How legal can enable sales leadership

James Boreham, 19 January 2021

Sales teams are laser-focused on one thing: closing. James Boreham, Juro's Director of Sales, explains how legal can adopt a mindset that drives this objective forward and enables sales to succeed.

This is an interview from our eBook - Revealed: what the business actually wants from legal.

What was your first experience working with an in-house lawyer?

When I was at Leverton, we would regularly work with our in-house counsel to negotiate and sign off contracts, particularly for larger deals. We’d mainly handle those communications and queries via email or phone calls.

How and how often did you work with legal?

We’d work directly with legal at least weekly. In a fast-growth, sales-driven company, there’s always going to be something to discuss – whether that’s a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to get discussions moving, or a master services agreement (MSA) if we’re ready to move forward. We were fortunate in that most of our deals were on our own paper.

How important is it for sales and legal to work well together?

It’s absolutely imperative. Salespeople have their own objectives and motivations, which means they do just want contracts signed as quickly as possible, but the internal legal hurdles you need to go through are there for good reasons. That process needs to work and it needs to be efficient.

It’s like with anyone else in the organization where you depend on their support to get your job done. You need a good relationship between legal and sales for when that important task drops in your lap at 6.30pm on a Friday, and you need legal’s help to turn it around so you can get the deal over the line.

“When sales teams start operating in workarounds, freelancing on contract language and cutting legal out entirely, that’s when rogue language and terms creep into contracts”

If you don’t find a way to work together effectively, what are the negative consequences?

It could mean missing month-end targets, missing quarter-end targets, missing year-end targets – all of which could have really serious consequences for the company, but also for individual salespeople’s jobs.

At a more granular level, delays caused by a lack of communication or collaboration between legal and sales can mean losing momentum in deals. That’s quite commonly down to NDAs or other legal tasks that might arise early in the process. Those internal bottlenecks before getting to signature are often cause for concern.

The risk that arises is that in sales, if things get difficult with legal contract review and month-end targets are on the line, I’d speak to my manager and we’d agree it ourselves, without going to legal. When sales teams start operating in workarounds, freelancing on contract language and cutting legal out entirely, that’s when rogue language and terms creep into contracts. And that can obviously have pretty serious consequences.

Legal can support sales teams and try to avoid that happening by setting out clear parameters for what sales reps can and can’t include. That might be a playbook, or conditional logic in your automated contract templates, or just guidelines in your internal wiki or knowledge base. But setting out those fallback positions for commonly negotiated points, and reviewing and updating these often, is key to enabling the sales team and stopping them from getting out of control.

Is self-serve a key objective for sales leadership when it comes to legal process?

Yes – it’s definitely been a big trend in terms of sales management, that the people responsible for teams of reps are developing a fairly robust working knowledge of contracts and contract language. They’re not lawyers, by any means, but there’s definitely upskilling (enabled by lawyers) that helps sales leaders to recognize and work with common patterns in contracts. The average sales rep would know almost nothing about contract drafting, so for efficiency’s sake and to avoid bottlenecks, it’s useful if legal can support the creation of a workflow where sales management’s sign-off is considered to be good enough, in terms of contract knowledge.

If not, sales reps get even more frustrated with legal blockages than sales leaders would. They have less empathy as they don’t have that peer-level connection with legal – they would just want deals done and wouldn’t understand why legal is blocking them from making it happen.

“Some lawyers want to go away and solve your whole problem before they come back to you, but that still leaves me guessing as to what the timeline will be”

When is it helpful to have a lawyer around?

Contract negotiations are the main thing and the most obvious area for lawyers to add value, though obviously they can’t be involved every time. When the counterparty starts making demands and pushing back hard on specific terms, it’s comforting having some legal firepower in your corner.

The difficulty arises if the legal team’s primary concern and motivation is risk mitigation, whereas sales are obviously motivated by commercial concerns. Whether that tension exists will vary from company to company, but in any case that’s the tension you need to navigate together. The very best in-house lawyers are the ones who are commercially minded.

Legal tell us that they want to “enable the business”. How can lawyers best enable you, as a sales leader?

It doesn’t really matter to my team how you make it happen, but achieving fast contract turnaround is key. Can I send you a contract five minutes from now with a series of queries, and have it turned around by the end of the day? Taking a step back from that, it might not even be the turnaround itself, but just some clarity on timelines – even if I won’t get an immediate result, it’s so useful to have clear communications as to the timeline I should expect and when I’ll be able to move forward.

You don’t always get that level of proactive response from lawyers. Some will want to go away and solve your whole problem before they come back to you, but that still leaves me guessing as to how long it will take.

And, as I mentioned before, being clear about what salespeople can and can’t do themselves, without needing to police behaviour on an ongoing basis. If there’s a lack of clarity there, it might mean sales always comes running to legal with any contract issue. Or worse, it might mean they never come to legal. What you want is them bringing the right issues to sales at the right time, so make it crystal clear to the team what the criteria are, to avoid them going rogue when month end is around the corner.

“Understanding that broader picture – the product, its positioning, flexibility on commercials and so on – is how they move from being a rigid lawyer advising on an abstract contract to a pragmatic partner that enables us to hit our goals”

Can you think of any experiences you’ve had where lawyers have room for improvement?

Often it can be easy to slip into a workflow where I’m speaking internally to a lawyer on this side and then directly to the customer, who talks to their legal team on the other, but the two lawyers are really only communicating through tracked changes on the contract. That means we end up getting nowhere fast, creating lots of different versions and getting stuck in no-man’s land. A key learning when a deal looks like it might head that way is just to get the lawyers on the phone together, sooner rather than later, to save everyone’s time.

What advice would you give to a lawyer joining a high-growth scaleup and working with a sales team?

To empower your sales team, especially in an environment like B2B software as a service, you need to understand what they’re selling. Learn about the product, use it, and understand how we sell it. If the legal team looks beyond their wheelhouse and understands why the sales team does a certain thing in a certain way, it might help them to understand why certain issues seem so important to the sales team in contracts or in other parts of the legal process.

Understanding that broader picture – the product, its positioning, flexibility on commercials and so on – is how legal colleagues move from being a rigid lawyer advising on an abstract contract to a pragmatic partner that enables us to hit our goals.

This is an interview from our eBook - Revealed: what the business actually wants from legal. Download and find out what HR, sales operations, C-suite and more expect from their in-house legal teams.

Topics: Legal operations

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