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Doug Nebeker ("Doug")
Ahhh maintenance contracts, how I love thee so.
Question, do you know the name of any software to handle maintenance renewal billing and quotes? What do you use?
I've looked but can't find anything - maybe I'm googling it wrong, the keywords just don't seem unique enough.
For the past few years we've been manually recording in Access, generating PDF reminder quotes manually and sending them out manually. We then take POs or CC orders, again manually processed.
Currently we're at the point of build in house or buy, so how are you doing it?
All of the software companies that I have worked for, including one with serveral thousand maintenance contracts, have done it manually. I suspect that you wont get many answers because most people's experience will be "manually" or working in a sector where billing was a fundamental activity and there was custom software just for that industry (eg medical, legal).
Another idea for an internet search is "automated billing software".
I notice that one of the other posters on this forum, "Emily Jones", does a solution that I suspect solves a similar problem in legal offices (eg reminding clients to come in and do a Will):
<quote>My "software" is a collection of VBA programmed MS Word templates that help professionals in a niche market create and format complex documents.</quote>
These Microsoft Office based solutions generally grab data from an excel spreadsheet or DB, paste it into word document templates, print to a PDF printer and then e-mail the documents using Outlook, all done via macros/scripting. It could automate part of the process for you cheaply if you can't find an off the shelf solution.
Looked a while ago for something but couldn't get close to what I needed with anything off the package (for CRM or billing) for all sorts of reasons.
Some things about what I've done to maybe give you ideas.
* Renewal Screen in this CRM that lists upcoming support expiry's and you can then click to issue quotes (see below)
* Single click (from CRM when someone either requests support when long out of support or via the renewal screen) generation of renewal quotes for simple cases - insert some data from CRM into a HTML template then use http://wkhtmltopdf.org/ to send PDF with included tiny url links for purchase (B2B sales and tried just putting quote into email but PDF works better in my case, often think its being printed and walked over to bosses desk to approve).
(You could do this from your Access DB quite easily I would guess - also instead of using wkhtmltopdf you could use Word macros or similar)
Other tip is its often hard to see who these should be sent to B2B so CRM tool lists all contacts and a 'score' for how many times they have emailed. Often the official purchasing contact will not have a clue what the renewal is for so I find CC'ing in the person who is most likely to actually want support is a good tactic for getting things moving.
* For more complex cases where auto generation won't work assign it to VA to do.
* Have a process (in spreadsheet currently but will be in custom CRM system soon as I get a day free!) that if they haven't renewed 30 days or so after quote sent then VA follows up with one more reminder email.
I could go further than this (e.g. automated followup would be another easy win) but I find with semi-automated you can get lots of quick wins by being semi-automated but still have that flexibility for some of the crazy situations in B2B sales like :-
(multiple currencies, reseller sales, via IT services divisions, splitting multiple products into separate invoices for budgeting, combining multiple products into one, prorate for less or greater than one year to match some budgeting period etc etc oh I could go on and on and on)
Or you could go all Atlasian which is pretty much - this is how it is, take it or leave it.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
It's so hard to find off-the-shelf software that will integrate to how your process works. That's why consultants get the big $$ to customize software for large companies.
We ultimately built our own licensing system that simply keeps track of:
Customer info (name, address email)
Licenses (that are linked to customer info)
Maintenance contracts (linked to the two above).
Transactions (sales -- so we can show nice charts, though this isn't robust enough to really trust for accounting purposes)
This gives us wonderful flexibility. We have a mailer app that we wrote that sends out licenses when they are purchased. Then when we wanted to automate maintenance reminders, we updated that mailer and now the customers get a nice email at 45, 30 and 15 days out (those were time frames we decided was appropriate) with links to purchase online. I'd guess we only handle about 10% of them manually any more (for the people that fax/email a PO).
A skilled web/DB guy could probably whip out v1 in a week. Then you'll find little bugs and things you wish it did and make incremental enhancements for a while.
Since the customers don't see most of it, it doesn't have to be pretty.
Oops I forgot to mention GrandTotal which may do what are are looking for (export pdfs and send e-mails)
I appreciate the great replies. I wondered if maybe it's all too custom for an out of the box solution - but it niggles me that we still rely on bespoke dev, or a collection of ducktaped Office tools to do something that on the face of it seems so basic.
Maybe this is the kind of thing Lightswitch is made for... assuming that's not been killed off yet...
I've built it into the software for small orders.
For the larger corporate orders I have a friendly Filipino man contact each person individually and send them an invoice, then follow up until they pay. I give a commission on each one.
The enterprise orders can be difficult because people move around, and sometimes the person in procurement who placed the order doesn't remember you. It can take a lot of work to recover those M&S payments.
The first defense in enterprise M&S is to try to charge them for 2 to 3 years up front. Get it upfront if you possibly can. Just putting it on the invoice puts you about 75% of the way to getting it.
Monday, March 09, 2015
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