To process customer payments smoothly and professionally, every SaaS business will need a subscription billing solution. Subscription billing software (also known as SaaS billing software) will calculate, collect, and record payments from your customers, and, unlike spreadsheets, pivot tables, and traditional billing software, they are designed to handle the complexity of different subscription types, discounts, and payment types.
With multiple SaaS subscription billing solutions from which to choose, it can take time to determine the right subscription management system for your business model, but it’s worth carefully reviewing your options. Properly setting up a billing solution involves syncing it to your accounting software, mapping the subscriptions to your chart of accounts, and requesting bank or credit card details from customers. If you discover that your recurring billing system isn’t the right choice, switching to a new tool can be painful and time-consuming.
To help you choose the best subscription billing system for your SaaS business, we’ve compared three of the most popular solutions to reveal how they stack up in terms of features, price, and support.
What Are SaaS Subscription Billing Solutions?
Before you decide on a SaaS billing solution, it’s important to understand the role these systems play in a subscription business model. Many people use the terms ‘SaaS billing solution,’ ‘SaaS payment processing service,’ and ‘SaaS payment gateway’ interchangeably, but each of these systems play a distinct role in accepting payments.
- A SaaS billing solution or subscription billing platform is a software tool that automates subscription billing processes. This is the interface where your customers’ details are entered to enable their subscription to your SaaS service and sign them up for recurring payments. A SaaS billing solution will also calculate the amount customers pay, generate invoices, and store data on when payments are received, all of which will sync with your accounting software.
- A SaaS payment gateway is a service that collects and stores customer payment information, authorizes the transaction, and passes the payment request to the payment processor. PayPal, Stripe, GoCardless, and Authorize.net are payment gateways that are widely used by SaaS companies.
- A SaaS payment processing service facilitates the transfer of funds by requesting the payment from the customer’s credit card network. If the customer has sufficient funds, the payment processor will notify your merchant account that the transaction was approved, and the funds will be transferred to your business’s bank account. Some banks offer SaaS payment processing services (for example, Wells Fargo and Bank of America), or you can connect your bank account with a third party payment processing system.
To accept online payments for customer subscriptions, you’ll need all three of these systems to seamlessly work together. If your business is already collecting payments from customers, you likely already have a payment gateway and a payment processor set up. A SaaS billing solution will integrate with these services, so make sure to choose one that effectively pairs with your chosen payment gateway and processor.
Popular SaaS Billing Solutions: Stripe Billing vs. Chargebee vs. Recurly
Many businesses usually choose from one of three common SaaS billing solutions: Stripe Billing, Chargebee, and Recurly.
As well as being a payment gateway and a payment processor, Stripe also offers a billing solution you can add on to your Stripe gateway, called Stripe Billing. If you’re familiar with Stripe, this add-on will be easy to use, but in comparison to Chargebee and Recurly, Stripe Billing is a fairly basic tool.
- Stripe Billing is the simplest customer billing solution for very small businesses that sell a small number of products and want a quick way to start accepting subscription payments.
- Because Stripe Billing has no fixed monthly fees, it costs less per month than Chargebee or Recurly.
- Stripe Billing has limited reporting features.
- Stripe Billing is not a robust billing solution. Once you offer multiple products or a more complex subscription model, you’ll need to invest in a complete billing solution that includes additional features and is more customizable.
Chargebee is a powerful subscription billing platform that can handle hundreds of different billing situations. This solution offers the widest range of features and customization of these three systems.
However, Chargebee is an expensive choice—as well as paying a monthly fee, you’ll pay a percentage of any revenue you process that exceeds an annual revenue limit. It offers a free basic plan for small startups that fulfill certain criteria (learn more about the Launch plan here), but this plan delivers a very limited feature set.
- It’s easy to connect Chargebee with other finance tools, including QuickBooks, ProfitWell, and more.
- Chargebee is very flexible: You can quickly customize your products, subscription terms, and dunning processes.
- Chargebee only provides limited support for revenue recognition.
- The lower-priced plans are very basic, including limited support methods and accounting integrations.
Recurly supports a similar level of billing complexity as Chargebee, but because it offers a slightly different set of features and options, it may suit businesses that find Chargebee isn’t quite the right fit. As well as SaaS businesses, Recurly’s subscription billing platform is designed to service streaming media, consumer goods, healthcare, and education businesses.
- Many Recurly users report responsive customer service.
