The Essential Guide to Quarterly Business Reviews

Everything you need to know about the most strategic post-sale touchpoint.

"A critical part of the CSM role is Demonstrating Value to the client. QBRs allow us to demonstrate to the client the value that they've been able to achieve through the platform, and align on ways to drive more value."

Allison Pickens
CCO, Gainsight
Chapter 1

What Is a Quarterly Business Review?

It’s tempting to think about data as the ultimate tool in the toolbox: a magic bullet that you point at your business challenges and watch them disintegrate. But data—and the technology that generates it and analyzes it—isn’t really a tool. Rather, it informs your decisions on what the right tool is and when is the right time to use it. It empowers your interactions and enables you to predict their outcomes. In other words, it’s foolish to think about how big data will replace person-to-person interaction, either one-to-one or one-to-many.

In fact, a strategic, face-to-face meeting is possibly the most effective tool in a Customer Success Manager’s toolbox, and also the most delicate—which brings us to the Quarterly Business Review (QBR). Also known as a Business Review or an Executive Business Review, a QBR is, at its most basic, just a once-per-quarter meeting with your customer. SolarWinds MSP describes it as “a meeting with your client on a quarterly basis where you discuss their business and how you can support them.” Sounds straightforward, right?

In theory, it very much is. But as easy as it is to conceptualize, it’s equally easy to botch. QBRs should be strategic—rather than tactical—in nature. This is not the time or place to talk about support questions or make plans for additional trainings. Rather, this is a chance for you to gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s business and future plans and to strategize as to how you can deliver more value based on those factors. In doing so, you step out of a “vendor” role and into more of a “business advisor” one. This helps build trust, which in turn solidifies your relationship with the customer.

Chapter 2

QBR FAQ

Q: Does every customer get a QBR?

A: In an alternate universe where you have infinite time, staff, and resources, every customer would get a QBR. In the real-world, you probably don’t have the capacity to have one for every customer. Just do the math: let’s say you have 100 customers. Four meetings a year at an hour per meeting comes out to 400 hours per year—that’s 10 full work weeks—or 20% of your time. QBRs are high-touch events, and will most likely be used for your higher-touch clients. How do you segment your customers? Save the QBRs for your top tiers.

Q: Is a QBR an on-site?

A: In our (extremely) unrealistic alternate universe, you’d love to physically shake hands with the top executives and champions at every customer. And in some cases, you’ll be able to do an on-site QBR. Most likely, this will be reserved for your most strategic clients, and it may only happen once a year. In more cases, you’ll be conducting QBRs via videoconference. A simple phone call isn’t good enough as you’ll need to share visual information. The face-to-face element is very important as well!

Q: How often should I do a QBR?

A: That’s simple! It’s a Quarterly Business Review, right? Once per quarter, obviously. In reality, however, they tend not to happen as often as that. That’s why “EBR” is sometimes the preferred nomenclature. Quality over quantity might be the name of the game at your company, but the quarterly impetus isn’t arbitrary; these meetings are based on objective benchmarks, which most companies do on a quarterly basis. If your customers benchmark on a different timeline, your QBRs should correspond. Or you can schedule them on other criteria, the point is you should be meeting deliberately and regularly on a cadence that makes sense around both parties’ yearly goals.

Q: When should I schedule my first QBR?

A: It doesn’t make much sense to do a QBR during implementation. You should definitely wait until after go live. If it takes longer than 90 days to do that, you have a serious time-to-value problem! But you also shouldn’t wait too long after implementation. It’s a best practice to schedule it immediately after the customer goes live, then every 90 days after that.

Q: Who should participate in a QBR?

A: While your Customer Success Managers likely will be responsible for facilitating these meetings, QBRs are typically most effective when executives from both sides—yours and your customer’s—are present. That way, both companies can better assess how they fit into each other’s business plans and objectives. On that note, remember that as you grow, it probably won’t be feasible for you to schedule QBRs with every single one of your customers. So, focus on conducting QBRs with your top accounts—the ones most critical to your continued success. This is where customer segmentation comes in handy. As Lincoln Murphy notes here, “QBRs will likely be reserved for only the top segment of your customer base. These are the customers who need—and deserve—the special attention from you and from your company.”

