How to deliver QBRs that execs love
Nick Mehta: If you're not figuring out ways to drive customers more value, more expansion, they're on the path to churn. There's no stability. Churn is like gravity. It's constantly pulling the customer relationship down.
Devin Reed: This is Reveal: The Revenue Intelligence Podcast, here to help go- to- market leaders do one thing: stop guessing.
Sheena Badani: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential, then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.
Devin Reed: And I'm Devin Reed, coming to you from the Gong Studios. One of the most important aspects of customer success is the quarterly business review, AKA the QBR. This is the moment for feedback, upsell opportunities, and relationship building that requires rockstar content and a carefully selected attendee list from both sides. In most cases, you want an executive from the customer side on the call, but they always seem to have a last minute conflict, so they end up leaving the meeting early or missing it entirely. We know executives are short on time, so how do we effectively engage with them during this critical meeting? This episode is the playbook for delivering QBRs that executives love. Our guest this week is Nick Mehta, the CEO at Gainsight, a customer success SaaS product that helps companies put their customers at the center of everything they do. This episode is absolutely packed with tactical advice on how to host an effective QBR, from meeting intros, to follow up, and all the crucial moments in between. Before we dive into this week's episode, I want to let you in on a secret. Every successful revenue leader has a competitive edge that nobody knows about. It's how they go from meeting expectations, to exceeding revenue targets. That's why we launched The Edge, a monthly newsletter designed for growth- minded execs who wish there were more hours in the day. It's written by Kelly Breslin Wright, Gong's president and COO. She's taken three different companies public, she's a five time tech advisor, and she's been a board member to six different companies. Every newsletter will give you insights into how want to gain a competitive advantage, both in your career and for your organization. You'll also see data- driven posts on the topics that senior leaders care about most. And even better, each read takes less than five minutes, it's delivered monthly, and always 100% free. To sign up, go to Gong. io/ the- edge, that's G- O- N- G. io/ T- H- E- E- D- G- E, or you can keep it simple and click the link in the show notes to sign up. If you like what you hear on Reveal, you're going to love this newsletter. Subscribe to The Edge today. Okay, let's get back to the episode.
Sheena Badani: What is a QBR from your perspective and what is the role of a QBR in that customer's experience?
Nick Mehta: QBR stands for quarterly business review. Now, like all business terms, some of those parts of that acronym are misleading. Very few QBRs happen every quarter and not all the time are we really talking about business. So we'll dive into the detail because I think a lot of QBRs aren't done right, but the general concept is how do I create a cadence to work with a customer where I can up level the conversation from the day to day of this technical issue or this new feature, to getting the customer to more strategically get value from whatever product or service you're offering.
Sheena Badani: So maybe you have some experiences working with your customers on what is that cadence? You're saying it's not necessarily quarterly. What do you typically see?
Nick Mehta: First of all, I think that the experience I have is actually two sides, right? One is... Actually three. We ourselves are a software vendor, so we have our customers and we learn a lot just doing it ourselves. We also learn from all of our customers about how they do it, because we run this big customer success community so we know how thousands of companies do it. And then also, finally, I'm the CEO of a company that has 1100 people, so we buy a lot of software, so I see the vendors trying to do QPRs with us. I've seen all the different lenses on it. And I think one thing we can talk more about is the cadence and quarterly, I think, is something that you could aspire to, but I think in reality very few companies want a quarterly review from their vendor. It's very rare that they want to spend 90 minutes or 60 minutes with their vendor every quarter. And so thinking about what's the right time and what's the right moments to bring in a business review is something we can talk about. I'd say on average, probably enterprise relationships, people have one to two of these QBRs a year, so semi- annual business review or annual business review is probably more accurate. And then one of the other things we can talk about, some people call these EBRs, executive business reviews. But continue with the irony, many executive business reviews don't have executives coming from the client. So we'll talk about how you can change that, how you can run meetings that attract executives there. But this is a really good one to nerd out on because I do think these meetings, while they may not be super frequent, are very important. How do you do them right? Because if you have the executives in the room and you've got the attention, how do you actually make a big impact so you can drive more value for the client and more expansion for your business?
Devin Reed: You beat me to my question, Nick, which is, what about a EBR, executive business review? But somewhere in my gut, I was like, I think it's just marketing the same thing to make it sound a little more high level.
