If you don’t know where to start with Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) platforms, you aren’t alone. CLM platforms offer the option to manage all of your contracts digitally from their beginning to their end. They are hailed as solutions that can help you reduce contracting timescales, extract value from data, and spend less time inputting information into individual contracts. But for many in-house counsel, their inboxes are drowned with sales messages offering demos of systems and they don’t know where to start.

We spoke to the team at SYKE to find out what you need to think about before launching into buying a CLM system. Exploring how being better prepared can help you see the wood for the trees when it comes to sifting through those inbox messages.

Getting started

1) Remember you’re not on your own 

When it comes to making a business case to invest in a CLM platform, remember you’re not on your own. Doing a Business Needs Assessment means you can identify the problems across the business that CLM can solve and bring other parts of the organisation into the mix. Start by identifying the people and teams involved in the contracting process and consider the key contracting templates you want to roll out. Discover where the opportunities are that you can improve, and drill into areas that appear to be particular pain points. 

Doing this can transform your business case, so it isn’t just based on productivity savings for legal, but also bringing down contract closing times for Sales teams and powering more strategic negotiations for Procurement teams. Contracts don’t just exist to keep legal teams busy, they underpin much of what the business does, and so the best business cases usually take into account the benefits right across the business..

2) Involving teams beyond legal also helps with adoption

Getting more people in the room to help make decisions and develop the thinking around what the CLM tool will deliver  will maximise its chances of being adopted from day one. Identifying the stakeholder groups, considering how they are involved in contracting today, and understanding how they will use the system in future, what their needs are and what they value from a usability perspective, are important up front steps to gaining buy-in and ongoing support. Engaging these key stakeholder groups will also allow you to validate what you’re doing at each stage of the implementation of the tool, for example by establishing feedback loops and developing training.

3) Set your “North Star”

Early on in the project it’s important to set your vision and objectives for the system, your “North Star”. In other words, what is the system going to deliver and how will its success be measured.  It’s important to communicate this and ensure buy-in from the top down. Every implementation project encounters hurdles along the way, whether that’s because the needs of the business change, or you unearth unexpected needs or challenges. Having a clear and accepted vision helps you to manage change further down the line, and to keep everyone bough into what you are doing.

4) Prepare! Technology is only part of the answer.

Whatever the chosen areas of focus for your CLM tool, it’s likely you’ll need to do some non-technical work to get ready for its implementation. Even if you all you need is a reliable, usable repository for your contracts and the data they contain, you’ll need to think about where those contracts and data points are held today, how organised they are (which will inform the process of getting them into the new system) and what you want to be able to do with them going forward. If you are going to digitise the creation of contracts, do templates exist, how well are they working, are there multiple versions in use, are they effective? Is the process of creating, negotiating, approving and managing contracts written down anywhere, and is it understood? As a general rule, the more time you invest in people, process, templates and legacy contracts and data, the more successful the CLM tool is likely to be. Moreover, this work can bring lots of benefit in its own right.

When it comes to actually selecting a system…

There are many CLM tools on the market, and navigating them can be difficult. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Being armed already with a vision and your requirements will help you weed out down the products that just won’t fit your use case.
  2. Go and talk to your network and trusted third parties about the tools and vendors they are working with. Industry guidance is useful to a point, but ”real world” experience can deliver greater insight.
  3. Is DIY an option? Sometimes a business’s needs are very basic. Microsoft and Google tools, which most organisations have access to, are powerful and can deliver some basic CLM functionality. This can help an organisation struggling to find the money to invest in a fully-fledged tool. Sometimes this approach can act as a stepping stone towards a dedicated CLM tool.
  4. Don’t forget about the need to maintain the system once it’s deployed. Your business will not stand still, and so your contracting needs and therefore the system will probably need to evolve too. Consider how easily you can do this internally, or how reliant you may be on the vendor. 
  5. Think about your exit strategy – if you ever need to move away from the technology what impact would it have for the organisation and what kind of cost?

If you’re confident with all the above and you’re found a CLM platform you want to demo – what’s a top final tip from our experts?

Ask to see the tool in action, and have it analyse one of your business’s contracts – not one of the vendor’s example contracts. Doing this will gives you a real idea of how the tool will handle inputs specific to your business, rather than seeing it deal with  templates that have been chosen simply to show off the system.