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How to achieve broad adoption of your contract management platform

October 19, 2018 6 min read

Software implementation is difficult. The list of things that could go wrong is practically endless, and includes things like office politics, technical debt, and lack of software support. But the biggest and most common hurdle is product adoption.

At Ironclad, we know product adoption is especially critical when it comes to contract management software, because unlike other types of software, it touches all parts of the business. What’s more, any contract that ends up outside of our contract management software is likely lost. That’s why we’ve made product adoption one of our top priorities.

Over time, we’ve realized that getting product adoption right comes down to one thing: product-user fit. To us, this means making sure that the software works well for every type of user on the platform. This requires bucketing users by type and concern, rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all approach on them.

Achieving Product-User fit starts with Understanding your Users 

Below, I walk you through the three most common contract management user types and our strategies for getting them up and running on Ironclad. By matching your product adoption messaging and strategy to each user type, you can spend less time worrying about getting buy-in and more time helping your users get the most out of your software.The next time you have issues with product adoption, put yourself in your user’s shoes. Is your software the path of least resistance? Have your training resources been customized for their specific tasks (e.g., contract generation, financial oversight)? What is their incentive to use your software?

Whenever we deploy Ironclad, we think hard about how we can make Ironclad the path of least resistance for every single user on the platform. Inertia is hard to fight; unless Ironclad is the easiest way for business users to get a contract done, they’re not likely to use it.

You can’t make your software the path of least resistance for all users by grouping all of them together. You have to start with a deep understanding of how different types of users are going to interact with your software. Here are the three main types of product stakeholders we work with.

  1. Contract Requesters: users who need to get contracts signed to satisfy a business need (e.g., salespeople and marketing professionals).
  2. Contract Reviewers: users who need to review and approve certain agreements prior to signature (e.g., managers and supporting functions like IT and Security).
  3. Non-User Execs: users who won’t use the tool frequently but will need to understand its business benefits (e.g., CEO, CFO & Heads of Departments). These users can also change or veto processes if they are not aligned with your approach.

Contract Requesters

Risk. It’s critical that contracts originate from your contract management platform, since mistakes or omissions at the beginning of the contract cycle can have serious downstream effects. The main reasons why contract requesters might not use Ironclad are inertia (i.e., sticking to what they know), impatience (i.e., rushing to close a deal), or simply forgetfulness.

Key takeaways. These users often face time constraints and are evaluated by how many contracts they close. The best way to ensure software adoption for this type of user is to make the contracting system the path of least resistance. In other words, the software has to be easier to use than the contract requester’s existing processes, and it has to help them process more contracts. It also has to be walk-up usable, or close to it, to accommodate users who may not have been able to attend trainings (e.g., new hires).

Here are the five steps you can take to make using your contract management solution a no-brainer for your contract requesters:

  1. Make sure your contract management solution integrates with your existing tools. Your contract management solution should communicate with your other tools–Salesforce, cloud storage, and e-signature solutions, for example. This simplifies the learning curve and saves time for your contract requesters.
  2. Use help desk software to explain how and when to request contracts. It’s not uncommon for contract requesters to have questions about when and how to request contracts. What customers require NDAs? How should requesters react if a counterparty tries to negotiate the standard terms of a contract? By pairing your contract management solution with an online help desk (e.g., Zendesk), you can ensure that your requesters can get their questions answered instantly.
  3. Incorporate links to your contract management solution in your requesters’ most visited resources. It’s not enough to email or print a handout with a link to your contract management solution. You need to add links to your internal websites, pinned items in your Slack channel, contract management buttons in Salesforce, etc. There’s no such thing as overkill when it comes to making your software more accessible.
  4. Have your legal teams remind requesters to create and process all contracts within your contract management solution. Be careful to emphasize that there can be no exceptions to this rule. If a requester approaches the legal team with a request for manual contract review outside of Ironclad, the team should redirect the requester to the contract management solution.
  5. Give all employees regular opportunities to learn about your contract management solution, whether they’re new or experienced users. Hold regular “refresher” office hours where employees can view contract management demos or provide feedback on the software. Pair these with introductory sessions so that new hires aren’t at a disadvantage when it comes to learning your company’s contract management processes.

Contract reviewers

Risk. Most contracts require some level of review from teams outside of the legal team. These teams can include IT and Security, for example, and are likely to have working processes that are quite different from those of Legal. The product adoption risk for this user group comes from their tendency to review or approve contracts in an ad hoc manner (e.g., over email or in-person), which leads to an incomplete contract record within your contract management solution.

Key takeaways. The most important thing is to get all contract review personnel in the same room as often as possible. While legal teams will always have the most input into how the contract management solution is implemented, the best implementation processes are collaborative, flexible, and open-ended. For this reason, it’s important to choose a contract management platform and implementation team with a “bias toward onsite” mentality. Only by facilitating conversations between different parts of your company can you ensure that your contract management solution works for all teams, not just some of them.

Here are the three key questions to ask when choosing a contract management solution and implementation team:

  1. Does the implementation team have experience facilitating process design meetings with many different stakeholders? Ask the vendor how they plan to incorporate feedback from IT, Security, and other teams.
  2. Will the team be onsite regularly before, during, and after the implementation process? Being onsite doesn’t guarantee a successful implementation, but it does reduce the risk of miscommunication and project delays.
  3. What resources does this team have for getting Legal, Sales, Procurement, and other teams on the same page? The best contract management solution providers come equipped with templates and best practices for collecting and synthesizing feedback from different teams. At Ironclad, we’ve found that getting Legal, Sales, and Procurement in the same room can go a long way toward designing approval processes that work for all teams.

Non-User Executives

Risk. CEOs, CFOs, heads of departments, and other oversight users won’t be using your contract management software on a day-to-day basis, but they’ll want to know what benefits it provides, whether they’re getting a good return on their investment, and what value the system will provide moving forward. Ultimately, the most important thing for this user group is having consistent visibility into your contract software’s ad hoc and automated reporting capabilities. For example, CFOs might want to track the use of non-standard finance terms, while COOs might want to track the use of non-standard SLA commitments. Armed with this information, they’ll know what to prioritize in upcoming months.

Key takeaways.  Most issues with this user group are easy to solve, provided that they’re identified early on. Their main objective is oversight, so effective project management is crucial. It’s important to provide executives and oversights with frequent reports on implementation progress and key success metrics (e.g., users trained, percentage of contracts processed in the new contract management solution, etc.). Transparency and frequent communication are essential.

Here are the two key questions to ask when designing an implementation plan:

    1. Are executives being engaged throughout the implementation process and there are certain types of information that they’re likely to need down the line? Failing to communicate project goals and progress can erode trust over the course of software implementation.
    2. What types of systems reports and dashboards will be presented to executive stakeholders, and how frequently will these reports be updated? If you’re proactive in reaching out to managers and executives and coming to an agreement on the best way to prepare system reports and dashboards, you shouldn’t have any problems meeting your implementation objectives and demonstrating the system’s value.

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Toby Willcocks is a Legal Engineer at Ironclad and a Harvard and Oxford-educated lawyer. Learn more about his work here!

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