August 4, 2009

5 Min Read
BT Closes the Deal With EchoSign

By Tim McElligott

The most awkward and precarious part of the sales process is the time between the handshake and getting a signed contract from the customer. In a contract-driven business such as telecom this is especially true. But one small company, for now, and its customers such as BT, Comcast, Alltel and Qualcomm are proving this no longer has to be the case.

The error-prone fax- or FedEx-based method of closing the deal and completing the quote-to-bill cycle should soon be a thing of the past if the success that Palo Alto, Calif.-based EchoSign Inc. is having is any indication. The company earned a spot in JMP Securities Hot 100 Private Software Companies in both 2008 and 2009 for its easy-to-use signature automation solution. In three years, EchoSign has accumulated more than 1,100 customers and supports almost a half-million users.

Echosign’s Jason Lemkin

CEO Jason Lemkin said that of the 850 or so applications on’s AppExchange, his is ranked Number 2.

Here’s why.

EchoSign has helped its service provider and other customers reduce the quote-to-bill cycle from an average of more than a week to around 40 minutes.

“What we do is simple. We automate the process of getting contracts signed over the Web,” Lemkin said. “We are ultimately a sales enhancement tool that helps the order-to-cash process, but what we are really doing is making it incredibly easy to close the customer while they are still on the phone and ready to buy.”

Getting that signature on the spot reduces the risk of losing a deal during the manual process of getting a signed contract due to everything from a skittish buyer to a lost fax.

“In telecom, especially with small- to medium-sized enterprise sales, there is such a high velocity and high competition that automating the closing of the sale for customers with recurring revenue is very important,” Lemkin said.

While the solution is incredibly simple to use and the interface can be as bare-bones as an e-mail, the software behind it is complex, Lemkin said. “It’s harder than it looks because every business has a different process for contracts,” he said.

Some businesses still want to fax and have an electronic countersign, some want to limit the number of signers in an organization or have them sign only using a BlackBerry Curve. “The variations are endless,” Lemkin said. “And if you don’t allow a company to work the way they want to work, the product goes from being incredibly valuable to not being valuable at all. We take about 98 percent of the friction out of the contracting process. If we don’t accommodate your business, we undermine our value.”

One company finding value in the EchoSign solution is BT. In his role as general manager for broadband, VoIP and software services at BT Retail, Chris Lindsay is responsible for 1.2 million SME relationships. He says his sales organization is, well, complicated. It has more than 3,000 direct sales personnel across seven different channels, including a franchise channel with 512 franchisees, field-based account management and internal indirect sales. The organization sends out 25,000 contracts per month.

BT was already well under average in the time it took to get contracts signed — around 48 hours — but has taken that down to 42 minutes using EchoSign. “We have knocked two days of briefcase time off the process of faxing back and forth,” Lindsay said. “When you are doing 25,000 contracts a month that really adds up and affects your cash flow. The quicker the contract is signed, the quicker we can rate the bill and the quicker we can collect the cash.”

Or, as Lemkin said about those whose manual process takes a week or more, “If you get seven more days of revenue from a contract, I just increased the value of that contract by 7/52nds.”

BT’s Lindsay said the company has not yet been able to put a figure on the number of contracts saved that would otherwise have been lost altogether by giving the customer the chance to back out through the manual process, but is confident it would be quite significant. However, BT is instituting a benchmark program to measure how it stacks up against competitors.

He said he went with EchoSign because of two qualities: Speed and simplicity. “It was the speed in getting started using it and the simplicity of actually doing what it said. “

Other telecom companies have heralded the time savings they have achieved using EchoSign. Qualcomm reduced its quote-to-bill cycle from two weeks to less than two days and has closed contracts in as little as 14 minutes. SureWest Communications went from one to two weeks to under three days. It also reduced its service provisioning cycle from two weeks to just under one. Abica, a provider of business network services in Glasgow, Scotland, which manages 100 to 120 contracts per month, took its close cycle from up to two weeks down to less than 24 hours.

Some of EchoSign customers also have become its resellers. BT, for example, which Lemkin acknowledges kick started some of its success in telecom and with other Fortune 500 companies, resells the EchoSign solution as BT Signature. Users of the solution can use it in any of three ways: ad hoc, through an EchoSign application interface (API) or through its partner

The ad hoc method allows service providers to create contracts in Seibel or some other program and attach it using the Web mail interface. Users also can go through the EchoSign API and bypass the e-mail interface. Half of BT users employ this method. Companies such as Qualcomm and Time Warner use the solution through EchoSign’s servers automatically route signed copies as PDFs to others in the organization that need them.

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