Nick Mehta: Yeah. It's funny, and I wrote this nerdy blog post a couple years ago about how do you put the E back in EBR? How do you put the executive into the executive business review? And I had this analogy, again, this is super nerd alert, but there's something called the Fermi paradox, which basically is a science thing about how statistically there's probably aliens somewhere in the universe, but why have we not seen them yet? And I kind of said, the same thing is true about EBRs. Why do we have all these EBRs but you never see any executives there. It's the same people you're meeting with every week. And so the question would be how does a vendor get the client's CRO or CCO or CMO or CEO to want to attend an EBR? What are the tactics we can do in terms of the way you frame it, the way you structure it, the timing, to get people to attend? And happy to dive into that.
Devin Reed: Before we do, just to match your nerdiness, I'm actually very aware of what you're talking about. And my favorite theory of that is why aliens haven't contacted us is, I think it's called a zoology theory, which is, oh, they see us. And they just decided not to contact us, but they're watching, letting us go do our little thing. Which might be a good kind of analogy to executives. They know the vendor exists. They know their teams are using it, but I'm just going to stay at arm's length and watch from a distance.
Nick Mehta: You got it. It's funny. I feel like a lot of times you're trying to schedule an EBR and you email the executive and say," Hey, I'd love to do this EBR for three hours to talk to you about the latest features in our release." And the executive very politely replies back and says," Great. I'll make sure my team attends." We're sending the wrong signal in the way we position an EBR, the way we schedule it and the actual content. And what ends up happening is we alienate, to use that word, we alienate the executives from the EBR.
Devin Reed: Why are QBRs so important to get right? Or maybe another way you could view it as what's at risk if you don't?
Nick Mehta: I think one of the basic principles in the world of customer success and business relationships, again, to continue the science analogies, is that over time, if you're not figuring out ways to drive customers more value, more expansion, they're on the path to churn. There's no stability. So churn is like gravity. It's constantly pulling the customer relationship down. Now, why is that? Because if the customer stays at the exact same state in terms of how they're using Gong or Gainsight or anything else, there's lots of alternatives out there. And over time, those alternatives are cheaper. And by the way, the people you sold to leave the company and maybe they have an issue with your product. And so if you are not driving more value, and eventually more expansion, you're on the path to churn. Now, how do you do that? How do you drive more value, more expansion? Well, the challenge is the day to day relationship with a vendor doesn't lead itself to that. The day to day relationship is," Hey, we're on a call about a support issue." Or," Why can't I log into my software?" Or," I want to provision a new user." And if you're a CSM or salesperson trying to bring up some business outcome stuff, they're like," Hey, let's deal with that later." So when is later? Later is these business reviews. It's a chance to take a step back on both sides and say," Okay, you bought Gong or Gainsight or something else for a set of business outcomes. It's great to take a step back and say, how are we doing on the path to achieving those goals or those outcomes that we all talked about. And then that creates a natural opportunity to talk about," Hey, by the way, we have a new module that can help you even more with these outcomes." Or," We have a new product." Or," We think there's a new service you can offer. That's why it's a very natural conversation to have if you take a step back, but it doesn't fit into the daily rhythm of working with a customer.
Sheena Badani: We talked a little bit about getting the executives involved in these reviews. What are your recommendations on structuring this QBR, this EBR in a way that will actually attract executives and want them to attend?
Nick Mehta: Yeah, 100%. There's a few different things I think we can do as a industry to get more executives to attend. One of the concepts we thought of as a team is this notion of a progressive EBR. And this is a little bit like if back in the day, progressive dinner, you go from one house to another, to another, or, one restaurant to another to another. And so the idea is basically, could you schedule an EBR in a way that you have part that is for the executive and part that's for the rest of the team? Because if you send an executive... if I get a calendar invite for three minute, three hour EBR, honestly, I just laugh. Not in a cruel way. It's just like, where would that possibly fit on my calendar? Are we going to do that in 2025? There's no three hour slot available ever. And so what about saying, okay, we're going to have an hour and a half EBR, but the first 30 minutes is the executive session. And what if you said, okay, in that first 30 minutes, we're going to be super impactful and I can share some ideas on what you can do there, but stuff that the leader would care about. And we can talk about some ideas about that. And then maybe after that leadership part is done, the rest of the team is working at the vendor to work through the details of how do we get that executive principles that we talked about now implemented in our working relationship. And so this idea of maybe having a progressive EBR where the beginning is executive and the rest is the rest of the team, something like that to get people to be more open- minded to joining. So that's one thing. It's just the time. Now, then the question is, what are you advertising as the value of this? So why should I attend? What are we going to talk about? And if it's new features of the release or whatever, I think it's just going to be harder. So what do executives care about? And I think we can all talk about this. Your leaders too, so you should share. But from my vantage point, there are certain things a lot of people care about. Number one is, what are my competitors doing that I'm not doing? Benchmarking. So a big thing is benchmarking. Another one is how is this going to help me in my strategic goal? So one thing I recommend is giving executives upfront at the client, a chance to talk about their strategic goals. Give them a section of the agenda. We do this in a lot of our EBRs. Five minutes for you to talk about your company goals. And the executives, we love to talk, so there's no downside. And I think that gives them a little more ownership. They like to hear what their team is doing, and also maybe what they team can be doing better.
