Q&A: Unpacking the Power of the Executive Business Review

Customer Success helps your customers realize value with your product. But how do you systematically ensure they maximize their return on investment?

Enter the Executive Business Review (EBR)—aka the Quarterly Business Review (QBR).

EBRs facilitate customer alignment on business objectives and outcomes as well as allow you to learn about customer initiatives and opportunities. With the changing landscape, now more than ever, having meaningful and relevant conversations about your customer’s challenges and goals will be key to your company’s success.

To learn how Customer Success Managers can maximize this valuable customer time, we hosted a webinar with The Success League’s Amy Mustoe. During this webinar, we covered:

  • The types of customer reviews and when to use them
  • What you should include in each type of business review
  • How to do your homework before an EBR

If you missed the webinar, you can watch it on-demand.

Amy Mustoe, Principle Consultant and Coach, The Success LeagueQ&A Recap

Speaker: Amy Mustoe, Principle Consultant and Coach, The Success League

Q: What should you do if you’re having difficulties getting your executive to attend an EBR?

A: Make sure that your executive relationship starts at the time of the kickoff. Ensure that Sales brings the right people to the table when you kick off the relationship and you start having those goal and outcome discussions at that time. Then when you have your three-month check-in, you can lead with saying “When we met at the kickoff, we talked about your team’s goals and I’d like to show the results of those goals and see if anything has changed.” It can open that dialogue. Now, that’s in a perfect world. So, for the next account that Sales hands off to you, do it right from the very beginning. Set the expectation that you’re going to have quarterly meetings, and these are the things that we’ll cover. Ask if they want to add anything to it.

All CSMs have been in a place where they’ve inherited a book of business. The Salesperson doesn’t even work there anymore. You don’t have any notes in Salesforce as to why the customer bought your product. So, you start with your main contact. You need to get them to buy-in to why you both need the executive on the phone. Don’t assume that your main contact understands the value of having that type of discussion with their executive. You want to help them get to a place where they look good in front of their boss. You want to help them articulate the value of using your product in their program. If you can get buy-in from them, usually they can talk the executive into spending the time with you to learn about the value that they’re getting from the product.

But there’s going to be customers that don’t want to do an EBR. The executive is checked out. They’ll pay the bill. You only have your main contact and that’s okay. Don’t beat your head against the wall if they don’t see the value in it. You can continue to try, but at some point, you just can’t get the executive in the room.

Q: Do you have a golden rule for how often you should conduct EBRs? 

A: I think part of it is what the customer expects and what you can afford to do. Typically, when you start talking about EBRs, you’ve already gotten to a place where you have certain segments that get business reviews; maybe it’s a certain revenue or customer type. Are they strategic? Are they our highest paying revenue? If you have 30,000 customers, you can’t give them all EBRs. Maybe you’re only conducting EBRs with your top one percent. Understanding that during the sales process and what type of customer they are and how integral you are to their day-to-day operations may lend itself to the fact of we need to do these quarterly. Or, if you’re a very small vendor in the big picture and the executive’s time is very limited, it might be that you’re super excited to get to talk to the executive two times a year. It’s a little bit of how you segment your customers and who gets a business review. The other consideration is what’s the expectation from the customer? Do they want this type of high touch?

Q: What if you have a customer who’s been with you for a long time (a few years) and you’re just now implementing this process? How would you suggest aligning their expectations to introduce a new EBR process?

A: There’s a few different ways that I’ve done this. One way is to tout it as a new value add. We’re changing the way that we want to support our customers, or we want to make sure that we’re aligned. The only way for us to be successful is if we’re in alignment with our customers. It’s about what’s in it for them. You are showing that you’re a valuable resource. You understand their business and doing these EBRs gets them what they need. Even being able to get in a room or get on the phone and have a conversation about where you can help lift their business.

Here’s another way. We have a class an online class called Asking Great Questions. It’s an awesome way of looking at asking the right questions so that you get the right responses. It has effective tactics to get folks engaged and wanting to have a stronger, more strategic relationship with you. Just because they haven’t before, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be open to it.

Q: What’s your advice on using automation to scale EBRS so you can provide value to lower- or tech-touch customers?

A: EBRs are typically for enterprise because they’re a higher touch. In the past, they’ve been where you’re directly talking to the executive. In order to use this at a higher scale, whether it’s called a health check review or something else, it’s providing valuable information to a customer. So, you’re looking at how did I put my EBRs together? Then, how do I take customer groups that fit that profile, but are smaller and not high touch, and provide that same information? Maybe it’s best practices or pieces of the product that they’re not using—all coming out in an automated way, such as providing customer health checks on a quarterly basis with a link to a webinar.

