Master the Business Review

The business review goes by many names. The Monthly Business Review (MBR), Quarterly Business Review (QBR), and the Executive Business Review (EBR) are the most common. While there are many names and they happen at different frequencies, they all serve the same purpose: demonstrating the value you provide your customer.

The business review is a critical checkpoint in the customer lifecycle and serves five major purposes. One, they demonstrate the value you bring to your customer, highlighting the return on investment of your service or product. Two, they ensure that you maintain a solid relationship with your customer. Three, the business review strengthens the partnership between your two businesses. Four, they allow for an open and honest discussion around the healthy and strategy of the account. Finally, the business review prepares the customer for a successful review.

Frequency of the Business Review

Many businesses establish a defined frequency, and that is perfectly fine, though you should conduct business reviews as often as you need. A defined frequency gets you and the customer into a nice cadence, they do not always have to happen at set times. Good if they do, but if there is a need don’t wait. You don’t want to wait two or three months for the next QBR if there is an account risk. Have the business review now to address the risk.

Business review do not necessarily have to be quarter, though that is longest duration recommended You risk being forgotten, sidelined, or considered unimportant. You miss your opportunity to show the value you bring. Most importantly, you weaken your relationship to the customer. The frequency can be adjusted based on need, but any longer than that a quarter and you are missing valuable opportunities to connect with your customer.

High-touch customers may require even more frequent business reviews. A monthly business review often makes sense for these customers. More frequent review would likely not be tolerated and you risk wearing your customer out, less frequent reviews create relationship risks. Ultimately, exercise judgment and have a business review when you think it is needed. You lead the account and know your customer. The frequency is less important than the purpose the review serves.

Is a business review necessary for all customers? Not really. If we had infinite time and resources, then sure. Usually we have to balance limited resources and make business decisions about how to allocate those resources. Depending on how your customers are segmented, you may opt to have less frequent business reviews or no business reviews for some customers. Usually small customers that self-serve do not require a business review. Use your judgement on this. Perhaps a short meeting that touches on some important points is sufficient instead of a full blown business review.

Business Reviews Serve the Customer, Not Someone Else

The business review is about highlighting how you are bringing value to the customer. Many internal stakeholders will have another agenda, though. This is fine, and quite normal in business. You can often weave some of what they want into the business review, but the focus should always be on the value you bring your customer. Be careful that your business review does not turn into a meeting about serving someone else’s needs.

The most common source of derailing a business review is that the sales team wants to pitch a new product or service. The business review is not the place. This risks alienating the customer and reducing trust. There is nothing wrong with touching on products or services that may benefit your customer. This will naturally arise in a business review, especially as you approach a renewal, but the focus should be on how you are helping your customer achieve their desired outcome. Save the selling and pitching for a different meeting.

Other times you may find someone wants to use the business review to advance their particular agenda with the customer. They may want to change the direction of the program, rehash a particular issue, or discuss some other topic not related to the value you bring the customer. Customers hate this. They expect business reviews to be just that, a business review.

Turning your review into something else makes it that much more difficult to have success reviews in the future. Key stakeholders will likely decline to attend or may not even want to have a review because the fear it end up being something else. Stay focused on demonstrating value in your business reviews. The only time you want to deviate from this is at your customer’s request.

Business Reviews Are Strategic, Not Tactical

The word “strategic” is bandied around quite a bit in business, so what does “strategic” actually mean? To be strategic, you should answer the question, “So what?” I had a mentor years ago who used to ask me this question constantly. At the time, I found it annoying, but it got me thinking about my audience and what is important to them. Why should they care? Why does this piece of information matter? Answer the question, “So what?” after ever answer to those questions and you will develop a much better business review.

Business reviews showcase the value you are bringing to your customer. While that might be obvious to you, it probably is not obvious to your customer. In the review itself, you want to be clear about the value you bring. They have a lot on their mind. You need to spell it out for them. Don’t worry about insulting their intelligence. They will appreciate that you have made the information easy for them to understand and clearly explain how you are benefiting them.

The easier was to do this is to be very specific. Let’s say you have a slide with the point that marketshare increased by 4% in China. That does not tell anyone anything. What does that mean? Is that a good number or a bad number? Over what period? Where is that number coming from—store sales only or the entire business operations in China? Is this in unit sales or dollar sales? What is the impact on the business? Data is important, and it is important to make sure that it is presented well and tells a story. Stating some point without providing context does not help your audience understand.

