B2B contracts need more than an “I accept” button

B2B contracts need more than an “I accept” button

Forming contracts online has been commonplace for years. Online retailers have used a simple “checkbox” for someone to confirm they’ve read the terms and conditions and a button marked “I accept” to place the order. From a Customer Experience perspective this is simple, easy to implement and what consumers expect to see.

In the B2B space this simple approach doesn’t always produce enforceable contracts. Additional requirements from case law and regulation can create demands that aren’t always catered for online. The decision-making process can also be more complex, requiring reviews and multiple signoffs that a “one click” approach can’t cope with. In research that we’ve accessed an increasing number of business owners expect to see friction in the contracting process. As one CEO we worked with put it: “committing to a 3-year relationship costing hundreds of thousands shouldn’t be a single mouse click”.

Creating a contract is about more than presenting checkboxes and accept buttons. The way in which the contract is presented to the customer, what they might do with the wording and validating they are the right person to sign are all elements that must be factored in during the sign-up process. Surrounding this are other demands that will affect technology and process decisions that need to be made.

Are you sure they are who they say they are?

There are explicit rules around who can (and cannot) sign a contract on behalf of a company. If all that’s at stake is a book then a simple disclaimer may be sufficient. At the other extreme, lending money or entering into expensive long-term relationships may require users to validate their identity using “know your customer” questions from an external service. Whatever approach is adopted these checks should be completed before the user can commit to the contract.

Have you presented the full terms and conditions?

Although there is a long-standing joke that consumers don’t read contracts, in the B2B world this often isn’t the case. Contracts may be read and then referred to lawyers or compliance departments. To protect the business, it is a good idea to present the terms on a single web page that sets out the services being purchased, pricing and the contract wording. Rather than hide this in an iframe, place it on a full web page that has minimal distractions and at the bottom place your confirmation checkbox and “I accept” button. This avoids any ambiguity about what the user is signing.

Can the customer access the contract they signed?

Once the contract is signed a tamperproof version of it should be generated, stored and made available to the customer. Our preference is to generate a PDF copy that’s electronically signed and with audit information appended to the bottom. This should then be stored in the customer’s account for them to refer to at any time, and an eMail sent to them either with it attached or instructing them to download and retain a copy.

Have you archived the journey?

If challenged in court, you may be asked to reproduce the customer’s experience. While the logs may show which pages the customer visited and when, you may also be asked to present the pages the customer saw. From a technical design perspective this makes it essential to have robust version control in place so that you can regenerate the exact HTML the customer saw. If you’re using A/B testing or employing growth hacking tactics you will need to factor strong version control into your technical solution.

Do you need more than one signature?

In some cases, you may need more than one signature for the contract to be enforceable. If this is what’s needed, then all of the above applies to each signatory. 

Forming a robust B2B contract online requires more than a checkbox and an “I accept” button. It requires an understanding of how the law allows enforceable contracts to be formed and then constructing a user experience that aligns with it. Although this might add some friction when compared with the consumer market, this may not be a bad thing as there is evidence to suggest business owners expect it. Whatever approach is adopted it should be carefully designed to ensure the experience is clear and robust.