5th Marktlink Monitor

Entrepreneurs’ willingness to sell halved in two years


The percentage of entrepreneurs that is willing to sell their company within two years has halved over the past two years. That is the conclusion to be drawn from the fifth annual Acquisition Monitor, performed on behalf of Marktlink Mergers & Acquisitions. The survey was conducted for the fifth year in a row among 200 SMEs with between ten and two hundred employees. Approximately 68% of entrepreneurs believes now is a good time to sell their company.

For the second year in a row, the intention to sell has decreased. After a strong surge in the number of entrepreneurs willing to sell within two years in 2016 (20%), this percentage dropped to 13% last year and has now further decreased to 10%. This appears to be in parallel with the housing market, creating a scarcity in supply. Tom Beltman of Marktlink Mergers & Acquisitions: “An explanation for this trend could be that willingness to sell is anti-cyclical. If the company and the economy are prosperous, then the entrepreneur wants to ride that wave to the end and benefit for a number of years.”

According to Beltman the positive developments in the economy are the cause of the drop. “Last year the economic results were steadily getting better, but the confidence in the market was still rather brittle. More and more entrepreneurs were tired and ready to sell. Now that the SME-field has gained momentum, the willingness has normalised and entrepreneurs are more confident about the future. As a result , they are postponing a sale.”

The survey shows that only 32% of entrepreneurs are mentally ready to sell their companies. Beltman: “We experience that in the field as well. Transactions generally do not fail due to financials, but for emotional reasons and the question whether the owner is really ready to sell his company.”

The generational gap between entrepreneurs

Besides the annually recurring topics, the Marktlink Monitor also researched the generation gap between entrepreneurs. The survey shows the differences between modern and classic entrepreneurs. Around 60% of the surveyed people consider themselves modern entrepreneurs. This group mostly consists of people who have started their own company. Generally, people above 55 years old consider themselves classic entrepreneurs.

The assumption that modern entrepreneurs are more likely to be serial entrepreneurs is not supported by the survey results. Both classic and modern entrepreneurs intend to sell in equal measure. Notably, the classic type prefers to sell to a family member significantly more than the modern type. Modern entrepreneurs also expect the value of their companies to rise during the coming year.

Almost half of the entrepreneurs consider themselves to be the ‘doer’ type. 80% of the entrepreneurs work more than 50 hours a week. On average, the modern entrepreneur works 10% less than the classic entrepreneur. The modern entrepreneur often says they still have enough time for vacations (30%), hobbies (31%) and themselves (29%). The modern type seems to put personal happiness first rather than the classic entrepreneur.


Tom Beltman: “That the classic and modern entrepreneur seem to intend to sell in equal measure is something we see on a daily basis. The average age of our clients is around 50 years old and ranges from people in their thirties to people in their seventies. Often however, the sale is not driven by age, but by emotional reasons.”

The right time to sell

A majority of entrepreneurs (58%, 65% last year) believe that now is a good time to sell their companies. They also believe that the value of their companies will rise less in the following year 75% last year, 63% this year). Beltman: “In the twenty years of Marktlink’s existence, it has never been such a seller’s market as it is right now. We often encounter more than 25 interested buyers and lately the prices paid for companies have been rising significantly as well. We expect them to keep rising in the following year. As a consequence of several factors prices paid for companies are currently up to 10 to 20% higher than a year ago. These factors include the amount of investors’ capital in the market, strategic parties with liquidity surpluses, banks that are financing more and a rise in competition.”


More than half of entrepreneurs (54%) has no idea what determines the value of their companies. It is remarkable that entrepreneurs tend to think customer base, reputation and profit are value drivers while potential buyers generally look at cash flows, growth and current management.

Pre-exit acquisition gaining in popularity

The pre-exit keeps gaining in popularity. For over half of the surveyed entrepreneurs, this seems to be an interesting option (against 40% in 2016). With a pre-exit, an entrepreneur is able to largely secure his assets in the company.


“With a pre-exit, the buyer and seller of a company set up a new holding, in which they both participate,” says Beltman. “The holding becomes the new full owner of the company and the seller stays on to lead the business and to achieve further growth. After five to seven years the seller makes a full exit.”


Beltman noticed the pre-exit trend before: “Entrepreneurs no longer live in the future, they live in the present. If they can cash out to enjoy life more, they certainly will. It is striking that over sixty per cent of family businesses are open to a pre-exit. That is a number we were not expecting.”

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