Sheena Badani: You said you had some tips for those first 30 minutes with the executive. Let's get into some examples there.
Nick Mehta: One tip is you cannot start the meeting late or have screen sharing issues. For example, if the client scheduled the meeting and they're using different video software, let's say you use Zoom and they schedule with Teams, be on the meeting a few minutes early, because I guarantee your microphone and audio won't work. I guarantee. Whenever video software is different, it won't work. So get on there, get all set up, have your wifi working. Again, obvious but you cannot let that slip up in an executive meeting. Then, okay great. Often executive meetings you have a lot of people on both sides, so let's say there's seven or eight people on the client side, seven or eight people on the vendor side. Do not have everyone do self intros in a 30 minute meeting. I've seen people do that. It's so painful. The executives like," Look, I know who my team is. And honestly, I'm never going to meet most of you again, so why are we doing all these intros?" So instead what I recommend is one person at the vendor, at your company, introduce everyone on your side. And ask the client to have one person introduce everyone on their side, could be the CEO could be somebody else. And then like I said, from there, consider first of all, move fast. Time is everything with most leaders. Move super fast, high energy. And then dive into maybe having the executive present their goals, sharing some benchmarking stuff, and keeping it very interactive. And then one other tip, I would say, I think all of us have gotten better at Zoom, at this over the years, whatever video meeting technology you're using, watch the executive the whole time. How are they doing? Are they engaged? Are they multitasking? Direct questions at them? Keep them engaged, because you got these 30 minutes. And by the way, when they say," Oh, I just got something and I actually have to leave a little early. I'm so sorry." That means that you failed to get their attention. You have a little bit of time and you got to use it really, really well. And you're on the clock. That's the way I would think about it.
Devin Reed: I like that a lot. And digging into there could be seven people on each side, and I know sometimes it's tough. Sometimes you're like," Cool. I got 30 minutes with Nick. He's the CEO, so this is going to go great." You go log into your meeting and you realize Nick added six people, two of which you didn't know, then you have a couple minutes only to adjust. But in terms of prepping for it, Nick, who should be there for the EBR?
Nick Mehta: Well, one thing I'd say upfront is, that shouldn't happen too often. Because one other best practice is, you're champion and you should be planning this meeting together. You should have agreed on the agenda. They're probably presenting something, this content. They want to look good in front of their boss. They should tell you who's coming. That actually, surprisingly, is pretty rare for us, that that would happen where we don't know everyone who's coming. And we actually always have a slide of who's in the meeting and we planned it all in advance. So I would say that, try hard to not let that happen. But to answer your question, Devin, there are people that certainly get added in, or maybe just people you just didn't that much. And I think that's where, my opinion, what you want to do is ideally have it be reasonably widespread, but not too big, so it's the minimum subset of people that you can have. Now, the company may... the client may want to bring everyone and you got to respect them. But if I got to choose, it would be the CEO, the two or three execs that were influential, our champion that we work with every day and almost nobody else, because then you can have a really good conversation. I think we all know that the bigger the video meeting, the less people really engage and the less they lean in. Now, one thing I've learned, because we've done so many of these, just like you all have, is if you end up in a big meeting, which is hard, the way to get engagement is through the chat. Is actually saying," Okay, type in your questions through chat. We'd love to hear." We get way more engagement through chat and then you can call on people when they chat stuff. So this is another skill I think all of us have gotten good at, is active moderation. Your client's hard, but you're constantly watching the chat. You're watching people's expressions. You're saying," Hey Susan, I noticed you were just about to say something, please go ahead." Or," Do you have a question on that?" And don't ever say," Does anyone have any questions?" Please don't ever say that in a 25 person meeting. that is the worst thing, because everyone else is like," Well I don't want to trip over anyone else." And then you have that awkward silence. So active moderation is a skill all of us, whether in sales or CS or an executive, can get better at.
