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G

The
Complete
Guide to
Subscription
Billing
A word from our CEO
I am excited about the opportunities a subscription-based business model presents. Whether
you are a small, medium or large enterprise, this recurring revenue model has proven to be an
appealing go-to-market strategy for industry leaders - and its easy to see why.

For businesses, recurring revenue means predictability. Having consistent income from
recurring sales enables you to forecast revenue more accurately which allows you to grow and
expand with confidence.
The key to your success in this environment is a combination of the right pricing strategy, a
strong focus on customer relationships and a smart back-end subscription billing management
platform that will help you rapidly scale your business.
If you are considering adopting a recurring revenue model, this guide will help you better
understand the strategic and tactical opportunities that you will want to take advantage of. It
will also help you assess the current and future needs that your back-end billing platform will
need to support. A feature-rich platform enables you to not only adapt to consumer buying
behaviors, but also to react quickly to the ever-changing competitive landscape.
If your business relies on recurring revenue, you are in good hands with a robust subscription
billing platform Here is what to look for.

-Tyler Eyamie, CEO, Fusebill Inc.

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Contents
Guide Overview 4
Pricing and Packaging 5
Rating and Billing 8
Payment Options 10
Account Management 13
Subscription Management 15
Customer Self-Service Portal 18
Reporting and Metrics 19
Accounting System Integration 21

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Guide
Overview
What will I get out of
this guide?
This guide will help you better understand
the key elements and strategic
considerations for your subscription
billing.

Each chapter that follows will explain a key


aspect of subscription billing and discuss
the corresponding features you will need
your billing platform to properly support
it.

Weve also provide a handy checklist to


ensure youve asked yourself the right
questions.

Lets get started!

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supported by your billing platform. Your
platform should also allow you to set when
Pricing and recurring charges are calculated (e.g. 1st of
Packaging the month vs. anniversary date) and what
proration rules apply (e.g., for partial months).
The ability to rapidly define and introduce new
price packages is essential to drive growth Fixed Recurring Charges
within a subscription business model. Many
companies stagnate in the market when Recurring charges might be fixed, meaning a flat
their billing system becomes a barrier to the fee that gets charged each month to
nimble delivery of pricing plans that address customers. This is commonly seen in
customer needs in a rapidly changing market. consumer applications such as Netflix which
Whether your goals are to better segment charges a set fee regardless of the number
customers, improve cash flow, up-sell of movies you watch.
additional offerings, or prevent abuse; pricing
and packaging, when done effectively, can be a Usage-Based Recurring
competitive advantage. This section outlines a
variety of pricing and packaging approaches
Charges
that your subscription billing system should Usage-based recurring charges or pay-as-
support. Remember that while your business you go charges are calculated based on the
may use one pricing model today, future use or consumption of a service, and can
offerings and growth may require more vary from usage period to usage period .
pricing flexibility.
In a usage-based pricing strategy customers
Price plans are built from three kinds either pay in advance or pay in arrears. The
of charges: one-time, recurring and appeal of this model to consumers is it has
usage based charges. been shown to lower consumption compared
to when a flat rate is charged.

One- Time Charges ___________________________________


Often used for a setup fee, one-time Lets talk strategy
charges are also frequently used during the
customer life-cycle for professional services, Since saving money can be a powerful
motivator for consumers, usage-based pricing
training, access to support teams etc. One-
can be a convincing stand-alone differentiator
time charges are typically optional.
for a subscription business. From a billing
management perspective, you will need to be
Recurring Charges able to collect usage information over a period
Recurring charges are charged based on a of time without initiating a charge. Youll also
defined time interval. Different time intervals need to be able to reset usage back to 0 at the
for the recurring charges, such as weekly, end of every period.
monthly, quarterly, or yearly, should be