- Recurly is easy to use for both business admins and their customers.
- Like Chargebee, Recurly charges a percentage of your revenue in addition to the monthly plan fee. Unlike Chargebee, this isn’t just charged on revenue that exceeds an annual limit. Recurly will charge 0.9% of any revenue you process, so it can work out as a very expensive choice.
- The basic plan only includes a very limited selection of reports.
For more comparisons of finance services, see: Brex vs Divvy vs Ramp vs Stripe: Head-to-Head Comparison of the Top 4 Corporate Credit Cards for Startups.
Head-To-Head Feature Comparison of SaaS Billing Solutions
Before you invest in a SaaS billing solution, it’s important to understand which systems have the flexibility to handle the complexity of your subscription model. For example, if you offer multiple products and billing frequencies or offer add-on services and products, determine if this capability is built into the billing solution and which pricing plans include it.
Stripe Billing, Chargebee, and Recurly all support the following popular subscription billing models and options:
- Quantity based or usage-based tiered pricing
- Hybrid subscription plans
- Add-ons and one-time fees
- One-time payments
- Upgrades, downgrades, renewals, and cancellations
- Discounts, credits, coupons, or prorations
- Free trials or other promotion
Finding a solution with the capabilities to seamlessly handle your subscription model is critical, but it’s essential to consider many other factors when you’re making a decision. Below, we take a deeper dive into the key attributes you should review in a SaaS billing solution and how these three options stack up. The features each solution offers can vary significantly depending on the pricing plan you choose, so consider how much you’re willing to spend on a billing solution to benefit from a greater range of options.
Supported Payment Types
Accepting a variety of payment options through your SaaS billing solution allows your customers to choose their preferred payment method and could increase the number of new customers you gain. If you deal with international customers, make sure your billing solution provides the features to serve them smoothly. Additionally, if you’ve already picked the best SaaS payment gateway for your business, choose a billing solution that integrates with this gateway.
Dunning and Payment Success
Any subscription business will need to deal with payments that fail at the first attempt. Look for features in a SaaS billing solution that will help you avoid losing money through failed payments by automatically retrying the transaction (known as dunning) and updating customers’ payment details when their cards expire.
Choose a SaaS billing solution that integrates with your accounting software so your finance data syncs automatically, without time-consuming and error-prone manual work. Many billing solutions also offer built-in finance reports to provide instant insights into your business’s revenue.
Support And Accessibility
Integrating your billing solution with your website, mobile app and other software (for example, your CRM) means you can deliver a smooth payment experience for customers, and saves your team time syncing data between platforms. Check which billing solutions offer the APIs and mobile development tools to make this possible.
Even if you choose an easy-to-use SaaS billing solution, you’ll likely require additional support from time to time. Make sure the solution you choose provides responsive customer support that will be easy to access when you need it.
Security And Compliance
Because SaaS billing solutions handle your customers’ personal details and payment information, it’s essential that they manage that data securely. Look out for certification that shows a provider is compliant with industry security standards (for example, PCI-DSS Level 1 certification). Some solutions also have additional measures in place to prevent data theft and security breaches.
Most billing solutions base their pricing on a percentage of your revenue, so consider how this amount will change based on your projected revenue growth over the next few years. The solution that seems like the best value when you’re just starting out may become an expensive solution as your revenue grows.
The Management You Need To Make Your SaaS Billing Solution a Success
Although a SaaS billing solution will automate many subscription payment processes, you still need to carefully monitor your subscription billing system to follow up on error messages, respond to bank rejections, and ensure the software is syncing with your other finance tools. If you don’t carry out these manual checks, you might not realize if a payment is overdue or rejected or if the system doesn’t automatically update or sync. This means, even with the right SaaS billing solution, your business could be missing out on revenue.
At Zeni, we understand that managing your SaaS billing system is an important but time-consuming task. Zeni is a full-service finance firm that handles all your bookkeeping, accounting, and CFO needs, including bill pay, invoicing, and receipt collection, following GAAP standards. All Zeni customers have visibility into their business finances in real-time via our interactive finance dashboard. As part of Zeni’s services, we’ll help you set up your SaaS billing solution and manage the system to ensure your business is receiving every customer payment, promptly clearing errors, and correctly reconciling each payment. We provide the human oversight you need to verify the accuracy of your reports and data, so your SaaS billing solution can be a time-saver rather than a time sink for your business.