Neil Jain contributed his thoughts to this article, which was written by Mathilde Augustin and was originally published by Amity.
You may have read some inspirational quotes on faded landscape backgrounds saying things like “there’s no success without failure”, and while this may be true in most cases, you’ll want to forget about it and focus on doing things right when it comes to QBRs. QBRs are an amazing opportunity, but they’re also where dropping the ball has the most painful impact. We asked leading Customer Success experts to share the biggest QBR mistakes Customer Success teams are guilty of, and how to avoid them moving forward.
Irit Eizips, CSM Practice
As the CEO of a Customer Success consulting firm, I get to work with many Customer Success teams. Through this experience, I have found that many Customer Success professionals tend to make the same common mistakes. Customer Success Managers are awesome. They constantly put their clients first, working hard on building a strong relationship with them, and hope for a favorable outcome after each QBR session. However, even the best, most experienced Customer Success Managers can use a few tips to get better at what they do.
Customer Success Managers often focus the QBR conversation around various metrics and information related to the client. They talk about what they did, what usage and support cases trends they see or what the product roadmap is – instead of having an exchange or interaction, otherwise known as a conversation. The key to making a QBR successful is having a conversation; the main ingredient to a great conversation with a client is to ask open-ended questions; the quality of the QBR greatly depends on the questions the Customer Success Manager asks – and the CSM’s ability to actively listen to the response. Most Customer Success Managers fail to prepare a list of open-ended questions (the kind that doesn’t trigger a “yes” or “no” answer) prior to the QBR. That being said, it is important not to stick to the pre-prepared list of questions. Instead, the Customer Success Manager needs to pay close attention to the answers they receive and ask additional probing questions. To ensure a successful QBR, every CSM should listen, pause to wait for further comments, and then ask some follow-up questions. The information should then be used to come up with a success plan that best addresses the challenges and priorities discovered through this conversation.
The key to making a QBR successful is having a conversation; the main ingredient to a great conversation is to ask open-ended questions
Nils Vinje, Glide Consulting
QBRs that don’t happen quarterly, or at all.
This tends to happen when organizations put emphasis on doing QBRs with the highest ranking customers, but let it slide when it comes to everyone else. CSMs get too busy dealing with reactive, day-to-day fires, and they don’t have enough time to sit down and go through a QBR in a structured manner. Without a QBR, your customers will be at a loss for where you are and where the relationship is going.
CSMs simply don’t know how to properly execute a QBR.
This happens when CSMs are left to enter a QBR without a structure and a consistent approach. There are four key things that every QBR has to do. First, reinforce the value customers get from the product by showing usage data, statistics, information, or anecdotes. Second, review the goals from last quarter, and third, set the goals for the next quarter. Finally, you need to understand where you stand in the eyes of the customer. Without a structured approach, CSMs deliver QBRs inconsistently, which leads to inconsistent results.
Lack of continuity between QBRs.
I view QBRs as guideposts along the customer’s journey. They are used to know whether or not you’re on track to getting where you’re going in the long run. With continuity, you’re able to set goals that are mutually agreed upon, and you’re setting yourself up for success by harvesting interest from the customer side. This allows you to reach out mid-quarter and know what to check-in on. Since the customer has already agreed to a goal, your outreach won’t fall flat.
You need to understand where you stand in the eyes of the customer
Kristen Hayer, The Success League
They Get the Wrong People in the Room
QBRs are a great time to demonstrate to your client company that you’re delivering on the value you promised when they purchased your solution. However, your day-to-day contact already knows what you bring to the table. Make sure you invite the buyer, senior department executive and other key stakeholders to the QBR in order to make the most of the conversation. There should be at least one Director or VP in every QBR.
They Fail to Talk About Value
Given the audience, it is critical to keep the conversation strategic, and this means focusing on the value that your company is delivering. Ideally, you’ve spent the past quarter working with your primary contacts to build goals and measure outcomes. If so, that makes the QBR presentation pretty easy. Talk about changes to the customer’s metrics, where you were able to drive positive change, and (briefly) how you’re addressing any problems.
