The QBR Itself
So you’ve gotten your client to the table – maybe you call it a QBR, maybe a Strategic Business Review, or Cyber Security Review. Today we are going to review the presentation of the material you laid out in your agenda, to ensure that you get the most out of the meeting. For the sake of this exercise, we are going to assume that you are using something similar to the (EOS Level 10 Meeting inspired) Strategic Business Review Agenda we provide to our partners.
Agendas are necessary to ensure that both sides come to a meeting expecting the same thing. Most clients, left to their own devices, will turn any meeting with their IT provider into a price discussion or a conversation about their latest technology issue. Both of these topics lead the MSP to feel like they have to justify their existence and their cost in some awkward attempt to shift the conversation to one about value. Inevitably this sets the MSP up to start on defense, which provides little value to the customer and makes it more difficult to coax the customer into attending and participating in future meetings. So let’s examine how to use the agenda to drive discussion and put strategy ahead of tactical and engineering issues.
Agendas should be totally void of support discussions, ticket reviews, and even CSAT review. Unfortunately, most MPSs include some sort of this material to justify their existence. In fact, by discussing past support experiences, you’re doing the opposite. You’re wasting the client’s time and delivering little value. Even the client who thinks they want to talk about these sorts of items doesn’t – they just don’t know what else to talk to their MSP about and the MSP doesn’t want the only content in the client meeting to be a discussion about the project they are trying to get the customer to approve for fear that these meetings appear to only be a sales opportunity. Instead of falling into this trap, include topics like Client Business Update and Growth Goals, Business & Technology Risk Assessment, Technology Budgeting, and Asset Lifecycle Management.
It’s important to note that all of these items are forward looking and have nothing to do with historical helpdesk tickets and metrics – which happen to be the most commoditized functions that any MSP offers today short of slinging hardware. Be honest, we have all been in that meeting that should have been an email. If the content in your Business Review agenda could be covered in an email, writing out and providing the client with an agenda gives you the chance to give your content a sanity check and send that email, instead of wasting the time of your client’s leadership team. The only way to add value to your Business Review meetings is to deliver content that is forward looking and discusses how technology can be utilized strategically to meet business goals and reduce risk.
Client Business Update and Growth Goals
This is one of the first things you want to discuss in your meeting. In this case what I mean by the word discuss is “Ask probing questions and then shut up and listen”. Everything you learn here will be usable to you later in the meeting and throughout your relationship with your client. Clients find more value in working with a vendor who they believe understands their business, even if they had to teach their business to them. Additionally, their business goals will directly impact how much and what types of technology they need to invest in. The recommendations you make as you talk through the rest of this meeting should tie back to business goals whenever possible.
Business & Technology Risk Assessment
This is possibly the best tool you’ll be bringing to your Business Review. You can call it whatever you want, but you need some sort of assessment to:
- Identify where the client’s technology may be putting their business or their business goals at risk (data loss, data breach, extended downtime, etc)
- Identify where the client deviates from your best practices
- Identify where the client deviates from mandated compliance standards
Think of this as an inventory of sorts. By taking inventory of the status quo, it’s easier to lay out a path forward that minimizes risk, improves security, and helps the client achieve their business goals with technology. This path, and the guidance you will provide your clients as they walk it, lift your value proposition from “guy with a screwdriver” to Leadership Team member. Why? Because now you not only understand the business, but you are guiding the client towards growing and improving the business. You’re quickly becoming more to them than just the guy that cashes large checks for IT services.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins uses the unforgettable phrase “Growth sucks cash”. If your client is growing their business, they are likely watching their cash position (or they should be). By helping them budget for technology you are providing a service that is integral to growing their business. Equally important, you are also helping them keep their eye on the ball that is technology debt. Many companies get so wrapped up in buying new equipment to feed growth goals that they ignore their existing technology lifecycle. If your client lets old technology pile up, they will eventually have to replace it all at once. You can be the guy who was telling them about the accrual of technology debt all along, or the guy who surprises them with an unexpected project to replace a significant amount of technology on short notice when it will no longer perform its task. Not many things can erode your client’s trust in you as quickly as unplanned expenses, even if they aren’t your fault.
Asset Lifecycle Management
It’s simple – all technology has a lifespan. If you fail to replace it when it goes EoL, then you’re accumulating technology debt. Worse yet, you’re kicking the can down the road. Let’s look at this example, oversimplified for the sake of clarity – a client owns 40 computers and 2 servers.
- Plan 1 – replace 10 computers per year for 4 years and the servers in year 5. After year 5, lather, rinse, repeat. Technology spend = $15,000/yr, every year forever.
- Plan 2 – Ignore it all until the client’s key application vendor performs an upgrade that causes all of their hardware to need to be replaced at once. Technology spend = $75,000.
Not only is $75k harder to come up with for most small businesses, but it’s even more difficult when it’s unplanned. By working with your clients to build out lifecycle management plans you are protecting them from letting technology debt pile up, which will eventually cause them to have to endure large, unplanned expenses.
With these key components of a Business Review, MSPs are well on the way to delivering that elusive value to their customers. Remember, your highest value comes from having strategic conversations with the entire leadership team at the table. This is an expensive meeting that should provide value for all. Adding up the salaries in the room and you are looking at an $800/hr meeting.
At the risk of over utilizing the wisdom of Jim Collins, I’m going to paraphrase him twice in one article. Jim tells us that the best New Years resolution is a Stop Doing List.
Your patch stats, spam stats, backup reports, and ticket numbers are not $800/hr material. If you need to have a tactical discussion around any of these, then make it a phone call with your point of contact at the client – but I need you to add this to your Stop Doing List. Stop devaluing your strategic business meeting by introducing low value tactical information. Having trouble deciding if something is strategic or tactical? One of the best analogies I’ve heard on the topic is that strategy happens above the shoulders, where tactics happen below the shoulders. Translating that to the MSP world, if it is done in your PSA system (ticket, automation, sales quote, etc) or is a report about something that was done in your PSA, then it’s likely tactical. Strategy is the bigger picture, and will not fit nicely into the square box that is your PSA.