Running Sales QBRs that maximise the success of the entire organisation.
Jennifer Bers is a Notion GTM Expert with more than 20 years experience leading sales teams for innovative, fast-scaling SaaS organisations. She supports Notion portfolio companies to create and grow high performing sales teams, with an emphasis on empowering leaders and reps with coaching, feedback, training and leading by example.
The “dreaded” QBR
For sales-led organisations, a rite of passage from finding product-market fit, to moving more into go-to-market fit and scaling, is the internal Quarterly Business Review (QBR)or, as some think, the “dreaded” QBR; the way most QBRs are run, I don’t blame them.
As you can guess from the list below, I’m a firm believer in making QBRs less about just another pipeline review, and more about what is often talked about but rarely put into action: the notion that each territory is essentially a business with the rep being responsible for truly ‘owning’ that business.
What QBRs are not:
What a great QBR should be:
"For me, QBRs are golden and sacrosanct. I think of sales leaders and sales people at every level as franchise owners and as such the QBR is the ideal opportunity for them to share three things:
No excuses. Every sales leader needs to present in every QBR". Jimmy Fitzgerald, Chief Operating Officer, Paddle
A chance to shine
Let’s break down what a great QBR looks like; I genuinely want it to be a chance for people to shine. Templates are given out early, though I also know that most reps (at least for the first time) will do it a night or two before. But if you show that you’re really paying attention and ask great questions it will encourage deeper thought and analysis for the next time and you’ll soon see who has a really strong handle on their territory and has obviously put some deeper thought into the presentation. You’ll have a strong view as to what will happen this quarter, what to expect the following and how to adjust now for what might be headwinds coming a few quarters away.
“QBR’s are an invaluable mechanism to take stock and get everybody focussed. The key is not to do a read out but to use the time to solve problems,” Nick Shaw, Chief Revenue Officer, Brightpearl.
I’d advise putting together a template, with the caveat that, if there is anything additional the rep wants to add, they should be encouraged to do so. It’s so interesting to see what else is brought up, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the level of thought and planning that some reps put into their presentations. Here’s a few sections you should consider for your template.
The QBR Template
I always start with a brief look back for context to previous quarter:
Now let’s look ahead.
This is a chance for the rep to give a professional commitment on what will come in this quarter. It’s also a chance for management to ask the right probing questions to validate if these are real, where the company can align to help provide additional support, and to give a view of where the quarter will land. It’s also a way to understand how sophisticated and thorough the reps are in working their priority deals. When an AE talks about an advanced deal, they should have a thorough grasp of the prospect’s budget, validation of stakeholders, agreed success criteria of any trials, multiple stakeholders involved, an agreed business case, etc. It’s paramount that the reps can defend the deals they’re forecasting with more substance than ‘hope’ or a ‘gut feeling’.
"QBRs really help us formalise feedback and expectations giving us a more holistic outlook regarding client potential and our pipeline. Instead of losing ourselves in day-to-day operations this enables us to understand potential more holistically and align everyone on what's the next best step for the client, ultimately leading to a clearer path to upsell. Sometimes stopping and assessing enables you to run even faster". Tobias Eppler, CRO, HeyJobs.
It’s critical to also focus at least a quarter ahead; if the pipeline is extremely light for the following quarter, and you know the deal cycle is more than 90 days, this gives you warning that something has to happen fast. I always have a section on the next quarter ‘look forward’ and the rest of the year, so we have the full picture.
What pipeline generation activities are the reps planning for the year?
Hint: waiting for their SDR (Sales Development Rep) to book them meetings or just relying on inbound from Marketing isn’t really an “active strategy”.
Who are they planning on targeting, why and how? I see lots of teams focusing on deals in the pipe but almost no focus with the AEs on what their own strategy and priority is for generating pipeline.
Pipeline generation must be a constant focus–pipeline is oxygen, pipeline makes you less desperate and pipeline ensures a much higher chance of hitting numbers. This needs to be its own section.
Is there anything they’d like to work with Marketing on, whether it be this quarter or in the near future?
The best performing organisations have extremely strong alignment between Marketing and Sales, with common goals. There’s no point in having thousands of MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) if they’re not the right ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) or they’re not going to close.
Similarly, you’ll find poor outcomes when AEs 1) don’t communicate with Marketing about the accounts they are prioritising 2) share the success when a great lead comes in and closes, and 3) don’t give feedback as to why certain leads are good or bad.
What is their strategy for working with Partners (if applicable)?
A company that has a well run partner programme, which is a difficult and enormous undertaking when done correctly, essentially expands their salesforce and influence by multiples. For startups this can be a challenge to properly run and gain share of thought in the partner, but once a company has traction and great case studies it’s often an extremely beneficial additive to the team. This probably warrants a whole separate blog post, on what a great partner programme looks like and how it runs.
What are the territory’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats?
These are often misjudged:
A really strong sales rep is always looking for what’s impacting the territory and adjusting their pitch and discussions accordingly. A QBR is a great place to discuss with a wider audience and have the back and forth as to how to take advantage of Strengths and Opportunities and how to mitigate Weaknesses and Threats. I always ask my reps to have a mitigation slide in their deck as well; how would they plan to adjust or combat these negatives.
It’s important to have an ongoing overview of the entire territory to ensure the ICP accounts are actually being worked and not just hoarded. There are lots of templates out there for this, but it does not need to be complicated.
“I’ve been through great QBRs and pretty worthless QBRs in my time in sales. For me, the most effective are rooted in honesty, collaboration and being data-driven. They’re not about ‘thumping your chest’. They’re not about saying what someone else wants to hear. They’re about using the collective wisdom of the attendees to put you on a better path than you would have been without them.” - Nils Marchand, SVP Sales, SecureLink
Wrapping it up
There are a lot of topics to cover in a QBR, and hopefully this guide will help you create a template that’s right for your business. I’d advise getting these scheduled in weeks 2 or 3 of the new quarter, so there’s plenty of time to manoeuvre afterwards as a result and diaries can be blocked.
Have some fun with these as well! I always start with a pretty robust sugar hit for everyone and ensure that throughout the - often long - day, the team is well fed. QBRs often can be an intense experience. But when they’re run as a way to genuinely share where the rep is and with the ability to reflect honestly and receive advice, feedback and validation of the pipeline and territory, you’ll find enormous benefits across the whole business and a more aligned team overall.