Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs) have been a mainstay for key account management for some time. But just a few years ago they—and for that matter, the whole customer success function—were the new kid on the block. And they were difficult to pull off. It was hard to get the right data, hard to build a case for value, hard to predict success and alter implementations.
These days, customer success motions benefit from better, and more plentiful, data, from more sophisticated customer success platforms and from past lessons learned. As a result, QBRs, a key milestone in account expansion and renewal, have become routine—so much so that they have become generic in many contexts. It goes something like this: The customer success manager (CSM) grabs usage data from the analytics team. They use it to populate a template with the data, a review of the past 90 days, some generic ROI calculators, a few slides that overuse the words “value” and “partnership,” and finally some bullets which outline the next 90 days.
And while this isn’t bad (and is certainly preferable to not connecting with clients to refine their implementation), it’s superficial. And it misses the opportunity to truly move relationships forward. With a vast majority of B2B revenue coming from existing clients, meaningful QBRs can produce real monetary impact. Here are six indicators that your QBRs could use a refresh:
1. Clients keep rescheduling your Quarterly Business Review.
Do your clients frequently wait until right before a planned session and ask for a reschedule? Or maybe they ask you to just send along the material? If your clients are not protecting the time, they don’t see the value. Many organizations run into this situation when they over-templatize QBRs and deliver boilerplate experiences. Take a random sampling of the material used for several client QBRs. If you blinded the client logo, could you tell which one belonged to each client?
How to fix it:
- Work with marketing to create templates that are rich in value messaging, and which force customization to the specific client and the state of your relationship. For example: QBRs that occur right before a renewal should have different content and a different tone than those that happen after kicking off.
- Reviews for long-term accounts should have different content than those just starting out. Don’t be afraid to challenge your customer (and yourself) to elevate the relationship. Otherwise, you may become complacent and miss out on subtle cues for pending churn. Use account plans to align QBRs to meaningful milestones.
- Be sure to message the meeting. Clients need to know the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) if you want them to protect the time on their busy calendars and invite the right people.
2. You spend the QBR talking about core service.
If you find that your QBR sessions are focused on fixing login issues, changing reporting parameters, or onboarding new project managers, you are missing out on opportunities to talk about more proactive and strategic topics that can move the relationship forward. And you may be inadvertently allowing negative impressions to fester for up to a quarter as the client gets in the habit of gathering up servicing needs to handle at your next QBR. This can leave a feeling among end users that there is always something to be fixed, which can result in a lingering sense of disappointment.
How to fix it:
- Servicing motions should take place at the time of need, preferably through efficient self-service or asynchronous means. QBRs are milestone meetings where key decisions are made. They don’t replace the need for periodic and informal check-ins.
- Reach out to clients prior to a QBR to see what issues they might want to address, and clear them up prior to the meeting. You can carve out five minutes at the beginning of the session to confirm and validate resolution. Then bring up your material and start the session with a clear agenda. Create a separation between routine tactical servicing and strategic QBR topics.
- Not sure if your content comes off as strategic or tactical? Role-play it with a leader who mirrors your target audiences. Practice your executive-level communication skills and aim for concise facilitation of important topics, versus one-way content delivery.
3. Everyone is getting a trophy.
It’s tempting to use QBRs to reinforce all the things that are going well and gloss over the things that aren’t. But QBRs are also the perfect time to calibrate the implementation of your solution. This doesn’t mean rehashing negative situations, rather it’s a focus on continuous improvement. Ask yourself: Is this client the poster child for our product? Would they be perfect to headline an industry conference and talk about how they use our platform? Unless you are 100 percent sure the answer is yes, then there are ways to enhance their use to make it more beneficial to you, and them. Don’t be afraid to surface those ideas.
How to fix it:
- Give customer success managers industry guides to help them better understand their client’s business context, and to facilitate harder-hitting conversations that drive toward value building. Aim to come to every meeting with ideas on how your client can be more efficient and more effective. This earns you the right to ask for change, and it means you are credible when you bring less-than-ideal news.
