A high-growth tech scaleup is likely to see its master services agreements (MSAs) increase dramatically. How can self-serve help to handle the volume?
This deep dive looks at who is affected by MSAs, why they might need to create a self-serve workflow, 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?
A master services agreement (MSA) sets out most of the terms that will govern the commercial relationship between a business and its customer. This type of contract is common in high-velocity sales organizations, like SaaS businesses, as it means reps can send out order forms that include key commercial terms for quick decisions, with the much more detailed legal terms appended in the MSA.
Who do MSAs affect?
The stakeholders affected by an MSA will vary slightly depending on the business, but typically include:
Salespeople, who send MSAs along with order forms to prospective customers
Legal counsel, who typically ‘own’ the commercial terms, and would define and approve any changes to standard positions
Approvers, who might be people from various teams in the business, such as sales, finance, and perhaps even C-suite, depending on the impact of the contract
Authorized signatories, who will vary from company to company
Customers – who are signing up to the terms within the MSA – are, of course, key stakeholders in the contract
What is a non-self-serve MSA process?
Most businesses still manage their sales contracts with a manual process that doesn’t allow commercial colleagues to self-serve; with almost every company out there using Microsoft Word for at least some of its documents, we can hardly blame people for using it for contracts too. But as part of a non-self-serve manual workflow, it creates lots of friction. The process often looks something like this:
The legal team creates the MSA template in Word. Salespeople try to find it on a shared drive, download it (hoping it’s the most current version) and update the terms according to what’s been agreed with the customer. They convert the created contract to PDF and send it to be signed using DocuSign or similar. But instead of signing, the customer comes back with negotiations, which need to be sent to the legal team for review. It’s at this point that the legal team notices this is the wrong version of the MSA. More revisions, more emailing, and more back and forth ensure before the contract is eventually signed, sent to stakeholders and saved to a shared drive.
Why use a self-serve workflow?
There are three main problems with a non-self-serve MSA process: multiple tools across different systems make version control difficult and risk data being lost; the legal team’s time is wasted fielding requests for documents they’ve provided many times before; and friction when sales teams find their ability to close deals quickly relies on legal (and anything that gets between a salesperson and a closed deal is a problem).
A successful self-serve setup empowers commercial colleagues to create an MSA whenever they need one, without having to ask the legal team or worry about the version and terms within it being up to date. And legal can be confident that everything is how it should be.
How to achieve self-serve for MSAs
A self-serve workflow for MSAs depends on the specific needs of your company, but is likely to feature the following:
An intuitive, user-friendly interface
If self-serve is really going to work, then all contract creators need to be able to easily use and navigate through their contract solution – otherwise they’ll be asking legal for help all the time, re-introducing the friction that this process was supposed to remove.
The perfect template
Created by the legal team using their contract collaboration platform’s template editor, the master MSA template should codify the most up-to-date thinking around terms, clause language, commercial positions, and so on. It should also be well designed and easy to sign – like this one.
A Q&A flow
A Q&A flow captures the key data that might vary between contracts. This is best handled with a natural language Q&A, with questions like “What’s the counterparty name?” and “What’s the effective date?” Contract creators (i.e. salespeople) will use this questionnaire to enter all the data they want to appear in their self-serve contract.
If counterparties want to make changes to the MSA, it defeats the purpose of self-serve if this has to happen in Word, over email and by telephone. Find a solution that offers negotiation and commenting in-browser. That way audit trails and version histories are all in one place.
Although commercial colleagues will be empowered to serve their own contracts, you’ll still want legal to have sign-off. Using an approval workflow means that you can give the legal team approval rights before contracts are shared with counterparties – just to be safe.
It’s common for legal teams to create playbooks that set out their negotiation positions, empowering sales teams to negotiate within acceptable parameters.
Find out more about self-serving MSAs in our free eBook, 'Contract automation: start small, win big'.
Useful features for self-serving MSAs
If you’re looking to create a self-serve workflow to take the friction out of MSAs and other sales contracts, you will find the following features useful:
CRM integration. It’s important that your documents and data are live-synced between your system for contracts and your system for sales (typically Salesforce). This helps with forecasting and minimizes risk.
Companies House integration. Specific to the UK, a contract collaboration platform that integrates the Companies House API will pull the correct names of legal entities into contracts every time, reducing the risk of error.
Export to Word. A self-serve flow should be handled entirely in your contract collaboration platform. But on those rare occasions that partners insist on negotiation offline, in a room or on the phone, the ability to export to Word will give you that option.
Is the back-and-forth between legal and sales teams when it comes to 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.