What Small Businesses Need to Know About E-signing

In recent discussions with companies around the world, I've heard many stories about how e-signing has come to their rescue. In one case, it was a salesman needing to close a big deal to help his company makes its year-end numbers. In another, it was a GI in Afghanistan who was facing imminent foreclosure on his property in the United States. He called his loan broker from the Army base, and with his iPad, he e-signed the necessary documents. He was able to stave off his foreclosure and keep his home.

When I hear stories like these, I wonder why more companies haven't switched to e-signing, especially as more and more business is done on tablets and mobile. If you're a small business in particular, you need to look into adding e-signing to your company's tool set. E-signing can help speed up your business processes, close deals faster, save time and money, and free you from the bonds of paper. To help make the decision easier, here are answers to the top 10 questions I get asked about e-signing.

1. Is it legal?

For those customers who might balk at the move from paper to the Web, it may be reassuring to learn that there's a long history of legal, secure digital contracting. In the fall of 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), ensuring that e-contracts are not only convenient, but also legally enforceable.

ESIGN protects consumers by requiring notifications, disclosures, and assurances of technological neutrality and universal access. The law also mandates authentication, privacy protection, legal certainty, fraud shields, easy document access, and record retention.

For more than a dozen years, ESIGN has ensured that customers who sign contracts electronically are as protected as they would be had they opted for pen-on-paper agreements. Some would argue the protections are even greater with digital contracts, since e-signature solutions can offer additional authentications from email, IP addresses, passwords, social network credentials, and other safeguards that surpass anything possible with physical copies or fax transmissions.

2. It's just a signature, right?

The e-signature is just one step in the entire agreement process. It is the automation of the entire contract process, from creation, collaboration, and execution to archiving and management. It automates the many back-and-forth conversations between a sales rep and a client, for example. Digital contracts also offer a way to collaboratively work on documents and provide an easy way to track, store, and access contracts.

3. Is it compliant?

Thousands of employees can sign on-boarding documents, performance plans, benefits, and travel and expense requests in minutes; laggards are easily spotted and receive automated reminders, reducing the risk of noncompliance. It meets key regulations and helps your business meet compliance requirements.

4. How cost effective is it?

According to a recent study commissioned by Adobe, 70 percent of the more than 1,000 managers surveyed agreed that e-signing is more efficient and would make life easier. Further, 61 percent said that working digitally, including e-signing, saves on costs, and 32 percent said a digital work flow is more efficient, giving them an edge with client work and ultimately helping to win new business.

In fact, we have seen our customers cut sales close cycles by anywhere from 50 percent to 500 percent and reduce post-sale internal contract processing costs by 50 percent to 75 percent. An e-signature solution eliminates the need for an admin or sales ops person to manage contracts and waste very expensive legal time on creating/distributing NDAs to support the sales process, in addition to saving the cost of having to use an overnight courier.

5. What's driving demand?

The driving force behind e-signing has also changed. Whereas adoption once was pushed by businesses wanting to eliminate inefficiency, consumers—including customers, partners, and internal users—are now the main drivers. Customers are increasingly comfortable conducting business via the Web and mobile devices, and they are demanding that companies move more of their customer-facing processes online. And now that vendors are offering full-featured e-signing solutions, the customer experience has caught up with the vision: E-signing is intuitive, fast, flexible, secure, and compliant.

6. Is it secure?

Our study showed that paper impacts the trust that businesses have with partners, vendors, and customers, especially when it comes to contracts. More than two-thirds believe that paper-based contracts are prone to defacing, while 60 percent of managers believe that password-protected electronic documents are more secure than paper documents locked in a safe.

E-signing solutions verify signer identity using multiple authentication methods, including email addresses and password, among others. These solutions enable clients to require verification documents—a driver's license, for example—for added assurance. Further, the only people who can see a document are the originator and those the originator allows.

7. Besides signing contracts, where else does it help?

Companies also are seeing the value that e-signing adds to internal processes across the organization—in legal, HR, sales, customer service, finance, and IT. Companies use e-signatures for everything from vendor contracts and purchase agreements to offer letters to new employees.

E-signing can also help with the perception people have of your company. According to our study, 68 percent of respondents said it was important for a company to operate mostly electronically when deciding where to work, and 76 percent said they are impressed by companies that have a strong digital presence.

8. How easy is it to deploy and maintain?

Cloud-based e-signing offers organizations a hosted solution that requires virtually no IT resources to deploy or maintain. It's just as convenient for customers, who can sign contracts at their convenience without printing documents, installing software, creating new log-ins, or physically signing anything. They automatically receive a digital record.

9. How easy is it to use?

E-signing can be as simple and intuitive to use as email. In fact, 61 percent of the managers in our survey said that e-signing is easier than its paper counterparts. Most e-signature solutions don't require software downloads, making it even more attractive for customers to sign this way.

10. Does it work on mobile devices?

Yes. Most e-signature services are cloud-based, which means all you need is a Web browser to use them. In addition, there are mobile apps that these services offer which make the process even easier.

Jon Perera is the vice president of EchoSign at Adobe.

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