April 16, 2018 | Company Building

QBRs: Why they matter and how to run them effectively

Jim Wilson

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Jim Wilson

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Everyone in sales has experienced Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs) in their careers. Done well, they give great insight into the business, the forecast, and what’s working — or broken — in your sales strategy. Done poorly, they become something dreaded by the sales team and take time away from selling. In this post, I’ll explain why they are a requirement for startups and how to do them effectively.

Why QBRs?

QBRs serve a distinct purpose at each stage of a startup’s growth:

  • They provide feedback on the right messaging, differentiation, and value proposition
  • They uncover best and worst practices in the sales process to establish repeatability
  • They help founders and CEOs assess the sales team readiness and capability
  • They foster alignment between sales and other parts of the organization, particularly marketing (messaging) and product (roadmap and differentiation)

QBRs will help jumpstart the quarter, align the company around key goals, and strengthen company culture. CEOs should consider them a key activity in a startups growth.

7 Tips For Effective QBRs

1. Establish a regular cadence. We recommend that early stage companies run them every quarter within the first two weeks of the quarter. It’s a great way to energize people early in the quarter, and also review the prior quarter while the memory is still fresh.

2. In-person and preferably offsite. I’ve seen companies try to pull off virtual QBRs. It never works. The extra plane tickets are worth every penny. They not only allow people flying in to stay an extra day or two to work from the headquarters, but it affords them a chance to reconnect with co-workers they only see on rare occasions. If the team is centrally located, get away from all the day-to-day distractions by holding the QBR at an offsite location.

3. Schedule a team building exercise. This doesn’t need to be expensive or long. The proverbial long-and-late dinner is over-rated. Instead, try some morning exercise or mid-day ice breaker. It’s a fun and effective way to get people out of their comfort zone and get them to bond with others.

4. Mix up the agenda. Don’t make the entire agenda a grilling session for the sales team. Not only do sales people hate this, but you waste time better spent on having more meaningful discussions or used to teach the team new skills. Mix up the agenda to include other topics as well. Here are some that I like:

  • Company highlights — Founders should start QBRs with a short update on the company. It’s easy to pick out two to three highlights from board meetings and give everyone visibility.
  • Product updates — The product manager can highlight new capabilities or review the Product Roadmap.
  • Customer Panels — Invite a few customers to join over lunch (or call in) to talk about their deployment, benefits and insight.
  • Sales Role Playing — One of the best enablement tools I know are role plays. Make up scenarios or names. Make it competitive and fun. Want to really make it interesting? Include people outside of sales in the exercise.

5. Use a standard template for reps. Yes, there should still be an expectation that reps are accountable and you need to allocate enough time for this. Here’s a simple template our companies use (think one slide per topic).

  • Results (Prior Quarter) — forecast, pipeline growth, highlights and lowlights. There needs to be a culture of accountability within sales.
  • Prospecting activity — new opportunities added, key activities.
  • Pipeline review — not exhaustive but more than just #’s and $$. Ideally show pipeline by sales stage. Bonus: Brainstorm about one key deal as a team.
  • Target accounts — whether its 5 or 30, reps should know the top prospects in their territory and report on progress.
  • Customer Status — highlight solid references but also any at risk. If they own renewals include key dates and status. Bonus: Tell a customer success story.
  • Forecast — include a commit number and a best case, as well as key deals. I always like to add the commit numbers during the meeting to see the gap from the company plan.
  • Needs from Corporate — this is a good placeholder for them highlight where the rest of the company can help them.

Ideally you do this in your system of record, but it’s critical that everyone present in exactly the same format. I still find a slide template, with links to key reports, to be most effective. Good QBRs usually allocate 30–60 minutes per rep (depending on team size) and in general I would try to fit the rep reviews into a half day.

6. Include others from the company. QBRs that are sales team-only and don’t involve other parts of the organization send the wrong message. Sales is a team sport so include the marketing team, the product team, and anyone that interacts with sales. Don’t just invite them, but include them in the agenda and set expectations that they contribute. For all early stage companies the executives need to attend. As the team gets larger you can designate proxies for certain groups, and have executives attend different sections, but make sure this is seen as a company QBR, not a sales-only QBR.

7. Make sure to follow-up. This sometimes turns out to be the biggest challenge with QBRs. Lots of great feedback and discussions and everyone leaves in great spirits, but then there’s no follow up. Avoid this by designating someone to take notes and summarize the follow-up plans. They can even keep a running list on a whiteboard during the QBR. Founders should resist the urge to take on responsibility for the follow up. Instead, pick someone with good organizational skills to summarize with a short follow up email, then set up a call in 30 days to track progress.

Conducting good QBRs will help you kick off the quarter, think strategically, and also fire up the company. Founders can leverage insights from QBRs at board meetings to help grow their sales in a more predictable manner.

What other QBR Best Practices have you seen?