It’s 12 months since I stopped being a lawyer. Well, I still cling to my practising certificate just in case it’s ever needed as a life jacket, so technically still am a lawyer. I guess what I mean is it’s that long since I stopped lawyering.
And one thing I’ve belatedly developed over those 12 months is an empathy with the sales-teams that used to be some of my in-house clients. However hard I tried to ensure that my old legal team supported our sales colleagues, I was motivated to help them for not entirely the right reasons. I knew their work was critical to the business because it brought in revenue. Quite frequently, I would prioritise legal resource based on deal value. And this is why I was motivated to help them, to push the revenue indicator in the right direction. I wasn’t always motivated to help out of a sense of empathy, that a colleague needed some help to push months of their own hard work over the line.
Quite frequently too, I regarded these sales contracts that crossed our desks as more akin to order forms, which the hapless sales person had only had to pick up the phone to their client to get approved. I guess I sometimes even dismissed sales as akin to order taking, something that didn’t require too much thought. Surely not much of substance can have happened before the legal team was engaged by the business to review the small print?
As a result my empathy with some (not all) of my sales colleagues was occasionally (they can determine how occasionally!) lacking. I’ll admit that one of my biggest bug-bears was the sales rep who’d turn up in the legal department with a low revenue deal, claiming it needed to be prioritised because “this is just the start”.
I now realise that I was missing a lot of the sales picture. Sales takes time. It takes skill. It takes emotional intelligence. It takes listening, a lot of listening. It means persuading clients to try something new, sometimes to start small and think about going bigger if they like it. It can even require a little bit of luck. It is far far more than order taking.
I’ve certainly not mastered (or even half mastered, in fact make that quarter or an eighth for that matter) the art in 12 months. But I certainly understand a lot more about it now than I did a year ago. And as a result I know that if I ever went back to lawyering (*shudders*), that I’d be a better lawyer because I’d have a better understanding of how much work has gone on in the background before the legal team get asked to look at a sales contract.
I’d be more emotionally engaged in the process of helping to conclude a sale.
I was talking to a seasoned sales professional a couple of weeks ago with many impressive deal miles under his belt. He was expressing frustration with the legal process at his company and how it slowed his deals down. I suggested he take his in-house lawyers to a couple of sales meetings, to give them a feel for the sales process. To help with the empathy thing (it has to cut two ways of course).
Whether he does or not, I don’t know. But I’d be willing to bet that it would improve the contract turn-around speeds he currently enjoys if he does. Empathy can be one hell of a motivator.