Contracts vs Subscriptions in the B2B World

4 min read
28 April 2023

In this blog post, we will discuss the subtle differences between B2B contracts and subscriptions, the rise of hybrid models, and the benefits of focusing on customer-centricity and variable charging components. 

The business landscape is rapidly evolving, and companies are constantly searching for innovative ways to cater to their client's needs.

In the B2B world, this has led to a significant shift from traditional contract-based models to subscription-based offerings, as well as the emergence of hybrid models.

We will also explore the legal implications, the process of transitioning between models, and emerging trends in this area.

Finally, we will provide some thought-provoking questions to help you determine if your current contracts would be better suited as subscriptions.

Business Model Flexibility

Contracts have traditionally been the backbone of B2B relationships, providing a rigid structure for the delivery of goods and services. In contrast, subscriptions offer a more flexible and customer-centric approach, enabling businesses to tailor their offerings to better meet client needs.

For example, in the IT industry, companies are increasingly moving towards subscription-based models that provide ongoing access to software and services instead of one-time purchases or multi-year contracts.

Customer Centricity

Subscription models put the customer at the center of the relationship, focusing on building long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships. This approach encourages businesses to consistently deliver value and adapt their offerings based on client feedback and evolving needs.

Providing exceptional customer experiences and support can lead to increased loyalty, reduced churn, and more opportunities for upselling and cross-selling.

On the other hand, contracts can sometimes create an adversarial atmosphere, as both parties seek to maximize their own interests while minimizing risk. By embracing customer-centricity, businesses can foster stronger relationships and improve overall satisfaction, ultimately driving growth and success.


Variable Charging Components

Subscriptions often come with more variable charging components, such as usage-based pricing or tiered plans, allowing customers to only pay for what they need.

This can be particularly appealing to businesses that experience fluctuations in demand or want the flexibility to scale their usage up or down as required.

By offering adaptable pricing structures, companies can cater to a wider range of customers and better accommodate changing market conditions.

In addition, variable charging components can lead to increased transparency and trust, as customers can clearly see how their usage and costs align.

This transparency can help businesses build stronger, more trusting relationships with their clients.

Legal Implications

While contracts tend to be rigid, one-off agreements, subscriptions are often delivered under a Master Services Agreement (MSA), which can provide a more flexible framework for the ongoing relationship.

MSAs allow for amendments, additions, or changes to services without the need for renegotiation, offering both parties greater adaptability in their partnership.

Transitioning Between Models

Transitioning from a contract-based to a subscription-based model (or vice versa) can be complex. It involves evaluating the pricing structure, redefining the value proposition, and ensuring legal compliance.

However, the potential benefits of increased customer satisfaction, improved cash flow, and more predictable revenue streams often outweigh the challenges.

Hybrid Models

As businesses continue to innovate and adapt to changing market dynamics, we are seeing the rise of hybrid models that combine the delivery of physical products with subscription-based services. In these models, a company may provide a physical product (such as hardware or machinery) and offer ongoing support, maintenance, or software updates as a subscription service.

This approach allows businesses to capitalize on the benefits of both contracts and subscriptions, providing customers with a comprehensive solution that meets their needs.

For example, a company that sells industrial equipment might provide physical machinery as a one-time purchase while offering a subscription for regular maintenance, software updates, and technical support. This hybrid approach ensures that customers receive the necessary equipment while also benefiting from ongoing, personalized services that help maximize the value of their investment.

Emerging Trends

Emerging macro business trends such as globalization, increasing customer expectations, remote work and digital collaboration, data-driven decision making, environmental and social responsibility, and industry disruption are pushing companies toward subscription-style offerings. 

Subscriptions provide the flexibility and scalability needed to adapt to these dynamic market forces while maintaining a customer-centric approach.

As businesses face increasing global competition, heightened customer demands, and rapid technological advancements, subscription models offer a way to stay agile and responsive. 

They enable companies to deliver personalized experiences, streamline operations, and capitalize on data insights, all while fostering long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with their clients. Furthermore, subscriptions allow businesses to manage resources better and drive sustainable practices, aligning with the growing focus on environmental and social responsibility.

By embracing subscription-style offerings, companies can leverage the opportunities presented by these macro trends, positioning themselves for success in an ever-changing business landscape. 

Journey to Subscriptions

We have identified seven steps to consider when moving from contract-based offers to subscriptions

  1. Assessment and Planning
  2. Redefining the Value Proposition
  3. Pricing and Revenue Model Redesign
  4. Legal and Compliance Considerations
  5. Operational and Technological Adjustments
  6. Change Management and Internal Alignment
  7. Adopt an enterprise subscription management software
  8. Launch and Continuous Improvement

Key Takeaways for Contracts vs Subscriptions

As the B2B landscape evolves, businesses need to understand the key differences between contracts and subscriptions and evaluate whether their current offerings align with customer needs and market trends. To help you determine if your contracts would be better suited as subscriptions, consider the following questions:

  • Are your current contract offerings meeting the evolving needs of your customers?
  • Does your pricing structure allow for flexibility and scalability based on usage?
  • Can your business adapt quickly to changes in customer demand or market trends?
  • Are you consistently delivering value to your customers, and fostering long-term relationships?
  • Do your legal agreements provide the flexibility needed for an ongoing, adaptable partnership?

By addressing these questions and taking a customer-centric approach, businesses can better position themselves for success in an ever-changing B2B environment.

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