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How To Cope With Lawyers Who Block Sales

All you want to do is close the deal. Then some lawyer comes along -- usually during the final negotiations, and throws a legal wrench into the works. Suddenly, you're coming up a day late and a quota short. All because your local shyster need to prove he could naysay your deal.

Sound familiar? Don't despair. It is possible to deal with with lawyers while selling and not go nuts - providing you know the rules:

  • Rule #1: Know your enemy. Lawyers think differently about business than you do. For sales reps, business is all about opportunity and possibility. For lawyers, business is all about avoiding risk. Lawyers are trained to thrive in an adversarial legal system where there's always a winner and a loser, so the concept of a win/win deal -- a fundamental of sales culture -- is utterly foreign to them. If you understand that, then you can talk to them in language that they'll understand. Start every conversations with "Let's make sure this deal doesn't go bad" rather than something like "I need to make my monthly numbers."
  • Rule #2: Cultivate a relationship. If you want your deals to breeze through legal review, take the time to cultivate the legal staff as allies. Let them know that you appreciate that they're protecting the company. Thank them whenever a contract gets signed (even if they hindered rather than helped.) Take them out to lunch. You want them to feel bad if they block your deals and only do so if they're 100 percent convinced the deal would end in a disaster.
  • Rule #3: Fly below the radar. If both you and your customer are willing to do business using letters of understanding, your lawyers (and your customers) will probably sit on the sidelines. Signed letters are legal documents so they're good enough for simple deals. Similarly, most companies give managers a certain amount of leeway when it comes to purchasing. If you can keep the deal within the parameters of your customer's signature approval, you can avoid an irritating (and possibly costly) legal tussle.
  • Rule #4: Understand your sample contract. Sit down with your lawyer and over your firm's sample contract. Read each paragraph aloud and ask the lawyer: "what does this mean in plain English?" The lawyer will say something like: "Oh, that means that they can't sue us if our product kills someone." Next to the contract paragraph (which probably consists of 500-plus legal buzzwords), write: "You can't sue us if our product kills somebody." When you're done, you'll know what each part the contract means.
  • Rule #5: Manage the risks. Contract laws are not inviolable, like the laws of nature. A lot of interpretation goes into each element of a contract so there are undoubtedly items in your firm's standard contract conditions where your lawyers can give you negotiating leeway. Lawyers are all about managing risks, so if you're going to deviate from whatever makes the lawyers feel warm and comfy, you'll need to find other ways to cover your company's behind.
  • Rule #6: Flatten the roadblocks. Early in the sales cycle, get a copy of the customer's standard contract that would cover the kind of product or service that you're selling. Pass that document to your own legal staff so that they can identify items that might be a problem or which different wildly from the provisions in your standard contract. If you've identify the problem early, you have the time to work with your lawyers to come up with a compromise that keeps both sides happy.
  • Rule #7: Don't cave in. Many sales professionals try to close dumb deals at the end of a quarter, simply to make their numbers. The natural impulse of a lawyer, when feeling rushed, is to apply the brakes. So the last thing you want is knotty contract problems surfacing at the end of a sales cycle. Do you habitually try to squeeze sales into the last few days of the quarter? If so, you're probably writing deals that are likely to attract your legal staff.
The above is largely based on a conversation with Tobey Marzouk, a lawyer with Marzouk and Parry, a firm based in Washington, DC that specializes in software contracts and litigation
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