There are a lot of options, but start to work backwards and think about the more high-touch EBRs and then think about how you can make that lower touch. How can you make that a one-to-many approach? You have to figure out how your technology can support this, because you might not be able to ask the customer directly about their expected outcome, so you’ll have to make an assumption that they want to increase revenue or save time. That’s what you need to be reporting back to the customer. Instead of asking all those probing questions, you’ll have to make assumptions and provide meaningful data and guidance where you’ll still be seen as a consultative arm.

In one of my roles, I had a very high-touch model and a very low-touch model. We worked closely with customer marketing to figure out how to keep some of those meaningful touch points in a place where we still provide meaningful data and ideas to improve our customers’ business, but it wasn’t on a one-to-one basis. 

Q: If you inherit a new account or get a new main stakeholder who isn’t aware of their original goals, how should you introduce a goal-setting conversation? You want to look knowledgeable about their company while also getting the account or stakeholder to answer new questions.

A: If you’ve been using a standard format of goals and outcomes over time, it’s an easier conversation to say “I want to get you up to speed about the accomplishments and the goals that we’ve been working on with your team. I’d really like your input on what you see for the future.” That’s a best-case scenario where I’d be surprised if they wouldn’t want to have a discussion. Picking up the phone and saying “Hey, you’re my new contact. I’d like to chat” is not as meaningful. 

It’d be great if you could say “I want to review the results,” that’s probably the most meaningful. But a lot of people are not in that situation. They’re a new contact and you don’t really have a lot to share with them about the goals and outcomes of the last two years. That’s when you do a lot of research about the customer and the company so that you can provide the most meaningful conversation that you’re able to without really understanding the goals. 

You can pose it as “As I understand it, you know the company, although you weren’t there at the time, purchased this product to do XYZ.” These are the places where we’re super valuable. It becomes almost more of a sales presentation, or a high-level value presentation. Then you can ask some of these probing questions like “Is that valuable to you? We find our customers are trying to measure XYZ and this is how we help.” Talk with authority even though you may not have all the stats and data because you haven’t been tracking it. I wouldn’t shy away from really trying to just get in front of them and ask some of those questions. You don’t have to ask a hundred questions; ask a couple on the first call and get to a place where you can get a second call with a couple of defined goals on what they’re trying to accomplish. Think about how you can help them track progress as a new leader in their organization.

Q: How should you approach an EBR where a customer hasn’t met their goals?

A: You need to hit it head-on. We usually suggest having three to five goals. You never want to have just one goal. Most goals are structured around revenue and time, but there’s a lot of other goals out there to consider such as employee satisfaction, customer mission, and branding. You want to champion and celebrate all the good things, but you don’t want to shy away from the ones where you’ve missed the mark because you may not even understand fully why the goal, or business outcome, was missed. Is there something you don’t understand or did a goal change? Did they have turnover on the team? Why do they think they missed the goal? Ask a couple of probing questions around that. It may just show that the goal was too overzealous. And it’s the same thing if it’s all green. If you’re meeting all the goals all the time, then as a CSM, you need to encourage them to push themselves to do even better and do even more. Hopefully you’ve got some green and yellow and red and you can have a meaningful conversation.

Q: If you don’t have an executive sponsor identified, or your sponsor is director-level or below, how do you encourage a customer to bring a member from their executive leadership team?

A: You might want to entice them by positioning it as “In order for this program to be successful overall, I would like my VP to be in the room with your VP to build that additional relationship. I can see how that would value us and XYZ.” You need to get your main contact to see the real value of getting the executive involved and that you’re trying to help them showcase their good work and feel like if we don’t involve both parties, then we’re leaving something on the table.

Q: Do you have any sneaky tips for investigating customers before an EBR?

A: Connecting with them on LinkedIn is good. If you’re a customer of a vendor, I don’t think that it’s an intrusion. Do your homework by looking at where you can intelligently talk with that executive about the business. Ask the who, what, why, and how about the customers they serve to show that you’re asking meaningful questions versus just asking about their goals for the quarter. You could ask something about “I can see X has happened in your business. How does that affect you Y?” In today’s world, it would be “I see that your business model is X and with people now working from home, how is that affecting your business model or how you interact with your customers?” It’s not just about keeping them happy from a customer support perspective but showing that you’re really a value add.

To learn more about the do’s and don’ts of conducting a compelling EBR, watch the webinar on-demand.

To see part two of the Q&A with Amy Mustoe where she addresses the unanswered audience questions from the webinar, visit The Success League blog


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