Performing a QBR should be one of the most process driven activities in your MSP – and for most, it’s far from it. I hear all the time, “I don’t know where to start” or “Each person involved in the process does it differently”. My favorite, though, is “We produce our QBR differently based on the client we are working with.” First, let’s talk about where that logic is broken, and then we’ll talk about how to address it.
As MSPs we spend years, decades in some cases, building the perfect stack and deploying it just the right way. Some in our industry call this your ‘Proven Process’ but the reality is that how you deploy your chosen tool stack is likely more important than the tools you chose in the first place. Research by IBM states that “a historic 424% jump in breaches related to misconfigured cloud infrastructure, largely due to human error.”
So if how we configure our stack is so important, shouldn’t there be a process for not just deploying that stack, but a process for how we introduce our clients to the risk involved in not taking on the full stack so that we can configure it properly? If you said yes, keep reading… This blog series will help you identify the key components of a properly delivered QBR process.
The bookends of a good business review can be categorized into either prep work or wrap-up.
Business Review Happens Here
Agenda & Email Invite: The 1-2 punch!
When preparing for your Business Review, there are a number of components that should be non-negotiable. The first of those is the agenda, and it is one of the most important and strategic components of your process. The agenda is the #1 way to ensure that your client meeting doesn’t fall into the trap of tactical issues. This meeting is strategic in nature, and should never be allowed to slip into the quicksand that is tactical issues.
You’ll use your agenda in conjunction with an email invitation template. The trick to making this 1-2 punch work is in the email invite, and it appears benign in nature. “Mr./Mrs. Customer please review the agenda and let me know if there are additional items that you want me to come prepared to discuss.” This language is professional and shows that you value your client’s time in the meeting – you want to come prepared! In reality, you’re coaxing your customer into letting you know about any service delivery (tactical) issues that may derail your planning (strategic) meeting.
In the event that a client sends you a tactical issue to discuss at the meeting, there is only 1 way to address it. Pick up the damn phone immediately! Call your customer and let them know that their customer satisfaction matters too much for you to let their service delivery issue wait 1-2 weeks to be resolved. Talk through and resolve that issue immediately! If a tech dropped the ball, make it right, right now! Your goal is to put these issues to rest so that your customers can approach your scheduled time together with a clear, positive mindset. That reminder that you valued their business enough to address that tactical item immediately will put them at ease discussing strategic items like budgets and future projects and making long term commitments to you and your MSP.
Purpose Driven: Getting what you want!
By putting your clients through regular risk assessments you’ll know exactly where each customer is in their continuous improvement cycle, and what the logical next steps are for aligning that environment with your best practices. Let me be frank – your client is paying you because you know what is best for them, so let’s talk about how to get what you want for your customer, which will also improve their security, stability, and reliability.
Perform and review an up to date risk assessment prior to building your agenda to ensure that your agenda meets your wants and needs. Identify a project (or two, or three) that you want the client to commit to, and make sure that the risk assessment shows the exposure that justifies this project. If necessary, add client specific answers or comments to assessment items that guide your customer to the result that you want/need them to accept. Well-crafted assessment answers will lead the customer to your goal and leave them believing that the end project you are recommending was their idea!
One of my customers recently called me and told me he hit a problem when presenting his assessment and related projects. As he explained, everything went well with the presentation, and the customer was engaged. He reviewed the assessment and recommended more projects than he ever thought the client would accept, just hoping they would pick some portion of the work and commit to it. When he got done presenting, he asked the client how they wanted to move forward and was stopped in his tracks when they answered, “Looks good – let’s do it.” It took a little back and forth before he realized they meant, “Let’s do all of it”. It turned out to be one of the biggest project sales he had ever closed, and provided a huge confidence boost to this MSP owner who had been struggling to scale his business.
The point behind this story is simple – presentation matters, and many customers will bite off more than you realize if you just go to the meeting prepared to ask with documentation that backs up your ask. In short, plan ahead – know your goals for the meeting – and make sure your documentation supports that goal.
– QBR Goes Here –
Action Items – Confirm & Convert them!
