If you ask customers to sign on the dotted line, you need an electronic signature solution. Studies have shown that, on average, electronic signature functionality saves $36 on each agreement where it’s deployed, reducing hard costs such as postage and printing and boosting employee productivity.
There’s a whole host of reasons why electronic signatures are an indispensable part of your sales toolkit. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of e-signature and how they can accelerate your sales cycle, making life easier for you and your prospects. We’ll also discuss what to look for or avoid in an e-signature software solution.
What is an electronic signature?
An electronic signature is a function that allows users to demonstrate their agreement to the terms and conditions of a digital document.
E-signature solutions are nothing new - they’ve been recognized legally in the U.S. and elsewhere since the 1990s. As more transactions and sales contracts have taken place online, e-signature solutions have become the norm, with ‘wet’ signatures (the term used to describe a handwritten signature) reserved only for specific situations and applications.
What is accepted as an electronic signature?
There’s a lot of flexibility around the actual methods used to legally signify consent on an electronic document. Any of the types of electronic signature below can be accepted legally (depending on the nature of the transaction, other information captured, and the local legal conditions):
- A scanned or photographed copy of a wet signature
- A signature made using a dedicated trust service provider platform like DocuSign or Adobe Sign
- A name typed at the end of a document
- A signature written on a touchscreen with a stylus
- A signature provided via an integrated signing software
The legal and technical criteria used to define what constitutes an electronic signature vary from country to country. Any e-signature process you implement should be checked against the legal requirements governing the buyer and seller.
Additionally, there are some circumstances and electronic forms where only a wet signing process will suffice. In the U.K., this would include docs filed with the tax authorities, passport office, or the Land registry. In the U.S., mortgages, promissory notes, and deeds of trust all require a wet signature.
Benefits of using an electronic signature
Typically, technological updates of ancient trading practices can be leveraged to provide a range of extra benefits, and the time-honored ritual of document signing is no exception.
Security. When properly implemented using public key infrastructure (PKI), e-signature processes can significantly increase the strength and variety of security involved in your agreements and transactions.
As well as neatly sidestepping the possibility of signature forgery, e-signature solutions (such as Qwilr) can be used to keep an electronic record of key details, producing an irrefutable audit trail with a digital certificate to help protect you in the event of a legal dispute.
This audit trail uses electronic identification to provide proof of the following:
- The signer’s identity
- The signer’s IP address
- The device used by the signer to agree
- The date and timestamp of the digital interaction.
Efficiency and convenience. The most obvious benefit of electronic signature processes is the amount of time and trouble saved.
Even under optimal conditions, preparing and sending a physical document to be signed in person and returned can take between three and five days. In complex sales, with multiple signatories, the workflows will be even more complicated.
These efficiency measures aren’t just a ‘nice-to-have’ but a basic expectation in 21st century virtual selling. Your customers are unlikely to look kindly on a sales process that leaves them waiting on the snail mail, and if anything goes awry, they may well take their business elsewhere.
Waste reduction. Anything that reduces paperwork has to be a good thing. Going paperless (and leaving more trees in the ground) is an easy win here, along with saving the carbon emissions created by transporting blank or signed documents back and forth.
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What to look for in electronic signature software
It’s indisputable that for the vast majority of businesses, e-signatures should be the primary route by which your customers sign contracts with you. However, the implementation will depend on a few different factors.
To make the most of the productivity and efficiency gains offered by e-signatures, you should aim to streamline the customer journey as much as possible. At a bare minimum, your e-signature software should integrate with your content management system, your CRM, and (importantly) your proposal software.
With so many proposal software solutions to choose from, it makes sense to provide your customer with the opportunity to close the deal right there in the proposal, without the need for a separate Microsoft Word or PDF document to capture the signature.
Building your pricing table and e-signature on one page in your proposals creates a natural flow and correlation to the package price and “accept” action. Additionally, integrating your accepted proposals with payment tools like Xero, Stripe, or Quickbooks makes invoicing and payments easy.
Meets compliance standards
Due diligence when setting up your terms and conditions should include checking your electronic signature solution against the legislation relevant to your market.
Most e-signature software is now designed to comply with the ESIGN Act in the U.S. and eIDAS legislation in the European Union. However, it’s important to double-check legalities - especially if your prospects are located in areas with differing legal requirements.
Qualified electronic signatures are part of Qwilr’s platform and support legally binding documents. You can adjust the settings of your proposal to include extra options, such as additional signature fields for multiple or countersignatures.
Qwilr’s e-sign also allows custom form fields to capture extra details you might need, like a phone number or email.
Easy follow up
One of the most valuable features of a good e-signature software solution is analytics. Before signing anything (either ‘wet’ or digitally), it’s an automatic response for many people to review the terms and conditions one last time.
With Qwilr proposals, you’ll see which areas of the proposal received the most attention before signing. This information is invaluable, allowing you to identify potential areas of interest or concern, reduce friction in the customer journey, and improve sales performance.
What to avoid in electronic signature software
As we said, the idea is to streamline operations - you want to reduce steps in your sales process, not add to them.
Assess each solution against a list of every use case, and ensure your chosen solution meets every need (or as many as possible). For example, if you’re selling B2B, and you often sell to large buying committees with multiple decision makers, you want to ensue you can capture multiple signatures from buying groups within a single shared document.
There’s also some general no-no’s, which we’ve listed below.
Additional steps for signers
Some signature software (particularly products offered on a ‘freemium’ tier) creates additional hurdles, like asking the person signing to create an account - or, even worse, pay a fee.
It’s important not to add unnecessary steps to your buying process, especially when they don’t benefit the buyer. One out of four SaaS buyers want e-signature options, but they don’t want to jump through any additional hoops to get them! Pick proposal software that removes as many steps in the process as possible. You want the process to be straightforward and easy as possible —not complex and confusing.
The document isn’t mobile-friendly
The internet is mobile - and has been since 2016 when mobile web traffic outstripped desktop for the first time. In 2023, more than 56% of all internet traffic occurs on mobile devices.
With this in mind, do you want to make your customers jump through hoops with complicated PDFs and file imports - so that they can give you their money?
Ensure your signers can open and act on documents when viewing them on mobile devices. You need to ensure your electronic signature solution is accessible to decision-makers - wherever they are, whatever they’re doing.
Is typing your name an electronic signature?
Typing your name on a digital document can be used as legal proof of consent. In practice, this approach to e-signatures usually involves additional identification methods, such as unique links, or other authentication methods.
Are electronic signatures legal in the EU?
Electronic signatures are completely legal in the EU, under the eIDAS regulations.
Are all digital signatures legally binding?
Digital signatures have to be used in line with strict legal and technical criteria, if they are to be considered legally binding. However, in most circumstances now, a digital signature is considered as valid as a physical signature.
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Choose the right e-signature tool, and don’t give your customers one less reason to sign
First, consider your own needs. What kind of signature functionality is essential for your sales agreement? Think about how your e-signature software will integrate into your tech stack, the different use cases, and the compliance needs inherent in your industry.
Once those boundaries are in place, it’s time to think about the needs of your signers.
Make it as easy as possible for them. Remove unnecessary steps and hurdles to onboarding with a robust tool that can function across any device or environment.
Create an excellent experience for your buyers, and you’ll create an excellent experience for your sales team as well.
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About the author
Dan Lever|Brand Consultant and Copywriter
Dan Lever is an experienced brand consultant and copywriter. He brings over 7 years experience in marketing and sales development, across a range of industries including B2B SaaS, third sector and higher education.
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