5 Ways E-Contract Management Is Reshaping CRM

In today's business landscape, everything is a customer relationship issue. Traditional CRM systems focused on tracking interactions with customers and prospects primarily in terms of sales activities, but that isolated focus is shifting as businesses work to increase their value to customers and make it easier for consumers to deliver initial and repeat business. With this goal in mind, organizations are expanding their definition of CRM to include processes such as contract management. The ubiquity of e-contracts is fueling this integration and increasing the affinity consumers feel for the brands they patronize.

There are several reasons enterprises should include Web-based contract management in their CRM strategies. Consider the following:

1. Customers have choices. Customers have plenty of options, and they often make their choices based on quality, cost, and experience. When the price and value are equivalent between competitors, customer experience becomes paramount, particularly at the final point before the sale—when it's time to sign the contract. When prospects can quickly complete intuitive Web-based contract tasks that take seconds rather than days or weeks, both businesses and their customers win.

2. Customers demand convenience. When companies move their contract management to the cloud, many witness their sales cycles shrink dramatically, often by as much as 400 percent. That's great news for sales teams, but it's also great news for customers, who no longer need to go through multiple cycles to negotiate, alter, await, receive, sign, fax, or mail paper documents. Several features embedded into eSignature services make it even easier for customers to do business with companies that rely on cloud-based contracts, significantly improving the customer experience. Physical contract work is inconvenient and negatively affects customers' perceptions of a company. But Web-based contract work is fast and easy, and that breeds repeat business.

With electronic signatures, contracts can be completed anywhere—a signer doesn't even need to be at his or her computer. Because these signatures can be captured on various mobile devices, like tablets and smartphones, customers literally have contracts available at their fingertips at any time. Customers appreciate that contracts are accessible virtually anywhere, allowing them to finalize agreements regardless of where they are. Customers are more likely to complete contracts in less time, and companies can then focus on closing other deals and generating more revenue.

3. Customers want service. Once sales and service representatives are released from the many hours of manual administrative tasks they once devoted to physical contract management, they can spend more time focusing on customers' needs. An attentive and focused sales or service representative is likely to resonate positively with customers and give them a reason to keep coming back to the company's products or services.

4. E-contracts boost the return on investment. Cloud-based contracting can alert signers when they have missed a required field or when an unsigned contract is approaching its deadline. This greatly reduces the risk of the multiple cycles and inefficiencies that often exist in completing a traditional paper contract and significantly reduces the time spent finalizing contracts.

Once completed, e-contracts are stored in CRM applications, making each customer's history with the company accessible to and actionable by all interested parties in the enterprise. That means sales, marketing, customer service, finance, and legal departments can easily use customer history to make informed business decisions, extracting greater value from CRM.

5. Customers care about security. Since federal law confirmed the legality of electronic signatures more than a decade ago, businesses have offered their customers a process that trumps traditional contracts in terms of simplicity and convenience and is equally as enforceable. The electronic contract process is perhaps even more secure than traditional paper contracting, thanks to Web-based authentication methods. Electronic documents introduce additional safety measures, since they provide for an easily accessible electronic trail that parties can use to confirm transactions. Customers can be at ease when signing a document electronically, knowing that their personal information is secure.

Most customers are now familiar and comfortable with electronic signing processes. They have purchased music, booked trips, and contracted services completely online, and they don't balk when presented with a request for an electronic signature. Web-based contract management eases the experience of doing business with a company, and makes a tangible, positive impact on a customer's relationship with an organization. E-contract applications are now easy to integrate with CRM systems and typically pay for themselves within a month.

Teams are closing deals faster with cloud-based contract management, and customers are demonstrating greater loyalty in return for an improved experience. Given the ROI businesses are gathering from e-contracts, it's not hard to see why these applications are reshaping CRM.

Mangesh Bhandarkar is the senior product manager at Adobe Systems Incorporated, which acquired EchoSign in 2011. He previously held product management positions at several software-as-a-service application providers, including Arena Solutions and Grand Central Communications.

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