Devin Reed: Nick brings up a fantastic point about utilizing the chat in these larger executive business reviews. Attendees using the chat in real time are much more engaged in larger virtual meetings, so much so that Microsoft even coined the to term parallel chat. According to a study done by Microsoft, 85% of their employees said they felt parallel chat had a net positive response. Some of the benefits they cited were the ability to organize follow ups, collaborate in real time and inject humor and casual conversation into larger meetings. It's perfect for those side comments you would say in person, but can't unmute for. But, other employees highlighted the pitfalls, which are worth mentioning too. Keep in mind the barriers that chat may present, such as introducing distractions to the main conversation and challenges for people with reading difficulties. If your team plans on using the chat in an EBR, make sure you clearly set the standard at the beginning of the meeting and clarify exactly what it should be used for. Here's Nick talking about a few other elements he likes to work into the beginning of his meetings.
Nick Mehta: I'm reading this book right now called Power of Moments. And it's all about this idea of, it's not just about the whole meeting, it's that one moment. So let me pick a couple that I've seen. One tactic we haven't talked about is icebreakers. Now, we actually use icebreakers in pretty much every Gainsight meetings. For folks listening, we have a very human type culture, so we try to bring that in everything we do. But one of the things we found is a really effective icebreaker and actually executives love it, is we say in the very beginning," Hey, before we jump in, we want to actually do something and celebrate one of your CSMs in your company." CSMs our audience, so imagine for Gong it would be salesperson. And we ask the executive on the spot, who's a CSM that you think is doing a really good job in your company. We're going to send them a gift from you right now. And they love it. And they have a little discussion about it as a team. We're like, well, that person just won prize and whatever. They love it. So coming up with those provocative human kind of things are really cool. Sometimes we'll do icebreaker that are more traditional, like would you rather travel in the past or the future? And if we have to do it fast, we'll do it through Zoom Chat or whatever. So I think there's some element of that human connection up front that does make a difference. So that's one powerful moment. I think another lean in moment is, as I was saying, when they're presenting their goals, because then they get excited. They're like," Hey." Especially towards the beginning of the year, because beginning of the year, executives are excited about the goals. End of the year, they're tired of talking. But at the beginning of the year, I'm like," Yeah, let me show you my new goal slide. And this is what we presented to the company." they love that. They love that what's going on in our company right now. That's the second thing I think that is exciting, giving them a chance to present. A third one I've seen people really lean into is that benchmarking data. So you put up that slide, hopefully you can do something like this where you're like," Hey, here's anonymized dots of all of our other customers on two dimensions." How many users they have have of Gong and how active those users are, whatever. Some kind of like two dimensional matrix, and you put your other customers and you put where this company is. And I think that's really... people love seeing that. Because they want to know, okay, well what are the other folks doing and who are they? And they're asking questions, digging in on that. So that's another thing that I think makes a big impact.
Devin Reed: The way you framed it, Nick, is if I just put you on a plot chart or make you of these dots, your brain's automatically going to ask, well, how do I get to the top? How do I become number one? What do I have to do to get better? So it's a great way to seed that idea without necessarily having to pull them towards it.
Nick Mehta: One thing we do very specifically at Gainsight is, we measure our customer's health. It's a multidimensional, how they deployed our product, are they engaging with us, adoption. We actually share that with them. The way we measure their health, we share with them. And that's a good way for us to have a discussion. We think you're green, do you think you're green? And then the other thing that's very big is what's called a success plan, which is okay, what are their objectives, business wise, in terms of working with Gong or Gainsight or whatever. And we'll share that, too so that the executive can react to it and be like," Yeah, actually those aren't really my objectives. That might be my team's objectives, but mine are a little bit higher level." So I think sharing things for them to react to in general, whether it's benchmarking, health scores, it's good. And if they disagree, that's not the worst thing in the world either, because at least you got a dialogue.
Sheena Badani: So speaking of moments, the QBR is a moment in this journey with your customer. You gave a lot of great tips on how to think about structuring and optimizing the actual event. Now what? What happens when this QBR is over?
