“If you don’t embrace the sales environment, you will not do well here.”

Why David Mussman demands a sales-adept legal team at West Corporation

When West Corporation originally asked me to join the company in an effort to cut legal costs, I knew there was more value to be created for the company. I didn’t want to be in a place where all I did as a legal officer was worry about saving money. It’s not the best use of a legal department. The legal department should actively help a company generate revenue. It’s important to manage costs, but saving money is not our number one goal. I wanted the legal department to be in sync with the company’s goal: profitable growth.

West Corporation sells a variety of communication products and services in many vertical markets and geographic locations. We are the largest conferencing provider in the world. We manage millions of 9-1-1 calls each year. We help virtually every utility in America deal with outages, and we help some of the largest health-care companies communicate with their customers.

Contracts are an important part of the business. I knew I could help get agreements done faster and with less friction between the people who need to deliver the product and service and the client. It doesn’t have to be confrontational; this isn’t a battlefield. I spent four years as an insurance agent and sales leader, so I knew I could sell and close deals. Not only that, we could do it in an economical and efficient way, eliminating client-impacting issues down the road by focusing on what is important for West and our clients.

That’s the philosophy we’ve used to build our department over the last 16 years. Our commercial lawyers are really salespeople who happen to have law degrees. When recruiting, I always look for people with a sales background—maybe before college, between college and law school, or even as kids. They have to understand the sales process, and they have to understand how to close deals. At West, legal is not an obstacle that sales must overcome; legal is a tool that sales uses to get their deals done.

In my early years with West, I made a lot of client calls by myself. I knew our business well enough to negotiate the business and legal issues together. I’ve worked hard to bring attorneys to West who already have a sales attitude and like a sales atmosphere. Some have gone on to be general counsel at other companies and have adopted the same sales-driven philosophy.

I look for competitive people who are comfortable with salespeople challenging them. There are more than 650 of them, and only 50 of us. Salespeople outnumber you and can wear you down, unless you can harness that power. If you embrace the sales culture, you can get a great deal done with their help. If you don’t embrace the sales environment, you will not do well here. I am very blunt about that.

Once on board with us, we make sure our attorneys understand the products and the sales process. They need to understand what our salespeople are doing and why. As a legal team, we have three sales to make: First, we have to sell our internal teams on why a contract needs to be structured a certain way. Second, we have to sell to our client that West is the right vendor. And third, we have to convince both that we can document a deal that reflects both of their business goals. I rarely step in to demand a certain outcome. We need to build trust and confidence with our client and our internal team. Both need to know the person on the phone can close a deal.

I love to have a newly hired lawyer team up with good, seasoned sales and operations people, so they have a chance to put together quality, profitable deals out of the gate. It’s fun to get some early success. Our organization doesn’t care what your background is or what law school you went to; it wants to know if you can help it get a contract signed. That’s how you earn credibility at West.

In running the department, I focus on five things: revenue growth, revenue protection, acquisition integration, compliance, and intellectual property protection. I ask my team to know their internal client as well as the customer. They know to ask questions to assess if clients really understand regulatory issues and information security risks, for example. I also ask them to spend time with our salespeople. Salespeople need to like their legal partner. Before they go home on Friday, my attorneys send e-mails to their internal business clients and salesperson to make sure the process doesn’t stop. When lawyers ask to go faster, it tells everyone that time is of the essence. Legal is the one place every deal has to go through before it’s finalized. We can have a tremendous impact on the cadence of deal flow.

Our clients want lawyers who really understand the legal issues they face in their industry. They expect and deserve to have people at West who know their business and make it easier to navigate the legal requirements of that business. They don’t want to be on a call for four hours talking about legal issues that don’t matter. The best sales lawyers know that, and they help everyone drive to a favorable outcome.

I’ve never seen a business that doesn’t need to sell. These ideas can apply at almost any enterprise. At West, we have a huge variety of services. Our businesses are very diverse, but we apply the same strategy to each one because it works.