7 Do’s and Don’ts to Ensure a Successful CLM Implementation

This blog was authored by Alex Helin, Partner in Legal Ops at Spaulding Ridge.

There’s much more to agreements than electronic signature and digital storage. As your business grows, there’s a lot of value in finding the right contract lifecycle management (CLM) tool to simplify a range of common agreement activities. If your team is struggling with one-off contracting workflows, generating new documents by copy/pasting or wasting time searching for language in old agreements, a CLM tool might be right for you.

If you haven’t done it before, the process of finding and implementing a CLM can be intimidating. There are several important steps throughout the process that will dictate the quality of your overall implementation. To get the best result, you need to make sure you know how to approach each one. That’s what this post will do: spell out exactly what to do (and what not to do) at each stage of the CLM investment process.

Organizations should start the evaluation process by evaluating the current contract management processes and evaluating the success of each step. For each phase, you want to develop a clear understanding of which people and technology are utilized. Before you talk to any vendors, create a clear list of business outcomes you want to achieve during those contracting steps. For example, you may want to shorten contract cycle time, increase visibility, improve customer satisfaction, minimize outside legal spend, reduce risk or make use of more automation.

Pinpointing those specific goals will be a key part of several steps throughout this exercise. Involve leaders from any team that plays a role in contracting work at your organization (sales, legal, procurement, IT, etc.) and ask them about how they want a CLM tool to change their everyday work. Once you have that list clarified, it’s time to start evaluating potential vendors.

Vendor evaluation

Don’t: Put functionality first

Do: Put capability and strategy first

Contract Lifecycle Management requests for proposal (RFP) and information (RFI) often contain too many functional yes/no questions that are either 1) not straightforward or 2) easy to dance around. If you ask “Does your tool integrate with X?” you’re likely to hear something like “Well, yes, hypothetically our tool could integrate with X.” Technically, that answer isn’t a lie, but also isn’t helpful at all.

Better questions get to the product strategy. A better RFP question sounds like this: “Describe the innovation your solution has rolled out in the past 12 months.” This should cut to the core of a CLM product approach, as well as gleaning how in touch the product team is with the market.

This also helps determine product capability. For example, one CLM vendor recently published in their release notes that they had enabled new functionality for approvals. That ability has been available from Gartner Magic Quadrant CLM leaders for the better part of the past decade. If a vendor is bragging about releasing it now, they may be chronically behind for other innovations too.

Selection stage

Don’t: Make short-term cost the primary decision criteria

Do: Demand proof of long-term value from shortlisted vendors

With VC funding for CLM at well over $2 billion in 2022, the primary goal in the space is to build market share to hit lofty valuations. In such a competitive space, big promises on initial implementations are often made. As you weigh options, be very cautious about common deflection tactics: futuristic promises, prerecorded one-size-fits-all demos, flimsy specifics about current capabilities and one-time pricing discounts.

Too often, especially in a tight economy, too much attention is paid to the initial cost of a product. Price is important to discuss but beware of getting what you pay for. Buying a discount CLM might result in hidden costs later and minimal realized value over the lifecycle of a long contract.

Instead, select a tool that has proven success with similar companies or use cases. Often the best indicator of future success is past success. If one of your options has a history of working for companies like yours, that speaks a lot louder than promises about flashy future features. Find a partner that has longevity and focuses on engineering value out of their solution. Most importantly, listen to those who have a vision for creating adoption, enablement and usage rather than those who center their pitch around the first-year cost.

Contracting stage

Don’t: Focus on the technical deliverables

Do: Focus on the business outcome

You’ll hear a lot of terms thrown around in CLM sales cycles, enough to require a glossary or reference guide: workflows, metadata, dynamic templates, smart repositories, AI topics, ingestions, extractions...

How do you quantify and validate these terms when each solution defines them differently? The easy answer is to make them the secondary focus behind the business outcome you’re looking to achieve. 

Having “10 templates” is okay—being able to dynamically source and generate the full set of necessary supplier onboarding contracts on a global basis is a much better outcome. A good rule of thumb here is to make sure that your team is defining what you need a CLM tool to do for you, not adapting your desired outcomes to the strengths of a particular vendor.

Discovery stage

Don’t: Cut corners in the interest of time

Do: Measure twice, cut once

You’ve gone through an RFI, an RFP, a multistage shortlisting process, scoped with a dozen vendors and implementors and negotiated a licensing/services agreement. No one would blame you for just wanting the discovery stage to be over but that impatience can be very costly.

