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3 steps to selecting the right subscription management application for your business

Article by Gill Lambert

24th April 2018

Subscription management, Subscription software

3 steps to selecting the right subscription management application for your business

If you are considering upgrading or replacing your current subscriptions system then this article is designed to help you to navigate through the selection process.

Whether you are building your own solution or outsourcing to a fulfilment bureau, the engine that controls each customer contract will ultimately determine the CX that you can deliver, so choosing technology that is fully aligned to your commercial goals is essential.

Step 1: Define your ‘forever promise’

Assuming you are aiming to grow your subscriptions business, then you will have developed a strategy that builds on the value proposition that you have established with your customers, your ‘forever promise’.

So, before you take the first step to investing in your next subscription platform, you need to know how you are going to build on that value proposition. You can then define the features and functionality that you need from your subs management infrastructure.

Technology is about enabling value creation, but get it wrong and your tech choice can become a blocker.

Do not be a magpie

A word of warning before you get started; pretty much every CMS, CRM, e-commerce or marketing automation application these days include smart tools that are aimed at driving revenue growth. The trick is not to get side-tracked by single features but to focus on the end-to-end solution. Otherwise you will end up with a stack of applications that don’t talk to each other, or you will create a level of complexity that you don’t need and is expensive to maintain.

A subscription business has a distinct set of requirements, so you need to focus on those essential features if you want to be sure that you make the right purchasing decision.

Step 2: Start story-telling

Having defined what you want to deliver to your customers and visualised the experience that you want to give them, you are now ready to start thinking about the functional requirements that you need from your subs platform.

Back-stories are an effective way of producing a comprehensive requirements document for any new system or service. You simply create a story for very ‘user’ of the platform or service. Each story should be written from the perspective of the user, and every story should focus on outcomes rather than process or features.

By doing this you will remove ambiguity, eliminate assumptions and validate the relevance of and KPIs or SLAs that will ultimately form part of any future contract.

Story-telling is also a great way to involve as many real users as possible in the process. The more engagement you can generate across the business, the more invested those users will be in the success of the project when it comes to implementation and delivery.

Step 3: Write a detailed proposal request

The more detail you can provide to potential suppliers, the stronger your position will be when it comes to comparing services and calculating the total cost of ownership, so make sure you invest time and effort into producing a comprehensive RFP (Request for Proposal).

Drawing requirements from back-stories will help you to focus on the deliverables that you want rather than being too specific around individual features. If you are too prescriptive at this early stage you may unintentionally exclude some potentially creative and innovative solutions. In other words, you may get the solution that you ask for rather than the solution that you want or need.

Other common issues with RFP documents is that they are often skewed to the needs of the author and tend to focus on metrics that are easy to measure rather than the metrics that will determine your overall success. Again, the process of creating back-stories will help you to avoid these pitfalls.

Getting your RFP right will put you on the right path to investing in the right application for your business.

User back-story template

When writing a back-story, each user or viewpoint can be any role or system that will derive value from the application or service.


The purpose of identifying every user is to create context, and to surface those requirements that are potentially invisible to you, or anyone else who does not do that job on a daily basis.

Requirements that get missed at the start of a project become change requests that may impact on cost and/or delivery timescales.

Your stories will not only build into a comprehensive RFP, but you will also help developers or service providers to craft the best solution possible to meet the commercial needs of the entire business.

Back-stories can also be re-purposed as the framework for user acceptance testing (UAT) on delivery of your selected application.

Business objectives

When creating a back-story document, your strategic objective acts as a theme to your story-telling, often referred to the epic.

As the project owner, it is easy to introduce a personal narrative that could inadvertently bias requirements to meet your individual or team objectives over the needs of the whole business, so make sure your epic articulates the high-level deliverable and does not introduce any value-based prioritisation.

Your epic story

So as an example, your theme or epic many be to grow recurring revenues by 50% over the next three years by testing innovative marketing strategies and delivering supply-chain efficiencies.

