You’ve worked with the customer for months, closed the big deal, even enjoyed the adulation and now the agreement is with legal. A month later the agreement is still with legal and you’re getting nervous. A conference call is arranged with the customer’s lawyers to go over it. Someone is off sick, so it gets postponed. You finally hold the conference call, a few amendments have to be made, nothing major. Three months later the agreement still isn’t signed, you’re worried about the deal unravelling and are losing the will to live. Oh dear!
In many companies the sales team regard the legal department as a black hole where deals go to die. This may or may not be true but there are a few reasons why it might be…
- Sometimes legal can deliberately delay signing agreements. If you have an ongoing customer they will be buying products using your standard terms and conditions (or an old agreement) until the new one is signed. Thus the new agreement is kicked into the long grass.
- No sense of urgency. Legal are rewarded on a completely different basis to you and have their own goals. What is a critical deal for you is just another project to process for them. Sales and legal work on completely different timescales. Sales people by their nature want results now. As anyone who has had dealings with lawyers personally or professionally know, they work on more glacial kinds of timescales.
- Sometimes there’s something fundamental in the agreement that the legal person objects to but they have been over-ruled. They will not outright refuse to do it, but will just drag their heels every single inch of the way.
So what can you do about this? Bite your nails, lose sleep, have a screaming hissy-fit in their office. All possible, but I’d suggest the following…
- Firstly you need to do some inside selling here. Make sure you’ve sold to the legal person how important the deal is for her, for you, for the whole future of the company.
- Escalate, escalate, escalate. Not by moaning to the legal person’s boss directly, but make sure your boss is fully primed and everyone up to the very top of the organisation. Ensure that everybody at a senior level in the company knows the importance of this deal.
- Keep agreements that you negotiate on the company’s behalf as simple as possible. For instance a bi-lateral agreement is easier to conclude than one involving you, the customer and two other supply partners. Base any agreement on an existing one if possible. It makes things simpler and leaves less loose ends to negotiate over.
- If you have a legal negotiation with the customer make sure that you have some senior people in the meeting along with legal. It makes it more difficult to kick something into the long grass if a CxO has already agreed to it.
- If there isn’t a natural deadline on the agreement make a deadline. A good one is to tee-up a CEO-to-CEO meeting with the customer in x weeks, and make sure all parties know this is for the official signing. Even legal can be prodded into action when the CEO doesn’t want to look a fool.