10 Lessons for the Quarterly Business Review

Sumeru Chatterjee
May 2, 2018 · 7 min read

You work in Customer Success for a SaaS company. Everyone agrees that Quarterly Business Review (QBRs) with clients are super important to “show value”

But what does that mean? And how should you prepare, execute and measure outcomes? And exactly what should be on the agenda, what metrics should you measure? …. the list of questions go on.

To find some of the answers, I recently attended a Customer Success MeetUp in San Francisco, hosted by legendary software maker Autodesk at their swanky headquarters, which is part museum of futuristic design, part gallery of how their clients use their software to make amazing things from movie sets to electric cars to prosthetic limbs.

Autodesk galley (credit: autodesk.com)

The evening was moderated by Junan Pang Optimizely and had a panel of three Customer Success leaders from around the Bay:

Josh Hanewinkel VP of Customer Success at People.ai, a 50 person start up that provides AI based tools for sales and marketing teams

Erin Landheim, Senior Manager of Customer Success at Checkr, who provides tech based solutions for background checks for high volume recruiting

Luke Diaz, Dir of Strategic Partnerships at Alto Pharmacy, a pharmacy delivery startup.

The panelists and the Autodesk VP of CS. Credit: Junan Pang

The evening followed a tight raid fire of questions and answers, with the focus strictly on the QBR. Here is what I learned:

10 QBR Questions Answered

JH: Business Reviews are critical to our business to engage executives throughout their journey and make sure we are realizing the value

LD: I heard this super simple quote once, “exec visibility = budget”. We use QBRs to set up and show execs progress towards milestones.

EL: BRs are about connections with leadership at your customers. In the spirit of quotes, “if you’re not talking to your customers, your competitors surely will be”

JH: Prep time means sitting down and reminding ourselves why this customer bought us. It’s easy to get caught up in the “value” that you keep pitching, but it’s important to remember why this particular client bought your solution and what they were expecting to get out of it.

EL: As our business is trying to scale, we are looking for efficiency. We created a Business Review template for our team. Our Customer Success Managers (CSMs) take that and tailor it for each of their client’s needs.

LD: When prepping for a QBR, remember that your customer is probably doing 6–7 of these with other vendors as well. So really think about the emotional arc of your review. How do you want to make them feel? That’s what’s going to make you stand out and be remembered.

LD: All the data is one place (we use MODE as a platform) and we’ve created dashboard views that get CSMs the information they need quick.

EL: Leverage templates heavily, which we constantly tweak and iterate based on feedback.

JH: There are a few things all clients want to know — things like product roadmap, big business updates etc. Standardize that information across all reviews so each CSM isn’t recreating it.

JH: Start with past, present and future goal. How are you tracking, what are the gaps and what can we do to fill them?

EL: First thing we put on the BR agenda — is ask the customer for an update. Where are you going in 6 months? Instead of coming in hot with numbers and usage etc, start the conversation with listening. This way, you can tailor the messaging of your BR to where your client is going.

LD: However you set your agenda, don’t end the meeting with 2 mins remains for next steps! We keep 15 mins open at the end of the meeting for people to just internalize the meeting and take notes on next steps.

JH: Make the QBR all about your power user. Make them glow in front of their boss. Then they will take it upon themselves to make sure the right execs are there in room.

EL: Pre-socialize the content beforehand w/ client stakeholder. Our clients help us get the right people in the room.

LD: Straight up ask for confirmation and commitment upfront. Make it about the “ROI”, execs love to hear that.

All three panelists agreed that good execution of aQBR is when your clients are doing most of the talking. Let your clients talk to the slides, and you can just sit back, guide the conversation and take notes.

JH: Be honest. I can’t stress this enough. Bad CSMs avoid angst from customers. Great CSMs embrace angst and listen.

EL: Happy customers does not mean successful customers (this has almost become a cliché in Silicon Valley). Be humble, be honest and show genuine curiosity about what’s not working. Ask — “how can we partner better?”

LD: Executives got to the top by becoming excellent Bullshit Detectors. So don’t bluff them. We introduce bad news by showing benchmarks against our clients’ competitors.

People.ai likes to give their customers a score and compare to their competitors
Checkr highlights the future
Alto pharmacy focuses on the key results and metrics

LD: book follow up meetings at the QBR itself (1–2 weeks out). Avoids calendar tag

EL: Follow up email with thank you note. Update and send over the success plan.

JH: Move quickly. Ship it. Show iterative progress. Strongest CSMs hustle after the QBR. It’s all about the follow up.

I didn’t quite catch all the notes here, but the panel was split on this one. One of them said that their CSMs get bonuses based on how many QBRs they complete. Others said it was par for the course and part of the CSM expectations

LD: Bring a PM with you to see how direct client communication works and how real clients talk about the product. Additionally, sit in on a few QBRs for your biz from software you buy. Always a great experience to see how others do it.

EL: It’s all about the personal connection.

JH: Ensure the customer champion is present. Make it their show. And follow through quick on commitments.

Audience Questions

This is the one question that the panelists didn’t seem to agree on.

JH: Everyone in the company is in sales. There should be nothing awkward about upsetting clients.

LD: Our CSMs aren’t on a upsell / sales quota. This makes sure their incentives are aligned with making the client successful,

EL: CSMs shouldn’t Always Be Selling. Focus on what drives real value for the clients and have the hard conversations.

What I learned

What’s your secret to a killer QBR? Let me know if the comments below 👇🏽

(P.S. If you found this helpful, leave a few 👏🏽 👏🏽 so I know what topics to write about!)

Sumeru Chatterjee

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In the intersection of finance, technology and design