• Sales Execution

How Best-in-Class Revenue Leaders Prepare for Their Sales QBR

Michael Lowe

Michael Lowe
Director, Content Marketing, Clari

How Best-in-Class Revenue Leaders Prepare for Their Sales QBR

Every organization has a sales operating rhythm, a series of critical events that can radically alter sales execution and, ultimately, business growth. At every interval — whether it be a forecasting call or 1:1 — you need to address certain issues quickly to execute efficiently and drive revenue. Sales quarterly business reviews (QBRs) give your organization a prime opportunity to get together each quarter to assess progress and performance.

Consider every football game on TV: You might hear the referee’s whistle or the crowd going wild before fully knowing what happened. You’re not sure the officials made the right call. Then comes the instant replay. The coaches, referees, and you (the spectator) can rewatch that key moment in slow motion. You have the luxury of hindsight. That intense, tightly packed moment gets dissected and pulled apart as different experts weigh in.

We sit on our sofas yelling at the TV, indulging in the minutiae of what happened. We share our observations and study the nuances: How? Why? What should this player have done? What does the coach need to figure out before the next round starts? Remember when a similar thing happened last season?

QBRs are similar to these instant replays, although they’re much more complex. Done right, these quarterly meetings uncover new insights that accelerate business growth and strengthen the company culture. The problem is most organizations aren’t making QBRs work for them as much as they could be. That’s why we’ve put together this definitive guide for high-growth sales leaders on how to conduct effective QBRs and maximize every minute.

What Is a Sales QBR?

To clarify the term “QBR,” this guide focuses on the sales QBR — an entirely different type of meeting from the customer success QBR. The customer success QBR explores the impact of the business’s product or service on the customer. On the other hand, the sales QBR focuses on sales performance and the forecast. Sales managers reconnect with sales development reps (SDRs) to better understand what worked last quarter, what didn’t, and how to set up next quarter for success. By taking a collective hard look at the sales forecasting metrics of each individual and overall team, you can gain valuable insights to take your sales game to the next level.

The QBR is your moment to reconnect with your team and assess what worked last quarter, what didn’t, and what’s next. Your team comes together to take a hard look at the individual and overall team performance sales metrics. The QBR is a prime opportunity to arm your team with the insights they need to take their sales game to the next level.

Why the Sales QBR Needs an Overhaul

Here’s the typical QBR format: Each sales rep walks through their quarterly results and explains what happened and why. Then participants will talk about the forecast, goals, and strategies for the upcoming quarter. On the surface, the QBR meeting format sounds pretty straightforward — almost like a verbal report card that attendees must sit through.

The bad news is that QBRs aren’t transforming sales at most companies. These quarterly meetings don’t have a reputation for making waves. But considering that you only have four opportunities a year to get your entire sales organization in one room to talk strategy, why isn’t the QBR more of a game-changer?

It starts with perception. Sales leaders and SDRs often view QBRs as another obligation that comes with the job rather than a critical event that could skyrocket sales and, ultimately, boost their own careers. The typical QBR hasn’t changed in several decades, which explains why many sales teams are simply going through the motions during these meetings. Naturally, during a QBR presentation, participants are inclined to present their sales reports and performance in the best light, even if it means fudging their numbers or framing their performance in a certain way.

Listing achievements during the QBR is bound to happen, particularly when leaders from go-to-market teams outside of sales are present, but this doesn’t make much of an impact on the organization. Yamini Rangan, who helped lead Workday and Dropbox to IPO knows a thing or two about QBRs.

“When you have a quarterly business review with marketing, for example, they're going to say, ‘We accomplished all these amazing things. We delivered these programs, developed this pipeline, and everything worked great,’” she says. “Then you go and talk to sales later that quarter and they say, ‘No, the quality of the leads from marketing was not good. They didn't deliver enough quality leads.’”

Further, sales managers often use the precious QBR meeting time for fact-checking data in sales reports or going down a fact-finding rabbit hole. Without the right tools, critical deal and pipeline data are often missing or unreliable. It’s even possible that well prepared participants have developed slides based on outdated or inaccurate spreadsheets.

Once the QBR is done, people go back to business as usual: back to their silos, their routines, struggling with forecasting and hitting their numbers. What can high-growth sales leaders do to maximize their sales QBRs and reap the benefits of these critical events?

Changing the QBR starts with rethinking the approach and knowing the right questions to ask.

The New Approach to QBRs: 4 Principles

To guide your QBR preparation, consider these 4 key principles.

1. Cross-functional leadership must participate.

More high-growth companies are discovering that sales leaders and reps aren’t the only people responsible for hitting revenue goals. The new approach to sales QBRs takes a more expansive view of sales and revenue growth. Marketing, customer success, and sales operations — the entire revenue operations team — play important functions that directly impact sales. So it makes sense that leaders from all the go-to-market teams participate in the sales QBRs and have their own sales metrics to hold them accountable.

Rangan is adamant about having cross-functional leadership attend QBRs to get things done right then and there.

