There are many biases against in-house counsel, including that we are not business focused, do not understand the company’s business, we are overhead, eat into profits and do not drive revenue. Many in-house counsel claim that they are business focused, but they do not have actual business experience. People say that if you want to understand how a business truly runs, follow the money. A large part of an in-house counsel’s job is helping the company drive revenue and working closely with Sales management and the field. Many corporate executives say that some of the most valuable experience acquired in their career is when they held a sales/business development position. Therefore, if you are a lawyer tied to revenue in an organization, to improve your credibility and performance, take to the field and sell.
Working in a business and with the sales team does not automatically qualify an in-house counsel as one who understands sales and how the company generates revenue. To be fully effective, lawyers need to understand where the revenue is being generated in the organization, and then figure out ways to mitigate legal risks and enable revenue for the organization. Similar to a method actor who needs to live and breathe a role to provide his/her best performance, it is crucial for the in-house lawyer to fully embrace and understand the world of sales. No book, no movie, no seminar, and no discussions can give you full insight into sales. To fully understand the complexities of Jake LaMotta in “The Bull Fighter”, Robert DeNiro made himself overweight and out of shape to play the aged Jake LaMotta and chiselled and fit as the champ in his prime. To truly understand the life of a sales person, what makes a sales person tick and how he/she lives and breathes, you need to sell.
Actual sales experience will teach you the following:
• The highs and lows of sales.
• How difficult it is to get an actual deal.
• What it feels like to have little guaranteed compensation and the majority of your income based upon what you actually sell. It’s very binary. Either you make the sale or you do not. No excuse or event out of your control will be factored into the equation.
• What it feels like to have a contract in with the client and then have silence, leaving you wondering if the deal is in jeopardy.
• To be part of a published stack rank that lists your month’s performance against the rest of the sales team.
• Being at the bottom of a stack rank.
• Not having your emails or phone calls returned.
• Being in route to a meeting with a key prospect and receiving a terse email that they have to reschedule.
• Receiving sizeable changes and edits from your internal Legal team , that you have to forward to your client, which is going to result in delays in executing the agreement.
• Giving a presentation or demo to a key decision maker that bombs or does not address their needs.
• Being on the cusp of a deal, that you think is all but locked, and getting a terse email that they’ve “gone in a different direction”.
• Dealing with client issues after the sale when things go wrong, placing significant revenue at risk. Then having to communicate this to your sales manager.
• Losing the commission that went with the lost deal.
• Feeling the pressure of a thin pipeline and few meetings scheduled for the next week.
• Living with the unpredictability of variable compensation on a monthly basis.
• Getting a key meeting with the decision maker.
• Turning around multiple “no’s” into a “yes”.
• Penetrating Fortune 500 companies, when there was no previous traction at your company.
• Having a great meeting that results in looking each other in the eye and striking a deal.
• Feeling the thrill and exhilaration of a sale and reflecting on the culmination of months of work, hours of meetings, sales calls, navigating the company landscape, building political allies, difficult internal negotiations with your Sales management, IT, Finance and Legal teams.
• Driving around after a sale closes and feeling on top of the world.
• Receiving your commission on a six or seven figure deal.
You will truly understand the highs and lows of Willie Loman and Shelly “the Machine” Levine.
Actual sales experience will take lawyers out of the ivory tower and figure out how to close gaps and remove barriers. It will provide you a working understanding of the entire sales and support process. It will help you ask better questions, listen differently, identify issues that support the business and anticipate different issues. You will have a different perspective dealing with the other business units and understand that when there is not synergy with the groups, how it will impact revenue. You will have additional credibility and it will help you empathize and better relate to the sales and business development teams, when you can tell them you have been in their shoes and can share stories of success and failure.
Sales experience will help you understand why the contract needs to be completed today or why you may want to rethink making certain edits. It will help you structure the contracts process to eliminate inefficiencies and identify new opportunities to aid the company. You will be able to write better contracts for your company, with a better understanding of terms that you can pull, if necessary, to streamline deal flow. You will be more effective dealing with Fortune 500, and other leading corporations, that force your company to work off of their standard agreement. You will be able to lower non-productive sales time on contract calls, regarding detailed legal issues, which often have a minuscule change of occurrence from a practical business standpoint. You will be a resource to unlock a stalled process or a standstill by having a one to one conversation with the business counterpart on customer side, not just the attorney.
All of these actions will result in increasing prospecting time or customer face time for major sales producers, which will help drive additional revenue and shorten the time to recognize revenue. Moreover, this experience will provide you with greater business understanding to make you more efficient in the other aspects of the job that are baseline to any corporate leadership position. Finally, it will provide a greater perspective in growth, acquisition and/or divestiture opportunities.
So, do the lawyers’ equivalent of a bungee jump, the steepest roller coaster at Six Flags, the sixty foot cliff dive in Jamaica – take a calculated risk to broaden your career and professional skills and get out there and sell. You will not regret it, your company will benefit it, and you will become a better and more effective in-house counsel.
Bio: Lance B. Levy, Esq. is an experienced general counsel serving as Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Imagitas, Inc. and Vice President and General Counsel of Open Pages. He currently leads Corporate and Legal Practices in New England for Applied Discovery. He can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @lancelevy (c) 2011 Lance Levy
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