I’m not sure anyone looks forward to the Sales Management Review (sometimes these are called QBR’s, but there are other reviews). It’s unfortunate, because there’s a huge amount of value in the review process–both for sales people and managers.
There are lots of problems with the way we conduct these, which create the anxiety, and the often valid assessment they are a waste of time. They include:
- Poorly defined objectives/outcomes.
- Mixed confusing objectives.
- Absence of preparation on everyone’s parts.
- No agenda, wandering aimlessness.
- Mixing meetings—the objectives of pipeline reviews, deal reviews, sales call reviews, account territory reviews are different, but we mix them in the flow of the meeting–destroying the purpose.
- No or poor coaching. No value to the sales person.
- The information sharing could have been done in another format, not requiring a meeting.
- No learning or development.
- Frequency/timing of reviews borders on micromanagement. Cadence is wrong for the review type/business. Alternatively, the timing between reviews is so long, the value is diminished.
In this post, I want to focus on the last point — the cadence for the management review process. In my experience, managers tend to get the cadence for the different kinds of reviews wrong–forecast/pipeline reviews are held too frequently, there are too few deal or call reviews.
Before going forward, let me step back on the review process. There are a number of Sales Management Reviews that are critical for understanding what’s happening in a person/team’s area and for coaching and developing each sales person. The most common are forecast/pipeline, opportunity/deal, call (though held way to infrequently), account and territory reviews. Each has a different objective, so to maximize the impact of the review (from a business management and coaching point of view), we need to make sure we “separate” these in the review process, focusing exclusively on each one. While we may review several of these in one meeting, each needs to be distinct.
Sales people spend their days/weeks focused on opportunities and sales calls. These are the most critical reviews a manager can have. The objective of the deal review is to make sure the sales person has the strongest deal strategy in place. In coaching the deal, the manager wants to help maximize the sales person’s ability to win, reduce the sales cycle, and improve the transaction value/margin. The sales process is the cornerstone to the deal review, since it helps understand where we are in the deal and the critical next steps. Managers should coach each sales person on at least one deal each week. It shouldn’t be the same deal every week. Also, there’s a tendency to focus on deals in the closing stage of the sales process–there’s little leverage or chance to improve the win rates at this stage. Managers should look at deals in various stages of the sales process. If both the manager and sales person are well prepared, good deal reviews can be conducted in 20-30 minutes.
Sales calls are the way sales people execute the deal strategies. Sales managers can help both in the front end–planning the sales call, and in the back end, debriefing and coaching based on the results of the call. Managers should be coaching each sales person on at least one call a week. Again, if the sales person and manager are prepared, a good review can be conducted in no more than 20 minutes. A way to maximize the continuity of the deal/call review process is after the deal review, spend time coaching the next most important call identified in the deal review.
By changing up both deals and calls that are coached on a week to week basis, the manager gets a wider view of a sales person’s activities and how effectively they are developing and executing their deal and call strategies.
Sales managers obsess on pipeline/forecast reviews. They continually focus on “are we going to make the number?” It’s important to know this, but scheduling these too frequently is a waste of everyone’s time.
To take an extreme case, a number of years ago, the top management of one of my clients insisted on daily forecast/pipeline reviews in the last quarter of their fiscal year. My client, ran the B2B business segments of this very large corporation. The corporation was a large company, well known in the Consumer Electronics space. The top management of the corporation had a consumer electronics mind-set–knowing sales and inventories of TV’s on a daily basis in November and December was important and made sense. But in the B2B segment of this company’s business, the sales cycles varied from 9 months to just over 2 years. Daily pipeline/forecast reviews were absolutely senseless–nothing changed that quickly.
That’s an extreme case, but I see similar types of things in too many organizations. For example, weekly pipeline/forecast reviews. If you have a very long sales cycle, say 12 months of more, things aren’t going to change that much on a week to week basis. Doing the review weekly is a waste of everyone’s time. Most of the time, is spent with minor updates to what was said the previous week.
The right cadence for forecast/pipeline reviews is really driven by the average sales cycle. The shorter the sales cycle, greater frequency is OK. For example, if you have a 30 day sales cycle, weekly reviews are very appropriate. If you have a very long sales cycle, schedule a pipeline/forecast review more frequently than once a month is probably a waste of time.
Then when we look at the forecast/pipeline review process, we spend entirely too much time in these meetings. I see some that last for hours, usually it’s because there’s no integrity in the pipeline, so we have to spend review time cleaning it up, so that we have an accurate picture. Alternatively, most pipeline reviews actually become deal reviews–you know how it goes, we start talking about the pipeline than quickly it focuses on a deal and we never go back to the pipeline review.
Remember the objectives of the pipeline review are: Validate the integrity of the pipeline, assure that we have a healthy funnel (i.e. we are pursuing enough deals to make our number), and assess flow/velocity through the pipeline. Most any CRM system, if used/updated provides huge insight into the pipeline before we ever enter the review. If we are doing things right, the typical forecast/pipeline review should be about 20, possibly 30 minutes. And most of that time is probably spent on which deals we are committing to the forecast.
The review process is a key tool for managers and sales people–if used properly. It’s a way for managers to get a snapshot of what’s happening, so they can make sure the business is in control, and it’s an opportunity to coach and develop sales people. Done properly, it’s a powerful use of time.
Martin Schmalenbach says
Always a timely reminder… thanks Dave!
Having a funnel review once a month makes a lot of sense to me, even if the sales cycle (for me, client decision-making cycle!) is 9 months to 3 years or more.
Because no one deal may change much in the space of a month, as you suggest. But the HEALTH of your funnel just might… Forecasting the health of your funnel, and acting in order to ensure the healthiest of funnels at all times, seems to me to be the best focus on what you can directly affect overall… This way you can switch limited resources from opportunities that have slowed up some, to those that are now moving ahead a little quicker…
David Brock says
Martin, it’s always great seeing you comment. I couldn’t agree more, even for very long cycle decision making processes, I would make sure I did pipeline reviews monthly, for exactly the reasons you cite. But, too often, I see organizations do them far more frequently (daily as in the case of the example cited in the post), where there is no change from day to day. In fact the daily focus actually is deceptive, because you don’t see the big shifts you might see on a monthly basis.
Thanks for the great comment. Hope all is going well!
Jerry W. Leonard says
David, thanks for your comprehensive article. I can clearly see where QBRs can go off the rail. We have a very good QBR process that involves management from each functional area. They are very interactive with good feedback from all. Takes about an hour a quarter for the meeting.
I completely agree that the forecast and pipeline review calls are valuable but need to be timed according to the length of the sales cycle. Having been a VP of Sales and now an individual contributor, this have given me a look from both sides. Calls held too frequently diminish their value because nothing has changed.
David Brock says
Jerry, thanks for the comment. It’s amazing how seeing things from both sides clarifies a lot of stuff!