3 Ways Small Businesses Use Digital Workflow to Boost Productivity and Cut Costs How Digital Transformation Gives SMBs the Agility Advantage.
Using technology to reduce friction in workflows is a proven way for
companies of all sizes to compete and grow. When you employ the right
tools to streamline your business, customer service improves, partnerships
work better and internal company operations run more smoothly.
Taking contracts and other documents paperless by using e-signatures
is one of the best areas for small and midsize businesses to invest their
technology effort because the results are so immediate, says Aragon
Research CEO Jim Lundy. In his work advising companies on technology
decisions and strategies, Lundy has found that tapping digital tools to help
manage document-based transactions can deliver competitive advantages—
especially to SMBs, which are under tremendous pressure to perform.
Read on to learn how transforming your document-based processes
can take your business forward in three key areas: customer experience,
business partnerships and internal productivity.
1. Transform the customer experience
- Why: It’s critical to deliver your best customer experience before someone else determined to disrupt your industry does so first. “Transformation is the battle cry,” but it’s all about the customer, says Lundy. Companies sometimes delay changes to customer-facing systems, preferring to begin by tackling internal processes. But when it comes to digital transformation, that’s a mistake; it’s better to start with customer-facing processes and work back from there. Improving your customers’ experience can also have an immediate and direct impact on your revenue.
- What to do: Identify areas where you can make it easier for customers to do business with you, like signing quotes or executing sales contracts. Those are good places to automate document-based processes. If customers can finalize a transaction quickly and with fewer steps, they leave pleased by the experience and are inclined to repeat it. A seemingly small initiative, like eliminating printed contracts and wet signatures, can confer a big competitive advantage.
- Results: “Sales is the killer use case,” says Lundy. He cites a technology firm he has worked with that implemented electronic signatures in sales and cut its time to finalize most contracts from two days to less than an hour. Eliminating delays in the sales cycle improves customer satisfaction while dramatically boosting revenues and growth.
2. Transform business partnerships
- Why: Every company works with other businesses to help deliver value. In order to scale efficiently, small, growing firms in particular rely on suppliers, subcontractors and specialized consultants as they build capacity in product development, production, distribution and marketing. Managing these partners often requires document-based communication. When you redesign processes and then enable that streamlined workflow with digital tools, communication is more transparent, timely and accurate, and you can get the most from your partners.
- What to do: Simplify workflows, approvals and signatures with corporate partners and suppliers. Automating and connecting agreement processes create a more efficient, secure way to handle change orders, master service agreements, compliance documents, IP licensing, nondisclosure agreements and other documents within your business network.
- Results: When Chicago-based Reed Construction expanded its use of DocuSign to include communications with subcontractors, it reduced a 12-step approval process to four steps. Documents that previously changed hands six or seven times, creating inefficiency, are now routed through just three people. Document status can also be tracked instantly, which means project managers know exactly where to follow up to expedite the process. With faster turnaround times, the company was able to extract more value from its partners.
3. Transform internal operations
- Why: Eliminating manual workflows, paper-based procedures, and the need to re-key data from one system to another will make your business more agile. The ability to accelerate billing and collections and reduce errors throughout your internal processes delivers a big financial payoff.
- What to do: Transforming internal processes sometimes meets resistance from those who are used to working a certain way. It’s best to identify a pilot project where you can show employees an easy win. “It’s a huge change, and there’s a fear factor,” says Lundy. “You have to clearly explain the transformation and show people that it’s going to allow them to do more of this and less of that and make their jobs easier and maybe even more fun.” Automating a cumbersome task with multiple approvals, such as new-hire on boarding, can help to sell change internally.
- Results: The project lead implementing DocuSign at the OAS Federal Credit Union won over users by demonstrating the benefits on an individual level: When she showed bank officers how much easier it was to handle electronic documents instead of printing, signing, scanning, and emailing documents, they were quickly convinced to adopt the tool. Some employees were concerned about how the move to paperless processes would affect their ability to meet regulatory requirements. But going digital has actually produced improvements in this area, including faster audits and the ability to easily prove standards compliance.
Start your digital transformation journey
Digital disruption is creating new opportunities in all industries, and agile smaller companies are often better able to take advantage of those major shifts. Designing good processes early on, and implementing technologies that help make those processes more scalable, can give SMBs the edge over more established competitors. Beginning with a small deployment of e-signatures in a specific area of your business can demonstrate benefits that will encourage wider adoption. Lessons learned in one function can ease implementation in another. “The quicker you can get rid of the processes that are slowing you down, the faster you can get to outcomes,” says Lundy.
Q&A: Why the Time Is Right for SMBs to Go Digital
Pressing business priorities often edge out internal improvements in a small company. But long-term growth and company health depend on the integration of technology that will enable small businesses to generate time and resource savings, making them better able to compete. Catherine Courage, DocuSign’s senior vice president of customer experience, shares her insight on how digital transaction management can pay back quickly for SMBs
Q. Why should SMBs consider digital transformation now?
A. Speed and agility are absolutely critical to any company, but particularly for small companies. Moving to digital transactions allows small companies to remove the friction and complexity of doing business manually. It also frees up resources, people, and money that can be put toward other business initiatives. You want to be able to simplify business processes and focus on the things that matter, which are ultimately your customers and their success.
Q. Do smaller companies have any advantages in going digital?
A. Small businesses can see immediate benefits, even from smaller scale deployments. Small-scale deployments can be implemented faster, requiring less selling across departments and making it easier to vet and acquire solutions. That means your business can start seeing gains sooner.
Q. How has the changing tech landscape made this easier?
A. When you consider digital systems in the early days, you would think of Oracle and SAP and multimillion-dollar, years-long implementations and deployments. That’s just not the way it is today. Cloud-based software services can be deployed quickly and easily, and you don’t need an IT staff. You can get a simple use case and test it, see if you like it, see the ease and value that it brings, and then start to deploy it more broadly.
Q. Does mobile technology play a role in transformation efforts?
A. Mobile is key to meeting the expectations of users. Implementing technology that isn’t compatible with the way your employees work will slow adoption. Users expect that any new tool will work across every platform and every device. Making sure your e-signature technology can deliver on the mobile devices that your employees have in their hands all day long will enable them to be more effective and productive in their day-to-day.
Q. What keeps some SMBs from moving ahead with a tech overhaul?
A. It’s important to overcome the perception that digital transformation is too complex or unnecessary for small organizations. Small companies sometimes tend to wait too long to invest in these initiatives. However, with cloud-based, software-as-a-service products like DocuSign, you don’t need an IT staff. You can get up and running really easily, and they’re not high-cost solutions. Have a road map of small things you can bite off to drive big improvements — those are changes that are going to propel your business forward.