Opportunities might include (but not be limited to) the following:

  • Tiered membership – test deliver modules and product bundles
  • New revenue via partnerships – offering exclusive 3rd party promotions whilst keeping the customer with the brand environment
  • Grow customer-base in US
  • Deliver a Voice of the Customer strategy that requires omni-channel response and efficiencies via bots/machine leaning.


Below are 16 user back-stories that collectively describe the product or service that will allow the business to deliver the epic story. Each story is followed by a high-level feature list that will start to form your RFP.

I am the data controller. I need a system that:

  • Is compliant with our statutory obligations
  • Provides an easily accessible single customer view including a history of all preference updates
  • Allows customers to view update their preferences
  • Allows marketers to test privacy statements in a controlled way
  • Gives me approval rights over all data preference changes
  • Gives me certainty that all customer data is secure
  • Enables me to respond to subject access requests quickly and efficiently
  • Can manage a right to be forgotten request without affecting campaign performance reporting


  • Must enable the business to be GDPR compliant
  • Should include a customer preference centre
  • Management interface must be intuitive and must include user access controls
  • Data security protocols must be documented

I am a new customer I want to:

  • Be able to buy online, via my phone or by telephone
  • Buy my subscription quickly and easily
  • Know that my personal data is safe and secure
  • Pay via my PayPal or Amazon account
  • Be recognised as a subscriber by receiving relevant and exclusive offers and discounts
  • Buy a subscription as a gift


  • Facility to create device appropriate journeys
  • Transaction speed of < 2 seconds
  • Ability to add new payment options easily
  • Manage recurring and non-recurring product types
  • Manage multiple fulfilment channels
  • Integrate with external fulfilment channels

I am an existing customer. I want to:

  • Get access to exclusive content
  • Manage my account online
  • Upgrade my package at any time
  • Pause my subscription
  • Be recognised as a subscriber by receiving relevant and exclusive offers and discounts
  • Take advantage of offers without having to re-supply my personal details


  • User registration that does not depend on a unique email address
  • Content access and entitlement control
  • Real-time self-serve
  • Customer data preference centre
  • Ability to create personalised offers based on customer segmentation and live data attributes
  • Ability to implement multiple upgrade strategies
  • Be able transact different product types from different suppliers in one transaction

I am a corporate customer. I want to:

  • Buy a multi-site license
  • Manage and update user access easily and instantly
  • Upgrade and downgrade my package
  • Be invoiced for payment and have access to past VAT invoices online
  • Receive reports and alerts on subscriber usage


  • One-to-many corporate contract type required
  • Flexible user-access controls
  • Log user access activity
  • Website analytics integration
  • Real-time self-serve
  • VAT compliant
  • Online billing

I am a subscription. I want to:

  • Let customers take a trial offer
  • Let customers consume me as a digital service or physical product
  • Let customers draw down on my service in different ways
  • Bundle physical and digital products
  • Bundle a one-off item with a subscription product
  • Keep each bundled subscription components in sync


  • Free trials based on issues/deliveries, time or consumption
  • Flexible access and entitlement based on issues/deliveries, time or consumption
  • Contract term flexibility
  • Clear data structures for bundling
  • Handle a range of product types
  • Bundle sync capability when one bundle component is interrupted or extended

I am a digital resource. I want to:

  • Present device-sensitive user journeys
  • Present device-sensitive payment options
  • Update each subscriber account with device usage analytics
  • Log analytics data against each customer record


  • Log and store web/app analytics
  • Define access and entitlement process
  • Present personalised offers based on real-time customer actions/propensity models
  • Manage device-sensitive front-end templates

I am a marketer. I want to:

  • Test and track acquisition conversions by channel, device, offer, by lead source, and by customer segment
  • Optimise retention by creating and delivering multi-channel, personalised engagement communications
  • Optimise retention by testing different engagement strategies
  • Grow revenue by testing price strategies
  • Grow revenue by offering personalised up-sell and cross-sell promotions
  • Develop new direct revenue streams
  • Track KPIs easily
  • Receive performance dashboards to update the wider business easily
  • Deploy new offers easily and quickly
  • Forecast future performance by product line, channel and offer metrics
  • Track marketing budget ROI


