Top tips for negotiating better technology and telecom contracts
Telecom contracts can be intimidating.
They are complex documents that can be highly technical and thorough. It’s easy to miss critical details when reviewing terms. Yet it’s important to carefully review the full terms, and challenge points that don’t work for your business.
Doing so will give you an edge in negotiating better pricing. Depending on the scale of your digital footprint, you can realize tens of thousands of dollars savings every month.
This article summarizes key things to look for, to help make the process more approachable.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate
To begin, let’s first understand that you have the right to negotiate the contract terms.
- Almost everything is negotiable – Except for taxes and mandated tariff pricing, everything is up for discussion.
- If you don’t ask, you won’t get – In most cases you may have to ask more than once. Providers tend to say they can’t, or it’s not their policy, but don’t be discouraged to try again.
- Don’t be afraid to redline – It is common to send redlined versions of the contract back and forth several times, before arriving at a final version both parties can agree upon.
Telecom contract must-haves
Let’s take a look at some fundamental details that should be included in your telecom contract:
- Contract duration– In most cases, I would recommend that a contract term not exceed 36 months, and 24 months is better. Ensures you regularly review your terms to access the best terms and conditions as well as give you the flexibility to upgrade your technology with no penalties. You should also know what happens at the end of the term.
- Renewal– Some contracts include an “evergreen” clause, enabling it to automatically renew and tie you to that Provider for a further term. Remove it.
- Agreed terms– The contract should clearly state the services provided with the price for each service. Check they are the same as you agreed with the Provider. Also look for other agreements you made such as waived installation fees, or provision of managed services. Many times, what was promised by the Provider’s sales team, what is on the contract, and what you get invoiced might not match up.
- Miscellaneous and ancillary fees– A contract may stipulate the exact costs for services or products but may not clearly identify other costs such as installation, training, or management. Make sure these charges are documented in writing. Also keep in mind that Providers are entitled to pass on many fees and surcharges on your telecom invoice, but that you, as the end user, are not necessarily required by law to pay them. They are therefore negotiable, though it is not always easy.
- Price modifications– Pricing should be either fixed or the circumstances and methods for pricing changes should be specified, for example, pricing might change when tariffs change.
- Pricing protection or Market Review clause– Such a clause essentially states that: Midway through your contract term, you may go out to bid for the same services. If you are quoted better pricing, your incumbent Provider has first right to match pricing. If they are unwilling to do so, you can move service without penalty. The details should be clearly spelled out so that both sides know what the process is if an agreement on rates or terms is not possible.
- Minimum Annual Revenue Commitment (MARC)– Look for this statement in the contract. Service Providers often try to lock you in to the highest number they can, and stipulate a financial penalty if you don’t hit your MARC. I have seen MARCs as high as 90% of projected spend! Always, always try to eliminate this altogether. If that is not possible, start at 10% and go from there. Stay tough on this one. The Provider needs to remember they are trying to earn your business.
- Force majeure– This clause should not contain any unreasonable excuses for the Provider’s failure to perform. If they do not meet their obligations, you want to be sure you’re covered.
- Limit of liability– This provision should apply to your organization as well as the Provider’s.
- Confidentiality– This clause should also protect your own organization’s intellectual property as well as the Provider’s.
- Indemnity– This is a third provision that should protect your own organization, not just the Provider’s. Service Providers often try to enforce some type of Early Termination Fee (ETF) in the event you disconnect service before the contract term is up. Negotiate hard on this to come to the best possible compromise.
- Time frames and consequences– Whether for payment or delivery, time frames should be specified in days, and it should be clear when the count begins, so there is no issue regarding payment terms or penalties such as Late Fees. If these stipulations do not fit into your business model, change them!
- Changes in your business– Make sure a clause covering the event of a downturn in your business is added if it is not already included. Also, what happens in the case of a merger or acquisition, or a divestiture. You want to be protected if your business model changes.
- Technology upgrades– You should also ensure you have a clause that states that, if it is beneficial or more economical to upgrade to a new technology during your contract term, there will be no ETF penalty for disconnecting existing services, as long as new services are with the same Provider. (This is also where being locked into a high MARC could hurt you.)
- Service Level Agreements (SLA)– These should be clearly spelled out and measurable. When properly managed and enforced, SLAs are the key to ensuring the Provider is meeting their performance obligations.
- Billing and Dispute Management– Make sure you have language in the contract that protects you and gives you the ability to receive credits and refunds as far back as the law allows. Providers often stipulate only a short window of time to dispute a charge, beyond which it is no longer considered a billing dispute or error. Sometimes this is printed on the invoice, but these time limits are controlled by Telecom law.
Renewing vendor contracts
Below is a summary of some best practices when it comes time to renew your contract.
- Start the renewal process 9-12 months in advance– Strong lead time will give ample opportunity negotiate with your existing provider. You may even have enough time to run a full RFP.
- Review your current SLAs– By assessing how they are working out, and identifying areas for improvement, you can incorporate these changes into your new contracts
- Plan for the long term – Ask yourself whether the services you currently have will continue to be sufficient, and what other options are out there that fit into your overall telecom strategy. Most carriers want their customers to upgrade to newer technology, so they no longer have to manage legacy services. It is in their interest therefore, and you should bear this in mind when negotiating pricing.
- Conduct an RFP where possible– The best way to gain leverage with your Provider is to know what other vendors are offering for the same services. You can then compare and better understand current market pricing.
Remember: at the end of the day, you want your Service Provider to be a strategic business partner, not just a vendor. Better written, enforced and managed contracts lead to better business relationships, where both parties win.
The switch to a remote workforce probably did a number on your IT and Telecom costs. Check out these additional articles and content to give you more ideas on where to find savings in your telecom spend.
- Blog | Why businesses need inventory management
- Blog | Winning the battle against billing errors
- Ebook | TEM RFP questions you forgot to ask
And, if you’re looking into TEM software, consider Upland Cimpl telecom expense management software to manage inventory, vendors, contracts, and more to accelerate telecom costs savings for your business.
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