The Necessary Guide to Quarterly Business Reviews

The following guide is written by Matt Lally, who is a Sr. Paid Marketing Account Manager at Growth Pilots. It is based on his experience preparing and presenting Quarterly Business Reviews for digital marketing clients. As a companion to this guide, we’ve also created a free Quarterly Business Review PowerPoint presentation template. 

I’ve just finished conducting my 17th Quarterly Business Review (QBR) in the past 2 years and felt this was a relevant time to recap on the do’s and don’ts that my team and I have learned along the way.

For those unacquainted, Growth Pilots is a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid acquisition for high-growth technology startups. As an Account Manager, I am the steward of millions of dollars in marketing budget for my clients.

This guide distills my personal lessons learned and will teach you the best practices for ideating, preparing, and presenting your Quarterly Business Review to company executives and other stakeholders. 

What is a Quarterly Business Review?

Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs), sometimes called Executive Business Reviews (EBRs), are a once-per-quarter meeting with your client’s executive team and other stakeholders to discuss strategic initiatives, macro-level trends, and return on investment (ROI) of their marketing dollars. This is best delivered as an on-site presentation where your teams can meet face-to-face to discuss these three essential questions:

  1. What did we learn this quarter?
  2. What did we accomplish this quarter?
  3. What are we going to accomplish next quarter?

Just like professional basketball, in the world of performance marketing, you’re only as good as your last quarter. You should approach and prepare for these quarterly meetings as if you were presenting to the CEO of your client company, because you might be doing just that!

These critical quarterly meetings help foster the relationship and ongoing partnership between your company and your client. A QBR is also an opportunity to get recognition and visibility for your hard work, results, and strategic vision over the entire quarter. There are a lot of moving parts and different angles to consider when preparing a QBR presentation. This guide will help you think through the various elements of a QBR to ensure that you are set up for success. Let’s get started.

The QBR Ideation & Brainstorm Process

If you’re in the digital marketing industry, you know that a lot happens over the course of three months. If you’re on the agency side specifically, you will be heads-down building, optimizing, and scaling the various paid marketing platforms (Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Apple Search Ads, et al) for your clients on a daily basis. You may be having weekly calls with your client to review performance, current tests, upcoming initiatives, and troubleshoot challenges that arise.

In between this work you may have a mix of internal meetings, partner meetings, attending conferences, and conducting deep industry research. Needless to say, when you finally pick your head up from 90 days of intense work, it may be difficult to see the big picture.

The first step in the Quarterly Business Review is to take a step back, breathe, and make a plan. Start by outlining each step of the process that needs to occur prior to your presentation.

Throughout this process you should be thinking about who the audience of your QBR presentation will be.  It’s critical to understand each hierarchical position within your client’s company, how to structure your presentation for them, and how to prepare answers to their questions beforehand. For instance:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO) / Company President: High-level, macro view of their industry and business. Their focus may be on outside-the-box growth ideas, P&L (profit & loss) scenario analysis, or a focus on what competitors are doing that their business is not.
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) / Vice President (VP) of Marketing: Creates the yearly marketing plan that your monthly budget is set from. They have a high level focus on all of their marketing partners and channels, but will know your top line numbers prior to your presentation. They will be interested in overall learnings from your testing data and big upcoming initiatives and strategy.
  • Director of Marketing / Marketing Manager: Your day-to-day client contact. They are helping set strategy, allocating additional budget between the channels, and in the weeds with you on a daily or weekly basis. Your goal will be to align the focus of your QBR presentation with the discussions you’ve had throughout the quarter, as well as understanding what initiatives your contact has been prioritizing internally over the quarter. 

During this brainstorm process, you should be asking yourself how well you know their business. Think outside the scope of your particular vertical and give thought to the goals of their entire business, each business unit, overall product roadmap, funding news, and competitive industry trends.

You should take advantage of the time with senior executives during the QBR presentation to ask questions about these topics.

The QBR Data Preparation Process

You know your client’s account better than anyone else. Your goal in a Quarterly Business Review presentation should be to provide accurate and transparent data.  Just like the brainstorm phase, your first objective in the data preparation process should be to build a comprehensive list of slides that you’ll be presenting. 

Given the breadth of data and the ability to segment by many subsets of data, having a list of all of the necessary slides will keep you focused the tasks remaining and keep you accountable to your timeline. You should find yourself adding and removing slides in your outline as necessary and communicating with your team on the presentation flow. Included below is a snapshot of the first 20 slides in my recent QBR:

In the performance marketing world, QBRs usually require aggregating platform data and merging it with internal client data and industry data, which is always time consuming and laborious no matter how streamlined your system is. However, after presenting more than a dozen QBRs, I firmly believe that the success of a QBR presentation can be directly attributed to the meticulous and diligent processes during this data phase so it’s important not to skimp.

You should become very familiar with the relevant data. The work you put into analyzing the data forces you to understand and be an expert on every number in your client’s account. It prepares you for the presentation stage.

