One of the top challenges of managing the rapid growth of business SaaS apps is staying on top of the Saas vendors themselves.
Today, many businesses attempt to manage SaaS subscriptions using spreadsheets. However, with the average mid-market company using over 130 apps, this can quickly become untenable.
What’s more, SaaS vendor management is different from managing legacy, on-premise software. Why? SaaS is not a one-and-done purchase and rollout.
Businesses must have a plan for ongoing license management and renewals, plus an organized way to keep track of their apps in use. They also need to enable collaboration across departments, since implementation and usage of SaaS apps are much more interdisciplinary than with legacy software.
In this guide, we’ll explain the importance of SaaS vendor management and walk through some best practices for managing the Saas vendor lifecycle. We’ll help you make your software as a service work for you — not the other way around.
SaaS vendor management is the process of overseeing your SaaS tools and their vendors.
It means having a comprehensive vantage point and control over the entire vendor lifecycle—from selection to implementation to renewal (or removal, depending on the outcome).
Managing the SaaS vendor lifecycle is critical. When we refer to the SaaS vendor lifecycle, we’re referring to the process of choosing, implementing, and eventually renewing, replacing, or removing it.
We call it a “lifecycle” because it’s a cyclical process; when you don’t approach SaaS in this way, SaaS chaos can take over. In other words, many companies invest in a piece of software at a single point in time and treat it as a one-and-done. They don’t have an automated or centralized way to track usage, spend, renewals, and other key pieces of metadata related to the software.
This lack of attention can result in wasted spending, inefficiency, security and compliance issues, and more. Thus, SaaS management, in many ways, is all about vendor lifecycle management.
The SaaS vendor lifecycle includes everything from sourcing a new SaaS tool to renewing or canceling a subscription. Below, we’ll walk through the step-by-step process.
Before searching for a SaaS solution, work with internal stakeholders (managers, team leaders, department heads, etc.) to identify your organization’s or team’s pain points. Determine what features you need, who will use the tool, and what problems they are trying to solve.
If the need involves a larger project or organization, consider creating an RFP (request for proposal) to circulate to potential vendors.
Next, determine what existing tools in your organization might meet the needs of this project. SaaS tools are constantly updated with new or retooled features.
Keeping a SaaS app inventory will help you see whether any of your existing apps have new functionality since your last update. While it’s less exciting to use features in a product you already have, it’s also less of a hassle to set up and may save you some money.
Be sure to check across departments, as the human resources department might be using a project management tool that the marketing team could use, for example.
If you decide to bring in a new SaaS app, the next step is to carefully evaluate the choices on the market.
At many organizations, due to the ease of implementing SaaS tools, there may be little to no evaluation phase — especially for free, low-cost, and open-source tools. While this may sound ideal to the app users, unsanctioned or shadow IT can lead to all sorts of challenges for a business like customer data breaches or other data security compromises.
The solution, however, is the same as above: Get everyone on board with a streamlined SaaS evaluation process. Remember the most successful SaaS applications are those that users love, and you don’t want to disregard the needs and preferences of everyday users during the evaluation process.
Let’s take a look at what we recommend during the evaluation stage of the SaaS lifecycle.
One place that may be helpful to start is Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. Analyst reports can help you build a list and may provide insight into how key players rank against each other, though it’s worth noting that these reports are often pay-to-play, meaning smaller or more up-and-coming vendors may not be listed. However, it can be a good place to start to get a sense of the market.
For example, if you’re considering various marketing automation platforms or CRMs, it’s worth asking marketers you know at companies of a similar size and/or industry what they think of their current tools and what they recommend.
Sites like G2 Crowd, Capterra, Product Hunt, Quora, Reddit, or more niche sites can provide helpful information as you narrow down your options.
Determine how many options you want to test out before committing. In some spaces, there will be a few top contenders that are no-brainers to try out (like Zendesk, Adobe, or Salesforce), but in other spaces, there may be a lot to choose from.
Here’s what you want to evaluate:
- What features does each product have? Are there any customization options?
- Which of these features do you absolutely need?
- Which features (if any) are extra bells and whistles that might go unused?
- What can your current tech stack already do? Is there any overlap that might affect your decision?
- How well does each option integrate with your current tech stack?
- How is each option priced? (per license, per seat, per terabyte, etc.)
- How do the prices compare to other vendors?
- What are certain features worth to you? (Are there any must-haves?)
- Is there room for negotiation?
- What security features are built-in?
- Does the product integrate with the on-premises or cloud security features you already use (e.g. identity and access management systems)?
Does the tool uphold current security (and relevant compliance) best practices and regulations that apply to your business?
- Get documentation on what SaaS security processes, certifications, and/or attestations your vendor has, particularly as it relates to your internal or regulatory compliance.
- Ease of Set-Up
- How long will it take to get up and running?
- Does the development team need to be involved in the setup?
- Are integrations offered out of the box or will they have to be customized?
- Ease of Use
- What’s the learning curve on the tool?
- How long will it take to get individual team members onboarded?
- Will significant training be required?
- Is the tool worth the extra time or training required?
- Customer Support
- What level of customer support is offered? (e.g. real-time chat, phone, 24/7, intermittent, etc.)
- What do peers and reviewers have to say about the customer support experience?
- Do you know of any areas in advance where you will need extra support? Can you test that support out before committing?
- Proof of Concept
- You may want to conduct a proof of concept or trial run, in order to see for yourself how well the tool works and how well it fits within your unique environment. Some of the areas you want to cover in a proof of concept include:
- Does this work for all of our use cases (or at least all of the major ones)?
