Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Legal Teams

November 29, 2022

It’s a tale as old as time. You work in-house, and as part of the legal team, you also work in conjunction with commercial or sales – if you’re honest, this relationship can be strained at times. If you’re even more honest, it can be a downright challenge.  For your commercial function, sealing the deal at speed is paramount. However, for you, doing so can never come at an unacceptable cost to the business. 

However, the relationship between sales and legal doesn’t have to be this way. Ultimately, you share the same goal: to build and benefit the business. But how can you bridge the gap between sales and legal? In this article we outline how to create a harmonious relationship between sales and legal teams and provide a few ideas of how to work together to achieve the best outcome for the business. Let’s dive right in.

The problem between sales and legal

At the end of the day, everyone wants to get the job done, and wants to do it well, but oftentimes, legal are viewed as ‘blockers’ to the success of a deal (and thereby the commercial team’s commission). From the perspective of the sales team, sealing the deal at speed is paramount, and in their eyes, legal can simply slow down the process – or worse – block it. However, for legal, racing into agreements without proper review and negotiation, is potentially worse than securing no deal at all. 

Between the two, we seem to have an impasse, whereby both are convinced they’re doing the best for the business. 

So, what’s the solution?

It’s cheesy but true: communication is key, and you need to leverage it intelligently to build trust between teams. Communication and trust are the foundation of any healthy, functioning relationship, and the same is true of bridging the distance between sales and legal.

Take it back to basics: what does each team want?

Sales want to seal the deal, meet KPI’s and earn their commission.  Meanwhile, legal are driven to protect the business and respect the risk appetite set by the board. So how do you fuse these motivations with the knowledge there’s a precedent for conflict?

For both teams to excel in the role, it’s crucial that they work closely together. Legal can ensure more robust deals, with better terms for the business. Similarly, by working closely with sales, legal can have a close oversight on the engagements the business is making, and what it needs to efficiently keep funds coming in while limiting the exposure to risk. Prior to the sales process kicking off, it’s key that sales and legal sit down, hash it out, and discuss the blockers they both face.

  • What are each team’s core priorities?
  • What is non negotiable?
  • Which things slow down the commercial process?
  • Are there standard agreements legal can supply to sales to speed this up and can legal trust sales not to make amendments without checking with legal?
  • When is legal not needed?
  • What blindspots do sales teams need to be aware of?
  • What training can legal provide to sales to ensure the risk appetite of the business is fully understood?

By having this candid conversation early on, legal can have greater confidence that there's fewer unanticipated risks facing the business, while sales can negotiate with the confidence that their expert legal team is right behind them. 

When sales and legal click, business booms, with legally sound deals that are closed with efficiency. Put simply, everybody wins.

Avoid conflict by setting expectations early on

Conflict within a business is the last thing that anybody wants. Aside from hammering morale, it’s often one of the least effective ways to resolve a problem. Tensions are high, perspectives are misunderstood, and valuable energy is wasted on something that could have been avoided. 

So what steps can both teams take to avoid conflict further down the line?

For starters, internal training can be invaluable. From the perspective of the legal team, a high level outline of legal obligations can really help guide non-legal teams on what is, and isn’t ok.

  • For example, what can teams do with emails, and how does that relate to GDPR and PECR?
  • What are the rules around cold calling?
  • Let’s say your team is using visual assets – do they have legal permissions for all the assets they’re using?
  • What red flags do sales teams need to be aware of in the negotiation process?
  • Which things are absolute non negotiables when it comes to the deals the sales teams make?

By outlining expectations – in addition to do’s and don’ts - you can breed accountability from the start and prevent mistakes being made made simply due to a lack of information sharing and education.

Similarly, what happens in the event a conflict invariably arises? How can it be handled? It helps here to have a defined process to escalate issues, such as who to speak to, how to document it, and where to seek support. It’s crucial that both teams feel comfortable having a candid conversation to tackle issues head on. Without it, you run the risk of key problems being brushed under the rug. 

Streamline your comms

While some firms prefer informal messaging and emails, others take a more organised route with legal ticketing systems or platforms dedicated to siloed comms, such as Slack. These methods are not meant to create a wall between the teams, but to help safeguard each other from becoming overwhelmed with requests and calls for aid. A good way to field and filter such requests is to create a place for central resources with access open to all, for example, legal FAQs and contract playbooks contained in a SharePoint. Ticketing and prioritising tools can also assist with scaling urgent and non-urgent requests and assigning priority with timescales. 

Boundaries are set up to benefit everyone. By implementing effective communication management, you can prevent the interruption of flows, manage expectations and keep Things moving. Don’t be disheartened if your experiments with these ideas don’t work out straightaway. It can take time to get a process that works for your business. However, the sooner everyone is on the same page, the quicker everything will fall into place.

Our final tips

Like every new process, you’re liable to hit into a speed bump or two. Below we’ve highlighted a few things for sales and legal teams to bear in mind,

  • Finding a balance between information and initiative 

While legal is there to support the business with an array of matters, they’re notoriously time-strapped. It’s important to find the balance between respecting each other’s time and asking the important questions. 

  • What are your common goals?

Getting the deal over the line is an obvious one – but what does this mean in practice? Achieving success for the company, and on an individual level, to boost reputation and team morale? Workshop this and figure out what you can compromise and agree on. Common goals are a useful driver to get everyone on the right track.

  • What are the goals of the business and how can you exceed them together?

Once you understand what each team wants, you need to turn your focus and attention to the business as a whole. Do you know what the company’s mission and purpose is? If so, you can collectively work together to achieve the same outcome and exceed expectations by demonstrating an acute understanding of the business’ goals..

  • What are the areas of friction for both teams and how can those be overcome?

Acknowledge the negatives. Think about what causes the usual arguments and failures in communication. Again, training sessions that simulate a typical deal can really help everyone feel a bit more human about the situation. Embrace the awkward moments and find solutions.

Happy ever after

Don’t be a taker – be a giver! Provide the tools to sales to help them achieve their goals, whether this is training on standard terms, explaining what has value in a contract and how it can be exploited, and more. Contract playbooks are an easy and effective way to achieve this synergy – you can set out a central resource for all key commercial and legal risks based on the business model, and how each clause of a standard commercial deal contract should operate. Everyone gets the credit.

Sales and legal have a colourful history, but when pared down to the bare bones, they have more in common than they might expect. A shared belief in the company’s future, a matched ambition to grow the business, an insatiable appetite to do the best job they can muster; you might even say they’re two sides of the same coin. 

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