They Engage on Tactical Topics
With your main contact plus several other key stakeholders in the room, it is inevitable that someone will ask a question that gets too far into the weeds. While you need to provide an answer, keep it short and offer to take the conversation offline. This isn’t the forum for discussing the latest support ticket or details on the implementation of your newest feature. You’ll have a difficult time getting executives into the room for the next QBR if you let the conversation devolve into tactical discussions. And finally…
They Don’t Book the Next QBR
What is the easiest time to get on everyone’s calendar for the next business review? When everyone is sitting in the room! Even if it’s a tentative date, get your next QBR scheduled before your current QBR ends.
This isn’t the forum for discussing the latest support ticket
Paul Philp, Amity
When it comes to data, the first thing to consider is whether or not the metrics you are presenting are vanity metrics. Vanity metrics make you look good and are impressive, but they don’t help your customer move the needle. Then, don’t give the customer too much information, you should know which metrics are important to them, so keep it concise and impactful. Finally, keep in mind that customers won’t remember metrics, but they’ll remember a story. In the QBR, be sure that your conversation includes the difficult questions. Don’t be scared to uncover problems, because they’ll arise eventually when you won’t be able to course-correct as effectively. On the flipside, if it’s appropriate, don’t hesitate to ask customers to become brand advocates, there’s no better time to get a feel for what they’re willing to do for you. Last but not least, make sure the conversation is not about you – it’s about them.
Keep in mind that customers won’t remember metrics, but they’ll remember a story
Neil Jain, Waterstone Management Group
QBRs are more than Ticket Reviews
Reviewing status of key initiatives / deployments and reviewing status of support interactions is important, and it is equally important to discuss other items that can drive adoption. Examples include: revisiting original customer objectives and progress against them, highlighting ROI, sharing relevant benchmarks, reviewing product usage and feature/module adoption, and discussing solution roadmap / upcoming release planning.
All QBRs are not created equal
Just as CS scales with different touch models (e.g., high touch, tech touch), CSMs need to use different approaches to QBRs. There is a spectrum of approaches between an in-person, executive-led, half-day review session to an auto-generated, self-service web page that provides account-specific information. CSMs need to tailor the approach for each customer segment and even to specific customers in order to scale.
The QBR isn’t done when the meeting ends
Engaging with customers on a regular basis is important, but even more so might be the actions that occur after the meeting. CSMs must allot sufficient time to follow-up after the QBRs. These actions could include: documenting/sharing the key takeaways and actions, informing sales of expansion opportunities, updating input into health scores/retention risk, following-up with the customer on next steps (e.g. detailing goals to be achieved before the next QBR), etc.
CSMs need to tailor the approach for each customer segment to scale
Susan Nabeth Moore, Success Track Enterprise
One of the biggest mistakes around QBRs is simply not finding enough time to correctly prepare and follow-up so that QBRs have the biggest impact in moving customers to the next level of value. To ensure that time is not an issue, there are different ways of streamlining the trio of preparation / execution / follow-up. Here are a few best practices:
- Create a standard QBR template with recurring themes which are exchanged and evolved as customers progress: Themes should be strategic and tactical: e.g. vision of success / adoption and performance metrics (ROI cases)/ sponsorship / change management / impacted processes / challenges and barriers / solutions to overcome challenges and barriers / next steps.
- Ensure that previous customer knowledge is capitalized and reviewed prior to the QBR.
- Ensure the right people from the customer side attend the QBR: sponsor, business stakeholders, budget owner…
- Ensure all participants (customer and vendor) are invited and know the agenda and themes beforehand. They need to know what they should prepare in terms of input and which data to collect.
During the QBR
- Respect the pre-fixed agenda and timing.
- If a remote QBR is arranged, ensure a reliable and simple video conference tool is used, and connect 5 minutes ahead of time.
- Allow the customer to express their own perception of their progress.
- Listen carefully to understand their pains and joys.
- Prompt to continually provide added value, advice, encouragement, and congratulations.
- Detect areas of risk.
- Put a risk mitigation and success action plan in place.
After the QBR
- Summarize the QBR outputs and action plan in the system (QBR evolving template).
- Recap the main outputs, action plan and next steps to participants.
- Underline any success milestones and ensure all stakeholders and budget owners receive updates.
- Create tasks and reminders based on the above.
- Share opportunities and success stories with relevant actors within your company.
- Keep the evolving QBR template up to date in preparation for the next QBR.