The discovery stage is often the make-or-break step for a technology program. Approach discovery with a laser-like focus on the outcome you want, utilize experts to define the optimal process and ensure alignment between process and outcome. This will save you time and money at every future stage.

Build stage

Don’t: Focus on bells and whistles

Do: Focus on the process

The capability of a true enterprise-grade CLM is astounding. Layer in the excitement and (very real) promise of ML, analytics and generative AI—it’s easy to be both astounded and overwhelmed by the possibilities.

What’s also very real is the cliché of “boiling the ocean.” Why did you and your company want a CLM solution in the first place? Certainly, leverage the powerful AI engine, but take care of your highest priorities first and let those goals serve as the foundation for future AI builds.

This is why process is always paramount. Instead of starting with the concept of refining every AI subtopic or automating every approval, work on user stories that minimize bottlenecks. Refine the most valuable extraction from the AI engine, then move on to the second priority process. Rome wasn’t built in a day—your CLM won’t be either.

Rollout stage

Don’t: Look to build more functionality first

Do: Look to build adoption and use first

For the second time in this process, it’s time to give functionality a back seat. Because of the scalability, extensibility and connectivity of CLM, if designed and built properly, you’ll have an intuitive, powerful system that accelerates the contracting process and establishes appropriate guardrails upon your go-live.

The best CLM vendors should offer you plenty of assistance as you roll out their technology. They should start with enablement materials or even a personal enablement session with one of their experts. As you deploy, you’ll want a CLM that offers 24/7 support so you can get quick answers to tactical questions. To get the most robust, efficient rollout experience, you’ll need a CLM vendor that partners closely with an experienced software implementation (SI) service. That SI team can offer hands-on functional support through all rollout phases, including custom configuration and training models unique to that vendor.

Because we’re all human, the design and rollout of the CLM won’t be perfect. That’s OK—minor flaws shouldn’t be regarded as a failure that requires an overhaul of functionality.

The best ideas for rollout will come from your end users. Listen to them, create a forum for them and guide them along the change curve of adopting a new system. Their use and adoption are paramount—v1.1 of your functionality fixes should reflect their feedback. By partnering with a dedicated CLM SI, your team can benefit from the experience of similar users who have solved similar problems before. Technology like CLM is meant to solve real problems for real people. Staying responsive to feedback is the only way to guarantee that outcome.

Continual improvement

Don’t: Consider the build complete

Do: Consider it an ever-improving system

Whether your journey was a tactical rollout over a 4-6 week project or an enterprise journey spanning several months and different geographies, you should pat yourself on the back. Taking any technology system live is an accomplishment to be celebrated.

Once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, look ahead to what’s next. Cloud-based CLMs are taking on innovation at a fast and continuous pace. A good CLM partner will be dedicated to improving your experience from the product end, committing to regular release cycles full of user-inspired features. They should also be sharing thought leadership full of practical ideas for your team and insights for future phases of your CLM experience.

In your journey, you and your organization can adopt these innovations at the pace that makes sense for your business. Focus on creating an experience that can get people to use the system and build optimizations that will keep them there. A strong foundation is one that can be fortified via optimization—new functionality and adoption of streamlined processes, assuming they’re properly established, will do quite a bit to delight end users.

CLM implementation is a long and rewarding process. The right way to approach that journey is to set short-term milestones and look for any strategy that can increase engagement. Maybe your users want more training courses. Maybe they want to click through a sandbox experience. The best way to discover next steps is to listen to your users and do what it takes to show value in their daily workflow.

To learn more about what to look for in a CLM solution, read our blog How to Choose the Right Enterprise CLM Software for Your Business OR

We spoke to Docusign CLM customers to find out how they navigated the CLM evaluation process and the common questions they had.

To learn more about Spaulding Ridge’s work with Docusign, visit our Docusign page.

About Spaulding Ridge

Spaulding Ridge is a global leader in business transformation for the offices of the CFO and CRO. We drive clear outcomes for Fortune 500 companies and other leading enterprises by transforming company data and business processes for better insight, collaboration, and decision making — because when you see further, you go further. We help companies use their cloud technology to achieve:

  • Financial and operational strength. Plan, execute, record, review, and optimize every piece of your business with integrated finance and operations solutions.
  • Revenue excellence. Drive profit by giving your customers the personal attention and outstanding service they expect.
  • Organizational effectiveness. Get the managed services support, change management support, systems integrations, and data tools to maintain a solid foundation for your business.

Go further with Spaulding Ridge.