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Kevin Brening

Can You Help Me Better Align Sales and Legal?

Welcome to another installment of our series “You ask. We answer” where we answer some of the most common questions that come from people like you. So, let’s get started!

Can You Help Me Better Align Sales and Legal?

When I think of opposition I think of a few scenarios: a fox versus a hound, a parent versus a toddler angling for more dessert, Don Lemon versus Sean Hannity, and, ultimately, Sales versus Legal. Let’s face it. The goals of Sales and Legal are in natural opposition, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Just like we don’t expect Sean and Don to have a nice balanced give and take when discussing politics, we expect organic friction between Sales and Legal in the course of getting a contract to signature.

The way sales sees it

Consider the clear mission in Sales — to get the deal done, bring in the business as expected, hit the assigned quota, and keep their management happy. Contrary to belief, sales people aren’t just trying to hit a number so they can make a commission and upgrade their Camry. If they get that contract signed, they, and everyone in their orbit, is happy because their assigned revenue target is part of a bigger picture. Bottom line, getting contracts signed within the forecasted fiscal period is what someone in a sales function is there to do. Unfortunately, while trying to get a contract finalized, Legal is too often looked on as the Sales Prevention Department (SPD). There is often a bit of frustration when sending the prospective customer’s redlined agreement over to their counterpart in Legal. Sales would like Legal to take some advice from Nike, and Just Do It.

The way legal sees it

Now let’s take a look at this from the Legal team’s perspective and get back to that natural (but healthy) opposition. If you are a General Counsel for a company, your mission is also crystal clear — PROTECT THIS COMPANY. That’s it. Mitigate exposure to risk. All of the legal staff at an organization went through many years of law school and now are here to ensure that these contracts, when signed, have been vetted to ensure risk exposure is at a minimum. When arguing over what seems like the tiniest details of the wording in a particular clause, Sales is saying, “C’mon, this is never going to actually happen. Why are we arguing?” While Legal is saying, “Yes, but it might, and if it does, it won’t be on my watch.” That said, for the most part, it is generally a misconception that Legal is trying to prevent deals from getting signed.

Aligning the Process

Recently, I spoke with a corporate lawyer at another company and her opinion on the “feud” between Sales and Legal was intriguing.  In fact, she said that there was no “feud” at all, just different strategies to achieve the same mission. She said she is happy to hear when a contract she worked on gets signed, but also takes comfort knowing it is a good deal for the company because she consistently applies a level of integrity and rigor to each contract. She said that in her career, she sees the opposition between Sales and Legal as something that keeps the company successful and safe. The friction between them is what helps to build new opportunities for growth much like how the friction between tectonic plates can create beautiful mountain ranges. 

But the friction doesn’t have to be tumultuous. Fostering a culture of positive communication, can mean bringing Sales “into the tent” in understanding the Legal team’s critical role in minimizing risk exposure. Legal should educate Sales on what has happened at other businesses who ended up getting pinched based on risk exposure that could have been avoided with the proper Legal review. Another suggestion is picking out the top 20 common asks in advance from customers reviewing contracts, and establish pre-approved remedies that Sales can help negotiate before having to involve Legal. This allows them to help with first line of defense, and take some of the burden off of Legal, and speed things along. 

Technology Can Help

Not having the right technology in place to support Legal is sometimes the root of the lag that annoys Sales and keeps contract cycles from being as short as possible. A modern CLM, such as Malbek, that fits a particular organization’s needs could be a game-changer for how quickly and efficiently contracts get reviewed and reduce the opposition between the two sides. Imagine if Legal teams could set up conditional workflows and pre-approved clause swaps in advance, giving sales reps and sales leadership teams flexibility to self-serve for as much of the contract and deal review cycle as possible, only bringing in Legal when at an impasse. Even then, when bringing in Legal at that impasse, a proper CLM is going to enable those lawyers to be able to move quickly to resolve and push through approvals quickly, getting the contract back to Sales for customer signature. This type of technology can also significantly reduce inquiries from Sales to Legal during the review process by providing visibility into the contract’s status. If Sales sees their contract is moving through a process, this can make all the difference.

Let’s face it, the reality still is that Legal and Sales, by their very nature, will always have a natural but healthy oppositional relationship. It is comforting to know, there are ways to make cultural, operational, and technological improvements to remove some of the frustration and ambiguity.