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Generally, price plans include an allocation __________________________________________________________
for usage, with incremental charges for Lets talk strategy
usage above the allocation.
The multiple edition pricing strategy is one
that may use a combination of fixed recurring
Variable Charges and usage-based pricing. In this pricing
strategy, different packages are offered at
Variable pricing can add great flexibility to your different price points. The packages are tailored
pricing strategy. You will need to make sure to customer requirements and based on factors
your billing system is agile enough to such as: number of customers, usage, features,
accommodate your price customizations. volume etc. To ensure success, your billing
system will need to be able to create highly
There are three types of variable pricing customizable product offerings and support
options: bundling as well as manage recurring and
usage-based pricing editions. Cell phone
Tiered pricing is where every quantity and companies commonly employ multiple edition
price range appears on an invoice. It is ideal pricing.
for incorporating initial free units or
providing discounts at higher quantity _____________________________________________________________
ranges.
Volume pricing is where bulk purchases can
be made at a lower per unit price, with the
Free Trials
price dropping further as more units are
purchased. This method is ideal for Particularly in SaaS (software-as-a-service)
encouraging customers to purchase higher cloud businesses, you may offer customers a
amounts in order to benefit from a free trial to evaluate your service prior to
discount. converting to a paying account. However, you
Stairstep pricing is where all units are must ensure your billing system can support the
grouped into usage ranges and charged a following:
single price. If a customers usage is greater
than the range they are in, they are
If a credit card or other method of
bumped up automatically to the next price
payment is provided before the free trial
range. This means the upsell takes care of
can begin.
itself. Companies typically charge a
Customization of the free trial duration
premium fee on the overages. To manage
Reminder notifications as the free trial is
this type of billing, your system will need to
about to expire.
distinguish the point at which overage
Capable of switching to a paid plan.
starts, provide customizable pricing for
different levels of overage and distinguish
these charges on an invoice. This is also a
very popular strategy used by mobile phone
companies when billing for data usage.

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________________________ Unit of Measure: What was consumed?
Lets talk strategy Amount: How much was used?

From a strategic pricing perspective, when a Usage Collection and


company offers a free version of their product or
Integration
service, this is the hook. Once the customer is
engaged, it offers a paid version with more Your billing platform will need to integrate with
features and customization, this is the upsell. your infrastructure layer to pull the underlying
The key to making this strategy work is to usage data. Initially, a small scale manual
provide a positive experience and demonstrate integration process can be used but its not
value with the free version while allowing the long before automation is essential to avoid
user to envision the further benefits theyd errors and bottlenecks.
receive with the paid version.
________________________ Tip! Did you know pricing
strategies can be your greatest
Discounts, Promotions and
competitive advantage?
Coupons
It may require that you experiment
To help convert prospects to customers, you
may also choose to offer marketing
with different combinations to find
promotions, which can be time-based (e.g., which plans give you the best
50% discount for the first 3 months), volume- conversion rate.
based (e.g., tiered pricing, whereby
additional units become progressively
cheaper), or both. Your billing platform must
be able to support these functions.
My Checklist:

Usage Processing - Metering The platform has the


Your subscription business must be able to flexibility to change pricing
track what has been consumed and by plans easily when I need to.
whom. Typically, this information can be
obtained from the monitoring software of The platform supports multi-
your underlying infrastructure, but you will currency billing.
need to structure usage records in a
consistent manner for your billing system. The platform supports
Each usage record should minimally have the discounts promotions and
following: coupons.
Date and Time: When did the usage
occur?
Unique Customer ID: Who consumed the
service?
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Rating and
Adjustments
Billing Your platform should permit you to adjust
Rating refers to the process of translating invoices. There are two types of
metering data for usage into invoice items adjustments that you will typically make:
for a customer, based upon the chosen
pricing plan. Your platform will need to Invoice-level adjustments: allow you to
provide a rating engine that can calculate credit (e.g., for customer service
these charges based upon usage data reasons) or debit (e.g., for added late
over time. In some instances, you may fees) an invoice after it has been
need your platform to be configurable as created.
to how the rating calculations are Line item-level adjustments: allow you
performed. to credit or debit against a specific line
item charge on an invoice (e.g., to
reverse out a charge that was not
Billing is the process of creating an invoice incurred).
for customers on a recurring basis as per
the pricing plan they have selected, their
usage during that time period, and any Billing Automation
discounts that may apply. This section Revenue leakage occurs in manual systems
outlines the key requirements for billing when recurring charges get missed for
and rating and highlights what example, when an annual service charge is
capabilities your platform must support. not applied properly. Automating invoicing
and billing makes this an always on
Creating Invoices process which automates account
charging, communication and collections
Your billing platform will need to generate
on a pre-determined cycle. For companies
invoices for customers, indicating the
moving from a manual system to
payment that is due. Invoices should
automated subscription billing, reduction
include your corporate branding, and it
of revenue leakage provides an immediate
should be itemized to show one-time
and often significant return on investment.
charges, recurring charges, and line-by-
line usage-based charges. In some
situations, you may decide not to present Multi-Channel Delivery
an invoice to certain customers,
particularly ones that are billed Invoices need to be delivered to
automatically each month via credit card. customers by email, and posted to a web
Even for such customers, it is important to self-service portal. They also need to be
create an invoice for your records, to readily available to support agents who
present to customers if requested, and deal with customer inquiries.
for legal requirements.

