Master services agreements (MSAs) can get stuck in inflexible workflows, slowing down deals and creating friction. How can digitizing your MSAs help?
This deep dive looks at who is affected by MSAs, why they might need to digitize 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 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 involve various teams and individuals, depending on the business in question.
Salespeople typically send MSAs, alongside order forms.
Legal counsel usually ‘own’ the commercial terms, defining and controlling any changes to them.
Authorized signatories will need to sign the MSA on behalf of the business. Other internal colleagues will likely influence MSAs too – for example, engineering leaders would be consulted about contractual commitments regarding uptime.
The customer, who agrees to be bound by the MSA, is obviously also a key stakeholder in the contract.
What’s the manual process for MSAs?
A manual process for agreeing an MSA can be drawn out and painful, always involving multiple tools or platforms.
Salespeople hunt for a Word template that legal have saved on a shared drive, download a version (which may or may not be the most current) and change its terms according to what’s been agreed with the customer. They email it to legal for review, which might involve several rounds of back and forth, and then to the customer along with the order form.
The customer might negotiate key terms – which will mean more rounds of review and revision, and likely a new version of the document, in a new file, without the full audit trail of everything that went before.
Once everyone’s happy, this document becomes a PDF and is probably signed in DocuSign or other eSignature provider. Copies are emailed individually to stakeholders, who may include sales, legal, finance, project management teams and, of course, the customer. It’s then saved to a shared drive at best or to a local drive at worst.
This kind of manual process is common, 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 shared internally using Slack; and once eSigned, the contract details might be manually entered into a CRM system like Salesforce.
What are the pain points?
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 what’s in our CRM. Which is right? How am I supposed to forecast properly?”
Version control risk: “People are using old versions of the template – these terms have been updated.”
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.”
How to digitize your MSAs
Create: templates and self-serve
In a digitized MSA workflow, contract admins create templates from which users can self-serve watertight documents. Juro uses a Q&A flow to achieve this, letting users answer a series of natural language questions to autopopulate a contract with the relevant details. Check it out.
A template-based workflow means that legal counsel can always ‘own’ the key terms in the MSA; salespeople (for example) can’t deviate from the terms set out without legal’s approval. Templates also solve the problem of version control: if there’s only one template, then contracts can’t be created with out-of-date terms or based on past commercial positions.
Collaborate: in-browser negotiation and approval
For your MSA process to be digital, you need to be able to handle negotiations (and preserve their audit trail) in the same system. Look for a contract collaboration platform that lets you distinguish between internal and external comments, so that your internal reasoning can’t be seen by the counterparty.
Approval workflows are a useful feature too, empowering sales teams to create MSAs from templates while giving legal admins approval rights, so they can sign off the contract before it’s sent to the counterparty. This strikes the right balance between control and frictionless self-serve.
Agree: secure, mobile-responsive eSignature
With a digital MSA, you and your counterparty don’t need to be in the same room, shuffling papers and looking for a pen. With a contract collaboration platform like Juro, you can eSign securely anywhere and on any device. This is likely to reduce the time it takes to secure a signature – plus, you can be notified as soon as it happens. What’s more, eSignature can trigger the automatic sending of the contract as a PDF to each party, saving you the effort.
Manage: analytics and renewals
The post-signature part of managing MSAs can be just as important as pre-signature. With a proper analytics setup, you can spot the bottlenecks in your process. Use your analytics dashboard to see who’s slowing down signing, how the contract lifecycle has changed since the last round of revisions to the MSA’s terms, and many more insights.
You can also tag key dates in MSAs that have been digitized. This means that you can set a reminder that lets you when renewal is coming up.
Useful features for digitizing MSAs
If you’re looking to end manual processes for MSAs, watch out for the following features:
Smartfields. These contain contract metadata, making sure key fields – like dates, values, names and addresses – are tracked and searchable. They should also live sync with CRM in both directions to make sure data is always accurate.
Defined playbooks. With conditional logic, you can bake in to your MSA template alternative clauses and fallback positions.
Visual timeline. Approvers and signatories often want to scroll back through negotiated versions to keep track of changes and variations.
Salesforce. This enables sales users to 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 negotiation.
Companies House. The best contract collaboration platforms allow UK users to use the Companies House API to make sure important information like a company’s legal name or registered address is accurate.
Google Drive. An integration with the team’s shared drive means agreed terms are auto-downloaded when fully signed and securely stored.
Why digitize your MSA?
A digital 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.
Empower sales. A self-serve process, with a transparent approval workflow, means sales don’t feel like they have to wait on legal.
Less friction for legal. 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. Digitization cuts out duplicative data entry into contract and CRM systems, with live-synced paperwork across both.
Is digitizing 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.