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Panes of Glass: CLM That Works for Everyone

August 31, 2023 8 min read

In enterprise architectures, horizontal capabilities like digital contracting are hard.  IT and operations teams are very familiar with selecting, building and testing experience for specific personas.  But true digital contracting extends across your enterprise, supporting sell-side, buy-side, and any other agreements your organization generates.  That involves putting some view of digital contracting into the experience of all of the related business personas – legal, sales, sales ops, procurement, etc.

When software vendors tout the amazing experiences that they provide for their target personas, they tend to use vehicle control analogies, like “cockpits” or “dashboards”.  As an enterprise architect, I prefer “pane of glass”.  A pane of glass implies a window onto a common space – in this case, the operating mechanics of the organization.  The pane of glass provides a perspective for specific personas to see and participate in the operations. To me, this seems much more in the spirit of a unified business model and mission.  If everyone has their own cockpit or dashboard, that implies that everyone is steering, which means that no one is steering.

Regardless, the “pane of glass” analogy also supports a key principle of effective IT: Prioritize user experience. User experience is critical to the efficiency and effectiveness of your business users. If they are to be at their most productive, their pane of glass needs to be attuned to their work style, motivations, and desired outcomes. Don’t break that persona-oriented experience by putting other stuff in the way of their pane of glass, like extraneous tools.  And definitely don’t break it by trying to pull one persona away from their experience into an experience for another persona.

The reality is that contracting is not a day-to-day center of gravity for anyone but the legal team.  Sales is particularly challenging here, so let’s focus on them.  Sales teams are obviously under high pressure to spend time selling – building relationships with customers, leveraging those relationships to close deals, creating new relationships and selling to them.  Shoving new tools into a sales rep’s face is a challenge in the best of days.  Trying to get them to swivel-chair into a tool built for another persona (legal), to support a mission-critical but (to sales) peripheral concern is usually going to be a non-starter.

I encounter this again and again with customers embarking on a digital contracting transformation.  “We aren’t going to ask our sales users to come over into the digital contracting tool” – I’ve heard this from sales, legal and IT team members alike.   But in many common sell-side contracting contexts, there are critical phases of the process where close collaboration between sales and legal is critical.  Account strategy questions during a redlining cycle, deal desk concerns about revenue recognition implications related to a legal clause, legal approvals hanging on sales discounting limits (and vice versa) – where will these interactions take place?  Whose pane of glass wins?

If the problem is stated that way (choosing between legal experience or sales experience), then this is not a fair fight – sales wins.  Sales is a major revenue driver, legal is typically a cost center, and IT will weigh decisions here towards the sales team, almost every time.

Lots of Bad Options

As an IT leader, where do you go from here?  Sales needs their pane of glass to optimize for selling, legal needs their pane of glass to optimize for contract lifecycle management, but sales needs to be invested and involved in sell-side agreements.  Traditionally, at this point, organizations will select one of the following compromised paths.

Push the CLM

Despite all of the factors I just described, you might convince yourself that sales users can be brought over to a contracting tool if the capabilities are compelling enough.  If you are successful at first in forcing this process change, the sales team will usually see a (real or perceived) drop in efficiency.  Time spent context-switching into another pane of glass takes away from time spent selling.  This will usually end a few ways: with the sales team revolting and going back to ad hoc contracting processes; with the contracting tool being blamed for the inefficiencies and being replaced (at great expense); with sales going the “shadow IT” route and acquiring alternate contracting tools within their own pane of glass.

Turn Legal Into Nomads

Alternatively, you can opt to adopt contracting tools that are naturally embedded into the sales pane of glass.  This forces legal to peer into the sales pane of glass to participate in contracting contexts.  And assuming that legal can’t justify investing in a separate contracting tool in other areas, they will be doing the same for procurement, HR, and any other operating areas where they are supporting agreements. Corporate nomads with no pane of glass to call home.  At best, this adds lots of friction to the contracting process, and legal efficiency goes down, adding overhead to deal cycles.  It also leaves your organization without a central view on their obligations, assuming the sales-focused contracting leaves agreements stored one place, and agreements generated elsewhere are … elsewhere. At worst, legal will get marginalized or excluded entirely from sales agreements, adding some pretty scary risks into the process.

Go With the Best of Breed

Another bad option for IT is to give up on cross-team considerations, and just optimize locally.  Give legal a great legal pane of glass, and give sales a great sales experience, but leave it for them to work out the collaboration model between them.   The extreme version of this would be legal and sales tools that are not integrated at all, forcing someone (<cough> legal <cough>) to fat-finger data from the sales context into the legal tool, and share contract documents back to sales using email or ad hoc file shares.  Inefficient, error-prone, risky. IT could go one step better and build custom integrations between the tools.  This lands on possibly the best of these non-ideal situations, assuming the integrations are based on good process design and value justification (see “Stop Customizing Everything”).

A Better Way

There should be a better way! You shouldn’t have to pick between optimizing for your sales team or your legal team, between accelerating deal flow or minimizing contract risk. It’s clear that we need a new means to solve this incredibly common problem, one that removes friction and disruption while enabling full visibility and control.

