Oct 19, 2021

Read Time 5 min

Rethinking the Quarterly Business Review (QBR)


A relic from the days of old-school account management, the quarterly business review (QBR) is a classic — although not timeless — practice. In today’s always-connected, data-enriched landscape, the QBR can feel misplaced, and even ineffective. Although the quarterly business review purpose — to strategize and realign on customer goals — remains important, the somewhat inflexible timing of the QBR doesn’t speak to a new focus on driving continuous customer value. 

The quarterly business review template could use some upgrades. Follow these QBR tips that emphasize an ongoing, events-based mindset and puts customer performance first.

Question the “Q” in QBR

How and when your customers use your product can vary, ebbing and flowing with evolving goals, shifting priorities, and business challenges. Your quarterly business review purpose and timing should reflect the changing wants and needs of your customer base. 

You can conduct a business review with a customer at any time you think it might be necessary. If you think a key customer is struggling with the quarterly marker, you could try out one of these other cadences for reviewing performances and goals:

  • QBRs based on the customer lifecycle: this sort of schedule could include onboarding QBRs after a customer has finished the onboarding process, reviews when they reach major milestones, and/or reviews pre- or post-renewal.
  • QBRs based on the people in attendance: these meetings could be set up to provide the most important information for those attending the meeting. Maybe you have multiple meetings with different client stakeholders.

Sometimes, however, a customer might have an immediate need that should be addressed before a quarterly business review — another reason to not feel so strictly tied to a rigid cadence. The ability to react to customer events in a meaningful way in real time is at the heart of Customer Success. Certain events can even hurt your customer satisfaction if you wait to address them in a QBR that might be weeks or maybe even months away.

Negative events should always be addressed immediately to help prevent churn. Some examples of negative events of note would be:

  • Data exports — if a user exports their customer data
  • Declining logins — a decreasing number or absence of logins in the last 7, 30 days, and so on. The time frame will depend on the standards for your product
  • A decrease in logged activities in the account
  • An increase in customer support cases with urgent tags — for example, “Escalate to Customer Success Manager”

Positive or celebratory events should also be recognized as soon as possible so they maintain their impact and momentum. Some examples to keep track of:

  • A customer’s 100th login
  • 1,000 minutes of activity across an entire team — even more exciting if it’s within a certain time period, such as the first 30 days
  • 5th, or 10th,  or 15th campaign created — recognize when your customers are using your services and congratulate them when they make their 10th email campaign, or they create their 5th customer segment
  • A first anniversary

Get SMART with the quarterly business review purpose

Regardless of the frequency of your quarterly business reviews, the purpose remains the same: address your customer’s progress, achievements, and goals. This should stick to a high level and stay strategic rather than tactical. The QBR isn’t a time to get into the weeds and troubleshoot minor issues or challenges.

A great way to help your customer set goals for the upcoming quarter is to encourage them to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. You can even set aside a specific place for customer goal setting in your quarterly business review template

If you’re having trouble getting started creating SMART goals, here are some pointers and examples for each step:

  • S: Specific — get into the details. Instead of setting a goal to “reduce churn,” set a goal to “reduce churn by 2% this quarter.”
  • M: Measurable — quantifying your goals helps you track progress and know when you’ve reached the finish line. Instead of a goal to “improve customer engagement,” create a goal to “increase user adoption by 30%, over the course of 2020,” and make sure you have the tools to track those metrics.
  • A: Achievable — they have to be realistic. If your company historically only has a renewal rate of 50% per quarter, don’t set a goal to reach a renewal rate of 95%. Start with a goal of a 60% renewal rate in the same time period. 
  • R: Relevant — there should be a real benefit to reaching the finish line. Instead of setting out to “schedule four QBRs per year for each account,” just for the sake of metrics, find a goal where you can really see its impact. Try, “call accounts that are three months out from their renewal date to schedule a renewal conversation.”
  • T: Time-bound — goals should have a deadline. Instead of vague, open-ended timelines, set a date by which you want to meet your objectives. Some examples include monthly revenue expansion goals and quarterly customer satisfaction goals.

When you help your customers set SMART goals, they’ll think of your company and your product when they achieve them. Discussion and setting of goals are at the root of a strategic QBR and will equip your customers to move forward with the progress they’re hoping to see.

Have a plan for your quarterly business review

To really make sure you hit on the main points that are the most relevant to both you and your customers, it’s important to have a plan going into your QBR. Here are some tips for how to build a successful QBR presentation:

  • Focus on goals and make sure they’re SMART. Clearly identify your customer’s goals and discuss which have been achieved and which are still further down the pipeline. Provide recommendations for any gaps you might see in goal setting and goal achievement.
  • Structure your quarterly business review around a narrative or story. It might help to answer three essential questions: What did we learn last quarter? What did we accomplish this quarter? What are we going to achieve next quarter?
  • Support your story with data and KPIs. Focus on achievements, and identify possible future opportunities.
  • Don’t focus too heavily on negative outcomes. Inform your customers of possible challenges both in the past and moving forward, but rather emphasize positive achievements and progress.
  • Invite the right people. Speaking to the correct audience is crucial. Make sure you have the key client stakeholders in attendance.

Don’t leave the quarterly business review hanging: try to wrap up with a clear course of action moving forward, and follow up afterwards with any important notes or insights.

Revamp the quarterly business review, reduce churn

When built on meaningful dialogue, and structured to directly address your specific customer’s goals and needs, quarterly business reviews can shed their bad reputation. They help provoke effective and timely conversation truly centered on the customer, rather than an arbitrary schedule. They can increase customer touchpoints, help your Customer Success Managers more clearly understand customers’ desired outcomes, and address any possible limitations of the product.

If you’re ready to unpack the power of the quarterly business review in fighting churn and increasing customer satisfaction, check out our webinar with Amy Mustoe to learn more.


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