Master services agreements (MSAs) exist – at least in theory – to make contract negotiations simpler and faster. How can automation help?
This deep dive looks at who is affected by MSAs, why they choose to automate them, how they do it and what the benefits are. Use the navigation below to find out more, or explore our deep dives on other contracts, like NDAs.
What’s an MSA?
In a master services agreement (MSA), a business and its customer agree the majority of the terms that will govern their future commercial relationship. This type of contract is extremely common in high-velocity sales organizations, especially SaaS businesses, like the high-growth tech companies we often work with.
Who do MSAs affect?
MSAs can touch stakeholders right across the business.
Salespeople will typically send MSAs out, alongside order forms, to prospective customers.
Legal counsel usually ‘own’ the commercial terms, and define and control any changes to them.
Approvers might be various different people, including sales managers, finance leaders, and even the C-suite, depending on the company.
Other internal colleagues will likely influence MSAs too – for example, product or engineering leaders would be consulted about contractual commitments regarding uptime.
Authorized signatories will then need to sign the MSA on behalf of the business.
The customer, who is agreeing to be bound by the MSA, is also a key stakeholder in the contract.
What’s the manual MSA process?
Without automation, the process of agreeing an MSA can be drawn out and painful.
Typically, legal counsel will save a Word template on a shared drive. When a deal is ready to be closed, a salesperson downloads a version of this template – which may or may not be the most current – and will amend the terms, depending on what was agreed with the customer. The document is emailed to legal for review, and there may be several rounds of back and forth before it is sent along with the order form to the customer.
The customer might negotiate key terms – which will mean more rounds of review and revision, and mostly a new version of the document, in a new file, without the full audit trail of everything that went before.
Once fully signed, either with a wet signature or using an eSignature provider, copies are emailed individually to stakeholders (who may include sales, legal, finance, project management teams and, of course, the customer).
This manual process is still typical, but companies with a richer tech stack may have made some small steps forward: the template might be a shareable Google Doc; versions might be sent internally using Slack; and once signed, the contract details might be manually entered into a CRM system like Salesforce.
What are the pain points?
There are bottlenecks and friction points throughout this manual process, the most common of which are:
Duplication of work: “I’m doing the same work twice – first in Word, then in Salesforce.”
Data integrity: “The data in our contracts doesn’t match the data in our CRM. Which is right? How am I supposed to forecast properly?”
Version control risk: “People aren’t using the most up-to-date version of the template – these terms have been superseded.”
Wasted time: “I keep losing track of what we’ve negotiated and agreed so far. Legal is wasting so much time chasing down emails.”
Lost metadata: “I lose visibility of contracts post-signature. This feels risky and I can’t report properly to my managers.”
The business imperative to solve these problems is overwhelming, and it’s why so many companies choose MSAs as one of the first documents they automate.
How to automate MSAs
Who owns MSA templates?
An efficiently automated MSA workflow has clear roles for everyone who needs to be involved. Legal counsel still own the templates, but instead of creating new versions and hoping that sales users find it, they can simply define and update one master template – saving time and avoiding risk.
Who creates MSAs?
To really enable sales, automation needs to be about self-serve. With a defined and approved master MSA template in place and under their control, legal can empower salespeople to generate their own MSAs from it. One of the fastest ways to achieve this is to guide users through a Q&A flow, the answers to which autopopulate the MSA. Even better is to integrate the MSA template with your sales team’s CRM – such as Salesforce.
Who approves MSAs?
Approval workflows are common, and ensure that legal have oversight and approval rights before contracts are sent to be signed, without creating friction. Other stakeholders, like sales managers, project teams and IT teams, might also need to approve the MSA.
Who are the authorized signatories?
Authorized signatories could be sales managers or CEOs, depending on the size and structure of the company. If an automated workflow has native eSignature, then authorized signatories can quickly and securely sign deals that have had legal approval.
Useful features for automating MSAs
Users looking to end manual processes for MSAs should look for the following from an automation provider:
Locked templates. Legal teams will often want to define MSAs at template level and prevent their sales colleagues from deviating from the latest terms.
Approval workflow. This will define roles for legal and CFOs, as well as signatories. The best approval workflows are ‘sequential triggered’, which means multiple approvers can be notified in a specific order. This prevents users from deviating from standard contract terms and gives visibility to those who need it.
Smartfields. These contain contract metadata, making sure key fields like dates, values, names, addresses and so on are tracked and searchable. They should also live sync with CRM in both directions to make sure data is always accurate.
Defined playbook. With conditional logic, you can bake in to your MSA template alternative clauses and fallback positions.
Internal commenting. If standard terms are to be varied, it’s useful for internal stakeholders to be able to collaborate in real time on the document, without needing to worry about audit trails and version control.
External redlining. Counterparties need to be able to negotiate the MSA without having to move into Word, which risks losing audit trails and data.
Visual timeline. Approvers and signatories often want to scroll back through negotiated versions to keep track of changes and variations.
Two-way data sync to CRM. Only a two-way integration with live data sync can ensure that data is accurate across both legal and sales. It also helps avoid double-work when it comes to data entry.
Salesforce. As the dominant CRM and system of record for a majority of high- growth sales organizations, a frictionless integration with Salesforce is vital. Sales users can then create contracts without leaving Salesforce, safe in the knowledge that legal have oversight. The integration should be two-way in case data changes during the MSA negotiation.
Companies House. The best contract automation solutions allow UK users to use the Companies House API, which makes sure that information like the company’s legal name or registered address is always accurate.
Google Drive. An integration with the team’s shared drive means agreed terms are auto-downloaded when fully signed and securely stored.
Why automate MSAs?
An automated MSA workflow can deliver significant benefits to the business.
There’s a system of record. With all contracts generated, negotiated, approved, signed and stored in one system, visibility pre- and post-signature is no longer an issue.
Sales teams are empowered. A self-serve process, with a transparent approval workflow, means sales don’t feel like they have to wait on legal.
Legal get their lives back. With an automated MSA process, legal don’t have to crawl through email chains to unearth risk or harangue salespeople to check they’ve used the right template. Lawyers can enable the business instead of blocking it, all without losing control.
You’ve got a single audit trail. when the MSA is up for renegotiation, it’s clear how and why any changes were made last time.
No more double-work. Automation cuts out duplicative data entry into contract and CRM systems, with live-synced paperwork across both.
Juro users say that automating their sales contracts, including MSAs, has saved them between 75% and 96% of time end-to-end.
Achieving these numbers will depend on the complexity of both the documentation and the workflow being automated, but end-to-end contracting times of minutes, rather than days or weeks, are not unheard of.
To get the best out of automation, it’s crucial that it is adopted fully, rather than uptake being slow and patchy.
Is managing MSAs a pain point for your business? Is your SaaS company or marketplace growing so fast that the contract process is out of control, with friction pre-signature and a lack of visibility post-signature?
If so, get in touch and see if you could benefit from a contract collaboration platform that enables businesses to agree and manage contracts all in one unified workspace.