A lot of customer success (CS) teams don’t leverage a quarterly business review (QBR) to its fullest potential. They use QBRs as a standard operating procedure to tell the customers how much money they have spent on the product, how long they have been with the brand, or when their next renewal is due.
These are basic metrics that customers can figure out on their own from within the product dashboard (or by asking their account manager). Asking them to sit through a 30-minute meeting to get a history and recap of their product engagement is frankly a wasted opportunity.
There are also other SaaS QBR trends that are equally underwhelming. For instance:
- Several customer success managers (CSMs) use QBRs as an excuse to upsell or cross-sell products or services to customers.
- And since customers don’t perceive a QBR to give them anything of great value, most of them use it as a forum to raise their complaints about the product or ask for feature requests that they want.
A better way to handle QBRs is to treat them as an exercise to improve your net revenue retention (NRR). QBRs are goldmines of opportunities for CS teams to understand the customers’ needs better, deepen customer relationships, and identify new avenues for account penetration.
For a QBR to be really effective, it needs to carry a value proposition—it has to have some amount of transformative data and insights that can help the customers understand how well (or poorly) they are solving their problems or how they can use some expert advice to get better outcomes.
In this post, we will walk you through a set of five tips that you can apply to run value-packed QBRs.
1. Show them the value
Your commitment to show customers the value of attending a QBR should be apparent right from the start—from the time you invite customers for a QBR meeting. You can do this by preparing a detailed meeting agenda that teases the customers with a few data and insights in relation to your product.
Communicate the value prop of a QBR meeting by outlining all the things that you want to address in the meeting so that the customers are encouraged to attend it and also come in with the right expectations. Instead of inviting them for a routine QBR meeting, give them an incentive to look forward to.
For example, instead of sending them a plain-vanilla email invite, craft your meeting agenda email to say something like:
I was looking at your data and it looks like you are using <xyz feature> 30% less than what the typical benchmark is.
If you use this feature to its optimal capacity, you can improve your deal close rate by 15%—just like some of our other customers.
In our upcoming QBR call, we can walk you through how to change that and help you drive better returns out of your investment.
When the actual QBR finally takes place, structure your QBR to focus on discussing how they can achieve relevant business-centric outcomes instead of making it a conversation around your product or services. For example, here’s how you can plan a QBR session to stick to the agenda’s promise and also to keep the meeting thoroughly engaging.
1. Account overview [1-2 minutes]
2. How the customers are using the product [5 minutes]
3. Interesting insights about the account [10 minutes]
4. Industry best practices to help them achieve their goals better [10 minutes]
5. Q&A [15 minutes]
Most customers will raise their hands and would be eager to sign-up the renewal contract if you can keep their interest in the QBRs and answer the critical what’s-in-it-for-me question.
2. Involve key people
A great way to clearly reinforce your product’s value up and down your customers’ organization chain is to invite the “key admin'' in the QBR calls. This could be the decision-maker in the key account, a senior executive who can benefit from the data points you have in your QBR presentation, or a new leader who might have recently joined the customer company.
Sometimes, the senior executives might not have the time to sit through the entirety of a 45-minutes QBR meeting. Let’s say it's a VP of Sales in the customer account who has a packed calendar, but they are also someone who oversees the metrics that your product offers to improve.
In such cases, draft a crisp one-pager content specifically designed to give them the highlight of the QBR meeting at a glance. If you know that they can’t attend the entire meeting, personalize the meeting to give them a gist of the QBR’s findings in the first 15 minutes. Make sure that the data you present is directly relevant to their role’s KPIs and includes actionable recommendations on how they can improve further.
There’s a strong business case to involve the key admin in the buyer side also when a CSM—responsible for a certain account—quits your organization. The key admin can act as a bridge between the account and the new CSM to keep the QBR conversation contextual and meaningful. And if there’s a change of guards on the customer side—it’s important that you involve key CS people from your side to make sure there’s no room for discrepancies.