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Tip! Its important that your
billing system allows you to
create invoices that are
professional, itemized and that
include your corporate
branding.

My Checklist:

The platform
allows me to add
corporate branding
to my invoices.

Multi-channel
billing is an
important pricing
strategy for
business and the
platform
accommodates
this.

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Payment
Scheduled Payment Runs
Options For customers that pay electronically, your
platform should accommodate the
This section outlines the key items your
scheduling of automated payment runs
commerce system will need to
that charge their accounts or credit cards
accommodate in order to process
at a regular, recurring time interval.
payments and accelerate your cash
collection.
Payment Gateway
Multiple Payment Types Integration
Your customers will likely have different To accept credit cards and electronic
payment method preferences, so it is cheques, you will need a relationship with a
important that your commerce system payment gateway (e.g., PayPal,
Authorize.net, Moneris) to authorize
support the key payment types:
transactions. You will want your billing
system to be able to integrate with multiple
Electronic: These payments are typically
payment gateways in order to automatically
electronic bank transfers (e.g., ACH) or
charge the credit cards of your customers
credit card transactions that are made
on a recurring basis. Equally important is
with a direct connection between your
the ability to change gateways seamlessly,
billing system and the electronic
so your customers do not need to re-enter
payment processor.
their credit card information when you add
External: These payments, such as
or change a gateway contract.
paper checks or wire transfers, are
processed outside of your accounting _________________________________
engine and must be recorded against Lets talk strategy
an invoice back in the billing system.
An advantage of having a subscription
billing platform is that it integrates with
Ad-Hoc Payments multiple payment gateways. This means
you are able to shop around for the lowest
Generally, customers remit an invoiced
amount on a regular basis. However, your
system should still support the processing
of ad-hoc payments that customers may
Tip! Its important to offer
make. For example, if a customer did not popular payment options
pay you the full invoice amount in a previous so your customers will
statement period, you may need to
process an ad-hoc payment to cover the
always find their preferred
outstanding balance. method of payment.
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payment gateway rate and minimize your
transaction costs.

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PCI Compliance notifications should all retry attempts
ultimately fail.
If you intend to process credit cards as a
method of payment, best practices will ____________________________________
dictate that your billing platform be Lets talk strategy
compliant, thereby achieving a level of Moving to a recurring, subscription, or
security that meets the standard of the automated payment model will save you time
Payment Card Industry (PCI) and giving your better spent on other aspects of your
customers comfort that their credit card business. It will reduce bookkeeping and
information is protected. PCI compliance administration costs and help customers who
involves satisfying network and system frequently forget to pay. An automated
security approaches, as well as rigorous billing system ensures you receive payments
adherence to process. on time, significantly reduces passive churn,
automatically implements dunning
management rules, and notifies you of missed
Tip! Working with a payments.
subscription billing platform ____________________________________
that is PCI compliant means
you dont have to be. What is dunning management?
Certification for PCI compliance Dunning is a process of
is a rigorous standardization automatically sending reminder
process and can be time notifications to your customers
consuming and costly. about past due accounts (aka
dunning letters). With a
subscription billing platform,
you are able to set up the
Failed Payments
dunning management rules
When you schedule automated payment
runs, your system should allow you to that suite you.
define how many times you want to retry
failed transactions on a specific credit card. _
For example, you may define up to three
additional attempts, and designate that a
specific amount of time (e.g., 12 or 24
hours) must pass between retry attempts.
In addition, your system should provide you
and your customer with automated
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Overpayments and Credit
Balance My Checklist:
Customers will sometimes overpay the
amount due, for example, by rounding up a I can offer my customers their
cheque or erroneously paying more than preferred payment method.
the current invoice amount. In these
The billing platform is PCI
situations, your billing platform should
compliant.
allow you to accept these overpayments
and hold them as credits for the customer
The platform will automatically
that can be automatically applied against
retry failed transactions.
future usage of your service. With support
for credit balances, your business can The billing platform allows for
avoid time-consuming refund processes. multiple payment types.

