Often times proprietary deals can be very attractive as you’re not typically dealing with other bidders. So this effort becomes one of outreach and lead generation. Get a list of potential companies from one of the many databases, refine that list and begin outreach to as many companies as possible. Build your pipeline and vet the interested parties
I think external parties can really help with this. Some consultants are specialised in certain sectors and try to keep the finger on the polse.
As a company, I think you should have your network of advisors, who clearly know in which type of targets you are interested (sector, revenue, geography, …) and keep frequent touchpoints with them to stay top of mind
I’ve found that a blend of these two works best:
-Networking (advisors, consultants, senior executives, etc.). It allows you to get in front of the people you’ll inevitably deal with when and if something comes up. Advisors are always looking to make something happen, thus making your interest known is helpful.
-Industry research (identifying leading players in the niche you’re targeting)
Depending on the acquirer’s size and leadership in the sector/sub-sector, often times targets approach directly/through their advisers.