The quarterly business review is dead. Long live the daily business review!

As a high-effort, mixed-reward set piece that must be completed at least 1.71 times a week to stay on target - it's easy to see how Monthly/ Quarterly/ Executive Business Reviews can be loathed. This article discusses how I think this common staple of customer success can be the premier tool to identify, prove and build value.

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7/8/20245 min read

Often completed quarterly or just ahead of renewal, the long-winded, self-centered, ignorable and frustrating Executive Business Review (EBR) attracts a lot of criticism. And yet, I adore well-crafted EBRs and indeed, the processes that support them.

The problem with many modern business reviews - like so many processes in CS, support, product, sales and marketing - is that they seem to have forgotten their intent, having drifted away from their why. I don't believe many CSMs have a problem with what an EBR seeks to achieve, namely to drive and prove value. With this in mind, a well-crafted EBR playbook is analogous of the whole CS discipline, success lies in the tireless and focused pursuit of value. Anything else is vain, shortsighted, wasteful or outright damaging.

Done right, EBRs can be everything the critics say they're not, proving value, driving growth and saving CSMs time and effort. I have a vision for a more effective, and scalable EBR that addresses the most common EBR frustrations.

Let's deal with the big ticket format problems first - discrete, often long meetings with a lengthy, specially-prepared deck-of-a-thousand purposes that CSMs both hate and need to do 1.71 times a week to stay on target.

Paint-by-numbers CS

A big part of the day-to-day reality of customer success is time management. With constant scheduled and unscheduled customer interaction, preparing a 15-page long EBR is rarely the squeaky wheel. Coupled with no-shows and customers' churning "even though we met XYZ objective", it's easy to see why some EBR programs are last on the to-do list.

A perhaps natural response to these issues is to break down the EBR requirement into easily managed KPIs. "That's less than seven reviews a month or a third of a review a day...!" These KPIs get added to various other activity targets creating a recipe or paint-by-numbers plan for successful customers...

Don't get me wrong, without proactive activity you don't have a CS team but let's be real about the perils of the paint-by-numbers approach:

  • The fact that an EBR is done counts as much as the fact that a call or even the final customer training session is done. By which I mean, potentially not at all. Mere completion is a metric that is almost totally devoid of a why.

  • Customers rarely play ball. What works for one will need to change a little (or a lot) for another. The key, as always, is simple and difficult, listen effectively and respond astutely.

The second big problem with reducing a review of objectives, results and plans to a discrete event is the inevitable time commitment and diary-dance.

Amazingly, all the stakeholders that you want to attend your 90 / 120 minute long, nebulously-framed meeting rarely seem to have easily aligned diaries and, odds are that if they did once, it will be more-difficult-still in future. Many customer stakeholders, particularly of SaaS suppliers, have learned to avoid regular EBRs because they're not considered to be worth the time investment. If the associated budget is not significant then you fall squarely in the "Honda-Cog" (your customer expects it to just work) territory where additional meetings are going to be measured against dollar-value expectations, and if the budget is massive, your customer won't wait 11 weeks to find out if everything is on track.

I propose resolving both the time commitment and paint-by-numbers issue with a complete reformat of the EBR:

  • Ditch the meeting/ presentation altogether and imagine the EBR as a brief, useful document that captures key results, re-affirms objectives and plans next actions. Instead of specially creating a document for a one-off meeting we can adapt pieces from a more popular CS staple to do double duty - the account plan.

  • It needn't be a discrete event to take the pulse of, adapt or sing the praises of the project - bring this document into every interaction.

Eyes on the prize

The EBR is about the customer and their run-away success, right? As obvious as this seems, the content of many EBRs would have you believe that the supplier is the real star of the show. Page after page of cherry-picked graphs demonstrating win after irrelevant win and an over-weighted focus on actions complete vs planned rob an EBR of its purpose and utility.

Customer success is a game of reflected glory, go after the crunchy meaningful results that mean you've kept your promises and trust the strength of the partnership to be reflected in them. In my experience there are a small number of metrics that are at the very heart of the client/ supplier relationship, without moving them, the point of the partnership is in question. The good news from a focus and productivity perspective is that these metrics are often (particularly for SaaS solutions) very similar from one customer to another and, demand an effective (preferably automated) means of measurement.

  • Use a simple dashboard to succinctly sum up progress frequently and regularly - better yet - make it mutually accessible in real-time.

I have always found the most important part of the EBR to be the look forward rather than the one behind. It is a chance to demonstrate ownership, expertise and commitment to the customer's results. Looking to the future builds value and sells the partnership. Having confirmed objectives and progress, the EBR is the ideal scenario for defining next actions and (as may be an identifiable theme by now) this doesn't have to wait for the end of the quarter. As an objective is met, plan the next and if context of an existing plan changes, immediately update the downstream assumptions as needed.

A note on 'collateral stuffing' as it pertains to purpose and potentially stealing focus. We all know how frustrating it is to lose a customer because they didn't know about your wider proposition/ solutions and it's natural to use the opportunity of a captive audience to expound the virtues of a broader relationship. However, the EBR should be living proof of how committed you are to results and your customer's success so you must keep the sales aspect of the discussion to what is hand-on-heart relevant. Having said this, a real benefit of falling into a more regular EBR pattern is the increased opportunity for highly relevant pitches. In the same way that an accurate view of objectives and progress facilitate plans, they in turn facilitate discovery, solutions (and proposals).

Daily Business Reviews

EBRs clarify what value looks like, prove it and plan for building more of it. As a concept there's nothing not to like but they're easily turned into a perfunctory look at the recent past, derailed into a ticket review or abused as a silver-bullet in a renewal meeting. Every business has it's own requirements but here's my view of what all good EBRs could have in common:

  • A short document consisting of an achievement dashboard (objectives and results) and project plan dashboard (Gantt chart or kanban board for example) with status, due dates and owners (additional page on account/ contract information if not already easily accessible to customer)

  • Automatically updated in real time taking details from account plan, CS and CRM tools (take from existing, ensure single source of truth)

  • Mutually accessible (in platform if a SaaS provider)

  • Potential for drill-down to more detail depending on product / relationship

  • Simple, on-brand format with ability to export/ share (perhaps as automated update to senior stakeholders) with an additional commentary section

  • Archive of past achievement and project dashboards as well as saved commentary pages so that new stakeholders can quickly assess account history and see value in the partnership

The aim is to make the document and discussing it with the customer a genuinely useful exercise that identifies, proves and builds value for both parties and all users. This EBR can't help but be used frequently, dovetails with other tools (eliminating the need to duplicate work) and places the focus firmly on pursuing customer results at every turn.