What are Value Drivers for M&A and Why are They so Important?

Kristin Luck


When I sold my first company, it happened in a blaze during the heady days of the “dot com” boom. We weren’t looking to sell but when we were approached by a Private Equity firm with what seemed like an unbelievable offer, things moved quickly. We didn’t hire an investment bank to represent us, so we didn’t go through the pre-work of positioning or optimizing the company for a sale or even approaching multiple potential buyers to create a competitive bidding process. Although we ultimately were happy with the outcome, the truth of the matter is that we likely didn’t maximize our valuation. We didn't really consider the important question of what are the value drivers for the business.

I’ve sold two of my own companies since and, as an investment banker, countless companies for other entrepreneurs looking for their big payday. As a result, I’ve learned that there are several levers you can pull that drive value, and ultimately valuations, for a company.




Unlock premium valuations for your data & analytics firm by focusing on recurring revenue, growth potential, profitability, customer retention, unique assets, diversification, market leadership, and a stellar management team.

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The data, insights, and analytics sector has been a hotbed for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in recent years, driven by the increasing importance of data-driven decision-making across industries. As businesses in this space look to maximize their valuation, understanding the key drivers that attract high valuations is crucial. This post delivers a deep dive into the critical factors that influence M&A valuations for both SaaS companies and services-based firms, including recurring revenue, revenue growth potential, EBITDA and its expansion, customer growth and retention, unique assets, customer concentration, industry leadership, and the quality of the management team.

So, what are the value drivers that matter? Let's discuss. 

Recurring or Reoccurring Revenue

One of the most significant drivers of high valuations in the data, insights, and analytics sector is the presence of recurring or reoccurring revenue. SaaS companies typically operate on subscription-based models, ensuring a steady and predictable income stream. This recurring revenue model is highly attractive to investors as it reduces financial risk and provides a reliable foundation for future growth. For services-based companies, long-term contracts, retainer agreements, and ongoing consulting services can create similar revenue predictability. This consistent revenue stream is crucial for securing high M&A valuations as it assures buyers of continuous and stable income.

Revenue and Revenue Growth Potential

The current revenue and its growth potential are fundamental in determining a company's valuation. Investors are particularly interested in businesses that have demonstrated significant revenue growth and have the potential to continue this trajectory. High historical growth rates showcase the company’s ability to capture market share and expand its customer base, while strong projected growth signals future profitability and market dominance. SaaS companies, with their scalable business models, often show rapid revenue increases as they acquire new users. Services-based companies can demonstrate growth through expanding service offerings or entering new markets (see our recent market expansion webinar). The promise of continued revenue growth is a key factor in driving high M&A valuations.

EBITDA and EBITDA Expansion Potential

Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA) is a crucial metric for evaluating a company’s financial performance and operational efficiency. High EBITDA indicates a company's ability to generate profit from its core operations, which is a critical consideration for buyers. Additionally, the potential for EBITDA expansion is highly valued, as it suggests that the company can increase profitability through scaling operations, optimizing costs, or enhancing pricing strategies. SaaS companies, with their high gross margins, often have substantial EBITDA potential as they grow, although generally these firms are valued at a multiple of revenue. Services-based firms can achieve EBITDA expansion through operational efficiencies and higher-margin service offerings. A strong current EBITDA and clear paths to expansion are major contributors to high valuations.

Customer Growth and Retention

Customer growth and retention are vital indicators of a company’s health and future prospects. High customer growth rates demonstrate the company's ability to attract new clients and expand its market presence. Equally important is customer retention, which indicates the company’s success in maintaining long-term relationships and generating repeat business. High retention rates are particularly significant in the B2B sector, where long-term contracts and repeat engagements are common. For SaaS companies, low churn rates (10% or less) and high customer lifetime value are key metrics. Services-based firms benefit from strong client relationships and high renewal rates (churn should not exceed 20% annually). A strong track record of customer growth and retention signals a stable and growing business, driving higher M&A valuations.

Unique Assets

Unique assets, whether they are proprietary technologies, exclusive data sets, or patented methodologies, significantly enhance a company's attractiveness in the M&A market. These assets create competitive advantages that are difficult for rivals to replicate, providing a strong moat around the business. For SaaS companies, unique software solutions, innovative algorithms, and exclusive platforms can be significant differentiators. Services-based companies might hold unique data sources, proprietary market insights, or specialized expertise that set them apart. The presence of unique assets indicates a company’s ability to maintain its competitive edge and sustain long-term growth, justifying higher valuations.

Customer Concentration

Customer concentration is a critical consideration in M&A valuations. Companies with a diversified customer base are generally seen as less risky, as they are not overly dependent on a few key clients. High customer concentration can pose a significant risk; the loss of a major client could drastically impact revenue and profitability. Investors prefer businesses with a wide range of customers across different sectors and geographies, as this diversification reduces risk and ensures stability. Both SaaS and services-based companies benefit from spreading their customer base to mitigate the impact of losing any single client. Lower customer concentration enhances the company’s risk profile, leading to higher valuations.

Industry Leadership and Positioning

Industry leadership and strong market positioning are essential drivers of high valuations. Companies recognized as leaders in their field often enjoy brand recognition, customer trust, and competitive advantages that newcomers cannot easily match. Market leaders typically have a significant share of the market, strong relationships with key industry players, and a reputation for quality and innovation. For SaaS companies, leadership might be demonstrated through technological innovation and a robust user base. Services-based firms might showcase their expertise, client success stories, and industry accolades. Strong industry positioning suggests the company is well-placed to continue leading the market, thus attracting higher valuations.

Quality and Depth of the Management Team

Finally, the quality and depth of the management team are pivotal in determining a company’s valuation. Experienced, capable leaders with a track record of success can significantly enhance a company’s attractiveness to buyers. A strong management team brings strategic vision, operational expertise, and the ability to drive growth and navigate challenges. For SaaS companies, leaders with experience in scaling technology businesses and driving innovation are particularly valuable. Services-based companies benefit from managers with deep industry knowledge and strong client relationships. The presence of a high-quality management team, as well as a high quality and experienced advisory board or Board of Directors, assures buyers of the company’s continued success and strategic direction, contributing to higher valuations.

High M&A valuations in the B2B data, insights, and analytics sector are driven by a combination of recurring revenue, robust revenue growth potential, strong EBITDA and expansion capabilities, impressive customer growth and retention, unique assets, low customer concentration, industry leadership, and a high-quality management team. Companies that excel in these areas are well-positioned to attract significant interest from potential buyers and command premium valuations. As the demand for data-driven insights continues to grow, businesses that can demonstrate these value drivers will stand out in the competitive M&A landscape.

To get started on improving the value of your business for prospective buyers, you need to understand what are value drivers that matter and then, of course, ensure they are moving in the right direction. 

Interested in talking more about how to position or optimize your firm for an M&A event in the next 12 to 24 months? Reach out to us!