competitive tension. 

Wrapping Up

Much goes into understanding LOIs, with or without the competitive tension of multiple offers — and many terms beyond the purchase price, such as indemnities and non-compete agreements, can have long-term effects after the sale. Successfully navigating the myriad, nuanced details contributing to an SMB sale requires a wealth of strategic experience.  

Viking Mergers and Acquisitions has decades of proven experience guiding SMB owners through selling their company, from valuation to the closing table and beyond. It’s our mission to protect your interests every step of the way. To learn more about how we can lend a hand in your situation, reach out today for a no-cost business valuation.

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