Pre-Sell Your Business Review

No one should be surprised by what is in a business review. Not on the customer side and not on your side. You should meet with your key stakeholders to understand what they want to get out of the review, what details they want to cover, and find out if anything has changed. You should let them know about what you plan to cover and make sure they are aware of anything important. They might have some ideas for how should present that information. Listen to their suggestions and incorporate their feedback.

If you are doing your job well and communicating appropriately, the business review will confirm what the customer already knows. The business review is still valuable if presented well and with the right information because it summarizes the value you are providing and weaves a compelling story of success that your customer can share throughout their organization.

Ask Questions and Share Information

Pre-selling involves understanding what is going on for your customer and what their challenges are so you can address them. Pre-selling starts several weeks before the actual review. Try to gather and share information as part of your normal communication instead of peppering the customer all at once. This is more natural and gives you time to think about the details.

You are looking to uncover what your customer’s priorities are. To find out what is important to them, consider asking your customer the following questions:

  • Is there anything you want to explore during the business review?
  • What are your goals? How are you measured?
  • Has your role changed? Are your priorities the same?
  • Who are your stakeholders? What is important to them?
  • What targets does the business have?
  • Do you have any pain points?
  • Are there any big projects you are working on?

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of questions, or even necessarily the right questions to ask your customer. Use your best judgement to uncover what you need to know in order to paint a compelling picture of value for your customer and address their concerns. Keep in mind, the business review will be shared and will be seen by people not in the meeting. You want to make sure you are addressing any concerns those people might have.

Invite the Right People to Your Business Review

Inviting the right people is critical to the success of your business review. You want all of the key stakeholders present. That includes your day to day contact as well as the customer Executive Sponsor. If the customer Executive Sponsor does attend, then you absolutely need to have an executive on your side attend. This immediately elevates the importance of the meeting.

Having the wrong people in the meeting is just as bad as not having the right people. Anyone who is minimally connected to the program should not be invited. They will likely ask foolish questions or raise secondary issues that will derail your presentation. If nothing else, they do not add value. Only invite those people who need to be present.

Try to maintain a balance of participants for the meeting. Waltzing into the review with 10 people on your side when it is only your customer and maybe one other person creates a poor dynamic and does not make you look good. Keep the numbers close to being in balance or let there be more on your customer’s side. In general, the meeting should be kept to as few people as possible—the key stakeholders only.

Schedule the Business Review Well In Advance

Getting on people’s schedules is a perennial challenge. Trying to find time on anyone’s calendar close to the actual date of the review can be difficult at best, and it is worse when trying to executives to attend. Not only will it be next to impossible to get all of the key stakeholders together when you want, you are unlikely you will get executive attendance if you wait. Schedule the business review well in advance to avoid these problems.

Scheduling early also gives you time to casually remind participants of the business review and encourage attendance. You can build up expectation and periodically remind key people to attend. Scheduling in advance gives you plenty of time to have conversations with key stakeholders so you can include their feedback, address their concerns, and have time to prepare a well thought out presentation.

Ideally, a business review should be no longer than one and half hours. If you can cover everything in an hour, even better. Try to keep your presentation to about two-thirds the scheduled time. This gives you about 45 minutes to an hour for the actual presentation. This leaves plenty of time for introductions in the beginning and for questions at the end. If you finish early, no one will be upset. They will likely find the presentation more polished and will appreciate the extra time back.

What To Include In Your Business Review

Your business review should be structured and delivered like any other business presentation. That means being clear about the purpose, having a story, using compelling data, supporting your assertions with facts, and so on. The difference is that a business review must always:

  1. Reinforce the value your bring your customer;
  2. Review last month’s or last quarter’s goals;
  3. Set goals for next month or next quarter;
  4. Establish the overall relationship with the customer;
  5. Prepare your customer for renewal.

These may not explicitly be called out in the review and do not necessarily get their own slide, but you should weave all of these elements into and throughout the presentation. Let’s take each of these in turn.

Reinforce the value your bring your customer

Showing value is arguably the most important aspect of a business review. Focus on the return on investment you bring your customer. Highlight how your product or service is helping them achieve their desired outcome. Of course, this means you should know what that is for your customer. Business needs change, so it does not hurt to validate your customer’s expectations so you make sure you continue to drive value for them.