- Does this fit well with the other SaaS providers we are using?
- Does it integrate or share data the way we need it to?
- What will it take to stand up a fully functional instance?
- Do we have the technical resources needed?
- If not, will the vendor help us get set up?
Once you have evaluated the tool(s) and conducted trial run(s), it’s time to approve the right tool.
Vendor approvals can be time- and energy-consuming if you don’t have a well-defined process in place. Below, we’ve included a seven-step checklist to guide your vendor approval process.
The steps are included below, or you can visit our vendor approval checklist and download the full list.
- Negotiate pricing and terms.
- Establish an internal relationship owner.
- Conduct a security assessment.
- Approve the annual budget.
- Review compliance.
- Review and sign contract.
Using this checklist will streamline your vendor approval process and help you onboard new SaaS tools faster.
When the paperwork has been signed and the budgets approved, it’s time to roll out your new app. It’s likely that the internal owner of the app will be in charge of the roll-out, perhaps in partnership with IT.
They should work together to develop a list of current employees who will need to use the tool. Then, IT (in partnership with development in some cases) will do the actual implementation. They should also do whatever they need to do to integrate the new tool with your existing SaaS products.
Next, it’s time to provision the app to employees. As a note, this is also a good time to ensure that the app is added to the SaaS onboarding process for relevant new employees and that secure authentication processes are in place. Employees who will be using the new app should be provided with any training they require.
As you’ll recall, we recommend that you confirm who the vendor’s internal owner will be, as well as their proposed use case. Having internal ownership of a vendor is important for tracking documentation and responsibilities.
In this stage, add your new product into your app inventory, and record key metadata about the product. You will want to have a documented record of:
- Renewal date
- Business owner
- IT administrator
- Compliance and security documentation
- Key documents
- Any important notes
If you’re using a spreadsheet to track this information, it can quickly become out of date and burdensome to maintain. A SaaS management platform like Blissfully will give you automated vendor approval workflows and help track key information for the many vendors your organization uses.
Next, set up notifications. Depending on your business and internal needs, you may want to set up a variety of notifications for each tool. It’s helpful, for example, to receive a notification when a new invoice comes in. This will aid in record-keeping and ensure that the business stays on top of payment and there are no service disruptions.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to set notifications to remind you when a renewal date is coming up. These should be annual and automatic since you might need 30 or 60 days’ notice to cancel.
While it may not be the most exciting aspect of vendor management, managing contracts is very important. We recommend that organizations report the key information around a contract, including renewals and licenses.
Storing SaaS contracts and service level agreements (SLAs) in a single place — such as Blissfully — enables the automated notifications we mentioned above. It also allows stakeholders to review the details and terms of a contract when needed.
For example, you may need to check at some point on how many licenses you have and what type, so you can avoid waste and ensure you’re getting the maximum value out of your SaaS spend.
Some of the key information that often lives in a contract includes:
- Number of licenses
- License types
- Training sessions available
- Billing terms
- Renewal dates
Having all of this information in a central location, especially when there are dozens or hundreds of apps in play, is a very good idea to maintain organizational knowledge and reduce the odds that something important falls through the cracks.
You may want to read our guide to License Management as well.
No one wants to be surprised when a renewal date arrives and it’s too late to cancel. Some companies are great at notifying you, but many aren’t, and you may not hear about a renewal until just a few days before the deadline.
Many contracts stipulate 30 or 60 days’ notice for cancellation or changes, so having a heads-up is smart. We generally recommend setting up an automatic reminder two months out, but that depends on the tool.
In this blog post, we provide a checklist for software vendor renewals, if you’d like to take a look. Following these steps for your SaaS renewal process will ensure you get the most out of your SaaS toolset and enable you to optimize SaaS spending across your organization.
The typical organization is using hundreds of SaaS apps. Setting up consistent processes and workflows is necessary to manage this volume of applications. Each app is likely at a different lifecycle stage and in use by different teams at any given point in time. Moreover, IT is no longer a siloed department that gets brought in to install an app and move on; Collaborative IT is the way of the future. For all of these reasons, communication and consistency across teams are vitally important.
Finally, it’s important to involve the right stakeholders in reviewing the key details of any given vendor. Executives and those charged with compliance effort should always know the compliance status of each third-party app in use—as well as having quick and simple access to contract information, invoices, renewal dates, and other key pieces of meta-information about your technology stack.
SaaS vendor management at scale is both the challenge and the end goal.
Blissfully is a complete SaaS management platform that works with hundreds of companies to manage technology throughout the organization. Blissfully’s vendor management helps business operations manage their quickly changing tech landscape and work in tandem with IT, Finance, Procurement, HR, Security, and more to gain visibility and control of cloud-based software.
We create a system of record of all apps and vendors throughout the entire company as well as key metadata associated with each. This system of record stays always up to date by integrating with your core business systems.
Once we’ve done that, we help you manage the lifecycle of all your vendors with predefined workflows that you can customize to your company’s needs. These include:
- Requests and justifications
- Running the request through an approval process.
- Defining how vendors and tools are rolled out to employees, including training and definition of key users.
- Managing the renewal process, including security needs and negotiation points.
- Guiding the termination process in a secure and complete manner that keeps your system of record up to date.
Blissfully’s workflows and system of record work together to keep your business humming: good processes keep the system of record up-to-date, and the understanding that visibility gives you helps tighten processes, letting you address all the symptoms of poor IT processes, including wasted spend, security risks and more.
Request a demo to see Blissfully in action!