I suppose I feel a little like Penn and Teller – about to share secrets from the murky world of sales, exposing my peers in SaaS technology companies and incurring their wrath. But if it makes for good ratings (or shares/retweets in this case) I’m told it’s worth it by my marketing colleagues.
In an earlier post, I talked in broad terms about the primary drivers for price: Property Type, Square Footage, Required Integrations. But there’s also the ‘small print’ – factors that may appear trivial when you sign the initial agreement, but which compound over time. Here’s the questions you can ask (and requests you should make) to protect yourself, your company and your budget. And my apologies to SaaS sales folks everywhere…
1) What are my file storage limitations and what’s the fee schedule if I exceed that amount? We’re a Salesforce.com ‘shop’ and use it to store client contracts, orders, etc. We’ve been on Salesforce for several years and now, routinely, we bump into our file storage limit. Are we really going to delete client contract data stored in the Account record? Nope. So we cut another check. The files you care about here are equipment manuals, leases, insurance certificates, photographs etc. You’re not going to delete these – they may be required to defend a future lawsuit. Storage these days is relatively cheap. Ask for it to be included and be unlimited.
2) What’s the fee for ongoing training? Let’s face it, people leave, change roles, processes evolve. That’s just life in today’s working world. While your initial purchase likely contemplates the first training iteration, it’s important that you’re able to define, agree and (at best) contain your exposure for ongoing training requirements. Ideally you want to include it in your annual fees – or at least include a pre-agreed amount of training. Alternatively, fix a price for ongoing training for the initial contract term. Don’t leave it as an open item.
3) What does your standard support include? Frequently, SaaS providers include a standard support option within their platform subscription and reserve additional ‘higher’ levels of support for an additional fee. It’s not uncommon to see standard support restricted to self-service and email with broad response times. The 24×7 telephone option comes at a premium. The time to negotiate this is when you negotiate the contract while you have the most leverage. Once you’re a client with the system deployed, there’s little incentive for the vendor to discount the premium support option.
4) Who will you support? This question is closely related to #2 and #3 above. Often SaaS providers try and limit their support exposure by imposing constraints on who can call. Ideally, they want to support only the people who they’ve trained (or who have been trained by a certified professional) so that the ‘how to stuff’ which accounts for a great deal of volume is screened out. After all, a helpdesk is the most expensive training delivery vehicle. It’s important to drill into this topic to understand and define who can call, what qualification requirements exist and what are the costs associated with attaining and maintaining these qualifications.
5) What 3rd Party Fees are there? It’s not uncommon in the SaaS world for platforms to be integrated with legacy systems and other cloud applications. While your SaaS vendor may charge professional services or integration fees, it’s also possible that the other system provider with whom you’re integrating also charges a service, API or integration fee. While these are outside of the scope and control of your SaaS provider, they’ll likely know what these fees may be so ask them. It’s also common for SaaS applications to include embedded software from 3rd parties or additional modules that are resold from other providers. Clarify what’s included in the subscription and what’s excluded or available for an additional charge. You don’t want to have that conversation later when you find that certain functionality isn’t available to you as you didn’t license the applicable 3rd party software.
Now, as a sales guy, it would be remiss of me not to answer these questions for you on behalf of Building Engines. So here goes:
1) We offer unlimited file storage in our standard agreement.
2) Training is included in your annual subscription.
3) We only offer 1 type of support and it’s included in your subscription. 24×7 telephone access to a human being that knows their stuff.
4) We’ll support all your employees. Not just a select few.
5) The only third party fee that we (Building Engines) charge is for our Emergency Broadcast Messaging which is provided by our partner, Send Word Now. We’re aware of integration charges made by certain accounting platforms (such as Yardi) which are dependent upon the nature of the integration required.
That’s where we stand. I’d encourage you to ask the same of your prospective provider before you put pen to paper.