Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Legal Department v. Sales Department: Round 1!

In my post, The Essential Tool-Kit for the In-house Lawyer, one of the contributors of an idea for an item to include in the kit mentioned the essential requirement of "an effigy of a sales manager to stick pins in".



Justified?

In each in-house legal position I've held there has been, without fail, a friction between the Legal team and the Sales & Marketing team.  The reason?  Our teams respective purposes within the company are diametrically opposed.

The job of Sales & Marketing:- to sell the company's products and services to as many customers as possible. This more often that not entails a burning desire on the part of the Sales & Marketing team to raise the expectations of the customer, consequently making the customer believe that the product or service is a whole lot more than it likely is, and at a great price to boot.

And the job of the Legal team:- to manage expectations, to manage risk.  To ensure that the customer knows exactly what they're buying, and at exactly what price too.

It's a battlefield at the best of times; and I pity any fresh-faced law graduate starting from the top of the ivory tower, when placed in front of an aggressive and experienced Sales Director at month-end intent on reaching his target.  However,  in my experience I've learned that there's no reason that the friction can't be a healthy friction.

The Defence?

The best Sales Director I've worked alongside was at a previous role I held in the package travel industry.  A highly-competitive industry, low margins, a pile 'em high sell 'em cheap mentality, and heaving with regulation particularly advertising regulation.  I say "worked alongside" this Sales Director because that's Rule 1 of working in-house: no matter which department of the company you're in, you're all on the same team.

This Sales Director knew his product and his target market inside out, but he also knew the law inside out too.  Which meant he tested me.  Every product, every promotion, every advertisement was pushed to the limits of what was legally acceptable.  It became apparent to me very quickly that it wasn't enough to simply say "you can't say that in the ad, its against such and such regulation": he knew the regulations word for word, he knew what the regulations did and didn't say, he knew every code of conduct on the subject, every discussion which led to the code of conduct being formulated, and every case bought to the attention of the ASA.  This guy knew his stuff! Which meant that I needed to know it better and more thoroughly than he did to stand my ground when it mattered most.  It was a great lesson in law and, more importantly, its practical application.

Opposing counsel?

They're not all like that and most dis-regard the law, or alternatively make up their own version of it.  But keep in mind Rule 1, and your battleground will become a more workable place to be.

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