Law in Contemporary Society

Three Lessons from my Summer Sales Internship So Far

-- By ElizabethBrandt - 13 June 2016

So far, my summer internship is not at all what I expected. I chose a tiny start-up that’s trying to reduce litigation costs by using Artificial Intelligence in privilege review. They offered less than Columbia’s guaranteed summer funding, but it seemed like the perfect intersection of law and business for me, with the added benefit of taking me back to San Francisco for the summer. The co-founder was in the midst of raising a seed round and I couldn’t wait to review term sheets, enterprise contracts, and meet with angels and VCs in the Bay, whom I find more tolerable than their NY counterparts. If I’m being completely honest, I was mostly excited to have a fun, carefree summer in the Bay with my old (and some new) friends.

Most of my expectations were shattered on my first day in the “office” – the Microsoft Reactor office, which houses the highly technical Alchemist accelerator, of which we are a member. My boss sat me down and told me to expect 60+ hour weeks and had me run a cold e-mail campaign trying to sell our sort-of-ready product to each of the AmLaw 100. I wasn’t thrilled to say the least; this was not my idea of my last summer of “freedom.” However, during that conversation I realized how much I’ve changed over the past year when I noticeably flinched as he described the company’s ultimate goal of selling the product to governments around the world for use as a counter-terrorism tool and again when he compared the company to Palantir. I wondered if I should say anything about it, but reasoned that my first conversation with the co-founder on the first day was neither the time nor the place. A year ago I probably would have only thought that this was a good strategy and an interesting case study – if I thought about it at all.

Lesson One: I Hate Sales.

Those first couple of days, I thought that if nothing else, this project would give me exposure to firms of which I had never heard. By the end of the week, as I started a cold e-mail campaign for enterprise companies, I realized that I was the summer inside salesperson and I was not pleased. I am not particularly suited to a sales function. I can usually fake the small talk (often with liquid aid), but I find it exhausting and, typically, deflating. This was probably my first lesson this summer as someone who purports to want to eventually open her own practice – sales is always the name of the game, and I’m not particularly fond of the game. While garnering clients is admittedly very different from selling enterprise software, my first lesson was that I much prefer sitting at my desk with contracts than to go out into the world and try to drum up business.

Lesson Two: Sales is actually fun. Not really – but it’s important to feel tangible progress at work.

My second lesson of the summer was that getting out of your comfort zone and actually selling is an incredibly rewarding experience. The enterprise sales cycle typically lasts 6 – 18 months, with the average sale taking over 12 months. The first step is just getting someone to take your call or respond to your e-mail. After our first cold e-mail campaign to law firm CIOs, I expected a hit rate of exactly 0. Much to my surprise, the next day we had a response from someone asking for more information. Though we piqued his interest mostly through click bait by comparing our product to ROSS Intelligence’s use of IBM Watson in legal research (not at all related to our product), he was still open to a conversation and seemed interested to learn about the technology behind our company.

Getting a response from a cold e-mail and listening in on a sales pitch describing the product gave me such a sense of elation. There was a tangible result from the work, and it was such a clear sign of progress, something I’ve never felt about my work before despite hour after mind-numbing hour of half-hearted “goal setting.” It’s extremely unlikely that I’ll see any of my leads close in a deal this summer, but that sales call was an excellent reminder to celebrate the small victories whenever possible and to set goals that have a tangible and meaningful impact. Additionally, it was an important reminder of why people love sales – the thrill of a response, a “yes,” a deal.

Lesson Three: I should be a lawyer.

The most important lesson that I have learned so far this summer is that I want to be a lawyer. While I was elated to land a sales call during my first e-mail campaign, I was far more excited when my boss “rewarded” me by letting me review and annotate our form Proof of Concept contract and MNDA. While I’m sure this thrill will quickly wear off, I learned that I genuinely find the law to be an interesting subject. I honestly miss discussing cases, I relish our sales visits to law firms because the lawyers give us insight into their processes on everything from document review to billing a client, and I can’t wait for the next round of contract negotiations with our potential first client because I know I’ll get the opportunity to work with our MSA and Statement of Work documents.

Since I worked for several years before law school, I was fairly certain that I was making the right decision when I first applied. However, this summer has confirmed for me in so many ways that I am on the right path. When I look back on 1L year, I feel that same sense of elation I felt when we got our first cold e-mail response. This thing we’re doing is big, important, and life changing. And we’re making real progress.

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r5 - 13 Jun 2016 - 21:02:47 - ElizabethBrandt
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