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TechnologyAdvice Buyer's Guide to E-Signature SoftwareUpdated: Jan. 21st, 2019
E-signature software isn’t one of the more complicated categories on the market. If you’re looking for a solution, you probably have a clear picture of your intentions: to streamline document management by freeing it from the confines of paper, to process transactions, send and receive approvals, and get official signatures without needing to meet the designated parties in person with a hard copy. Even so, there’s a little more to e-signature software than, well, signatures.
Several dozen vendors offer a range of features related to digital signatures, document management, and digital transactions. As a buyer, you obviously want to find a solution that meets your needs and fits your budget. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at e-signature software, including common features and benefits, tips for creating buy-in, and a case study.
Digital Signatures, Documents, and Transactions
In some ways, digital transactions represent a final frontier in the digital transformation of business. Most companies, by now, have migrated their workflows and administrative processes into some variety of automated system. They’ve left behind clipboards, dry-erase easels, and spreadsheets for web-based CRMs and data visualization tools. Employees use mobile devices and messaging apps to collaborate and exchange information. But if you drill down to one of the most fundamental components of commerce — the transaction — many businesses still use paper.
Drawbacks of Paper Workflows
Many times, this is due to concerns about regulatory compliance or security, but it also happens when businesses simply aren’t aware of an alternative. Paper-based document management has a number of clear drawbacks. Paper may seem more secure and reliable because of its tangibility, but as time goes on, visibility decreases. It’s a lot harder to find a contract tucked at the bottom of a filing cabinet in your stockroom than one stored in a searchable, online database.
Processing transactions, approvals, and official documents by hand also means you’re limited by geographic constraints, or else by the delivery cycle of traditional mail. If you want to work with a client based in a different state or country, you must find a way to meet in person or wait for delivery and return of documents by mail. According to a June 2016 survey of of accounting, advisory, and consultancy firms, the top three1 client-servicing inefficiencies are:
- Collecting documents from clients
- Approval processes
- Document workflows
Finally, paper-based transaction management doesn’t afford any kind of formal security or administrative control. Your documents and signatures will only be as regulated as the circumstance in which they occur, and only as secure as the filing cabinet that houses them.
Uses and Benefits of Digital Transaction Management
Digital transaction management (DTM) is a set of tools and practices that helps businesses manage document-based transactions without physical paper.2 As far as we can tell, the notion of DTM as a formal practice was pioneered by DocuSign — which happens to be a leading provider of electronic signature software. The focus of DTM is on those points where digital assets are passed between parties (business and customer, agent and client, business and employee).
E-signatures, of course, are a critical component of DTM, since they are almost always required as approval on official documents. According to a 2015 study by Forrester, 76 percent of business leaders say providing a “DTM experience” is important to the success of their business.4
Here are some examples from specific departments and job functions:
- Sales: initial offers (IOs), order processing, contracts, terms and conditions agreements, account provisioning
- Marketing/Advertising: freelance contracts, event registration, service-level agreements, campaign/program agreements
- Human Resources: onboarding agreements, tax forms, non-disclosure agreements, employee handbooks/policies, payroll forms, benefits enrollment
- Finance: invoices, audits, expense reporting
- IT: change requests, incident reporting, order fulfillment
- Procurement: purchase orders, requests for proposal (RFPs), inventory audits
In any of these cases, an e-signature or broader digital transaction management solution can speed workflows and greatly improve efficiency. Involved parties can fill, sign, and approve documents from any location, and your organization can retain secure, digital copies of their transactions.
Building Your E-Signature Software Shortlist
Here are some of the features you may find in an e-signature solution:
- E-signatures (obviously)
- Annotation and editing tools
- Authentication/identity proofing
- Signature templates/styles
- Document archival
- Workflow automation (submission, approval, confirmation, etc.)
- Custom branding
- Access controls
- Security and encryption
- Document templates (invoices, claims, applications)
- Digital pens (less common)
- Mobile apps
If you plan to add digital signatures to any of your existing workflows, try to choose a vendor that offers native integration with the business systems you already use. Instead of uploading documents to a separate cloud platform and then sending them out, you can add recipients, fields, and annotations directly from your workspace — Salesforce, Box, DropBox, Google Drive, etc.
