Stop us if this sounds familiar: you need to finalize a contract with a new client or vendor, and every step is taking way longer than you expected. The other party keeps making changes to the terms. Multiple reviewers have to approve each new version. You’re neck-deep in email chains with countless file attachments – and you still don’t have a signed agreement yet.
You’re not alone. Small and midsized businesses (SMBs) go through this struggle every day. But what many of them don’t know is that these problems are easy to eliminate. All it takes is a strategic approach, and a few quick technological hacks.
Here, we’re going to give you five easy tips that’ll transform your contract negotiations, and get you from verbal agreement to signed documents at lightning speed. Ready? Let’s go.
1. Create short contract templates with easy-to-understand terms.
You might expect that long contracts with lots of “legalese” language will come across as professional, and inspire the other party to sign quickly. But in reality, the exact opposite is true. Poor contract presentation and overly complex language are two of the most common reasons for contract negotiation delays. That’s because long contracts require detailed review by legal experts – and that can take days, or even weeks.
Your contracts will get approved much faster if they’re short and sweet. Conditions should be laid out clearly, and key terms like dates and dollar amounts should be easy to find. If you’re not sure how to draft a contract, just download some free templates from Concord’s template center. Once you’ve customized them, share your templates with your team in an online folder. That way, your team can save time by reusing them for future agreements.
2. Prepare a contract negotiation playbook.
It’s normal for other parties to push back on contract terms. But when you’re in the middle of a busy workday, contract negotiation can become a major headache. It’s not easy to remember what every contract’s terms were, or what stage each negotiation has reached. Analyzing every counter-proposal and deciding on your response is a huge amount of work.
That’s why you need a contract playbook. If you’re a small business, your playbook can simply be a spreadsheet listing your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and dealbreakers. For example, you may want to specify that you’ll never agree to an auto-renewal clause, or that a specific person needs to approve a discount greater than 20 percent. Your playbook should also include fallback positions – for example, that if a client asks for a discount, you can go up to 10 percent. By planning ahead, you’ll be able to negotiate consistently, and save your team a lot of time.
3. Negotiate in real time, in a live contract document.
Nobody likes staring at an inbox full of unresolved email chains. And digging back through those emails in search of a specific contract version is a huge waste of time. In fact, a study by McKinsey reports that many workers spend 1.8 hours per day just trying to track down files. And that’s not even counting the time you spend waiting for responses, wondering whether the recipients have even opened your emails yet.
You can eliminate all these problems with one simple hack: instead of negotiating by email, share each agreement as an online document – with limited access rights and editing permissions, of course – and conduct all negotiations inside that document itself. Concord’s platform, for example, provides real-time editing functionality, enabling internal and external parties to redline and respond to comments, all inside the same shared contract doc. We’ve seen this shorten our customers’ contract negotiation times from weeks to just hours.
4. Set up automated contract approval workflows.
Depending on the size of your business, you may be the only person who needs to approve contracts. Or you may route some agreements through your legal team, or to other stakeholders who need to approve contracts containing large dollar amounts or unusual specs. But like negotiations, approvals can consume weeks – especially when you factor in the approval process on the other party’s side, which may be much more complex than yours.
You can significantly shorten approval times by setting up automated contract approval workflows. In a contract lifecycle management platform, it’s easy to specify internal and external recipients who need to approve each agreement. The platform shares the document with each of those people in the order you’ve specified, automatically working its way down the list. Not only will this save you a lot of work; it can reduce approval times from weeks to mere minutes.
5. Make e-signing contracts as effortless as possible.
The last area where we often see long delays is in the signing step. Once you’ve sent an agreement out for signatures, it’s hard to know what’s happening on the other party’s side. Maybe they’re giving it one last review. Maybe they’re reconsidering, and talking to your competitors. Maybe they just don’t know how to sign a Word document.
So send your contract through a platform that includes built-in e-signatures. All parties should simply be able to open the document, click the signature field, and sign. But keep in mind that not all e-signatures are equal. An electronic signature is legally binding only if it can be linked to a specific signer through an audit trail. Use a tool that provides authenticated e-signatures, and you’ll often get signed contracts back the same day you send them.
By using these tricks in combination, you’ll soon see your negotiation and signing times drop dramatically. You can streamline your contract workflows even more by centralizing your agreements in a contract database where they’re easy to find – and by leveraging a contract management tool to set up deadline notifications and automated reports. Even on a small scale, automating just a few of your contract processes will free you up from repetitive low-value tasks, so you can focus on strategy instead of paperwork.