Part 3 of 3 – Now for the Strategy

In this blog series we have already covered the Bookends of a QBR (Before and After tips to help you get the most out of the meeting) and the Components of a QBR (essential items to cover to ensure that you are bringing value to your customer).  In this third and final installment, we will be discussing how to deliver those materials in a way that sets the MSP up for success. 

A good business review should focus on strategic items that can directly impact the customer’s business, but the biggest mistake made by most MSPs is to delve into tactical items during this strategic time. Let’s take a moment to focus on the difference between Strategic and Tactical discussion topics, since this seems to be misunderstood by so many of our MSP clients.

Tactical vs. Strategic:

  • Tactical is immediately actionable – make a ticket, do the work
  • Strategic is longer term and beyond the scope of a typical engineer

For example, fixing a single issue or making the decision to replace a workstation is a tactical decision.  Performing root cause analysis to ensure that an issue can be alleviated before it happens or committing to a lifecycle replacement plan for all of an organization’s technology hardware are examples of truly strategic decisions, and likely require multiple stakeholders in even a medium sized SMB.  Let’s be clear, I believe you should confirm with the client which workstations to replace and fix small issues. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t spend any significant time on either of those tasks during your customer facing QBR.  Everything you do in this meeting should be based on communicating a client’s risk/exposure where technology relates to business operations, and solving for related pain.

That’s not to say that some tactical discussions won’t come up, but rather that you need a litmus test for determining if you should continue that conversation or shelve it for a future time.  When trying to decide what is worth talking about, I often go back to something I call the $800 room concept.  When I ran my MSP, my largest client had as many as 10 individuals in our QBR meetings.  They ranged from CEO, CFO, and COO to department heads and occasionally other consultants.  One day I took note of everyone in attendance and took a ballpark of those individuals’ loaded cost to the company.  When I added up those costs, I determined that it cost roughly $800/hr for this client to engage me for these quarterly meetings – so I needed to deliver $800 in value… That meant that any tactical issues or issues that didn’t require debate and input from this entire staff could wait.  In fact, they could (and should) have been an email.

So what MSPs bring to the table

This isn’t to say that you will never bring tactical reports for supporting evidence to your strategic discussions.  In fact, you’ll often need actionable data to backup your forward looking strategic recommendations.  Some tactical items may be included – but they will not take center stage.

  • Asset List
  • User List
  • Contracts
  • Technical docs and stats – scorecard only (backups, spam, malware, etc)

I strongly suggest keeping the use of those documents to the bare minimum and letting your strategic documents run the meeting.  These include:

  • Risk Assessment
  • Budget
  • Project Proposals

Initially, when presenting my business reviews I used to present the Asset List first, before going into the Risk Assessment.  After refining the process and gaining a better understanding of what data my clients took more value from, I shifted my presentation to follow this order:

  • Risk Assessment
  • Budget x2 (we will get to that in a second)
  • Project Proposals
  • Asset List (as supporting information)
  • Other docs as needed to support my goals for the business review. 

To be clear, the last 2 items are 100% supporting documentation and may never be required, or can be left with your clients for their review at a more appropriate time (when $800/hr of their team aren’t waiting for them to digest the information).  By leading with risk, we have our client thinking about strategy from the beginning.  I always like to include Lifecycle Management from the strategic standpoint in the risk assessment. If the client’s asset list is littered with 8 year old PCs, they score poorly there and we can pull out the asset list to support our statement that the client doesn’t properly manage EOL on their hardware.  The need to read every line on the asset list has been eliminated, as the client can easily see from the red/yellow/green color coding on the report how good or bad their current lifecycle management is working for them, and we can move on to the next strategic pain point. 

Once we complete our discussion of the Risk Assessment I like to give the customer 2 budgets.  One is strategic (5-6 years without asset details) and one is tactical (4-6 quarters detailing every piece of hardware to be replaced).  The tactical budget helps clients feel better about their spend, while the longer term strategic budget helps the client see expenses years in advance and encourages spending because they won’t want to fall behind when they can see all of the future expenses piling up.  There is something psychological about getting ahead where finance is concerned, and something very negative about falling behind. 

With the budget for all current IT expenses in front of the customer, I present my project proposals, backed with the facts from the tactical reports that are at the end of my presentation.  Most often after discussing the budget clients won’t even care to see the tactical reporting, but make sure to have it if you need it.  At this point you simply have to ask questions like, “where in your budget do these projects fit?” Or “Is this affordable enough that you want to knock it out now, or do you see a quarter on the budget where this fits better?”  Notice none of my questions are, “would you like to do this project?” But instead I am only asking when.  How you word those questions matters and will drastically impact your close rates and your client’s alignment to your gold standard so practice on a friend or coworker until the questions feel comfortable and genuine.  Remember, you’re doing your customer a favor by helping them stick to their Lifecycle Management plan instead of accumulating a bunch of technology debt that will come due at the most inopportune time. 


If you’re having trouble building any of these reports, feel free to reach out –  Additionally, if you think this process seems daunting or difficult to scale then reach out to schedule a demo with the Lifecycle Insights team – we’ll show you how we automate significant portions of this process to ensure that your account management team is spending their time with clients and not building custom Excel spreadsheets.

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