Chapter 3

Why Should My Company Conduct QBRs?

In the early stages of your company’s growth, you’ll probably interact with your customers fairly regularly. You’ll have more time and incentive to take a much more hands-on approach. Because you likely have fewer customers than larger, more established companies, it’s easier to maintain individual relationships with each one. As your company grows larger, however, those relationships become more difficult to sustain. It’s impossible to scale that kind of one-to-one touch efficiently, even though strong relationships remain as crucial to your continued success at every stage of growth.

To ensure your relationship-building efforts don’t fall by the wayside, you may need to take a more structured approach. One highly effective way to do that is to schedule QBRs with your top customers (or your top tiers of customers, as described above). When done right, QBRs are hugely beneficial to both parties. There are several practical pay-offs: QBRs strengthen the partnership between your business and your customer’s.

  • They foster relationships between your executives and your customer’s executives.
  • They allow you the opportunity to highlight the ROI of your product, thus reinforcing your value to the customer.
  • QBRs open up honest discussions around your customers’ overall health and what you can do to maintain and improve that status.
  • They eliminate the question of whether your customer will renew once the contract or subscription expires.
  • They demonstrate to your customer that you’re serious about providing ROI, and that you expect to do so within a 90-day period.

Ultimately, QBRs can help you move your customer in the direction most beneficial to them—which naturally will be the direction most beneficial to you as well. After all, if the customer does not experience success with your product, there’s a good chance that customer eventually will churn—and that’s not good for either party.

Chapter 4

What Should the Content of a QBR Include?

All too often, QBRs fall into that bucket of things management implements without a plan or a purpose. Somebody at the C-level reads an article somewhere or attends a conference and suddenly QBRs are your priority. Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you’ve bought into the tangible value of the QBR for you and your customers, but now you need a plan. If you go into a QBR without a concrete set of goals and a pathway to achieve them, you’ll only waste everyone’s time. You won’t improve the value of your product or services for your customer. You won’t bolster your company’s image in the eyes of key stakeholders and decision-makers. You won’t gain a better understanding of your client’s business objectives. This is not just another conference call for you and your customer to shoot the breeze, or even to troubleshoot specific problems.

You don’t need executives around to solve a software bug or a workflow issue. This is a macro-level, highly strategic meeting of the minds. For your QBR to be successful, it needs a deliberate structure.

You can read more about the nitty gritty of how to conduct a QBR in this article, but as far as what that structure is, here are a few basic guidelines:

  • Create an agenda and make sure all attending parties receive it well ahead of the meeting time. This will help prevent the meeting from derailing. It also will give your customer a good idea of when it would be appropriate to bring up various questions, concerns, or points of discussion.
  • Emphasize ROI. To do that, ask yourself: Why did your customer purchase your product in the first place, and over the last quarter (or so), how well have you fulfilled that need? Present numbers and data points that demonstrate the value you have delivered in that time period.
  • Present benchmarking data. Companies treasure the ability to see how well they’re doing in comparison to their competitors, and if you can correlate that success to your product using hard metrics, they’ll be much more likely to continue doing business with you.
  • Lock in solid goals for the next quarter (or until your next QBR). In some cases, this might be a good time to bring up expansion opportunities (i.e., show the customer other products/add-ons that will help the company achieve whatever goals you set forth).
  • Provide your most insightful data in the form of a Customer Health Index (CHI). Wondering what is a CHI and how can you calculate it? You’re in luck! That’s all covered in the next section.

