Contracts are legally binding agreements that define and govern the exchange of goods or services. A contract’s journey – from creation to fulfilment and completion – is complex and leaves room for errors and oversights. As such, a process has been generally agreed upon for the handling of contracts. This process is referred to as contract management.

But what is contract management, and how can it be approached? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Contract Management?

Contract management is the process of managing contracts made with customers, partners, vendors, suppliers, and employees. Contract management involves the negotiation of contracts – which are then mutually approved, signed off on, and executed. Responsibilities are expected to be fulfilled thereafter.

Digging deeper

Let’s take a closer look at the contract management process. Along the way, you can uncover tools to use for more effective contract management in the age of digital transformation. We’ll cover the contract lifecycle, bad contract processes management, a better way to handle it, and some bonus tips.

1. Conquering Contract Lifecycle

Successful contract management starts with a foundation of procedural oversight of the contract lifecycle. Contract lifecycle management (CLM) is a model used to visualise the contract management journey. The process commences with a contract request and ends with the fulfilment of responsibilities – with the possibility of contract renewal.

The stages of the contract lifecycle are as follows.

(i) Contract requests: The first stage allows parties to gather key details associated with a prospective contract, amendment, renewal or other agreement.

(ii) Contract authoring: Sometimes called ‘contract writing’, this CLM stage involves counterparties putting terms and conditions into writing. Standard clauses, key dates, counterparty information and other essential data are united.

(iii) Contract negotiations: Parties negotiate the contract terms drafted during authoring. Back-and-forth redlining and collaboration result in agreed-upon conditions that provide insight into the expectations of all parties.

(iv) Contract approval: Legal teams review and set parameters to meet compliance, obligations, milestones and special terms. Both sides of a contract approve of these final terms and conditions before contract execution.

(v) Contract signatures: Parties have chief authorities with high clearances sign a contract. Signing ratifies a contract’s enactment.

(vi) Contract obligations: Parties perform their responsibilities, adhere to key dates, meet milestones and observe payment windows.

(vii) Contract compliance: In addition to those specified in writing, general and field-specific contractual rules, guidelines and standards are observed. Proper compliance management helps reduce late fees, litigation expenses, and CLM bottlenecks – setting the stage for future contracts.

(viii) Contract renewals: Contract parties are given a chance to renegotiate terms, revisit discounts and promote further mutual opportunity realisation.

Managing a high volume of highly complex contracts leaves increasing room for error as your organisation grows and scales. As such, you should know some of the top-offending strategies when it comes to contract mismanagement.

2. What not to do: avoid outdated contracting processes: know the signs

(i) Manual contract storage: Relying on filing cabinets, shared drives, and disorganised digital contract storage can make day-to-day processes difficult. Tracking versions of a contract – as well as important contract data – can become almost impossible.

(ii) Inefficient workflow processes: Contract managers need to suffer time-consuming supervision of each stage of contract management. Without clear chains of approval and actionable task insights, delays and discrepancies can ensue. These delays and oversights can lead to missed key dates and obligations.

(iii) Lack of preparation: Relying on manual contract authoring tactics can require contract managers to generate new contracts from scratch. Downloading templates, manually introducing contract data and finding relevant information can be time-wasting and prone to error.

(iv) Manual contract tracking: As contract complexity and volume grow, manual contract tracking methods become ineffectual. Unfortunately, your organisation can be left drowning in missed financial goals, weakened security, and increased contract risk.

(v) Wet signatures: manual – or ‘wet’ – signatures can waste office supplies, incur postage expenses, and expend time and energy while lacking security.

3. Contract Management Software – the light at the end of the tunnel

So, what is contract management success, and what does it look like? You can confidently tackle the contract lifecycle with a contract management system that supports:

  • automated contract requests with dynamic intake forms and a user-friendly request wizard
  • contract authoring with seamless merging of clauses and templates from your pre-approved library
  • centralised negotiations, collaboration, review, and approval. Leading tools include tracking, clause ownership, and user-friendlyconnectors for MS Word, MS Outlook, MS Office 365, and Google Workspace.
  • insightful contract analytics from contract creation to renewal
  • automated key date notifications and alerts – including for obligation fulfilment, approvals, and renewal dates
  • comprehensive risk management and analysis
  • searching and reporting – including compliance reporting – within a contract repository
  • electronic signature software integration for streamlined signing.

4. Bonus contract management tips

(i) Consider dashboard contract management for visually engaging and centralised contract analytics and reporting

(ii) Enjoy a custom report designer for visual reporting that meets your unique needs

(iii) Look for a solution built on contract artificial intelligence with machine learning that lets contract management solutions learn and grow

(iv) Take an advanced approach to risk with a configurable and insightful risk assessment matrix

(v) Automate data identification and extraction with a system that intelligently maps contract data into tidy record field metadata

(vi) Choose a solution that lets you establish rules regarding the protection, classification, and redaction of sensitive data. This sensitive data can include PII (personally identifiable information), PCI (payment card information), addresses, phone numbers, and employee data.

(vii) Seamlessly integrate eProcurement, eSourcing, and vendor/supplier management for a powerfully central system

(viii) Enjoy integrated purchase order management with catalogues, shopping carts, and punchouts

(ix) Select a solution that lets you choose between SaaS (web-based) or local deployment on your organisation’s servers.

(x) Trust a solution that affords you flexible user permissions. Enjoy governance over individual users, employees, and groups with comprehensive access settings.

Now you’re ready for advanced CLM

All that’s left to do is select a contract management solution with all of the tools mentioned above.

    Contract Insight is an award-winning, widely-trusted contract lifecycle management software solution, which has helped thousands of organisations from a vast array of industries within both the public and private sectors to optimise the contract process, boost revenue, promote productivity, centralise CLM processes, and reap the most value from contracts.

    To learn how to more easily draft contracts, get contracts reviewed, collaborate on negotiations, and much more to improve contract management processes, book a free demo of Contract Insight® contract management and eProcurement software today!

    Contact John O’Brien, CEO at Four Business Solutions – global business consultants and software integrators specialising in business process improvement.