• November 21, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Sign Here, Click Send

EchoSign, a provider of electronic signature and signature automation solutions, released the fourth edition of its flagship product on Tuesday. The Web-based EchoSign 4.0 aims to create a "frictionless" process for "closing deals in the cloud," says Jason Lemkin, the company's chief executive officer. New features include an industry-benchmarking tool, real-time reporting and alerts, performance tracking, and custom workflows.

Especially during an economic downturn, Lemkin emphasizes the role electronic signatures play as an advantage to clinching the deal. "Competition is only going to get more fierce in the downturn," he says. "If I can close my customer in minutes, it's a huge advantage over someone who has to wait for a FedEx'd contract." By nature, consumers are more reluctant to make purchases in a recession. Therefore, it becomes mission-critical for sales to take better advantage of the ever-more-rare opportunities. "Nobody needs to buy anything [right now], but once you have someone that wants your product...close them that minute, that hour," he says.

EchoSign's benchmarking tool allows companies to anonymously enter their company data into an aggregated pool of companies competing in the same vertical. Companies can then compare against peers their metrics for time-to-sale and closing rates. Currently, EchoSign 4.0 supports six groups live:

  • software-as-a-service;
  • media;
  • inside sales;
  • telecommunications;
  • human resources; and
  • finance.

New groups, Lemkin says, will be automatically created whenever there's demand in excess of 100 companies.

Electronic signatures, used in both B2C and B2B relationships, provide significant benefits to business processes, says Gregg Kreizman, research director at Gartner. Some of these benefits include:

  • automating a process that otherwise requires printing and delivery by courier, or faxing;
  • resolving potential for customer drop-offs where they may go to a competitor;
  • completing a transaction more quickly than someone who doesn't have the solution in place; and
  • promoting "green" technology practices.

Lemkin argues that while CRM systems track your corporate performance on a high level, once companies become inundated with thousands of contracts, they begin to lose fine-tuned visibility. EchoSign provides reporting capabilities that detail the percent of agreements signed, average time-to-sign, and user and group performance over time, according to the company. The software enables managers to track the progress of individual representatives as well as overall team performance in an effort to promote productivity. According to Lemkin, approximately 60 percent of EchoSign customers use the solution as a standalone product while the rest integrate it into their overall CRM systems, most of which are powered by Salesforce.com.

Kreizman says that he's skeptical of EchoSign's role as a standalone solution for contract management and performance management. Obtaining the electronic signature certainly closes the deal, but the events leading up to it require much more investment, he says. "I have a feeling most organizations manage the sales and contract management process more holistically," he adds, indicating that EchoSign's metrics represent a smaller, more-lightweight portion of the overall sales cycle.

In addition to receiving metrics on their own performance, sales representatives can also track and receive alerts about the status of an outbound contract. "They can find out the second a customer views a contract," Lemkin says, which enables them to take any appropriate action necessary to facilitate the sale.

Understanding that sales is not the most tech-friendly of departments, EchoSign aims to empower the team, rather than debilitate them with a cumbersome solution. "We tried to make the product frictionless -- frictionless to get visibility, frictionless to sign," Lemkin says. "Part of 'frictionless' is that you don't have to figure too much out.... It boils down to getting your sales team to use the product."

As adoption of electronic signatures continues to grow, Kreizman notes that EchoSign's subscription-based pricing structure -- which begins at a monthly rate of $12.95 for the Pro edition, $99 for Team, and $299 for Enterprise -- has certainly pushed the trend in the right direction.

Still, Kreizman warns that the riskier the transaction, the more likely an electronic signature will lead to fraudulent activity and consequently, loss or damage for a given party. Basic best practices include:

  • gaining consent;
  • knowing the identity and relative status of the signer, and that signer's level of risk (i.e., a low-end, low-value transaction may not require as much effort around identify verification as one of higher value);
  • authenticating a repeat customer before allowing the reuse of an electronic signature;
  • legitimizing the signed record by embedding technology to provide context (e.g., date and time) around the signature; and
  • determining a method for managing the records (i.e., can you reproduce the record in court if necessary).

While this technology can lead to significant cost- and time-savings, Kreizman says he's reluctant to "assign too much importance to electronic signatures." They are, after all, just "one part of an overall business process," he says. Nevertheless, he continues to encourage the adoption of electronic signatures as a favorable mechanism for optimizing the sales cycle.

"There are very few signature-oriented processes that can't move online," he says.  

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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