The success rate of M&A deals has somewhat improved in the new millennium, increasing from an average of 35% to 55%. That still leaves almost half of all deals floundering, begging the question, “What are they doing wrong?”

Based on interviews with “hundreds” of dealmakers, Prof. Scott Moeller, director and founder of the M&A Research Centre at London’s Cass Business School, expounded on the best tips for M&A success in a Raconteur op-ed piece. He boiled these down to two main objectives: focus on strategy and retain existing customers. These may seem trite at first glance, but Moeller points out that a surprising number of organizations neglect to follow through with these tips, causing their deals to suffer.

Focusing on strategy entails flexibility. One has to be adaptable to changes in circumstances beyond one’s control. If the main target becomes unavailable or prohibitively expensive to pursue, be ready to jump on alternative options as soon as possible.  In the same vein, “bigger is not always better”. Sure, the thought of accomplishing some megalith of a deal is enticing, but one has to be that much more in control of the numerous intricacies that go along with it to avoid an equally monumental failure. Your entire strategy—“clear and clearly communicated”—has to be aligned throughout your corporation. Yes, the executive will still be leading the strategy from the top, but the entire team has to be one cohesive unit.

Another unduly neglected area of strategic focus is the post-deal integration phase. This is when long-term value-creation begins, hence getting it right is imperative. It is therefore critical that organizations prepare for this stage far in advance of closing. Focus on revenues and staffing in both organizations and ensure that pricing reflects the full costs of integrating the target. Perhaps most importantly, the executive team should avoid the temptation to jump onto the next deal and remain focused on seeing the latest deals through to their ends. Integration, after all, takes years to complete:

[T]he amount of time to be spent on the deal in planning, execution and then implementation can be considerable and should usually be considerably more than often allotted. This time-consuming process will distract large parts of the company who may be focused on getting the deal done, but who should instead have maintained focus on the ongoing existing businesses as well.

And finally, a simple yet sound piece of advice: retain your existing customers because “they pay the bills”. This ties into Moeller’s first tip about staying focused on the deal post-closing. Even in a hostile takeover, an organization can retain most of its clientele so long as it makes the effort to reach out and listen to their concerns.

Bottom line: take the extra time to fine-tune your strategy; perfect your leadership; and show your customers a little love.

The author would like to thank Rika Sawatsky, articling student, for her assistance in preparing this legal update.