RightNow Technologies on March 4 introduced its "Cloud Service Agreement," which it claims will give clients far greater flexibility in negotiating contracts for its software-as-a-service customer experience applications. RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte contends the Cloud Service Agreement will make it easier and less expensive for prospective customers to start using RightNow's Web-based applications compared with the terms offered by its competitors, such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft and Oracle.
Technologies, competing as one of the smaller players in the software-as-a-service
market with the likes of Salesforce.com, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP,
offered a "Cloud Services Agreement" that it claims is a radically better deal
for customers than the contracts offered by the big guys.
The new agreement, which the SAAS customer service and support software
company has implemented through it sales staff since Jan. 1, 2010, and announced publicly
here on March 4, "provides the guaranteed-pricing benefits of a traditional
Master Services Agreement without the pain," company officials said.
The pain points common in other service contracts for SAAS as well as on-premises
software include hidden charges, escalating maintenance fees and the SAAS
equivalent of "shelfware," large numbers of unused seats that the customer has
to keep paying for, said RightNow CEO Greg
The key points of the services agreement include "annual usage agreements up
or down," which allow customers to adjust the number of seats or subscriptions
the company pays for based on their business needs. Most typical software
purchase contracts require customers to buy more seats than they need to lock
in long pricing for the life of the deal.
To this end, the company is offering what it calls "annual pools of
capacity," which will allow customers to adjust the number of seats it uses
over a 12-month period to accommodate "seasonality and fluctuations in their
businesses without having to pay extra for spikes." Most SAAS service contracts
lock customers into buying enough seats to accommodate peak potential usage during
the course of the year.
RightNow is also offering a "three-year price commitment with a three-year
renewal price cap," which Gianforte said provides more price predictability for
customers than other software companies, which usually reserve the right to
raise fees over the life of the contract. Gianforte contends the agreement
fixes pricing for six years-the initial three-year price point, plus a
predictable cap on the renewal price for the next three years.
Furthermore, RightNow contends that customers are only required to commit to
a service contract for one year because it's offering "annual termination for
convenience" that allows customers to walk away from the agreement "if right
now isn't executing client satisfaction. In contrast, with typical software
purchase contracts, customers are locked into buying so many seats or copies of
an application and don't have the option to terminate the agreement early, at
least not without paying heavy penalties."
But if RightNow's SAAS software fails to achieve service-level agreements
for uptime and reliability, the company is offering "cash service level
credits" under which it will refund a portion of the client's subscription fee.
RightNow is promising uptime of 99.95 percent. Most service agreements in the
SAAS sector only offer at best credits toward future purchases if the vendor
fails to meet service-level agreements, Gianforte said.
Gianforte claims that the Cloud Service Agreement takes most of the risk out
of signing up for a SAAS service contract and greatly reduces the amount of
negotiating and haggling that's usually required to close the deal.
In fact, Gianforte and his Chief Operations Officer Susan Carstensen said
that the CSA has already speeded up the sales cycle since the beginning of the
year. RightNow will offer the CSA to current customers as their contracts come
up for renewal, Carstensen said.
The terms in RightNow's CSA conforms in substance to the precepts laid down in
the report "Customer Bill of Rights" for SAAS, published by Altimeter Group
partners Ray Wang and Jeremiah Owyang. This report offers "39 Best Practices to
Improve the SAAS Client-Vender relationship."
Wang, who was a speaker at RightNow's CSA introduction at the Fairmont Hotel
here, said that the CSA could serve as a model for the rest of the SAAS
industry and that the customer of other SAAS software companies will likely
start lobbying for similar terms. "Anyone who has an annual service agreement will
think, 'Don't I already have these clauses in my contract?'" Wang said. But
that's unlikely to be the case, he said.
Ken Harris, CIO and senior vice president
of Shaklee, a producer of nutritional
supplements and vitamins based in Pleasanton, Calif., said he has negotiated
contracts with 10 different SAAS vendors over the past five years and he
"doesn't know of any vendors who are doing anything close" to what RightNow is
offering in its CSA.
John Pallatto is eWEEK.com's Managing Editor News/West Coast. He directs eWEEK's news coverage in Silicon Valley and throughout the West Coast region. He has more than 35 years of experience as a professional journalist, which began as a report with the Hartford Courant daily newspaper in Connecticut. He was also a member of the founding staff of PC Week in March 1984. Pallatto was PC Week's West Coast bureau chief, a senior editor at Ziff Davis' Internet Computing magazine and the West Coast bureau chief at Internet World magazine.