Chapter 5

How to Calculate a Customer Health Index

You can read more about CHIs in this valuable article by Dan Steinman, but basically, a CHI “…is a single score, usually from 1-100, which indicates a percentage of perfection.” In other words, 100 is a perfectly healthy customer and 0 is a “perfectly unhealthy” customer. Obviously, there’s really no such thing as a “perfect” customer, so you should never assign a CHI of 100. Then how do you land on the appropriate percentage?

While it’s possible to use your best judgment to just pick a number, the best way is to base your CHI assesment on multiple weighted numbers. The more objectively you arrive at your CHI, the more insight it will reveal. Remember, most customers are looking for cold, hard numbers—not just abstract, subjective opinions. To make your CHI assessment as impactful as possible, you should be able to explain in detail how you arrived at that figure.

Here are some concrete factors to consider:

  • Depth of product usage (i.e., how much of your product the customer uses). If your company offers multiple products, how many of them does the customer use?
  • Breadth of product usage (i.e., how much of the customer’s company uses your product). Does the company have multiple departments/functions? Do they all use your product? If not, should/could they be using your product?
  • Engagement. How often does the customer interact with you, and in what ways? Does the customer promote or advocate for you?
  • Growth. What was the value of this customer when the customer first started doing business with you? How much has that value grown?
  • Survey scores (e.g., NPS).
  • Support usage. If the customer has submitted a large number of tickets, the customer could be growing frustrated with your product. But, if the customer hasn’t submitted any tickets at all, it could be a sign that the customer isn’t using your product very frequently—and that is a precursor to churn.
  • Amount and quality of feedback. If the customer is providing valuable product feedback, it’s a sign of commitment to your partnership. It shows that the customer is investing in your product, which means the customer sees a future with your company as a partner.
  • Age of customer (i.e., the length of time the customer has been a customer of your company). If a customer has been with you for a long time, it’s a sign of satisfaction. Thus, the customer is more likely to stay with you for the foreseeable future.

If that sounds like a lot of calculating to do by hand, it most certainly is. Hopefully you can see how incredibly useful this score can be both for you and for your client. It’s well-worth the time you spend strategizing what elements to track and how much to weight them, as well as the time spent crunching numbers. But it’s probably also worth noting that Gainsight software can help you define this score and calculate it instantly.

Chapter 6

Five Common QBR Mistakes You Should Never Make

Okay, now that you know what you should cover during your QBRs, let’s talk about some general no-nos:

  1. If possible, steer clear of in-depth discussions about anything negative. Highlight successes rather than dwelling on any shortcomings. That said, you should give the customer the opportunity to provide honest feedback. That way, you’ll have the opportunity to assure the customer that you can solve any issues or problems they have experienced.
  2. Resist going on the defensive if the customer brings up any issues or challenges. Again, focus on the positives, and turn conversations about problems into conversations about solutions.
  3. Don’t get into the weeds with specific support or product issues if you can help it. This isn’t the best forum for that. It’s okay to preface your meeting by promising to handle those issues without taking up time in the executives’ days.
  4. Don’t let the meeting go longer than an hour. Respect your customer’s time.
  5. Don’t leave the meeting without scheduling the next QBR. This shows the customer you intend to follow through on everything discussed, and that you will deliver results by the time you meet again.

Chapter 7

Where can I find a QBR template?

To make sure you’ve got all of your QBR ducks in a row, it’s extremely helpful to find or create your own custom template to help guide your meeting.

If you’re a Gainsight customer, you have access to built-in templates that incorporate data tracked within your instance, allowing you to easily create customized, data-rich slides to guide your QBRs. Otherwise, you can use this template to build your own presentation.

Here’s a caveat: You should be careful not to rely too heavily on boilerplate templates as you put together your QBR presentations. After all, one of the main reasons to conduct these meetings in the first place is to demonstrate your unique value to the customer as well as convey a sense of how important the customer is to you. Thus, each meeting—and the materials used at the meeting—should be tailored specifically to the customer. When approached thoughtfully, QBRs can help build bridges between your company and your customers, forming strong connections that will last throughout the customer lifecycle.

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