Rethinking the Quarterly Business Review (QBR)

Quarterly Business Review

Convening in a meeting room chock-full of Customer Success Managers, we pondered the purpose of the arguably antiquated QBR.

“Customers complain they take too long.”

“The industry feels like they have to conduct QBRs.”

“Once QBRs become a metric, they become less meaningful.”

“Sometimes, having four QBRs a year for a customer IS too much.”

A relic from bygone days of old-school Account Management, QBRs are a classic, but not timeless, practice; one that feels perfunctory and misplaced in today’s always-connected, data-enriched landscape. To maintain the status quo of yesteryear, Customer Success teams (and their customers alike) feel the pain of conducting QBRs dictated by a now seemingly arbitrary timeframe and requisite. QBRs are often reserved as the sole time to strategize customer goals. This inflexible, timetabled approach doesn’t speak to driving continuous customer value. That requires an ongoing, event-based mindset that puts customer performance before QBR quotas and recurring scheduling expectations.

Question the ‘Q’ in QBR

Now, this isn’t an argument to entirely do away with QBRs, but rather, to question if and why you’re blindly following a best practice that may no longer be relevant to your customers’ success. Do your QBRs deliver real value to customers, or do they simply check a box?

Your customers’ product usage and performance are likely not linear; they ebb and flow around evolving goals, shifting priorities, and business challenges. Adhering to a rigid QBR cadence ignores the immediacy of your customers’ wants and needs. The ability to react to customer events in real-time and in a meaningful way is what makes Customer Success an indispensable asset—not a catchall check-in. Prioritizing your customer outreach using segments and alerts built upon tactical and strategic attributes will yield more fruitful conversations and outcomes.

For instance, if your customer has a major win at the start of a quarter, celebrating it three months later at a QBR diminishes its impact and momentum. Looking at the inverse, if you use QBRs as a customer PIP to bring up past issues, you’ve waited too long. “Red-flag” events need to be raised as soon they happen, not tabled for a later date. Proactive course-correction fuels customer retention.

At ChurnZero, here are a few customer events that we track and act on immediately:

Negative (red-flag) events:

  • Data exports. In many industries, it’s ALWAYS a bad sign if a user exports their customer data.
  • No logins in the last seven days, 30 days, and so on. The timeframe will depend on your product usage standards.
  • No logged activities on an account within 30 days.
  • Support cases logged with a tag of “Escalate to Customer Success Manager.”

Positive (celebratory) events:

  • 100th login. It’s exciting when a user individually hits this mark. Send a fun GIF of a waving bear or confetti to recognize their habitual usage.
  • 1,000 minutes of activity across the entire team—an awesome milestone to achieve within a 30-day period.
  • 5th Play (ChurnZero’s automated email campaigns) created. Set up a triggered in-app message to share additional ideas for Plays.
  • 10th global segment. Send a quick, congratulatory in-app announcement and helpful content on “3 things in 3 minutes” they can do to make their segment even more valuable.
  • First-year anniversary!

Don’t stockpile customer events that deserve an immediate response for the sake of having something to discuss during a QBR. Postponing strategic or noteworthy conversations doesn’t put the customer first. Because, with great (data) power, comes great responsibility. Access to real-time customer insights demands real-time customer engagement.

Get SMART

Rethinking the business review doesn’t negate its main tenet: Keep it strategic, not tactical. Use this time to discuss Customer Success frameworks, predicted trends, or ways to expand their operations. For engaged customers, focus more on their processes and less on your product. Since Customer Success Managers only partially influence customer goal attainment (as retention is a company-wide initiative), set achievable milestones and realistic expectations. Get customers to think about other ways they can impact processes that are unrelated to their customers. Brainstorm quick gains to make your customer champion a rock star.

An easy place to start is by creating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals to establish clear guidelines for defining success. The Success League provides practical advice on applying the SMART methodology to correlate metrics to goals with these examples:

  • Specific:
    • DON’T: Create a goal to “reduce churn”.
    • DO: Create a goal to “reduce churn by 2% this quarter”.
  • Measurable:
    • DON’T: Create a goal to “improve customer engagement” without having the tools and software in place to measure it.
    • DO: Create a goal to “increase user adoption by 30% over the course of 2020 as measured by our CS platform”.
  • Achievable:
    • DON’T: Create a goal to reach a 95% renewal rate within a quarter, if historically, your company has only achieved a 50% renewal rate in that same time period.
    • DO: Create a realistic goal to achieve a 60% renewal rate (a 10% rate increase). Set attainable goals by reviewing past performance to gain context. Employee motivation is highest when there’s a 50% chance of achieving a goal, according to research shared by Impraise.
  • Relevant:
    • DON’T: Create a goal to “schedule four QBRs per year for each account” or “make X-amount of calls per day” if you can’t link their impact to your goals. Don’t fall into the trap of having metrics for the sake of metrics.
    • DO: Create a weekly goal to “call all of your accounts that are three months out from their subscription renewal date to schedule a renewal conversation.”
  • Time-bound
    • DON’T: Use vague, open-ended timeframes to achieve your goals. Consider how long it will take to see the impact in your metrics.
    • DO: Create monthly expansion revenue goals (if your company evaluates revenue on a monthly basis) and quarterly customer satisfaction goals (if that’s how long it takes to reach statistical significance).

Check out The Success League’s full article for more tips on goal setting, particularly the nuanced “Measurable” criteria.

As an added benefit, if you help your customer set SMART goals, and they achieve them, they’ll associate you with those goals regardless of it was attributable to your product. Strategic consulting that goes beyond product know-how will make you stand out from the competition in a big way and prove your value and worth.

Evangelize Executives

So, if you’re willing to consider an ad-hoc (defined as “created or done for a particular purpose as necessary”) business review cadence, then how do your meetings transform?

A lot less summarization (YAWN) and a lot more substantiation (YAY). They provoke effective and timely conversation truly centered around the customer—not a schedule. When warranted, use this as an opportunity to sing the praise of your main point of contact for a shared win while in front of their boss to further build affinity and confidence. Customer Success Managers typically host business reviews, but as an additional act of devotion, have your Customer Success leader attend to mirror support and elevate the conversation.

Built upon meaningful dialogue, business reviews can shed their bad (read: boring) reputation and become an easier sell to get executive sponsors to attend.


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