Refunds and Chargebacks


Customer refunds are sometimes needed
for example, for overpayments or perhaps
for unmet service level agreements. Your
platform should be able to support
chargebacks, which are funds to be
returned to customers for contested
charges. Customers typically request
chargebacks for fraudulent purchases
made on their credit cards, clerical errors
(e.g., duplicate billing), or services
purchased but never received.

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addition to the information entered during
Account account creation, your system should also
Management allow for the editing of the following
customer account details:

Customer Account Creation Locale: information about the


customers time zone and date format
When creating a new customer account, preferences
your system should only collect information Currency: the currency that is used to
you absolutely need to keep the process charge the customer
short and minimize customer Tax Exemption: a customers tax
abandonment. Information typically exemption status (typically not editable
required will be: name, password, key directly by a customer)
contact and billing information, and payment Payment Terms: you may want flexibility
information. to offer both net 15 or net 30 terms
(typically not editable directly by a
customer)
Free Trial Accounts Payment Methods: your system should
If your business offers a free trial period, ideally support entry of multiple payment
you will need to decide whether your methods, in addition to selection of one
system will collect credit card information default payment method
prior to starting the free trial. Additional Contacts: for example, you
may want to store different bill to and
sold to contacts for a customer.
Lets talk strategy

Prior collection of credit card information Updating Credit Cards


may lower your free trial customer acquisition
rate but increase your conversion rate from Subscription charges typically require that
free to paying customers downstream. a credit card be maintained on file for the
Testing both approaches is a good way to duration of a subscription. Once a credit
measure which approach works best for card is on file, there is the possibility that
your business. the credit card will expire or the cardholder
will cancel the credit card. Proactive
notifications to customers via e-mail and
Customer Account alerts on your web portal are needed
when their credit cards are about to
Maintenance expire. This proactive, automated approach
Your platform should allow your service will reduce the number of failed payments
agents and customers to access a and ultimately improve your cash flow.
customer account and modify its details. In
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Cancelling Accounts
_________________________________
Your platform will need to support
Lets talk strategy
cancellation of customer accounts.
Since customers leaving your subscription
Organizations may wish to allow
business have a huge impact on your revenue
customers to cancel accounts in a self- and diminish your profits, it is important to
service manner. Your support understand the reasons of why customers
representatives will also need to be able to have unsubscribed or churned from your
cancel accounts, either at a customers services. Some churn trends include the
request or for other business reasons such following:
as non-payment or fraudulent use. 1. Poor customer service
2. Too few features
To reduce revenue leakage, you should 3. Too many features
ensure your platform is able to: 4. Pricing
____________________________________
Before canceling an account, cancel all
the customers subscriptions and verify
that all due invoices have been paid or
adjusted. What is churn rate?
The platform should prohibit further The churn rate is the
subscriptions from being added to a percentage of subscribers
cancelled account.
The platform must ensure that any who discontinue their
remaining usage prior to account subscriptions to a service
cancellation gets billed to the customer within a given time period.
in the next billing cycle. Optionally, you
may consider having your system cancel For a company to expand its
all of a customers subscriptions but customer-base, its growth
keep the customer account active, so rate, as measured by the
the customer can re-engage without
friction later, with her existing account number of new customers,
information still intact. must exceed its churn rate.
_

Tip! Being able to manage


your customer accounts
easily and efficiently will
help you stay on top of your
customer activity, foster
customer relationships and 15
maximize your revenue.
My checklist:

I am able to create, update,


cancel accounts easily.

