Beyond the popular enthusiasm for green trends, paperless business practices are proving to be smart business practices, particularly in contract-heavy industries like trucking.

Web or cloud-based contract work allows transport companies to better serve customers, to close more deals faster, and to focus resources on more lucrative efforts than paperwork. For businesses that sell themselves on promptness and efficiency, paperless technologies and contracting on the web serve as a powerful differentiator in a competitive market.

What Are Paperless Technologies?

Paperless technologies free transport companies from many of the burdens that come from chasing down signatures, shipping and managing physical documents, and collaborating with numerous partners and prospects. E-signatures, cloud-based contract management and applications like Dropbox, NitroPDF and Evernote are transferring key processes and document access to the Web.

For example, Dropbox enables workers to access documents from their laptops, desktop computers, smartphones or tablet devices, regardless of which machine they used to create files. This capability introduces efficiencies not possible when printing and carrying paper documents.

Similarly, interactive PDF solutions like NitroPDF and Adobe Reader let users create, convert, edit, combine, secure, annotate and form-fill PDFs, delivering a clear value with which paper cannot compete. For drivers, salespeople and other workers on the go, physical sticky notes are ineffective at best and useless at worst. Conversely, Web-based services like Evernote make it easy for these workers to capture an idea on almost any device or platform.

Web-based contracting and electronic signatures perhaps deliver the greatest paperless innovation of all. Not getting a contract signed can cost millions of dollars annually in lost revenue, and paper agreements present a frustrating, expensive, time-consuming barrier to growth. By moving contracting to the Web, trucking enterprises, partners, customers and other parties can ease the process of closing deals.

Celadon Trucking's Experience With E-Signatures

If you ask Celadon Trucking's pricing manager whether paperless contracts are worth the risk of changing existing business processes, he wouldn't hold back in his assessment. "E-signing has tremendously helped our business," said Chad Hoffman of Celadon. "We execute documents far more efficiently, and we do it without generating paper. Celadon processes scores of contracts each week, and we've found that getting these contracts signed online with the paper-free method gives our sales staff more time for selling, while improving the experience for customers."

Celadon manages 3,300 tractors, 10,000 trailers and 4,000 employees. Its customers include powerhouse companies like General Electric, Walmart, Procter & Gamble and Home Depot. The organization is responsible for moving cargo for these and other enterprises more than 100 million miles per year. Keeping that business alive and attracting new prospects depends upon the quality of Celadon's customer service. The company saw e-signatures as a way to make it easier for customers to choose Celadon over the competition.

As it sought to scale its business, Celadon noted that sales representatives were spending valuable hours chasing paper contracts and reminding partners and customers about signing deadlines. Once deals closed, the administrative tasks continued with the need to scan documents into the computer system. Celadon solved the issue by moving its contract work to the Web, adopting the e-signature solution that one of its partners used. The payback on that shift was rapid. By inviting partners, prospects and customers to sign online rather than on paper, Celadon:

* Shrunk its contract close time from weeks or days to hours or minutes

* Captured the ability to track and trace incomplete documents

* Automated the process of reminding signers to complete contracts on time

* Began working with the solution immediately, since it required no infrastructure investment and presented no learning curve

Eliminating paper use is a frequent cry of the environmental movement, but Celadon found that doing so had measurable, significant business benefits. Now, the company can tout its green practices while also serving customers better and creating new relationships with partners and clients. Celadon plans to also use e-signatures and Web-based contracting for its spot load procedures for jobs booked on a daily basis. The intention is to improve billing accuracy and decrease quote-related disagreements.

Four Facts Trucking Firms Should Know About e-Signatures

1. E-Signatures signify the same obligation as those written in ink on paper. Congress ensured the binding nature of e-signatures more than a decade ago when it passed the federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) in 2000. ESIGN means companies can move contract work to the Web with confidence.

2. Web-based contracting can reduce the sales cycle by up to 400%. Salespeople waste inordinate amounts of time chasing multiple signatures for every deal. That time would be better spent selling, upselling and scouting new leads. Trucking companies that move rate requests and pricing contract work to the Web free their sales reps to do their jobs and grow the business. Additionally, the efficiencies inherent in cloud-based contracting reduce turnaround rates by 10 X over those possible with paper.

3. Customers and partners would rather collaborate, negotiate and sign online. By contracting in the cloud, all parties involved in a deal can use the contract itself to negotiate and edit terms. Once those terms are settled, automatic reminders alert signers to upcoming deadlines and prompt parties to complete all critical fields of a contract. The result is an easier process for all involved.

4. Web-based contracts are secure and easy to implement. Many of the partners and customers of trucking companies are already familiar with an e-signing processes. This familiarity speeds internal and external adoption. Once e-signing is deployed, authentication processes, privacy protection, fraud shields and record retention guard against security breaches and fraud.

Speeding Business, One e-Contract At A Time

Trucking companies need to deliver in terms of convenience, efficiency and timeliness. Cloud-based contracting gives sales reps the tools they need to serve current customers well and grow the business by closing new deals quickly. Prospects have many trucking providers from which to choose. Increasingly, the elements that factor into that choice center on the availability of collaborative, easy-to-use contract processes, such as those created by the proliferation of e-signatures and other paperless technologies.

Jason Lemkin is the vice president of business services at Adobe and the former CEO and co-founder of EchoSign. His operational experience spans the business development, sales, legal, human resource and finance fields, and he is an acknowledged expert in the field of electronic signature and electronic contracting.