“The only time I'll hear complaints is in that meeting across all of those functions,” she says. “I don't want finger-pointing outside of that. I really want everybody to work in a non-siloed fashion, thinking about the customer that we’re serving and making things happen there in that meeting.”

2. We all share one common goal: success for the company and each other.

When sales team members lose sight of the big picture, they tend to focus inward and get defensive. They’re under pressure to show off their accomplishments or, worse, blame others for not hitting their numbers. In order for people to feel comfortable having difficult conversations openly and honestly, they must be laser-focused on helping each other and the company succeed.

By the same token, individual success can be an equally motivating factor. The QBR is an opportunity to reinforce the idea that each rep should be treating their book of business like their own business. They are the CEOs of their territory.

The most powerful QBRs have leaders asking hard questions, calling out SDRs, digging into deals, and probing for critical information. It also means that reps feel comfortable to admit when they’re struggling and open themselves up to being evaluated in a group setting.

Imagine all participants having that unshakeable mindset that allows them to be fully present during the QBR. They’re eager to share their thoughts, open to constructive criticism, expecting to uncover new insights, and genuinely curious about their colleagues’ perspectives. Nurturing the collective and individual motivations to succeed will make ripples far beyond the QBR.

3. Every conversation is a learning lesson . . . for executives, too.

Despite recurring themes common in discussions about sales strategy and execution, every QBR is unique. Whether you’re talking about the past quarter, brainstorming new ideas, or evaluating current conditions, you never know when you’re going to instill a mind-blowing lesson that impacts a rep’s performance. By asking key questions and focusing on critical data, you teach your team what’s important.

For instance, by reviewing the sales forecast and relevant sales report and discussing what is truly a committed deal, you help ensure each member of your team has the same understanding of the word “commit.” Plus, reviewing each rep’s struggles and issues can help other reps avoid the same problems in the future. That, in itself, is also a learning lesson for executives to lead their teams more effectively.

By getting everybody to focus on key learnings, you reframe mistakes as lessons. If one rep experienced a setback this quarter, discussing it as a group could help someone else avoid suffering from the same thing next quarter. Encouraging peer-to-peer coaching and best practice sharing helps motivate people to do better and work more collaboratively. More importantly, the focus on learning builds a strong corporate culture that encourages growth.

4. Put the customer at the center of the sales QBR.

Even though the focus of this guide is the sales QBR, approaching the discussion by focusing on what’s best for the customer reinforces the big picture and common goals. As Carl Eschenbach, partner at Sequoia Capital and former COO of VMware, points out, the customer is the most valuable asset to every company. Ultimately, the customer plays a huge role in the company’s success.

Rangan highly recommends having separate QBRs for each region across all the functions that serve customers in that region. Listen to Rangan describe how to run a QBR led by customer-driven initiatives and that incorporates the various go-to-market functions.

“Customers do not care about your silos,” she says.

The Step-by-Step Guide to Running Your Most Productive QBR Yet

Now we get into the action plan for your QBR, identifying the most important questions and running your meeting effectively. After all, any time you get dozens of people in one room talking about sales strategy and execution, it’s easy to go down rabbit holes. Here’s the 5-step framework every QBR should follow.

Step 1: Start With the Big Picture.

Take a 5,000-foot view of the data and encourage participants to agree on the most important trends, common struggles, and the overall health of your revenue operations. At this point, you’re not doing a deep dive. You’re merely setting the stage and beginning to prioritize. Starting off the meeting from a united front shows that all participants are there to work together and succeed.

View key performance indicators of past, current, and future quarters:

  • Review closed deals, average sales cycle, and slipped deals.
  • See how much business your SDRs have closed against their quotas, and what they’re calling in hard commit for this quarter.

Questions to ask:

  1. What trends are we noticing?
  2. What are people struggling with most this quarter?

Step 2: Evaluate the Last Quarter.

Now you can play the role of investigator or researcher and drill into last quarter’s performance: what your sales reps committed, what they closed week over week, and if they hit their quotas. The numbers are a starting point for understanding what happened, but it’s critical to go beyond the scoreboard. Ask probing questions that produce clear answers. For example: “Why?” “How?” “Can you give an example?”

In this step, having a company culture that embraces transparency and collaboration makes a big difference in prompting people to open up. Encourage your sales reps to share both their successes and failures so that everybody can learn from them. Facilitating the QBR as a safe space will help you hold your team accountable, as well as uncover problems you may not have known existed.

The QBR also helps sales managers understand the sales reps on a deeper level, which can be especially valuable if you have a large or distributed team.

Every participant, regardless of their position on the totem pole, has an important perspective that can enrich the diagnosis and next steps. For example, if your hard commits slipped, why did that happen? Was it a result of not forecasting correctly? Were there external challenges on the prospect side that pushed the close date back? How could you have commanded control of the situation to guide the deal to commit?

Questions to ask:

  1. What happened and why?
  2. What are the key learnings?
  3. What went wrong?
  4. What could you have done differently?
  5. What went right?
  6. What motivated the customer to buy?

Step 3: Assess the Current Quarter and Determine What’s Truly Winnable.