The platform alerts customers


ahead of time of expiring
credit cards.

My platform can accept credit


cards for free trials and switch
them to payments when
required.

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Renewal Term: the duration for a
Subscription subscription renewal
Products Purchased: the products that
Management comprise the subscription
Product Pricing: the amount to be
When a customer purchases one of your charged for each product purchased,
cloud offerings, your platform will need to which can
create a subscription for that customer, Billing Interval: the interval (e.g., monthly,
defining what has been purchased, by quarterly, etc.) over which recurring
whom, over what time period, and at what charges are billed.
price. This section outlines the various
requirements your billing platform will Creating Multiple
need to support both in creating
subscriptions and in managing changes
Subscriptions
against it throughout a customers lifecycle As your business grows, you may want to
with you. offer an additional product line to your
existing customers. It is important that your
subscription billing platform allows you to
Tip! Flexible and easy-to-use create multiple subscriptions for an account
subscription models will help you so you can, for example, allow your
manage the entire lifecycle of customers to try out the new offering
without impacting their existing service.
your customer.
Adding Products
To upsell more products or services to an
Creating a Subscription
existing customer, your platform should
Your subscription billing platform should support the addition of those items to an
create a subscription when a customer existing customer subscription.
makes a purchase from you. Some key
information that should be captured in a
subscription includes:
Removing Products
If a customer decides to downgrade from
Customer Name and ID: identifying the what he originally purchased (e.g., remove a
customer who made the purchase promotional product after its teaser rate
Initial Term: the duration for the has expired), your system needs to support
subscription the removal of specific products from that
Start Date: the date that the subscription customers subscription.
begins
Auto Renew: whether the subscription
should automatically renew at the end
of the term

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Changing Subscription
Terms and Conditions
In some cases, your system will need to
support the ability to change the terms and
conditions outlined in a customers original
contract. For example, rather than issuing a
refund to a customer, you may both agree to
simply provide that customer with a credit
extending the length of her contract.

Suspending Subscriptions
Your subscription billing platform may need to
permit a customer to suspend his
subscription to your service for a certain
period; this is common for seasonal
businesses and services.

Cancelling Subscriptions
Your system must allow customers to cancel
subscriptions to services that are no longer
needed. For example, a customer may cancel
the trial subscription at the end of the free
promotional period, without converting into a
paying customer. Since a customer can have
more than one subscription, your system
must allow a customer to cancel one
subscription while keeping others active.

18
customer has purchased from you, along
Customer with their corresponding rate plans
Invoices: a record of the invoices youve
Self-Service generated for that customer
Payments and Adjustments: the history of
Portal payments that a customer has made and
any billing adjustments you have made for
A customer self-service portal allows your the account
customers to place orders independently
which in turn reduces your operating costs.
Updating Information
Account Creation and Initial Your system should also allow customers to
make changes to their accounts from your
Purchase self-service portal, thereby saving you from
Your web storefront should allow a new significant customer support costs. Common
customer to create an account and make an self-service updates that your system should
initial purchase online. support are:

The storefront should be: Changing account user name and


Configurable, to rapidly add new price password
packages and offerings without coding Changing contact information for that
Brandable, to match the rest of your account
website Updating the payment information for an
Secure and PCI compliant account (e.g., adding a different credit
card or changing a cards expiration date)
Viewing Information Adding, removing, or updating products
in a subscription
Returning customers should be provided Creating, suspending, or cancelling a
with a login and password to access your subscription
customer self-service portal. From the web,
a customer should be able to view the
Tip!
following information:
Providing a self-service
Account Profile: customers contact and customer portal allows
billing information
Payment Method: the payment method
customers to manage their
used for any recurring billing. For credit subscriptions by themselves.
card details, only the last four digits and This helps with scalability
the expiration date should be displayed
for security purposes. and can reduce
Subscription Details: information related management costs to you.
to the products and services that a

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Reporting and
Metrics
Your platform should provide you with real
time access to reports and subscription
metrics, appropriate for the cloud. Some
important metrics to consider include:

Total Customer Value (TCV)


Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
Cash Flow
Churn
Customer Lifetime Value
Customer acquisition rates
Product / Subscription sales
Earned Revenues

It is important to keep an eye on key


subscription metrics as they are important
indicators of your businesses health.

