In this series of interviews with legal's key internal clients, we learn all about what effective collaboration looks like, what 'excellent' looks like, and what ultimately they want from their legal colleagues. Read the whole collection here: Enabling The Business
James Ireson is the Chief Revenue Officer at Funnel, the Marketing Data Hub that enables marketers to connect, store, organize and share business-ready data in one single place. Before joining Funnel, James helped customers buy software at Zendesk, Fizzback and Bloomberg, and worked as a Venture Partner at Eight Roads.
Which teams report to you?
We call them ‘rev dev’ - revenue development teams. These include:
- Business development reps (BDRs)
- Sales development reps (SDRs)
- The sales team
- Account management
Have you ever had a negative experience working with lawyers?
My first exposure to legal was at an early stage company of around 200 people.
I used to work with a competitive lawyer, who made life difficult - I was trying to introduce us to a new style of customer interaction, given we were engaging with enterprise customers.
I often said that we have to change and do things differently - which led to a really adversarial negotiation style.
In sales, especially within SaaS, it’s important to have a win-win partnership, and that’s fortunately what I had during my time at Zendesk and Funnel.
What’s your experience like working with legal at Funnel?
Funnel’s legal team is amazing. We have a Slack channel, which shows all contract negotiations at any given time. The legal team has an ingenious use of Slack in place.
I’m not the biggest fan of Slack - I think you can turn it into an Operating System where it’s not meant to be. But the way our legal team uses it is first class.
I’m passively interacting with those negotiations in Slack because I always have an eye on the contracts in play.
Which contracts are we negotiating that shouldn’t be in negotiations? And is that an enablement opportunity for a salesperson, or should somebody intervene? Are we being played by a procurement team, a prospect, or a customer’s legal team? Are we being treated fairly?
Once or twice a week I’ll be in contact with our CLO, Victoria Sörving, to discuss a particular contract. We also work on refreshing our processes, asking whether our ways of working still work.
Legal needs to realize that the business internally is a series of partnerships with clear-cut boundaries
In what kind of situations would you turn to the legal team?
The situation that crops up the most is requests for a contract review with a massive financial institution, for example, that’ll spend a small amount of money with us.
My alarm bells go off because that’s an unfair relationship, and we shouldn’t be committing to it. So I flag it with Victoria and ask whether legal needs any support.
Another, more recent example is around a legal sprint we ran recently, with the intention of granting some autonomy to the sales team and reducing the workload on legal.
We would ask ourselves: are we negotiating more than we need to be negotiating? What are the trends that we’re seeing? Do the revenue teams have the right tools? Do they know how to talk about this?
There’s a particular dance that you do when you are talking to a customer and legal’s involved.
We’re at the point of trying to communicate that dance across the team, so they know how to respond to a customer, when to defer to a lawyer, and so on.
What soft skills are essential for an effective in-house legal team?
A few points spring to mind:
- Legal needs to realize that the business internally is a series of partnerships with clear-cut boundaries. Victoria and I are great at being super clear on responsibilities and task allocation, which makes a huge difference.
- You need to be able to trust your sales people, sales leaders, and revenue experts. I’ve worked in companies with an underlying view that the lawyer should be the person who makes all the decisions, because sales can’t be trusted - which I find offensive!
- Work in the same way as others. In my previous role, our Head of Legal would join the sales desk for the last three or four days of the quarter. She’d cheer when a deal was closed, she’d be sad when a deal fell through.
She became part of the team, and it was invaluable - to know we’re in this together, instead of sales sprinting to the finish line while legal worked disconnected from the action.
The legal team is a business partner, and as a group of people aligned to business objectives, they need to be able to change and adapt
What can legal do to enable you and the teams that report to you?
The legal team is a business partner, and as a group of people aligned to business objectives, they need to be able to change and adapt.
Legal needs to recognize that something they did yesterday might not be applicable today.
I address my team in the beginning of the quarter by saying: whatever you did last year, be prepared to throw it away. Being adaptable in that sense can help legal teams enable sales and the wider business.
Turning the question around, what can your team do to enable legal?
We want to establish processes and systems that allow us to work without needing hand-holding from legal. I don’t really ever need to speak to legal, unless it’s really important.
It’s also something I communicate clearly with the legal function; Victoria knows that if I’m getting in touch, I’m not throwing tasks over the fence and expecting legal to solve my problems.
Enjoyed this interview? Want to hear from other C-suite leaders on how they interact with legal? Read the collection in full: 'What the business wants from legal in 2023'.