  • A flexible, easy to use, management interface
  • Clear campaign performance reporting
  • Integrated tools to create templates for email, print and social messaging
  • A flexible pricing engine
  • The ability to send orders to multiple fulfilment channels
  • Store marketing costs
  • Ability to create sales forecasts
  • Real-time transaction reporting

I am a data analyst. I want to:

  • Send timely updates to a data warehouse
  • Access all data table definitions
  • Have in-app BI tools to analyse transaction performance
  • Customise dashboard reports for the wider business


  • API access to all customer data
  • Easily integrate with different business intelligence tools
  • Control update frequency by data type

I am a data warehouse. I want to:

  • Receive a granular feed of all transaction data
  • Receive data updates that are timely, according to content
  • Access to data table definitions


  • API access to all customer data
  • Receive updates by data type
  • Know when updates fail
  • Receive previously failed updates

I am head of systems/infrastructure. I want:

  • A solution that is fast and reliable
  • A system that will flex with the usage of the business
  • A solution that is flexible and is easy to integrate with
  • To track APIs in use
  • A log of API usage
  • A system that meets our minimum data security standards


  • A cloud-based SaaS platform
  • Hosting facilities within the EU
  • Flexible APIs
  • Clear integration documentation
  • Give each API connection a user status
  • API activity logs

I am a customer service representative. I want to:

  • Locate customers and offers quickly
  • Get a single view of all customer history and activity
  • Respond to a customer by telephone, email, SMS or social network
  • Be able to switch channels easily
  • Handle fewer repetitive questions


  • Fast search
  • Customer matching
  • Single customer view
  • Store and retrieve all customer communication
  • Easily integrate with contact centre applications
  • Easily integrate with machine learning tools

I am a customer service manager. I want to:

  • Answer common queries via an online knowledge-base
  • Deliver knowledgebase responses via a chatbot
  • Analyse traffic by channel, response time, resolution effectiveness, by agent


  • Easily integrate with contact centre applications
  • Easily integrate with machine learning tools
  • Flexible reporting

 I am a fulfilment agent. I want to:

  • Receive customer delivery details for products that I ship
  • Communicate stock levels to the system
  • Communicate shipping options and costs to the system
  • Manage customer returns/replacements efficiently
  • Receive accurate and rapid payment


  • Real-time stock and shipping integration
  • Facility to track customer service issues by supplier
  • Flexible sales reporting by product type/supplier

I am an affiliate partner. I want to:

  • Launch and track new offers easily and quickly
  • Receive regular performance reports
  • Receive accurate and rapid payment
  • Resolve customer support issues quickly and efficiently


  • Performance report by channel
  • User access control that will give affiliates read-only access to orders that they generated
  • Store Affiliate commission rate within product set-up
  • Automate affiliate commission billing and payments
  • I am a payment gateway
  • Offer multiple currencies
  • Take single transaction payments
  • Take recurring payments
  • Integrate easily

I manage accounts ledgers and payments. I want to:

  • Quickly update sales ledgers with accurate subscription and direct sales revenue
  • Accurately post deferred subscription revenue the correct period
  • Allocate direct revenue by business unit
  • Ability to produce VAT reports
  • Ability to manage currency exchange rates
  • Allocate costs to business units
  • Have visibility of all payment channels and platforms
  • Receive cash reports by channel/platform for reconciliation purposes
  • Receive accurate and timely bills for application usage
  • Manage all billing online


  • Ability to integrate with multiple payment platforms and gateways
  • Quickly and easily add new platforms
  • Payment methods to include direct debit, credit card, Amazon Pay, Pay-Pal, Apple-Pay
  • Integrate with common accounting applications
  • Manage multi-currency accounting
  • Manage tax
  • Online billing

This template is by no means comprehensive, but I hope that it will help you to articulate the features that you need, including those that are outside of your area of expertise.

Once you have added metrics around your customer data, product portfolio, timings and budget, your RFP should really be taking shape!