Today, it seems like legal departments are playing an increasingly important role in B2B sales interactions. I could speculate on the reasons why (A more litigious society? A larger population of lawyers? More cautious buyers?), but I won’t. Instead I’d like to give you a few ideas about what to do if you've convinced everyone in the organization to buy from you, but legal suddenly gets involved.
In other words how can you present your offering in a way that minimizes resistance from a legal department?
First, a confession: I’m a recovering lawyer. That’s right, before I re-discovered the joys of professional selling, I tried the law. It was not for me. And I was not for it. But the experience did provide me some useful insight into how they think...and how they buy...
Let’s not pay too much attention to the litigators. They’re the ones who argue in courts. If you get arrested, call a litigator. If you find yourself in a customer’s legal department, you’re probably talking to non-litigating attorneys. They’re the ones who are reviewing your contracts, letters of agreement, and proposals.
Naturally, if your company has a legal department of its own, there’s a pretty good chance that they won’t let you talk to other lawyers. They’re a very exclusive group. Obviously, I can't speak to the intricacies of complex contract negotiations or highly regulated industries. But, if you're just an average salesperson who suddenly finds yourself talking to lawyers, it might look something like this typical scenario...
You’re selling widgets (or even services for widgets). You convince the decision maker, the user, and everyone else that it's a smart move. You’re such a good salesperson that you’ve even convinced the CFO of the value you bring! But, at the last minute, some prudent person says, “Well, I like it and we want it, but we’ve got to run it by legal. Can you talk to our in-house Counsel?" Words of doom!
Lawyers have one, single, universal driving force in their professional lives.
Every professional move they make is driven by one thought: How can I avoid winding up in court?
In other words, their biggest fear is exposure! That means that everything you do, say, or write should emphasize how limited any potential exposure is.
But how do you do that?
Here are 5 to-do's:
- Do present your offering in a way that allows for completely predictable performance.
- Do minimize any human elements to your offer (because that’s unpredictable).
- Do describe the fact that you and your organization run like clockwork.
- Do highlight the fact that you'll deliver, predictably, on every promise.
- Do speak (or, better yet, write) precisely and emphasize the fact that you will work with them (within reason) to accomplish what they’re after.
Here are 3 don't's:
- Never ask lawyers to “take a chance” with you. That's not a sure thing.
- Don’t promise them the opportunity to be bold. That's too risky.
- Don’t say you’re “close to the mark.” That's not predictable.
As an aside, lawyers will almost always prefer writing rather than talking on the phone or meeting in person. They like a record. Why? You guessed it: Exposure. The secret to writing to a lawyer is precision and . . . minimizing exposure.
I’m not a practicing lawyer, so this is not legal advice. Just some tips to minimize resistance from lawyers when you've got the rest of the company on your side.