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A guest post by Jason Lemkin of EchoSign.

After all the work a business puts into securing a customer---the marketing campaigns, the sales pitches, and the personal support---it makes little sense for companies to put up barriers at the final stage of contract signing and execution. Businesses that have not yet moved this final sales process to the cloud risk slowing down or derailing sound sales deals.

More and more businesses are moving their contract management to the cloud and gaining faster, more secure sales cycles, and making it easier for customers to do business with them. With the confirmed legality and security of e-signatures, businesses are quickly adopting technology that blends efficient Web services with contract execution---meaning a deal can occur completely within the cloud, from first sales pitch through negotiation and closing. Sales and marketing teams that don’t offer such options must consider the potential negative impact on customer and partner relationships.

3 Myths That Stand Between Businesses and Better Contract Processes

Presumably, no business knowingly decides to turn its back on a capability that attracts and retains customers and partners.  Cloud-based contracts and digital signatures can reduce sales cycles by 200% to 400%, which frees up sales staff to focus on bringing in new revenue, shrinking the personnel hours required for administrative tasks, and creating a positive, secure signing experience for prospects and customers.

There are three main questions, all easily answered, which typically keep businesses from moving contracts to the cloud and claiming the associated benefits.

1.) Are e-signatures legal?
In 2000, the federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) delivered the convenience of electronic signatures with the consumer protections of appropriate notifications, disclosures, and assurances of technological neutrality and universal access. The legislation also provided for authentication processes, privacy protection, legal certainty, fraud shields, easy document access, and record retention. Today, contracts signed with e-signatures are enforceable agreements that also deliver greater business efficiencies, improved customer service, and quicker sales cycles.

2.) Are cloud-based contracts secure?
Perhaps there is no other business process in which security is more paramount than in contract execution. When businesses adequately educate partners and customers about e-signing, they clear confusion and concern that could otherwise threaten the move toward cloud-based contract management.  Today, the conversation around e-signatures no longer has to do with making them as secure as physical ones because paper-based signatures offer no way to show identity other than the signature itself.  The recent robo-signing scandal in the mortgage industry showed the number of analog holes in physical signatures. In the cloud, there are several ways to authenticate the signer (e.g., email, IP address, passwords, and social network credentials from LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), all of which surpass anything possible via physical copies or fax transmissions. In addition, an online audit trail tracks every chronological step in the signing transaction.

3.) What rules constitute e-signing etiquette?
All parties involved in an e-signature process should keep in mind the paramount etiquette rule that has served society well in every era, online and offline: Communicate clearly and be thoughtful of your audience. Document owners should let recipients know beforehand that expected documents will arrive electronically and can be signed electronically as well. For new or reluctant e-signers, the most important point to reiterate is that electronic signatures are enforceable.  The second concern often involves fraud, and here, too, the document initiator can educate other parties about common safety checks.

Electronic signatures enable a company to quickly measure the cost benefits and savings of this technology---typically companies see that electronic signature applications pay for themselves in the first 30 days of usage.  Plus, businesses should let partners and customers know that e-solutions increase the overall efficiency of executing almost any document. Sometimes, they decrease turnaround times by 10X over a paper-based process, as it is much easier and more efficient to receive, complete, and send an item via computer rather than working through the multiple steps of printing, signing, packaging, and delivering.

Cloud-Based Contracts
In a wide range of industries, cloud-based contracts speed the final hurdle to a sale or partnership from days or weeks to hours or minutes. Electronic signatures solve numerous problems that plague businesses, such as: waiting for customers to locate fax machines or put paper contracts in the mail, duplicating work, managing time zone pressures on faxed communications, and losing prospects who walk away in the midst of overly long contract processes.

Cloud-based contracting offers businesses the means to transform their processes and change their business for the better.

Does your company use electronic signatures? Why or why not?

Jason Lemkin is the CEO of EchoSign.

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