It’s well established that getting customers to show up for Business Reviews is all about delivering value. If you fail to deliver value, clients are reluctant to give you their time for the next meeting. Knowing this, what you do after the meeting can be as important as what goes on before and during the Business Review. One powerful task that is often underappreciated is confirming action items at the end of the meeting, and actually following through with them! So at the end of the meeting you determine that you owe the customer an invoice for a project they agreed to, and you owe them a follow-up with regard to a curve ball they threw you, to spite all your preparation (hey, it happens!). How you handle these items is key to reiterating your value to the client. That’s why I suggest blocking out one hour on your calendar per Business Review meeting to handle the follow-up action items. During this time you’re going to create tickets, opportunities, and/or sales activities in your PSA tool, and communicate key strategic information that you gained in the meeting with the rest of your team. Make sure that tickets and follow-up items generated from this meeting are treated with the highest priority because they were committed to in front of the entire leadership team for this client – if your team drops the ball, everyone who is anyone at the customer will know. How you deliver on follow-up action items is KEY!
Prior to your next meeting with the client, you should review all of your action items and ensure that they are resolved. It may also be appropriate to send your customer an email reminding them of any action items that they owe you as a summary to follow-up after the call.
Scheduling your next call and “How’d we do?”
Once you’ve confirmed with your client that you’re on the same page with Action Items, it’s time to make sure that you confirm your meeting cadence, and maybe even schedule the next call. But first, confirm that you delivered the value you aimed for today. I always use this line: “Mr/Mrs. customer, did you find value in today’s meeting?” – I almost always do so while gathering my documents (in person) or scrolling back through the presentation (virtual meeting) making sure that the budget report is front and center, visible to the client. When the client says, “yeah, today was helpful to me.” then I respond with “Is our meeting quarterly meeting cadence right for your needs? or do you want to receive this information more or less often?
This forces you to know that your expectations for meeting cadence are in line with your client’s, but also helps your client feel like you’re meeting because they want to, not because you want to sell them something. This mental buy-in from your customer helps increase their perception of your value and makes scheduling your next call easier. “Do you want to schedule that next meeting today? or should I just email you the agenda and a calendar link a few weeks before our next meeting?”
Customers with very mature businesses know when they are having strategic meetings months in advance – they are probably on the same day every week or month. They will get out their calendar and schedule the next meeting on the spot. Less mature businesses will take the email option, but either way you have already gotten their buy-in to attending the next meeting. Your work here is almost done….
The “Social Close” and asking for the Referral!
I’m a huge fan of closing out the meeting with a little small talk. If they told you about business successes earlier in the meeting, congratulate them. If you know they are struggling, make sure to offer up some empathy. Or maybe you know their kid is doing well in school or on a sports team – ask about it. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, but talk about something emotional that shows you know and understand that there is more to your relationship with this client than just cashing their checks – and make it a topic that you genuinely care about. If you don’t like kids, don’t ask about theirs!
Now it’s time for a transition statement so that we can get to the referral. It’s OK for this statement to appear uncomfortable! Your customer doesn’t want you to be pushy, and they will relate to you asking gently, almost shyly, for a referral. That’s OK, as long as that emotion is genuine. You might want to practice this with your coworkers before you take it to your clients…
“Mr/Mrs. Customer, I’m sure you know by now that I dislike pushy sales, but growing the business is part of my job…. and you seemed like you got some real value from what we talked about today. Would you be willing to introduce me to someone else that you know who would see value in this sort of information about their business technology?”
The hardest part is getting the words out – but if you might just be surprised with the results If they say no, or that they aren’t comfortable making an introduction, no worries – you win just by letting your customer know that if the opportunity arises that you’d appreciate a referral. But if you build a killer customer experience, deliver quality Business Reviews, and can bring yourself to ask all of your raving fans for a referral 1-2 x per year, you’ll create a reliable drip of warm leads into your business.
Alex Farling, co-founder of Lifecycle Insights, was an MSP owner for 16+ years. Lifecycle Insights customers are using these techniques to successfully get clients to the table.