Sales vs. Legal: 6 Ways In-House Counsel Can Turn Conflict into Harmony

Sometimes people in Sales may feel that it’s the job of the Legal department to prevent deals from being signed. It’s a common source of conflict in many businesses. However, In-House Counsel can change conflict into harmony, and turn the situation around, reducing the tension between these important business functions and creating a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Diametrically Opposed?

According to Melanie Hatton, author of the In-House Lawyer blog,

In each in-house legal position I’ve held there has been, without fail, a friction between the Legal team and the Sales & Marketing team. The reason? Our teams’ respective purposes within the company are diametrically opposed.

The job of Sales and Marketing, she says, is

to sell the company’s products and services to as many customers as possible. This more often than not entails a burning desire on the part of the Sales & Marketing team to raise the expectations of the customer, consequently making the customer believe that the product or service is a whole lot more than it likely is, and at a great price to boot.

Whereas the job of Legal is to manage risk. This may involve Legal moving more slowly and cautiously than Sales would like.

So how can those seemingly opposing positions be reconciled?

Here are six ideas.

1. Understand Sales Goals

In order for Legal to work in harmony with Sales, Legal needs to understand the Sales department’s goals.

Those goals are often numerical — so many dollars per month or quarter.

If a deal doesn’t close on time, Sales might not meet its goals. On a very personal level, this can affect salespeople’s bonuses, promotions, and even whether they keep their jobs.

It’s considerate for Legal to take into account the Sales calendar. For example, Legal can avoid scheduling vacations, off-sites, training, and other events right around the end of the quarter or year when Sales is pushing to meet its goals.

Legal may even be able to get support from Sales when approaching senior management about bringing in a temp lawyer (or using outside counsel) to get deals closed on time.

2. Manage Expectations

Can Legal commit to provide an initial response within a set time — for example, two business days or a week?

Always build in a time-buffer to account for busier days or unexpected demands. If you think it will take 5 days, say 6.

Obviously, some times of the year are likely to be busier than others. Also, the Legal department may be short-staffed due to vacations, maternity leaves, or attorney turn-over.

If response times will be longer than usual, Legal can give Sales a heads-up in order to manage expectations. Let them know as early on as possible.

3. Examine and Optimize Processes

How long does it normally take from the time Sales first asks for a contract to be reviewed or created until it’s finally signed?

If the normal turnaround time is too long (in Sales’ opinion), the Legal department could examine its processes more closely to see where there’s room for improvement.

For example:

• What are the steps? How long does each one take?
• Who needs to sign off on a contract?
• What issues tend to be sticking points?
• What issues are routine and have known answers?
• Where are the bottlenecks in the process?
• Can any steps be eliminated or delegated?
• Can play-books be created to speed up processes?
• Can technology and tools be implemented to streamline the workflow?

Analyzing and improving processes is a time-consuming but necessary task that can have long- term benefits across the business.

4. Prioritize

The Legal department can align itself with the Sales department by being aware of the relative size and importance of deals. It may be a better use of Legal’s time (according to Sales) to finalize one big deal rather than three small ones.

Sit together with the Sales team to listen, understand, and prioritize, based on an open discussion of goals and resources. This will give the Sales team insight into the challenges of juggling priorities in the Legal team.

If an important deal needs to be moved closer to the top of the list, Sales can notify and negotiate priorities with Legal. If the parties can’t agree on what is most important, the issue can be escalated to the heads of the Sales and Legal teams.

At the end of the day, both departments work for the same business and should have the same ultimate goal in mind.

5. Be Transparent

Sales may suspect (perhaps rightly) that a deal’s gotten buried at the bottom of a lawyer’s inbox.

Some companies use elaborate contract management software that shows the status of every contract in progress. However, it’s also possible to create something very simple — a contract “to do” list on a shared drive that shows which attorney’s working on what deal and where it stands.

Salespeople can then see where their own deals are on the list, and how close they are to the top. They can see, for example, when a lawyer sent a draft off to the attorney for the other side, and when the in-house attorney is planning to follow up.

6. Empower Sales to Do More

Sales may complain about Legal less if Sales can handle more of the negotiation and deal-closing process on its own.

Leading corporate counsel are using templates, playbooks, self-help tools, and technology to empower salespeople to handle more aspects of the deal process independently. This can reduce conflict while also helping to enforce important legal standards.

The Benefits of Harmony

Harmony between Legal and Sales teams benefits the whole company. When everyone’s pursuing the same goals, it’s more likely that the company will achieve them.

Harmony also benefits individuals. We spend so much of our day at work, the last thing anyone wants is to spend it in conflict. Reduce conflict, reduce stress, and make the workplace that little bit happier for all involved. It’s a win-win.


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