You’ll often hear subscription management software and billing software used interchangeably. But if you want to get really nuanced, they’re actually two different—though closely related—things.
To add to your confusion, we’ll also throw around terms like subscription management platform, subscription management system, subscription lifecycle management, and subscription billing software. Can you guess what’s what?
But trust me–our intention is never to bamboozle! So today I’m setting the record straight with this handy article.
So, what’s the key difference? Subscription management refers to a suite of advanced technology that handles all aspects of customers’ subscriptions, billing being one of them. It’s more robust, touches more areas of the business, and can help with bigger-picture business goals. That’s Stax Bill.
Recurring billing software simply handles billing and invoicing. Which is still cool and offers a ton of value. It’s just more limited. Think of it like this: recurring billing is an element of subscription management. It’s a feature contained within the wider subscription management toolkit.
A full-scale subscription management solution is better in the long run for businesses that prioritize scaling as it offers more. I’ll explain why now.
Features of Recurring Billing Software
To boil it down, a recurring billing platform handles billing and invoicing. You might also hear it referred to as subscription billing software. Let’s begin by breaking down what you can expect from it.
At its most basic level, recurring billing software should automatically send out invoices and accept recurring payments.
The two primary benefits of this are:
- You reduce the time spent on billing
- The risk of human error is eliminated
The time-saving aspect alone is enough to get excited about. You could cut the hours you spend on billing by up to 90%.
That’s exactly what happened to JustLogin when it introduced a recurring billing and subscription management solution. Not only that, but business actually tripled. JustLogin was still able to maintain these incredible time savings despite there being more people to bill than ever before! In fact, the finance team could finally handle the billing process without putting in any overtime whatsoever. Three cheers for leaving the office on time!
Switching from manual to automated invoicing also means you don’t have to worry about human error, which could be your biggest revenue leak. One study showed that finance staff make mistakes between 12% and 15% of the time when billing manually.
It’s easy to see why. Using spreadsheets for recurring billing is tedious work, especially in a subscription business with hundreds or thousands of clients. We’re only human, after all.
The problem is that those mistakes hurt your recurring revenue streams in more ways than one. Revenue leakage can occur from invoices that are sent to the wrong address or contact—or not sent at all. A workflow that involves multiple systems can result in delays, causing gaps in cash flow. There are countless opportunities for errors in data, like the invoice amount, typos in calculations or formulas, duplications, and so on.
Any imperfections in accounting processes will likely mean dissatisfied customers, which can damage your brand and increase churn. Recurring billing software streamlines your accounting processes to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Not all recurring billing solutions will have dunning management, but many include simple features to help with collections assurance.
However, functionality is often limited to simple reminder emails and SMS messages for failed payments. Higher-ticket features like credit card retry schedules are usually reserved for more comprehensive subscription management software (more on that later).
Single Source of Truth (SSOT)
Using an automated recurring billing solution means you can have an SSOT for accounts receivable (AR) data. That allows teams to have the confidence that customer data is reliable, which saves time cross-checking between systems and departments.
If you’re working off a spreadsheet or using another manual-heavy process, it can be easy for things to get convoluted. One person saves a copy of the master sheet to their desktop and begins working from there. Everyone else in your finance team still references the version saved on your shared drive. Weeks go by before anyone realizes there’s a discrepancy.
An automated system allows you to mark invoices as paid, overdue, or assign other statuses in real-time, and provide a reliable location for anyone looking for up-to-date AR info.
Aside from relieving pain points for your AR specialistss, empowering your support department, and improving overall operational efficiency—a single source of truth also helps with accurate automated revenue forecasting and provides data integrity. For subscription-based businesses, it’s a strategic game-changer.
Features of Subscription Management Software
A subscription management system automates invoicing and allows you to accept recurring payments, but it’s so much more than that.
It gives you access to a host of subscription management tools that let you control every stage of the customer’s journey.