Nick Mehta: Yeah. Such a good point, because you're right. It's just like, oh it's over. Now what do we do? And so obviously you're sending a thank you and a follow up and stuff like that. Some people actually, a lot of our clients, will do a survey after the EBR. It's literally, for this EBR was it valuable or not? I actually think that's an interesting kind of thing to think about. Sometimes people have methodologies of what to do next, an example would be a maturity assessment. So you do your QBR and at the end it says," Hey Nick, sounds like you're really interested in getting more sophisticated about sales enablement. We have a enablement maturity quiz. We'll send it to you and fill it out. Maybe we can send you the results and we can do a deep dive if you want." It's nice to have some kind of a call to action like that, that can actually get you a little more depth. I think one other thing to think about is, in that... we talked about how do you make this quarterly or more frequent, at the end of the meeting, if you got some energy, you say," Look, what should we talk about next quarter?" And you start thinking about that now. And so you say," Okay, next quarter," maybe you leave five minutes at the end,"what should we talk about?" And then psychologically, that client is a little more bought in to meeting in a quarter, right? And if there's nothing there, obviously you probably don't need to meet in a quarter, but at least you get some sort of energy around what that next quarter's going to look like.
Devin Reed: So Nick, you just gave us the playbook, or everything that we need to update our own, for all of our listeners. For the leaders listening though, how do they ensure that their CSMs are actually implementing these things and providing this level of value and executive alignment in all of their QBRs across the year?
Nick Mehta: I love it. Yeah. It's so important. It's the theory and then the practice, how do you operationalize this? And I think there's a couple different things that we've seen our clients do. And again, this is all tied to the world, at Gainsight we're used by so many CS organizations so we can see what's great, what's not. So one thing that people do is, in general, as they think about their customer health score, which again is a measurement of the likelihood of that customer to renew or expand or whatever. One of the ingredients is what's called the engagement score. And the engagement score is basically when was the last time one of our key persona executives was in a meaningful meeting with us? And so that engagement score essentially is looking at, typically you tag roles in whatever your CRM is. And so who is the decision maker role? And then looking at when was the last time we met with them? Second thing was, okay, how did it go? And so that's where I think the power of conversational intelligence is so huge. Because there, you can be listening to these calls or snippets and giving feedback to your team about how they did. You can't be in every meeting. And we use Gong religiously at Gaingsight for this exact, this and many other use cases, but specifically trying to give good coaching to people about what they could do and how we can all get better. Because all of us, including me, can get better. Third thing then is, okay, how did the executive feel about being in that EBR? That's where a survey or some other sort of feedback is great. And then fourth is, okay, how is that EBR leading to the customer achieving more business outcomes? And that's where you're going back to this notion of a success plan and what were we able to check off or accomplish? Because eventually you want to be able to say," Hey, we achieved this for the customer. We achieved this for the customer." And so those four things together. Were they engaged? Are they meeting with us? How did that call go at a qualitative level? What was their feedback? And is it leading to business outcomes? Those are the four things I would look at as a leader.
Sheena Badani: So Nick, we ask all of our are guests one question to wrap up the conversation and we'll tweak ours a little bit based on what we've been talking about today, which is, how would you describe customer success in one word?
Nick Mehta: Grit. Just being real, it's hard. It's constantly, the ball is... sisyphus, the myth of sisyphus, the rock is rolling towards you all the time. What I mean by that? There's always a change in stakeholder of the customer. They just got bought by a private equity firm. They're cutting budgets. Their new person not sure they need this technology. They had an issue. You released a new feature and it caused a problem for them. There was a bug, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And the only way to get through this, and I don't just mean for CSMs, I mean for salespeople too, the skillset of the future is grit. It's the ability... Grit. If you've never read Angela Duckworth's book, which is incredible, one of the most important books in modern psychology, she talks about grit is passion plus perseverance. It's believing in what you do and also believing in it enough to get through all the setbacks. And to me, that is what customer success and sales are all about.
Devin Reed: If you want to continue to grow your customer success skills, head over to gong. io for more resources. And if you like what you heard today, give us a five star review on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever it is you're listening.
Quarterly business reviews are critical moments for feedback, upsell, and relationship building with your customer. Nick Mehta, CEO of customer success platform Gainsight, has the proven playbook to ensure your business reviews wow your customers and impact the bottom line.
In this episode, Nick shares his step-by-step advice on getting executives in the room, how to kick off an effective meeting, and how to use tools like chat to effectively engage and smoothly run a meeting that will keep even the high-expectation executives happy.