Now that participants have exercised their hindsight muscles picking apart the previous quarter, they’re in a better position to inspect the current quarter. The “aha” moments that surfaced in the last step have enriched everyone’s perspectives as you examine the current quarter.

It’s time to get tactical about current pipeline opportunities. Your sales leaders and reps need more than a basic instruction to review the pipeline.

What exactly are you looking for? Here are 5 different lenses to look through as you engage in a sales pipeline review:

  1. Volume. Do we have enough pipeline coverage to be able to hit the number? Look at the deals that have already closed this quarter and see how much more you need to accomplish.
  2. Mix. Do we have the right mix of deals? Determine which opportunities are higher-probability small and medium deals and which ones are lower-probability elephants.
  3. Health. Diagnose deals that are at risk and those you might be able to pull in this quarter to make your number. You and your sales leadership team must be able to validate activity on an opportunity — not simply rely on updates from the rep.
  4. Timing. Have we been setting up and nurturing opportunities evenly, so that deals are spaced out regularly throughout the quarter in a way that you can hit sales linearity goals?
  5. Prioritization. Identify the key make-or-break deals for the current quarter so you can coach your reps to focus on the right opportunities — the low-hanging fruit. Get the entire team spending time on the right opportunities.

As you make the various sweeps of your pipeline, seek input from other go-to-market leaders outside of sales as well.

Questions to ask:

  1. Can we win?
  2. Is there enough coverage to hit the number?
  3. Do we have the right mix of higher-probability small and medium deals and lower-probability whales?
  4. Are we set up for next quarter?

Step 4: Develop a Plan to Execute Next Steps.

In the grand finale of the QBR, the best minds combine strategic and tactical thinking to answer the question, “How will we win?” At this point, you’ve already begun to answer that question in the previous step. The last part of the QBR focuses primarily on action steps for the next 90 days.

Review with your team the likely commits in the pipeline and devise a plan for turning commits into executed deals. In the final stage of the QBR, it’s also important to think more broadly about the sales process. Did the teams learn something new today that they might consider testing out?

Process drives consistency, and consistent action helps keep pipelines full. Reinforce the message that reps should constantly prioritize new business development alongside closing out existing deals (or deals that have slipped from the previous quarter). Work closely with your sales reps to make certain they have a business plan as “CEO” of their territories, and have a plan to stay accountable to the sales process and methodology they have committed to delivering.

This is the time to emphasize the importance of methodology and sales process rigor in the upcoming quarter. Set specific goals — whether that means assigning training as homework, shortening the sales cycle, making 40 calls per week for the next 90 days, or developing an email sequence for new leads.

Your QBR time is limited, so be sure to prioritize carefully. While some organizations may benefit from hammering out specific tasks and deadlines for the next 90 days, others may prefer to schedule follow-up meetings in smaller groups for the tactical planning.

Questions to ask:

  1. How will we win?
  2. Are we set up for next quarter?
  3. How can we optimize results for next quarter?
  4. What company resources (e.g., training) can we use to help each rep succeed?
  5. What training do certain reps need? For example, do you need to implement a formal pipeline management training program?
  6. What sales metrics to include in the QBR

Sales Metrics to Include in Your QBR

To run your QBR most efficiently, focus on the metrics that are most critical.

Past

  • Attainment
  • Closed deals / win rate
  • Slipped deals
  • Lost deals that were in commit
  • Average sales cycle
  • Sales linearity

Present

  • Average sales cycle
  • Slipped deals
  • Engagement

Future

  • Pipeline coverage
  • Commit
  • Most Likely
  • Best-case pipeline

How Clari Transforms Sales QBRs

Your QBR is one of your key opportunities to catapult game-changing progress. But what makes it game-changing? It’s not the days leading up to in where teams spend hours assembling data and pulling together slides. It’s the action plans that result from the QBRs that are the most valuable. And that’s where Clari comes in.

Long gone are the days of preparing slide decks or roll-ups to prepare for QBRs. No longer do sales managers need to chase down reps to get accurate data. When you run your QBR from Clari, you get an accurate, updated overview of the critical sales metrics we mention in this guide.

It’s all there, accessible in real time, so you can also get tactical and identify the risky deals and also the ones you might be able to pull in to make the number. You can even see an AI-driven opportunity score for each deal, indicating the overall health of the deal and the likelihood of a successful outcome. And, because Clari automatically tracks activity — including emails, meetings, and files exchanged between reps and prospects — you don’t have to.

Yamini Rangan, former chief customer officer at Dropbox, described the company’s old way of preparing for QBRs and running the meetings:

Initially, we used to put a 5- to 10-page slide deck together for each monthly pipeline review, which demonstrated top deals, forecasted deals, and probability of deals closing. But after 2 months of having Clari, we unplugged that PowerPoint and now we use Clari in real time to drive the QBR conversation, which has made a huge impact across the sales organization in terms of predictability and time savings. Today, we are at the point where our sales management runs all their forecasting calls and QBRs in Clari.

Interested in running your QBR in Clari? Here's an overview of how to run your QBR in Clari. And for more information, schedule a demo and we’ll walk you through our Revenue Operations platform.

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