Involving a key admin from the customer account helps you directly communicate your product’s value with the leadership and facilitate the internal buy-ins for upgrades and renewals. If you do a good job of communicating valuable insights that reinforces your product’s value in a fresh light (through these QBR meetings), you are not going to have any problem reeling in relevant people from the buyer account and getting approvals on new initiatives.
3. Position yourself as a strategic partner
Some customers may view customer success in the same light as customer support—perhaps with a bit of proactive check-ins thrown in the mix. That’s mostly because—in those cases—customer success is yet to differentiate itself from support by proving its critical role to the customers. And QBRs set the perfect stage for CSMs to change that.
Your CS team needs to leverage QBR to establish themselves as strategic partners in their business growth—not a vendor trying to sell them something or pass their complaints to the product team. CSMs should really own their relationship with the customers and make them feel that they are part of the company.
One way to build a strategic partnership with your customers is by giving them an early view of your product roadmap that adds value to their use cases.
If your product team has developed a feature that one of your customer accounts had requested —make it a highlight of the QBR call. Thank them for contributing to your product’s growth and map the feature’s relevance to their business requirements. This will help you bolster your trust with key customers, improve the feature adoption within an account, and position your brand as an ally in their growth.
4. Leave room for Q&A
QBR is not a one-way street—rather an interactive session to bridge the gap between your CS team and the customers. Once you give them a rundown of their business health (in relation to your product use), show them areas of improvement, and present a roadmap for the future—leave the floor open for them to ask questions that you might not have thought of.
This will give your CS teams plenty of other opportunities to close ranks with the customers. For instance, if customers express skepticism about a recommended course of action or an industry best practice—it’s an opportunity for you to explain the solution further and win their confidence.
If customers are eager to test out a new feature that you are planning to launch, it’s a clear indication that there’s room for you to grow your expansion revenue. But if customers show signs of confrontation because they haven’t achieved a lot from your product, it’s probably a churn signal that you should immediately act on.
At Avoma, our CS team uses Avoma’s tracking capability to capture phrases like “leadership change,” “champion left,” “change of direction,” “critical for operations,” or “in-house initiative” on these meetings which are generally potential churn indicators. You can set up a tracker to identify similar customer behaviour and take preemptive measures to stop the customer from churning.
5. Build a QBR playbook
Customer success is horses for the courses because they apply differently to companies that are at different stages of their growth. A lot of young startups and small businesses don’t even have a CS team to start with because they either haven’t figured out their product-market fit or don’t have a sustainable recurring revenue model. But if your business has matured into a solid money-generating machine, CS and QBRs should rank on top of your business priorities.
If your recurring revenue is through the roof, it usually means that you should have a scalable solution to run QBRs—and a playbook fits perfectly in your CS strategy. A playbook acts like a source of reference for your existing CSMs, improves new CSMs’ ramp-up time, and brings consistency to your CS operations.
A QBR playbook can also be the foundation of your CS operations as your business grows to the next level and needs a strategy revamp. In such situations, document all the best practices (ranging from smaller nuances to bigger observations) to build a comprehensive QBR playbook that everyone can refer to.
Update the playbook every now and then to add more insights or take out old hypotheses that don’t work anymore. Just make sure that you don’t attach yourself too much to processes and protocols because enforcing a lot of formal processes often kill innovative thinking.
Use QBRs to build strategic partnership with customers
QBRs are high returns investment that pays handsomely in the long run. If you can communicate its value upfront, build excitement around it, and position it as a strategic solution to your customers’ problem—you can easily use them as a fertile ground to improve upgrades, expansions, and renewals.
But a fair word of warning—never look at QBR only from the lens of generating additional revenue. A QBR is not a pitching session for CSMs to push for renewals or boast about their accomplishment. Your CS team should not underutilize it as a debriefing session between you and the customers.
Instead, make the most of a QBR session by offering your customers valuable data and actionable insights that will help them grow because your success eventually depends on how successful your customers are as a result of the partnership that they have with you.