How to enable your commercial team

Willem Wellinghoff, 4 August 2020

Everyone in a scaleup is focused on growth, and legal should be no different. You might have a million competing priorities, but enabling your commercial colleagues should be at the top of your list.

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Generally, legal and commercial don’t get on. The commercial team perceives lawyers as blockers, always ready to say no, but the fact is, they need us; there’s no revenue without legal process. And conversely, we need them; without revenue, there’s no legal team!

The commercial team has targets they are aggressively trying to meet, as well as a strict timeframe for these goals. Commercial is dependent on legal to make sure contracts are legally sound and free of red flags that could place the business at risk. In most companies, legal’s objectives and strategies aren’t aligned with commercial’s, and that’s why there’s friction between the two teams.

One of my goals at Shieldpay is to assist and generate business through the commercial team and effectively manage their workloads. It’s important for any lawyer to understand that you need to work together in order to offer the best value to the wider business - here are six ways you can ensure your legal team enables the commercial team.

“In order to create a commercial-focused mindset, the legal team should be able to identify key requirements that would help them hit targets and close deals”

1. Set your expectations 🗣️

This is particularly important for any new joiners in your legal function - you should ensure they all understand the value of enabling and collaborating with the commercial team. They need to appreciate that the commercial team is the main driver of the business, and without them, there wouldn’t be a legal team. In order to create a commercial-focused mindset, the legal team should be able to identify key requirements that would help commercial hit targets and close deals. It’s also essential that the work you do to help them is realistic and sustainable - there’s no point signing 200 business agreements for the sales team when they won’t get any value from them.

2. Develop strong relationships 🤝

Lawyers need to understand exactly what makes the commercial team tick, and how they prefer to operate. Lawyers should spend time with sales reps in order to get to know them, from a work and personal perspective. Being able to connect has a positive impact on the working relationship, and can help lawyers understand how commercial operates. Lawyers can even add value by suggesting enhancements to the commercial process, helping sales reps work better and smarter. Strengthening this working relationship is mutually beneficial - by allowing the team to understand you, you showcase the legal function as an approachable, understandable resource; as enablers, instead of blockers.

3. Enable self-serving opportunities ⚡

Contracts are an obvious area where you can empower the commercial team, but you can also self-serve knowledge. At Shieldpay we have resources to help commercial interact with different teams and take over aspects of the legal process.We have a legal and compliance shared drive, where we regularly post news, detail our policies and offer training opportunities. Everyone can access this information and feed into the resources available - we regularly add materials that are of benefit to the commercial team, based on their feedback. Having materials available that are easy to access and understand empowers the team to get involved with the legal process.

This information also offers an insight into legal’s risk appetite, which results in a smoother collaboration. Sharing information comes back down to your product itself - for example, Shieldpay is quite unusual in that we have a variety of products in our portfolio. It’s important to ensure that all the teams are knowledgeable about those different products and the structures that surround them - from risk appetite, to regulatory framework. This all comes back to dialogue, knowledge-sharing and conduct, and it’s important that the commercial team knows how we operate with each product.

4. Nail that hiring process 💅

I always try to hire for personality. We need lawyers that reflect the company culture, can communicate at every level and also understand the mission and values we embody. Generally, when hiring a new lawyer, it’s important that the joiner has a strong business strategic sense, and that this is matched by their commercial relentlessness. It’s always important to be able to lighten the mood; coming across too seriously could push people away, and you need to be able to have fun alongside possessing serious business acumen.

5. Get regular coaching 🙏

External counsel can help legal teams become more commercially-minded, and I think there’s a greater variety of external law firms now working with in-house teams to offer resources and make them stronger GCs at their companies. Those leadership trainings aren’t usually run by lawyers at the law firm, but instead by public speakers; people who have spent years understanding business strategy. Getting those people on board to coach upcoming lawyers is essential, as it can shape how the team operates around and thinks about the wider business.

6. Overcome friction 🤗

With such opposing mindsets, friction between legal and commercial almost feels inevitable. The way lawyers are perceived within the company is so important - if you demonstrate a genuine interest in the vision and mission, but equally how that reflects in the team, you can overcome any barriers between legal and commercial.

When friction does arise, having the correct dialogue to overcome it is essential. Everyone is at one point faced with the challenge of overcoming friction, and the reality is that you have a discussion about it. Ask yourself, and others - why are you thinking about something in a certain way, and how can we resolve these issues to benefit both sides? Even though friction is unavoidable at times, your response can better enable the other team to complete their job. It’s not about placing blockers, but flagging issues and resolving them to sustainably build the business.

“Culture is naturally scalable. Hiring candidates that are adaptable, can align with the business culture, and can prioritize commercial objectives over their own makes all the difference”

7. Adopt the right technology 👩‍💻

The systems you adopt also make a tangible difference - if you have to do everything manually, then your workflow isn’t scalable. You need to be able to adopt the right technology and tooling to provide the right knowledge to the commercial team, allowing them to self-serve in a scalable way. While tech can make a huge difference, you should implement solutions that solve a specific problem the commercial team are facing. It’s important to prioritize intuitive technology that the commercial team can adopt quickly without too much disruption.

Enabling and scaling 🚀

The reality is that when you move from a sole counsel to a legal team, not everyone will approach tasks in the right way all the time - but culture is naturally scalable. Hiring and enabling candidates that are adaptable, can align with the business culture, and can prioritize commercial objectives over their own makes all the difference.

The mutually beneficial dynamic between legal and commercial needs to scale with the business, so establishing and maintaining a business culture is important. Alignment and communication also play a huge role; with a structure in place that takes those factors into consideration and is designed to withstand growth, legal can work as a powerful business partner and enable the commercial team towards success.

Willem is the chief legal and compliance officer at Shieldpay.

Topics: Legal operations

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