Review last month’s or last quarter’s goals

Demonstrate how you have achieved the goals and objectives that were established in the last business review. You can use a scorecard, dashboard, or some other approach. Just make sure the story is one of progress and growth. Include benchmarking data if you have it. Customers love seeing how they compare to their competitors. Highlight exceptional successes so your customer knows. Do not assume they are aware of all the great things you accomplished. Of course, not everything will be unicorns and rainbows. Be honest and clear about less than stellar achievements. There is no need to focus deeply on the negatives, but make sure you have a plan for how you will address any problems.

Set goals for the next month or next quarter

Establish the goals you want to achieve by the next business review. Start by identifying the results you and your customer expect. If you can, align these to overall organizational goals. Your goals will depend on your customer’s business and your product or service. Make sure the goals are actionable and establish how you will track them, then agree to the metrics you will use. For example, you and your customer both want to increase sales, set the goal of increasing sales by 10% over the next quarter. You might then start tracking leads and conversions as KPIs. Your metrics could be percentage of leads converting over the last quarter and conversion ratios of site traffic.

Establish the overall relationship with the customer

Relationships are critical in business and the business review is your opportunity to strengthen them with your customer. The business review is not the primary mechanism for building a relationship with your customers, but it can be a powerful tool. Having everyone in the business review discussing how to make your customer successful builds trust. Your business review should be an open and honest discussion about successes and challenges. Avoid dwelling on negatives, but do not shy away from discussing difficult issues. Your customer will appreciate you raising concerns and discussing solutions. Your objective is to show you are a trusted advisor and have the customer’s best interests in mind.

Prepare your customer for renewal

This really ties in to the first point, showing value. If you are able to highlight value, show positive return on investment, meet and exceed goals, and build a solid relationship with your customer, then you are in good shape for a renewal. The customer should understand when the renewal will happen and what to expect so there are no surprises. If the customer is getting their desired outcome then the renewal should go smoothly. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, the renewal should be a non-event. You objective is to be thinking about anything that could potentially disrupt a smooth renewal and get ahead of it by addressing it in the review.

Know Your Material and Start Strong

It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway because I see people fail at this one basic concept so often. You must absolutely know what is in your presentation and understand it fully. This is not to suggest you should memorize your presentation. You should not. But you should have a firm grasp of everything in the presentation and be able to speak to it intelligently. Memorizing your presentation will ruin the flow and make you seem unnatural. Instead, make sure you understand the details and main points well enough that a quick glance at the screen or notes in front if you is enough for you to be able to speak to the slide. Nothing ruins credibility more than not understanding what is in your own presentation.

Know your introduction by heart

There is one exception to memorizing your presentation and that is to memorize the introduction. You should know the first several lines of your presentation perfectly. This is critical because you are setting the tone of the presentation with your first two or three sentences. You have everyone’s attention and they are deciding if they will keep paying attention. They will decide in less than a minute if you are worth their time or not.

If you sound insecure or fumble around, you lose credibility and your audience will lose interest. The introduction is your chance to set the tone for the entire presentation. Use it well and make sure you know exactly what you will say and say it with confidence. This will put your own team members at ease and engage your audience. State the overall purpose and lead with the end—the main point you want to convey. I like to think of the State of Union address by the President. Presidents always start with some form of, “The state of the Union is strong.” You should try to accomplish something similar by state the purpose and providing a strong value statement.

(Tip: Resist the urge to use humor to grab your audience’s attention in the beginning. This is a business review, not a comedy club. Starting your business review with humor will hurt your credibility, so avoid it.)

Practice your presentation

Take the time to practice your presentation. Think about possible questions that will arise and how you will address them. You can do this by changing the slide or by considering additional detail you can provide if someone asks. If you are presenting data or have charts, you should know the source of the data and the details of the underlying information so you can speak to them confidently and clearly if questions arise. Make sure your know where the numbers came from and what they mean. Know the source of every point, fact, and figure in your presentation. Nothing hurts credibility more than not being able to explain the information you put on the screen.

You will not always be able to answer all questions in your business reviews. If a question you do not have an answer to comes up, simple tell the questioner you do not have that information but you will get back to them with answer. Say this confidence and then move on. Do not give false information or try to guess at an answer. Make sure you find out immediately the answer to the question and respond to everyone with the details.

