How to use RFP software to improve sales contract management

If sales is the rock and legal is the hard place, then you’ll often find sales contract management stuck right in the middle. The constant dilemma of the sales contract manager is, “How can we propose redlines that make legal happy and mitigate business risk, but still get sales contracts done efficiently?” There are two common approaches to dealing with this dilemma.

One, you can manually execute contract management through a hodgepodge of emails, spreadsheets, document versions, and pleas for responses ASAP. This exposes your process to a host of issues, including:

  • Lack of continuity or redundancy in the contract review process.
  • Significant differences in the redlines proposed by contract management staff.
  • Disparate systems and processes to manage sales contract terms between departments.
  • Too many contracts at different stages to effectively track.
  • Missed renewal opportunities.
  • Misfiled or lost versions.
  • Reused contract language that is no longer accurate or is out of date.
  • Easily lost tribal knowledge about preferred redline responses.
  • Lost time waiting on SME feedback for specific clauses or Exhibits.
  • Inflexibility in negotiations due to fear of swamping a deal in the contract morass.

Two, you can use RFP software that will bring together the parties involved in contract review and will create consistency in redlining through a knowledge repository of legal-approved contract language. This certainly shuts down the issues that arise from the standard email process, but it opens you up to the expense of a new platform. Small to midsize businesses will need to evaluate whether they create enough contracts to justify the ROI. Organizations that derive their revenue predominantly from requests for proposals (RFPs) may want to consider another option: Using RFP software to augment contract management.

How can RFP software improve sales contract management?

Throughout my contract management career, I’ve learned that there’s a wide variance in how companies structure their contract management departments. Some are embedded in legal, some in sales or business operations. Others oversee multiple functions such as procurement, sales and RFP responses. And then there are the lone wolf departments — sometimes operated by a team of one — that focus only on contracts but depend on all other departments to contribute.

In any one of those situations, the contract management process can benefit from knowledge management capabilities in RFP software. At RFPIO, my team uses our Answer Library to manage contract content and various redlining playbook language. It gives us access to pre-approved content that my team needs to complete sales contracts without having to unduly burden any other departments. We utilize a private collection in the system as a contract language repository. It increases efficiency for legal, sales, contracts, and other subject matter experts (SMEs) whom we rely on for contract management. It also helps me train new team members in a consistent review process and helps reduce the likelihood of brain drain if a member of the team leaves.

A simple process

Your RFPIO Answer Library can serve the same function for contract language management as it does for RFP responses. But instead of using it as a hub for Q&A pairs you need for an RFP, use it as a hub for contract clauses that have been approved by legal or any applicable content from an SME. Other than that, just like for RFPs, you can use it for interdepartmental communication, and it will all be enhanced by an intelligent recommendation engine.

Start by approaching legal with the clauses that get the most pushback from customers. These are the clauses that require more customization. The same ones you have to email over and over again to legal and wait too long for a response. After these clauses are in the Answer Library, contract management staff can reduce the content that legal needs to review (and in an iterative process, new language provided by legal can be added to the Answer Library to minimize the back and forth even further!).

Create a collection that’s only accessible to the contracts and legal teams. Cordon it off so only your team can see it and maintain version control. For example, you may want to set up a “change to governing law” section. Then you can have the legally approved clause applicable to Delaware or Idaho or California or Alpha Centauri. Do the same for clauses relating to payment terms, auto renewal, notice periods, limitation of liability, warranties, and indemnification; the same applies for certificates of insurance (COIs) exhibits, data privacy agreements (DPAs), SLA response times, or whatever else appears in your contracts.

Preserve lawyers’ more expensive time

Debate value of different positions all you like. The fact is that the average lawyer will be more expensive for your company than the average salesperson, contract administrator, or proposal manager.

Also, legal likely has many other priorities that require their time, which means that addressing sales contracts will not be as important as it is to sales. With your Answer Library in place, you can retain up-to-date, legal-approved content that is easily accessible by the entire contracting team, minimizing the sales contract review time for lawyers. Showing legal that you respect their time will also go a long way toward getting faster turnarounds for non-standard contract language.

Make sales look good

One of the most frustrating responses you have to provide to a salesperson is, “We’re still waiting on legal.” It impacts that person’s commission, endangers their deal, and causes unnecessary interdepartmental friction.

Avoid the big time suck of sending every contract to a lawyer by using the approved clauses in your Answer Library. Sales can work faster, and they can also work smarter. Eliminating the fear of avoidance frees them up to be more flexible in their negotiations. It’s easier for salespeople to cater to prospect and customer needs if they know their contract changes won’t bog down negotiations.

Increase value of your contracts team

With an Answer Library chock full of legally approved clauses and communication features that help track a project, the contracts team now has the ability to view an entire project and see what has already been answered. This can be a blind spot for many contract managers, especially if the contract team is separate from a proposal team. Now a contract administrator who can see what’s already been answered in a questionnaire or pre-RFP response doesn’t have to search around in the project’s history or shared file or email chain.

Contract teams deal with subject-matter-experts other than legal, too. Procurement may need to add customers as additional insureds to the COI. IT and/ or IS will need to weigh in on the DPA and SLA information, and Operations may be needed for product information, quantity commitments and timeline obligations. Have the pre-approved contract language set aside for access only by your contracts team and a system where SMEs can quickly review instead of create. “Is this the right clause?” requires a “yes” or “no,” whereas, “Please provide the most recent insurance verbiage,” requires more of a time commitment.

Finally, with a knowledge management system in place, you can focus contract team training on how to use discretion within the system and how to chase down only the non-standard answers.

Emerge from between the rock and hard place

Knowledge management with a solution such as the RFPIO Answer Library alleviates pressure between departments in the contract review process and allows each department to specialize: sales on generating revenue; legal on compliance; and contracts on contracts.

Schedule a demo today to learn more about RFPIO Answer Library.


Lindsey Pawashe

Lindsey is the Contracts and Compliance Manager at RFPIO. She has seven years of contract management and negotiation experience—and holds two master's degrees focused on Organizational Analysis and Employment Law. Lindsey is passionate about contract negotiation, optimizing processes, and empowering organizations to effectively manage corporate compliance. Connect with Lindsey on LinkedIn.

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