What would an ideal solution actually look like?

Fantasy Contracting for Sales

Salespeople would remain ensconced in their sales pane of glass and the world of relationship tracking, opportunity management, pricing models and forecasting.  For sales, contracting is a step on the path to a goal – an NDA enables a conversation with a prospect, a master services agreement is a step towards negotiating a first deal, an order form is needed to convert an agreed-on sale to something that closes quota.  So in this ideal solution, when a need for an agreement arose, they would initiate a baseline agreement right from the context in their sales environment – an account or contact or opportunity or quote, or all of the above. Clicking a button would trigger a process that surfaced this pre-filled agreement in the legal pane of glass so that legal could “do the needful” to ensure the agreement met policy, minimized risk, and was approved.  Finalized agreements would be visible in-context in the sales experience, giving them visibility on overall account obligations and history.  And sales personas would also have visibility on the contracting process itself, and could collaborate as needed, all while they continued selling in their own pane of glass.

Fantasy Contracting for Legal

Legal team members would live in their own legal pane of glass where they could manage all things contract-related.  For legal, the contract is the thing, so their pane of glass would center on the agreement terms, obligation details, approvals, and acceptance models.  Inbound agreement requests would come from sales (and other operational areas) with all relevant context attached – data, metadata and references back to master data in the sales systems. Any legal approvals would be visible and respected by the sales counterparts, and similarly for any sales persona approvals (deal owner, deal desk, finance) inbound to the legal team in their pane of glass.

Fantasy Contracting for IT

For IT, all of the above would be possible with best-of-breed tools behind each persona’s pane of glass, and with little or no expensive customization required.  And IT personas, from their own pane of glass, would be able to see and manage security concerns like user provisioning and access rights related to both the legal and sales experiences.

Fantasy No Longer?

The challenges I covered earlier, and these nirvana scenarios, all seem to dance around the need for effective and efficient connectivity.  Most CLM tools fail here by not offering useful (or any) experience-level integration options with common sales tools.  Most CRMs fail here by offering “barely good enough” contracting capabilities as native options, or from preferred partners.


As evidence that something close to the fantasy can be achieved, I have to point to Ironclads native integration with Salesforce. The details below might sound a bit like I’m marketing – well, that’s because I am.  But I feel strongly about this “panes of glass” principle, and the solution that Ironclad has devised for the challenge of contracting with sales is, in my opinion, unique in how closely it aligns to the fantasy.


As a tool squarely aimed for the legal pane of glass, Ironclad considers it our responsibility to meet the sales tool more than halfway in terms of enabling the kind of collaboration scenarios described above.  So we’ve embedded key contracting capabilities and data directly into Salesforce, allowing sales personas to operate in their fantasy scenario.  Click a button to launch a contract from a Salesforce object, and all of the relevant contextual data flows into the contract automatically.  Track the contract approvals, and approve any that you own as a sales persona, directly from Salesforce.  Executed contracts are connected directly and natively to their related entities in Salesforce for easy visibility.  And if there is any dynamic collaboration needed with legal or any other participants in the contract review, sales personas can weigh in from Salesforce directly.

To make this easy for IT, we’ve enabled all this as a native Salesforce plugin (an AppExchange package) – no code required.  Your Salesforce admin can enable this connectivity with minutes or hours of configuration work, not days or weeks of custom integration.  And in terms of managing IT considerations like security, Ironclad also connects seamlessly to identity providers with configuration, not code.  So user provisioning and high-level access rights can be controlled from your user management system.

How did we achieve this?  By prioritizing the distinct requirements and experience of each persona, while also maintaining the goal of being best-in-class in our chosen native personas (legal).  Our platform model for contracting management, based on a workflow-centric and template-based contract process,  is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of sales agreement types and processes.  Salesforce dovetails with this by providing a highly extensible platform that allows the Ironclad plugin to insert both data and user experience components directly into their pane of glass.  Add in seamless SSO integration in both the legal and sales platform, and you have a near-fantasy situation for sales, legal and IT.  How many times does that happen?

Where Do We Go From Here?

So if you agree with my characterizations of the fantasy scenarios for business, legal and IT, then these can serve as useful starting points for determining your own strategy for enabling enterprise-wide digital contracting while still optimizing your panes of glass. Do a “double-click” on these ideal scenarios with your particular operational owners, and then assess whether and how you can achieve them with the tools in your various panes of glass.  Start with an assumption of zero customization – how close to the fantasy can you get?  If you find yourself landing in one of the “bad options” listed above, then consider your customization options and whether any of them are justified from an ROI perspective.  Now how close to the fantasy are you?  Not close enough?  Maybe you need to consider new tools in one or more of your panes of glass.


If you are at Dreamforce this year and want to talk live about this, please join me for a panel session with a few of our customers who are tackling this very challenge with Ironclad.  More details can be found here.

And if you want to see more about our Salesforce connector and how it enables seamless contracting for sales, check out our video about it.


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Jim is the Senior Director, Head of Enterprise Architecture at Ironclad.