Focus on the Future and Stay Positive

Often there is a tendency to focus on problems in a business review. The intention is often good—you want to show that you have fixed the issue. The problem with this is approach is that the meeting devolves into what happened and you end up stuck in the past. Your audience will not walk away feeling confident. So, avoid dwelling on mistakes, problems, or engaging in a discussion about something negative. Bad things do happen and you need to address them, but focus on the future.

If there are problems that need to be addressed, then focus on the gaps and your strategy to bridge them. Clearly define the desired future state and the steps you are taking to get there. Explain your strategy and solicit feedback and input. Keep the discussion on the future and how you plan to enhance the value you are bringing. Tell your customer you appreciate the opportunity for continuous improvement. This is, after all, how you get better at delivering for them.

Highlight your successes and the positive impact you have had on your customer’s business.  Make sure you call out how your are achieving key performance indicators and highlight positive metrics. Use specific and clear numbers. For example, instead of saying you reduced costs, say you reduced costs by X percent. You will be more credible and believable when using specific data points.

Remember, what you think of as day-to-day business and “just doing your job” is extremely valuable to your customer. It’s why they purchased your product or service. Share positive examples in your business review. Do not be shy about pointing out how you and your team are driving value for your customer. Show them the benefits and value your product or service brings them. Try to include key customer contacts in your shoot out, as well. Everyone loves recognition and it strengthen the relationship, making it easier to get things done in the future.

Your Insight Matters in the Business Review

It’s tempting to let the data speak for itself, but your insight really matters in the business review. Customers want to know what you think. Typically, executives get together after a business review and have a quick chat to validate everything is going well. That may be helpful for executive relationships, but you want this information coming out in the business review itself. To do that, share your insights and then ask your customer what they think. This a great way to raise concerns and open up a constructive discussion.

Your customer is interested in understanding performance at a deep level. Maybe things look good today, but is there something coming up they should be worried about? Perhaps they are achieving their KPIs but you think they could be doing better, or there might be a better path. It could just be providing some commentary or additional insights around the data. Whatever it is, share your perspective with your customer.

If something is not right or there is a problem, be open and honest with them. I cannot stress this enough: Omitting, misleading, dissembling, or ignoring problems will only hurt you, the customer, and ultimately erodes trust and confidence. Your customer will appreciate your honesty and transparency. They might not like what you are telling them, but they will appreciate that you are telling them. The last thing anyone wants is to be surprised by something.

Follow Up After the Business Review

Always send a follow up after the business review. Thank you customer for the their time and input during the business review. This is a critical, yet often overlooked, step. Do this as quickly as possible—ideally the same day as the business review, and certainly no more than 24 hours later.

When sending the follow up email, make sure you include a copy of the presentation. You want to make sure the customer is able to share the presentation with others if they choose. List any key decisions, action items, and commitment made during the business review. Include details and dates for each item. If you owe additional detail or information, provide it here or indicated when you will. You should also include any notes from the meeting. Make sure they are clear and concise, not verbatim quotes of everything said.

Tips For a Good Business Review

  1. Arrive early and be prepared. There are always technical glitches and other problems. Arriving early gives you time to deal with these issues and helps reduce your stress. Book the room 30 minutes before and after the meeting so you are not waiting on others or rushed to leave.
  2. Establish rapport before the meeting starts. Many people think they need to get down to business and avoid talking about anything personal. Taking a few minutes to discuss something like a vacation, a game, or something similar not only builds a personal connection, it puts people in a good mood and makes for a much better meeting. Just keep the topic relatively benign—discussing someone’s surgery or deeply personal situations are obviously inappropriate.
  3. Encourage dialogue throughout the business review. A good review happens when there are questions and discussion. Ask questions of your audience during the presentation and encourage others to add their thoughts on topics. This creates a healthy conversation and prevents you from being the only person talking.
  4. Solicit feedback from your customer. Knowing what your customer thinks is important. Ask how they thought the business review went. Is there anything you could do better next time? This kind of feedback is invaluable for helping you improve the business review and learning what is important to your key stakeholders.
  5. Gain a commitment for the next business review. If possible, get your customer to commit to the next business review. This lets you get it on calendars right away, establishes a cadence, and gives you plenty of time to start preparing.

The business review is an important checkpoint in the customer lifecycle. Use it to demonstrate the value you bring to your customer and highlight achievements. Business reviews help build the relationship with your customers and focus on how your product or service are helping your customer achieve their desired outcome.