How to Align Sales and Legal in the Contract Process

sales and legal contract negotiation

Guest Article Submitted by: Gregg Nelson of York IE.

Gregg Nelson is Vice President of Sales at York IE, a vertically integrated strategic growth and investment firm for technology companies.

Depending on how well you align your sales process to the buyer journey, the contract process can be either seamless or defeating.

Many salespeople know the feeling: You’re on the edge of sealing the deal, but a complication in the contract stops you at the one-yard line.

Knowing this, many sales professionals consider the legal review of contracts as a roadblock. Constant redlining drives both sales and legal crazy. It shouldn’t be this way!

Sales and legal teams should be developing relationships and working together for the best outcomes — outcomes that benefit both parties while protecting both businesses as well.

I’ve worked in sales for B2B software companies large and small for the past 15 years. In my current role as vice president of sales at York IE, I’ve helped many of our Advisory as a Service clients build, implement and enhance their sales strategies. That’s to say: I’ve seen first-hand how alignment between sales and legal can expedite the contract process and drive revenue faster. Sales professionals should get ahead of the contract process early in the buyer journey. Your main goal is to do everything in your power to avoid curveballs that could potentially delay your deal. Let’s discuss how salespeople can build strong relationships with their prospects and legal teams to close deals sooner.

Essential Questions to Ask Your Champion

Setting the foundation for an expedited contract process begins with your prospect, also known as your champion. This is the person who will be advocating for the purchase of your product or service within your customer’s organization.

In most cases, I’d recommend that salespeople start to broach the subject at the end of their second call — after they’ve conducted deep discovery and begun asking soft closing questions. Here are a few questions to relay to your champion:

  • What is the desired date to start receiving value from this product?
  • What is your team’s internal buying process for a product like this? or, The last time your team purchased a product like this, what was the process like?
  • We usually see it takes about XX days to implement this product. Does that align with how your team is looking at this?
    • If they answer yes: To accomplish that, we are probably looking at an effective date of X. Does that seem fair?
    • If they answer no: What’s the typical schedule for implementing a new product?
  • Can you help me understand who else may be involved in this process?
  • Who will be involved when we walk through the product demonstration?
  • Is there a security review?
    • Who is involved?
    • What is involved in that process?
    • How long does that process typically take?
  • Who is involved in your legal review and what is the typical turnaround time?

Questions like these will help prepare you for what’s to come and ensure that you’ve achieved true buy-in from your champion. You’ll be much less likely to waste your legal team’s time if you have this information upfront.

Even if you can’t address things directly, you can have conversations internally and have a plan for responses. Typical hangups might involve contract length, payment terms and the state in which the buyer’s legal team would need to settle any potential legal matters.

5 Tips for Handling the Contract Process

I’ll say it again: The contract process doesn’t have to be a roadblock. The key lies in constant communication with your champion and legal team:

1. Build rapport with your internal legal team.

Far too often, legal teams are made to feel like a hindrance. In truth, they’re doing valuable work that protects your company. Try to build a strong relationship with your legal team to reach a mutual understanding of what’s needed for a smooth process.

2. Think about the buyer’s journey, not the seller’s process.

At York IE, we talk a lot about the concept of buyer-centricity. Closing your deal is about adapting to the way that your champion does business. That’s why it’s important to ask open-ended questions. How does this process typically work for your company? What’s your timeline for seeing value from our product?

Develop a plan with your prospect and establish a sequence of events for an optimal outcome. This is determined early in the process and agreed upon by the buyer and seller.

3. Have a list of pre-made responses from legal for repeatable items.

This ties back to building a strong rapport with the legal team. Identify the contract items that are constantly being redlined and be ready to address them. This will reduce the back-and-forth, and your legal team will appreciate that you’ve reduced some of the repeatable manual effort required to move the process forward.

4. Don’t be afraid to respectfully negotiate.

If your champion asks you to make changes to your contract terms, it often opens the door for you to be able to ask for something in return. This isn’t always the case, so use your judgment. Customary things you can discuss and negotiate include the term length of the contract, overall price, payment terms and start dates.

5. Connect both legal teams, if needed and able.

It’s inevitable that there will be items in the contract that you can’t negotiate. This is where rapport with your buyer and legal team can be beneficial. Can you help connect both legal teams over a brief call to talk these items through? Oftentimes, with a little explanation from each side, you can come to a mutual agreement that satisfies both parties and allows everyone to move forward with the deal at hand. A few minutes on a Zoom call can limit back-and-forth redlining.

Prioritize Preparation and Communication

Mastery of the contract process will help you come off as an expert in the sales process with your buyer. Sound preparation and clear communication will help both the buyer and seller be accountable for timelines throughout the process. This will make things run more seamlessly and help you get to the best optimal outcome at the end of the buyer journey.

Red lines and delayed deals aren’t fun for anyone. Do your part to prevent these headaches so you can drive more revenue, sooner.

For a legal professional’s perspective on the contract process, check out this post from Wendy Chung, general counsel at ModCounsel.

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