- Proactively share best practices from other clients. If you have it, use benchmarking data to help clients compare themselves to others and find opportunities for improvement. Demonstrate exactly what “great” looks like.
- Create opportunities for your clients to participate in focus groups or advisory groups with other clients. This will give you valuable insights, help them feel appreciated, and most of all give you something meaty to talk about in your next QBR session.
4. You only have two people in the sessions.
If you find that your QBRs largely consist of one member of your CSM team and one client project manager, then you probably don’t have the people in the room who can improve things. The resulting Quarterly Business Review may be a bit of an echo chamber. If you and your client spend your QBRs commiserating about the state of things or talking about things you already know, then get some other people on the line. Start with decision-makers who have influence over the next phase of your relationship.
How to fix it:
- If you are struggling with adoption, make sure to create reasons for your user managers to attend. You probably need an executive sponsor to connect your solution to a greater strategy that people can relate to. Without someone in the direct reporting line, you will struggle to influence from the outside.
- Make sure that at least 90 days before renewal, you have a strategic-level QBR that includes the budget holder and is couched in ROI language relevant for their objectives and level in the organization.
- Be a broker of capabilities. Take advantage of your extended organization to multi-thread the relationship with the customer. Connect technical roles with your technical experts. Connect business leaders with equivalent roles in your organization.
5. Your QBRs lack “B.”
Your QBRs occur every three months, and they do a thorough review of the work and next steps. But are they steeped in “business”? During the sales process, your organization did a lot of hard work to uncover your client’s needs and link a range of possible solutions to those needs. Over the course of a many-month sales cycle, that was refined into an acceptable solution. Don’t lose sight of those original business drivers. Those needs drive renewals and expansions. Be sure your QBRs include discussions of effectiveness (including product development, customer experience, demand generation, branding, and bookings) and/or efficiencies (cost reduction, risk reduction, elimination of rework, and more). If your QBRs just focus on reviewing what you did, you may lose focus on why you did it.
How to fix it:
- Do your homework on account business context. Start every QBR with a brief reminder of the solution objectives from a business point of view. This anchors the customer into a business mindset. And it gives you the opportunity to validate that those needs are still relevant and calibrate your solution accordingly.
- Quantify value in business terms early, and often. It usually takes time to measure and monetize results, and if you wait too long, you will be hard-pressed to renew. Or, if you do, you may find yourself down-selling in response to pricing pressure.
- Measurement may well be a mutual process. Create tools to help your client to be successful in collecting measures on their side. Those include not only metrics but also anecdotal examples from end users that can be quantified.
6. There are no sales-oriented calls to action.
All members of the selling organization (marketing, sales, customer success, and service) have a responsibility not just to deliver on the promises made but also to look for new ways to meet needs. This includes testing the waters in QBRs to understand which additional groups would have use for your solution (cross-sell), as well as what additional services may help meet the need (upsell). Look at your recent QBRs—how much of your sales content is being incorporated into your material? If it’s not much, then it may be time for a mindset shift.
How to fix it
- For big accounts, use internal QBRs to prepare for the external ones. (You can find external coaches in the Emissary Human Intelligence Network to assist you with strategy formulation).
- Provide customer success, marketing, service, and others with sales training, so that they can be more fluent in uncovering needs and link potential solutions to those needs. As they get further into sales conversations, they will also need the skills to resolve concerns and ask for commitments.
- Look at the compensation approaches for your service and CSM teams. While it may not be appropriate to position them as commission-oriented positions, some incentives for lead generation may help motivate a more sales-oriented mindset.
If you are already in the mode of conducting Quarterly Business Reviews for your most critical clients, you are on the right track. If you have invested in the data, tools, and platforms to facilitate these conversations, even better. However, if you have gotten to the point where your QBRs are viewed as simple and straightforward … that may be a red flag that you are in box-checking mode. Use these six clues as a litmus test to determine whether you may need a slight refresh or a complete overhaul.
Looking to Refresh Your Quarterly Business Review Process?
Emissary’s advisor network can help you streamline your sales process and optimize your Quarterly Business Review (QBR). Contact us today to get started or call us at (646) 776-0510 to discuss your business needs.