How Successful is Your Customer Success Program? A Guide to Quarterly Business Reviews

Burke Adler by

Those of us in customer success are all too familiar with the quarterly business review, coined the “QBR”. Each quarter, we go through the drill of compiling data for each customer account, sifting through what worked well with each of their programs, their usage, their engagement, their service requests, and so on.

We measure every aspect of the customer experience with careful detail and make recommendations for what could be improved upon in following quarters, and also point out areas where the customer is excelling.

QBRs have become a milestone for both CSMs and the customer to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page and are seeing success in the journey. But QBRs shouldn’t stop there. They can also be a very valuable tool to use internally with CSMs and their leaders.

Customer Quarterly Business Reviews Vs. Internal Quarterly Business Reviews

Before we dive into how QBRs can be a valuable asset for internal customer success teams, let’s compare how the two types of quarterly business reviews differ:

Internal Quarterly Business Review

Customer success teams use internal QBRs as a strategic practice to review their functional roles over the previous quarter with their managers and use the time to strategize about how to renew customers and work through upcoming challenges and see opportunities in a new light.

Customer Quarterly Business Review

CSMs use the external QBR as a way to present results, observations, and recommendations directly to their customer accounts, while also pointing out challenges that occurred during the previous quarter. The time is set aside each month for a focused look back and a strategic look forward.

Why You Must Look Back Before Moving Forward

Many CSMs have been part of a team where nothing changes in their process from quarter to quarter. The only thing that truly matters is the customer upsell or renewal—it’s all about the revenue. And when it’s time to review quotas and performance, CSMs often feel like victims, regardless of whether or not they met their customer renewal target or growth quota.

Instead, internal QBRs should be a collaborative time between a CSM and the customer success leadership team to understand from ALL angles what worked well throughout the quarter, what tools were used or weren’t used, what challenges occurred, and what should be handled differently going forward.

4 Key Components of an Internal QBR

1. Ensure The Process Is Efficient & Understood

When it comes to the internal QBR, the process should be efficient for all involved, and there shouldn’t be surprises. To ensure QBRs are painless and beneficial, it’s important to have documented steps of what is needed from each individual participating, regardless of their role as CSM or leader. It’s also key to have a dedicated resource on your operations team that can help to compile and analyze data, ensuring each CSM presents consistent metrics and also takes some of the preparation burden off their shoulders. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when putting together the expectations for the QBR:

  • Who should attend and what are the respective roles?
  • What materials should be prepared beforehand?
  • What reports should be pulled?
  • What numbers/metrics should be known?
  • What is the format of the Customer Success QBR and what tools will be used?
  • What is the agenda of the Customer Success QBR?
  • How long should each topic be addressed?

2. All Stakeholders Should Be Involved

Every individual focusing on customer relationships should be involved in the QBR process. It’s important to structure these reviews from the highest executive level down, with each leading their respective direct reports through the process. For example, the CEO should lead a QBR for the CRO or VP, Sales. The VP, Customer Success should lead a QBR for Regional Directors. Regional Directors should lead a QBR for CSMs, and so on.

The goal of the internal QBR is to take a comprehensive look at the business as it relates to the customer journey. The goal of the manager should not be to “catch his or her direct report”, but rather facilitate an engaging discussion while working through challenges and opportunities. Clear expectations of all roles must be set. The expectation should be that each individual come prepared with a plan of action to address the challenges and the opportunities in their respective territory or business.

3. Stick To The Plan

Regardless of quarterly performance, QBRs should take place regularly. Even if the customer success department had a record breaking quarter, you should never skip the QBR. In fact, in this instance, it’s even more important than ever to ensure the process lives on.

All too often, companies that experience a gangbuster quarter with significant new MRR and happy customers tend to skip out. Even after the best quarter or year ever, you should use the QBR as a time to reflect on the reasons that made it successful. Address topics like: What’s repeatable about the quarter? How do we hire new employees that can also be set up for success? How can we scale even faster without sacrificing quality?

No matter how tempting, never skip the process. If you skip when times are good, team members will see the QBR as punishment for a lackluster quarter rather than a growth and improvement opportunity.

4. Let The Past Help Define The Future

Most of the value of the QBR comes from applying learnings from the past to the future. The QBR should have 2 outcomes:

  • Review the past quarter: challenges, opportunities, successes, and misses
  • Look to the quarter ahead: set goals, remove obstacles, and identify opportunities for growth

Throughout the QBR process, your team is sure to encounter bumps and unexpected challenges. For leaders, the key is to embrace a coaching mentality rather than barrage the CSM or manager with demanding questions. Instead, consider guiding questions such as: Tell me more about that. What made you respond that way? What will you do differently next time? What can we all learn and do better in this situation next time?

Finally, be sure to document notes and changes so improvements can be made throughout the business. If nothing changes after a QBR, then they are wasted effort and your team will know it. Keep track of metrics quarter over quarter, put action plans into place, and hold all stakeholders accountable.

5 Benchmarks to Review at an Internal QBR

When it comes to tangible benchmarks to review in the internal QBR, these 5 should always be part of the discussion:

  • Customer Health: The overall health of a CSM’s customers and customers in a specific region, territory, or segment.
  • Growth Potential: The forecast for growth or churn of the CSM’s accounts. Evaluate the ARR or MRR risk and prediction for account grow or churn.
  • Account Penetration: An assessment of how the CSM performed in expanding the footprint within the customer account. Understand how many are actually using the product on a regular basis.
  • CSM Activity: An evaluation of how the CSM is performing in terms of touch, engagement, and activity within each customer account. Discuss the CSM’s game plan for the future quarter as it relates to his or her activity.
  • Product Usage: An assessment of how the CSM’s customers are engaging with the product. Determine the usage by role, such as end users, decision makers, champions, etc.

The internal QBR can be a very beneficial time set aside each quarter to develop stakeholders across the entire customer success function. As you plan customer QBRs next quarter, start the internal QBR process with your teams and use the steps above to reflect on past learnings and prepare for the future.