Marketing is Evil and Legal Keeps Us from Selling
And other myths that restrain organizational success By Abdul Rastagar “The way I see it, marketing is a necessary evil. If it was up to me, I would not approve anything you guys do,” a senior corporate counsel at a former employer once sneered to me shortly after I joined the company. It was an early warning that I had just stepped into a very one-sided and antagonistic business environment. I can’t imagine what must have happened over the years to get to this point, but I was the one who had to deal with the consequences.
In product management and marketing, we may be tempted to sneer back about how legal prevents us from doing our jobs effectively. But before we sharpen our verbal knives and aim them at the lawyers, remember that this is a two-way street. How often have we on the business team been guilty of similarly disparaging attitudes? Audible sighs, eye rolls and contemptuous looks are common reactions to anything legal says or does. At one company, we condescendingly referred to the compliance group as the sales mitigation team. Is it any wonder then that legal and business often view themselves antagonistically rather than as part of the same team?
These two groups don’t have to have diametrically opposed goals. A collaborative relationship can be developed if both parties see themselves as equal partners in a common mission: the quest to serve the customer.
It’s critical to find common ground. However, loud musings about collaboration and other vague buzzwords does not lead to a solution. To become true partners, legal and business must get specific about how their collaboration should look.
- Build a positive relationship. The onus is on the business team. Invite your legal colleagues to lunch some time and get to know them. You’ll discover that they do not have horns on their heads.
- Check the attitude at the door. If you start out with a contemptuous view of your colleagues, you won’t have a productive relationship.
- Develop a process for review and collaboration. Make sure it’s bi-directional. If the process simply dictates that the business team must obtain legal’s approval (without any accountability from legal,) it will only build resentment. Perhaps you’ve seen the impact this type of resentment can have on the product team’s creativity and enthusiasm.
- Establish common standards for success. Some legal teams may tend to turn communications into disclaimers. But is your audience really qualified to interpret legalese? As a best practice, communications to the general consumer market target a fourth-grade writing level (shocking, isn’t it?) As partners, the legal team must understand such requirements, much as the product and marketing teams must understand the regulatory context in which the business operates. Coming to agreement on standards beforehand helps guide the work once it is underway.
To be productive, a set of specific responsibilities for each team should include:
At the end of the day, legal often has the power and ultimate authority. If that’s the case for you, that’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be an us vs. them environment. It is possible to create a mutually collaborative environment, in which legal acts as a responsible business-enablement partner. Following the steps outlined in this blog will help build the foundation.
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