You will want to have a single pane that


shows you how your business performed
yesterday, last week, last month or last year.

You will also benefit from insight into your


customer base so your platform should track
churn and acquisition rates. This Tip! There is so much that can
information will help you fine tune your
service offerings and maximize subscription be learned from analyzing
revenue. SaaS metrics. Use this
information to advise your
Subscription reporting also provides
valuable insight into which services are most efforts, be more efficient and
popular within your customer base. You will continuously improve your
want to see how different products and customer service.
services are performing.

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My Checklist:

Reports are readily exportable.

Key SaaS metrics can be tracked


and reported.

The reports are able to provide a


glimpse into all financial activities
that occur on any given day.

The platform allows me to see


my churn and acquisition rates.

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When the accounting books are closed,
Accounting however, there should be no ability to
System change transactions or create new ones in
the closed period.
Integration
Revenue Recognition
Integration Options
The driving force behind revenue recognition
is that you can only earn revenue as the
Your billing platform will need to integrate
service is delivered. With arrears-based
with an accounting system to create your
usage models where you invoice after the
companys financial statements. There are
service is used, revenue recognition is not
two common approaches to integrating
a challenge. However, if your pricing model
billing data:
includes cycle- forward billing where you
bill ahead for a specified period (e.g., a
General Ledger (GL) Integration: The
quarter or a year), you will need to
benefit of this approach is to unburden
recognize this revenue as it is earned.
the accounting system. Customer
Your billing platform should have the
accounts, usage, invoices, and accounts
receivable ( A/R) are managed in the ability to invoice charges and trigger
billing system, and a summarization of revenue recognition at a different time.
this data by GL accounting code is
loaded into the accounting system as For instance, you may want to invoice a one-
journal entries. time setup fee as soon as the contract is
Invoice Integration: This approach signed, but not start revenue recognition
passes customer information, invoice until the service is activated. Another
line details, payments, and adjustments common complication for cloud businesses
is in recognizing a one-time charge over the
to your accounting system. The
length of a contract, or even the average
accounting system then aggregates
customer lifetime. Your billing platform
the information into the General
will need to be able to invoice for these one-
Ledger.
time charges, but enable revenue to be
recognized over these longer service
Accounting Close Process p eriods.
Regardless of the accounting integration _____________________________________
approach, your billing platform should Lets talk strategy
have the ability to lock down the data as Revenue recognition reflects the true extent of
revenue earned during a specific period. It
part of an accounting close process. Your
allows you to see what your outstanding
platform should allow for extensive flexibility
liabilities (deferred revenues) are at any given
to create invoices, payments, and other
point. In a subscription business, revenue is
financial transactions during the month.
counted as either earned or deferred and
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depending on the billing frequency, it can be
very hard to keep track of deferred to earned
revenue manually. It requires a tremendous
amount of process and it is extremely
cumbersome to accomplish manually without
incurring errors. Its important to choose a
platform that can do this automatically.

My Complete Subscription Billing Checklist:

The platform has the flexibility to change pricing plans easily and when I need to.
The platform handles multi-currency billing.
The platform handles discounts, promotions and coupons.
The platform allows me to add my corporate branding on invoices.
Finance has been a part of my selection process.
The platform allows my customers to choose their preferred payment method.
The platform is PCI compliant.
The platform will automatically retry failed transactions.
The platform handles deferred and earned revenue
The platform can implement dunning management best practices
The platform provides the option for me to offer a customer self-service portal
The platform allows for multiple payment types.
There is a hand-held approach to onboarding.
Customer support is readily available.
The cost of the platform enables me to predict my expense for the year. No hidden
costs or % of sales charged to my business.
The platform has the flexibility to add, remove, change products on
subscriptions.
There is flexibility to customize payment and billing plans for my customers.
Reports are readily exportable in CSV full data.
The reports provide a glimpse into all financial activities that occur on any given day.
Key SaaS metrics can be tracked and reported.

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