Creating Executive Buy-In
E-signature software is generally not that expensive, especially since most businesses only pay to license it for a small handful of users. But it’s an investment nonetheless, and if you start looking at enterprise product tiers and implementation across multiple customer-facing teams, the annual cost of ownership can stack up. If you don’t control the purse strings and aren’t the final authority on software procurement, you’ll need to build a business case that “sells” e-signature software to executives and decision-makers. Here are some talking points to get you started.
Your chief executive officer will want to know how e-signature and DTM technology can improve the company’s strategic position. How will these tools and strategies lead to new business opportunities, an expanded market, and a stronger competitive advantage? For now, focus on results. You can get technical about software features and nuances later. Explain how digital signatures can smooth friction during client onboarding and other business transactions, which could help speed the sales cycle and reduce churn. According to the previously mentioned Forrester study, 8 out of 10 line of business leaders say they have a clear need for a specific DTM solution.
As is usually the case with software procurement, your chief information officer (or chief technology officer, in some cases) should be one of your strongest allies. They are focused on driving growth and business goals with relevant technology, so you shouldn’t have much trouble winning their support. It’s a good idea to meet with your CIO/CTO early on, as they can provide valuable advice on vendor selection, system requirements, implementation, integration, and other factors specifically related to technology. If you can do some research and provide context on any of these factors (for example: you know a particular vendor offers native integration with your existing tools), even better.
Your chief financial officer will want to know the expected cost of ownership for any tools you propose and the ROI you project after implementation. If you’re leading the charge on software procurement and/or new marketing strategies, it is your responsibility to calculate both of these numbers. Cost of ownership may include implementation, monthly subscription fees, fees for premium customer support, and any other associated expenses. Your ROI projection, on the other hand, should focus on time and overhead you expect to save through faster signature, form completion, and approval workflows.
The same technology that can reduce friction in business-to-client/customer relationships can also be used internally to manage human resource documentation, benefits enrollment, tax forms, non-disclosure agreements, and employee contracts. Most HR managers and/or COOs will quickly see the value of digitizing these transactions, but if you need to build a stronger case, try to figure out the amount of excess time administrative employees spend on paper-based approval processes. The right e-signature solution could bring that number much closer to zero. More importantly, it can help improve visibility and minimize error by removing the redundant, manual steps from your human resource tasks.
Case Study: Community Energy and DocuSign
Community Energy is an electric company that serves residents and businesses across the state of Texas. Unlike some states where utilities are more regulated, Texas power users have the option of selecting their own utility provider, which means competition is fierce. In this context, it’s critical for new customer onboarding to move quickly and painlessly.
Community Energy was struggling with their customer onboarding. Their administrative process required customers and clients to sign a number of paper contracts and agreements, especially when clients pooled power usage as members of a larger residential community. Clients were often slow to respond via standard mail, and filing all the necessary paperwork took far too long. If too much time passed, Community Energy would have to rework a deal to establish a new preferred rate, which slowed and reduced their close rate.
Community Energy implemented DocuSign’s Corporate/Enterprise Edition e-signature software, which integrated with Salesforce, their existing CRM platform. By doing so, they were able to speed the contract signing and approval process and draw up new contracts using data already stored in Salesforce. The faster, digital process helps every customer lock in the rate they were promised and keeps CE reps from wasting time on reworked contracts. “Now, contracts travel quickly from salesperson to customer to power supplier,” says President Scott Chilton.
In addition to faster client onboarding and reduced administrative pain points, Community Energy reported a number of specific business benefits that resulted from their purchase:
- Reduced data-entry errors
- Ability to automate contract drafts using DocuSign codes and data stored in Salesforce
- Improved experience for customers (they know how to read and approve documents)
- On-demand access to contracts and other documents
Top E-Signature Vendors
Choosing the Best E-Signature Software for Your Business
TechnologyAdvice helps businesses find the best technology for their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on e-signature software to make the buying process more straightforward for decision-makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the solutions or vendors listed in this guide, we’d love to talk. Call one of our in-house specialists for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool above to get a custom recommendation based on your industry and feature requirements.