In-house lawyers focus on collaboration, legal processes, and firefighting. Adam Glick, Intercom's head of legal, explains why customer acquisition should also sit high on their list of priorities.
Hi 👋 who are you?
I’m Adam, head of legal at Intercom. I was brought in as the first lawyer to build out the legal function and I’m responsible for providing legal support throughout the entire company.
What's the legal landscape like at Intercom?
The legal landscape at Intercom was lacking structure before I joined, because Intercom didn’t have an in-house team! Now I have a cross-functional team of three, and together with a group of trusted external legal firms, we’re dedicated to working with different business units and understanding their legal requirements.
Why is it important for a legal department to think about customer acquisition?
Without customers, there is no legal department. A good legal department needs to be laser-focused on customer acquisition and growth. We need to partner with our sales team and other customer-facing business units to facilitate customer acquisition. An in-house legal department should be cognizant of providing a positive experience to potential customers when working with the customer’s legal and procurement teams.
“To be successful as a legal leader at a high-growth company, aligning the level of risk with the objectives of the business is paramount”
Should customer acquisition be a top priority as the business scales?
Absolutely! At a high-growth company, a legal department must effectively balance two pillars:
- Customer acquisition and growth
- Risk management and compliance
At times, these two pillars can create some potential conflict, as growth can require accepting a bit more risk. To be successful as a legal leader at a high-growth company, aligning the level of risk with the objectives of the business is paramount.
There is legal risk that is worth accepting, and then other legal risk which creates too much potential exposure to the business. It’s about identifying the high-risk issues from the low-risk issues, and ensuring you address the former. To maintain high growth requires a bit more tolerance around the low-risk issues.
At what stage of the customer acquisition process should legal get involved?
Normally, the legal department gets involved later in the customer acquisition process. Parties have agreed they want to do business together, contracts have been exchanged, and then legal teams are brought together to negotiate the appropriate terms and conditions.
I subscribe to the theory that a legal department should be involved with customer acquisition much earlier; ideally, when the sales team begins to discuss the “legal element” of the transaction. It’s helpful to introduce the respective legal teams as early as possible in order to assist in the contract review process.
Some terms in contracts can be confusing; if the customer doesn’t understand why clauses are in a template, they will remove the clauses during negotiation. But those clauses might be essential to providing the service, so having a prior discussion to explain the rationale can be helpful.
This can be easier said than done - sales teams are sometimes reluctant to involve the legal department earlier in the customer acquisition process. It’s understandable - legal can be construed as a bit of a roadblock. There’s a fear of tension or unnecessary friction if lawyers get involved, but the legal department has a responsibility to collaborate with the sales team in order to facilitate a smoother negotiation.
"Strong relationships with a customer’s legal counsel has its benefits - I can streamline negotiations in advance by picking up the phone or sending a simple email. There's already a level of comfort, trust and familiarity"
What about customer retention? Can legal play a part there?
Customers are going to be retained if they receive value from the product or service - but a legal department can establish, build and sustain relationships with those customers during the initial procurement process. I’ve built strong relationships with a customer’s legal counsel, and it has its benefits - for new transactions, I can streamline legal negotiations in advance by picking up the phone or sending a simple email. There's already a level of comfort, trust and familiarity between the respective legal departments.
What advice can you give in-house and private practice lawyers looking to be more customer-focused?
- Have fun, be personable - illustrate the human side of being a lawyer!
- Be collaborative - remember both parties have a common goal, which is a contract which allows them to conduct business
- Don’t shy away from creativity - how can you come up with a creative solution that satisfies both parties involved in the negotiation?
- Communicate with your business - help them understand your perspective, and showcase your value as a partner
The legal function can be thought of as an impediment, so it’s important for the legal department to work well with the sales team to prove otherwise. Customer acquisition is essential; a legal department should focus on playing a role to help the business succeed in its initiatives.
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