Key account management without a QBR?
In life, things seem to happen as a series. Once our attention has been brought to a given event, similar events seem to keep happening at a high frequency and attract our attention even more. In the last few months, I have repeatedly heard statements or read posts on how the concept of QBR (Quarterly Business Review) is outdated and not adopted any longer to our “digitized” world.
Well, I could not disagree more on the relevance of a key account management QBR. Business Reviews have always been a key instrument to orchestrate the relationship between two organizations, including those with your customers. The evolution of social and economic parameters and business models does not make them less important. On the contrary.
This being said, you don’t need QBRs with all customers as this powerful instrument must be used in the right context. If regular Business Reviews take place between a customer and their supplier and participants perceive it does not create value for them, there are basically two key reasons.
- First, the context and depth of the relationship between the two parties do not justify a regular Business Review.
- Second, the recurrent process of the Business Review is not properly executed.
This article takes a closer look at why companies run Business Reviews and with whom, who should be involved, and what defines a good review. In the end, a short, practical checklist is suggested to help define focused measures that can help you create more value with the Business Review process.
Why do suppliers run QBRs with their customers?
To answer this question in a relatively simple way, one has to consider two different types of context for the relationship between a supplier and a customer. The first type of context is Account Management, things that are done with all customers with some variations depending on their size. The second type of context is Strategic Account Management, things which are done to develop a privileged relationship with a few carefully selected strategic customers.
Account Management Context
In an Account Management context (AM), Business Reviews, quarterly or monthly, are mostly used to review what has been delivered since the last review and to plan the next agreed period of time.
For examples, suppliers of outsourced services of any kind (IT, Bookkeeping, HR, travel and accommodation, Marketing & Communications ) leverage regular reviews with their customers to share a precise picture of what they have delivered against the contractual Service Level Agreement (SLA), discuss performance, satisfaction and issues and to plan ahead.
These meetings can – and should – also be used to discuss the evolutions of the customer’s needs and of the supplier’s offering. If the supplier is delivering products and solutions – which more and more include services – the Business Review might have a different frequency and content than for a service provider but the basic principles remain the same.
In a pure Account Management context, the decision to run regular BRs is usually related to the size of the customer: larger accounts are managed with BRs whereas smaller customers are managed with less frequent and simpler meetings or remotely, more and more often by a Customer Success Manager.
Key Account Management Context
In a Key Account Management context (KAM), because the ambition is to develop and maintain a deeper relationship mapping that brings more value to both parties, the Strategic Account Management QBRs must drive a discussion beyond normal Account Management.
Moreover, and this is crucial, in a well-executed KAM program, the QBR (like all regularly scheduled interactions) are designed and executed within the frame of a Key Account Plan. A good Key Account Plan is very specific on which relationships need to be created, developed and nurtured and why (if it is not, the Account Plan is not good enough and must be improved).
The Business Review can also take the form of a Joint Business Planning (JBP) session aiming at aligning the two organizations on mutually agreed initiatives and projects. For example, LafargeHolcim, a construction material company uses BRs with its Global Accounts to drive collaboration in the field of R&D and to discuss long-term opportunities on major projects. Schneider Electric uses JBPs to agree with selected customers on joint strategic initiatives that go well beyond the “business as usual” activities.
Well driven Business Reviews also provide an opportunity to discuss market trends and share prospective information such as technology and product roadmaps. This is used intensively by companies using KAM is an engineering-driven environment. All in all, whatever the context, AM or KAM, which customers are offered a regular Business Review process and with which purpose, must be crystal clear to both parties. Otherwise, putting in place these Reviews will be a waste of time.
Companies who suffer from low-value QBRs should re-evaluate if their selection of accounts and definition of purpose are strong enough.
Who should be involved?
If the context (AM or KAM) and purpose (monitor delivery / execute a Key Account Plan) are clear, defining who should be involved is quite straightforward, at least for the regular participants to the BRs.
In an Account Management context, the person regularly involved in the supplier side must be those in charge of the Delivery (however this term is defined) and the Account Manager in charge of the customer. Occasionally, and depending on topics on the agenda other supplier’s staff members can be invited as long as their involvement brings a tangible value.
In a Key Account Management context, the members of the Core Account Team should be involved in Key Account Management QBRs. The reason why is that as members of the core key account team, they should contribute to the span and depth of the relationship between the two companies. For example, if a KAM relationship implies collaboration in the area of Product Development and Marketing, members of these functions should be involved in the BRs.
In a B2B2C environment such as in consumer electronics or dermo-cosmetics, it is quite usual that as part of a KAM approach the marketing teams of both the retail chain and the supplier jointly plan promotions and marketing campaigns.
The above illustrates that when a KAM relationship covers multiples functions, specific regular meetings might be required between these functions. All in all, it is part of the KAM engagement methodology to define which regular interactions must take place, for whom and at which frequency. The clarity on the purpose drives the quality of execution. But what does the quality of execution mean for a Business Review?
How to define the good execution of Business Reviews?
A good Key Account Management QBR should always present the following characteristics.
- A clear context (clear to both parties).
- A clear agenda communicated in advance so as to allow preparation and ensure attendance.
- An adequate list of participants with people who will contribute and benefit.
- A focus on two-way communication and dialogue, not on presentations.
- Data-driven discussions: whatever the topic (market, business, delivery, satisfaction, claims, financials), come with well prepared and well-presented data.
- Concluded by deciding on actions with clear owners and deadlines.
- Disciplined follow-up: the progress on actions is monitored and communicated regularly and is briefly reviewed at the beginning of the next review.
Each of the above-listed parameters is crucial and getting all of them right is not always so easy. Some of them are related to what makes a good meeting, independently from its scope and context.
Some others are related to what makes a strong key account management practice: a clear methodology, strong Key Account Plans, well-formed cohesive Key Account Teams where each member knows what is expected from them, a dialogue- and data-driven way to manage the relationship, and adequate tools (including a key account management software) to plan and monitor actions. Last but not least, the quality of a QBR process is also a marker of the talent and proficiency of a Key Account Manager.
So, what about your own QBR?
If you have reached the end of this article, it is probably because you found the content not too boring, and even relevant to you.So, what about the (Q)BRs your company runs with customers? How good are they?Based on your evaluation of your current practice, what do you feel doing?
- Nothing, because you are doing everything right? Well, congratulations! However, are you really sure there are really no areas for improvements in your company? Have you leveraged your key account management methodology and technology enough to grow business and support key accounts?
- Re-evaluating the list of customers with whom you run (Q)BRs?
- Improving the execution of a few or all of the crucial parameters?
- Improving the Account Plans so that they provide a stronger framework for the QBR process?
- Enhancing your other Key Account Management tools (including automation) and methods to support a better execution of the agreed actions?
Whatever your choice, acting in this area, will definitely bring benefits!And, like me, you will probably disagree with the statement that the QBR process is outdated.
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About the Author
CEO & Co-Founder, DemandFarm
Milind is CEO & Co-Founder of DemandFarm. Having practiced and evolved the ‘account farming’ principle for over a decade he established DemandFarm and is passionate about delivering the best B2B key account management tool to serve the needs of key account managers. Milind also serves on the Board of LeadEnrich & is a Strategic Adviser.