Tuesday's Tip: Call Vendors On Their Bluff About "Rev-Rec" And Software Maintenance Contracts

Vendor Sales Reps Keep Using An Age Old Excuse Out Of Habit
Many organizations start their Q4 software maintenance renewals process in September.  This has led to a flurry of emails and phone calls about revenue recognition (a.k.a. "rev-rec") rules for software maintenance contracts.   Apparently, both customers and vendor sales reps suffer from mass confusion on this issue.  The result - a conservative but inaccurate stance from sales reps who use pat answer number 1 and tell existing customers that they can't discount their software maintenance because of rev-rec rules.  For good measure, they usually throw out all the real official sounding terms around AICPA Statement of Position (SOP) No. 97-2 and VSOE.  To customers, this reminds them of technical gobbleydegook and they glaze over this issue about software revenue recognition in despair.
However what's true for how rev-rec works for license fees does not apply in most cases for software maintenance and support because:

  • Maintenance and support fees are adjunct or known as separate from license fees. Maintenance contracts may be based on license fee costs but these fees should be recognized as a separate stream of revenue.  More granular accounting will be required when licenses are bundled with one or more years of pre-paid maintenance, but the vendor should be able to carve out a value for this.
  • Post contract customer support (PCS) or what we call maintenance and support is ratable. Maintenance fees are recognized over the life of a contract.  For example, if you got a 1 year contract, then that's all you impact, not the entire license basis as some vendor sales reps would have you believe.

The Bottom Line - Call The Bluff And Ask The Sales Rep To Show You How SOP-72 Is Applied*
Countering false claims on rev-rec will provide a key weapon in reducing maintenance fees in contract negotiations.  Challenge the vendor to explain their rationale.  When successful, clients can then ask the vendor to base maintenance fees on a reduced total account value without jeopardizing the vendor's insistence to hold to a maintenance fee percentage.
Your POV.
Have you encountered the rev-rec song and dance?  How have you pushed back on this issue?  Did you find any success with this technique?  Need some guidance?  Feel free to post your comments here or send me an email at rwang0 at gmail dot com.
*standard disclaimers apply.  always check with your legal counsel and procurement experts before taking any action.