Additionally, it’s extremely important to be transparent. It is okay to have initiatives that are underperforming. Don’t attempt to hide poor performing initiatives.  The QBR is the platform to have strategic discussions about underperformance and to take accountability for objectives that were missed – not to hide or obstruct transparency in your data. 

The QBR Presentation

The title of this section says it is about presenting, but in actuality it is about telling a story. In the QBR, your end goal is to tell the story of the past quarter.

Through both the brainstorm and data preparation phases, you’ve been forcing yourself to answer what is important: you’ve developed your internal timeline & plan, outlined every slide to aggregate data and present on, and imputed what matters to each client participant. So how do you tie it all together and develop the story?

Given the amount of data we have at our fingertips as online marketers, the story lies somewhere within your data and everything that has happened during the quarter. 

There is no one-size-fits-all story when it comes to a QBR. A great starting point is to have your director or manager review the completed presentation and poke holes in each slide.

Generally, our internal QBR slides usually have one part data (in a table or graph form) and one part takeaway (as a highlight or lowlight). With the takeaways you can drill down into the “why?” or the “so what?” and continue to iterate until you’ve arrived at the underlying insights. 

Once you’ve determined what the ‘story’ is, you should ensure that your team knows what role they will play in the presentation. 

We have two teams: Paid Search and Paid Social. Each team brings a Director, Account Manager, and Analyst to the QBR.  As an Account Manager, you are presumably an expert in everything about your client which means you should be leading the vast majority of the discussions. Your Director should fill in the high level business considerations and your Analyst should be taking copious amounts of notes to recap after the meeting as well as chiming in where relevant/requested.

Don’t over complicate the presentation. You’ve gone to great lengths to prepare an amazing presentation and because you’ve waded through dozens of pivot tables, you have each datapoint buzzing around your head. You are over prepared and that should calm your nerves.

Now it’s showtime. I like to begin the actual presentation by recapping the high-level story from the last QBR to set the stage. This should last no longer than a minute or two.

From that point forward, walk through each slide in the presentation as you tell your cohesive story. Confidence is key here and your expertise and preparation should give you that confidence. Allow your audience the time to digest each slide and talking point. Expect lots of questions throughout your presentation. A great QBR presentation balances the prepared narrative with the questions and discussion that is prompted by the presentation. Just be sure to keep things on track as these discussions can derail your presentation flow and timing if you don’t manage them properly.

While your performance data is table stakes  (remember: you’re only as good as your last quarter), your audience will likely care most about what you’re planning and committing to accomplish next. This may mean course-correcting poor performance or it could mean making performance even better in the next quarter. What is your plan to do that?

There are a few strategies for discussing future initiatives during your QBR.

The first strategy is to list out all the initiatives that you’ve discussed throughout the quarter. Then you can look at your previous QBR decks and add in past initiatives that were not accomplished. This will get you a quick, but dry list of ideas that may move the needle for your client.

A better and more thorough strategy is creating a list of the most impactful forward-looking ideas and strategies for your client, utilizing your industry expertise (internal teams, partner teams, other clients). Think in the context of your client’s business, technological ability, season and sector. Rank these ideas in order of impact.

Realize that your time to discuss each idea here should be limited by the size of the opportunity. You should front-load the biggest opportunities for their business so that you have the most time to discuss these ideas during the QBR.

These are the discussions where you can learn more about your client’s other business units, their strategies and internal challenges. You will get to bounce ideas off of senior level executives and have a thoughtful strategic back-and-forth. In my experience, you come out of these meetings with about 1-3 big ideas and 3-5 small ideas. It is your job to then go and execute on them for the following quarter.

Tips to Avoid QBR Failure

Since we’ve discussed all the ways to ensure you have a successful QBR, here are also a few tips to avoid QBR failure:

  • Don’t use the QBR as a meeting to troubleshoot minor issues or challenges. The audience for QBRs will vary and will often include executives and other stakeholders who don’t have context like your day-to-day contact will. These types of conversations should be handled in your normal communication cadence. 
  • Avoid extensive discussion on negative topics and do not put a negative spotlight on your day-to-day contact. Have honest and open discussions with your client about what the challenges are in their business, but don’t dwell.
  • Don’t blame anyone on your team for underperformance or mistakes. As the person responsible for results and progress, you should take responsibility for anything that went wrong and share all the credit with your team for the things that went right.
  • Similarly, don’t blame your client point of contact for anything. Your client point of contact will likely be joined by his or her superiors and you don’t want to throw them under the bus. Any gripes or blockers that you have as a result of your point of contact should be dealt with directly with them, in a more appropriate forum. This will allow you to establish a stronger partnership that’s cooperative.

Final Thoughts and QBR Presentation Template

This guide reflects my personal recommendations for preparing and delivering a best-in-class QBR for digital marketing agency teams. A Quarterly Business Review is an opportunity to showcase your team’s hard work and strategic thinking to the various stakeholders from your client’s organization. It’s a great forum to build stronger relationships, team collaboration, and cap off a quarter of immense effort. I hope you found this guide helpful. 

Don’t forget to download our accompanying QBR PowerPoint presentation template.