Empower Your Customers
Features like a self-service portal take a lot of tedious work off your support team’s plate. Giving customers the power to adjust their subscription information in a few clicks saves them hassle and improves the end-to-end experience.
As awesome as your support team is, not everyone wants to speak to them to change something simple like updating an expired card. And your team members probably have bigger issues they’d prefer to spend their time working on.
With less strain on your support team to handle menial tasks, it frees up extra time for them to deepen customer relationships and provide more focused customer communications. And when people have more positive (and less frequent!) interactions with your support team, they’re more likely to stick around: increasing customer lifetime value (LTV) and improving customer retention.
This goes for new customer signups, too. If your product is relatively simple and doesn’t always require a sales rep to close a new deal, modern subscription management solutions offer a simple way to create new business.
Removing obstacles for prospective customers to sign up is a win-win—and a hosted registration page is a great way to do that. Giving customers the option of multiple payment gateways and the ability to choose add-ons to their subscriptions also increases revenue potential.
A Robust Suite of Collections Assurance Features
The best subscription management software will include credit card auto-updating, retry schedules, and AR aging reports. These features can help subscription-based businesses recover huge amounts of lost revenue.
Take bitHeads, for example. The business had a complex, usage-based pricing model which came with a truckload of security concerns surrounding storing customer data, then a boatload of issues with actually collecting payment.
Issues like failed payments saw them losing revenue every month. They desperately needed to automate recurring payments, then secure customer payments with an effective dunning management system. Subscription management software gave them that ability.
Since introducing a solution to handle its subscription lifecycle management, it now recovers around 5-10% of its monthly revenue which may otherwise have been written off. Nice, right?
A Flexible Catalog
Catalog flexibility is critical if you’re serious about customer satisfaction and want a competitive edge in the SaaS market. It enables you to easily add new products and subscription plans, create custom pricing and plan configuration for unique customers, and roll out easy, automated pricing uplifts.
The very nature of a subscription-based business model means dealing with variations in the billing cycle between customers. And in the fast-evolving world of SaaS, customers expect flexible billing options. And then some.
Subscription management software lets you manage multiple pricing strategies simultaneously. You can test offer usage-based services, per-user plans, a tiered model, or any other pricing strategy among market segments to find the best fit. Then, capitalize on your findings. Subscription management software also includes automated, ASC 606-compliant revenue recognition which would be nigh on impossible to manage manually—especially for a growing business with an expanding customer base.
Using subscription management software means you can offer free and paid trials, with targeted marketing campaigns to convert those users. Plus, being able to accept global payments in multiple currencies unlocks the potential for international growth.
“Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” That’s according to Peter Sondergaard of Gartner Inc. And I think we’d all be inclined to agree.
Real-time reports help leadership make better, data-driven decisions that encourage business growth. For example, monthly recurring revenue (MRR) reports help you keep track of contraction MRR and churn, so you can identify problem areas and respond faster. The right subscription management software in your tech stack won’t just influence important decisions, it will give you the actual means to scale, too.
Accurate forecasting is an infamously tricky task (just ask the weatherman😉), but subscription management software leverages your subscription business’s predictable recurring revenue to provide insightful and practically useful reports.
Use them for sales forecasting, product development, and strategic planning to develop recurring revenues.
So What’s Better: Recurring Billing or Subscription Management Software?
There’s no simple answer as to what is necessarily ‘better’, but rather what solution meets your business’s needs.
A subscription management platform will include recurring billing, whereas the only requirement of recurring billing software is to automate invoicing and accept recurring payments.
So, if you’re looking for a more holistic solution for your recurring revenue business, a subscription management system may be more fitting.
It encompasses every stage of the subscription lifecycle, from payment processing and storing customer information, to customer communication, reporting, price strategy testing, dunning management, and more.
While subscription billing features alone may be suitable for a smaller-scale SaaS business, automated subscription management is a growth catalyst for the ambitious who want to plug leaks, optimize monetization, be regulation compliant, and manage customer subscriptions with an excellent user experience from A-Z.