• QBRs remain highly relevant in 2022 as essential, multidimensional tools in channel programs.
  • QBRs nurture partner relationships and maintain the health of those relationships for both providers and partners.
  • Providers and sales partners often view participation in QBRs as an indicator of the other party’s commitment to the partnership.
  • For providers managing new sales and distribution partner relationships, QBR participation is one of the leading indicators of future partner performance and ROI.
  • Goal setting, KPI review, and performance by both parties are essential components in well-run QBRs.
  • QBRs with distributors and agents alike can reveal the influence of external forces (e.g., competitors) on your channel partner base.
  • Qualitative and quantitative data are vital to successful channel partner QBRs.
  • PRM-driven data and engagement centralization can help companies focus more on partners and outcomes, and less on making apps and technology work.

7 Reasons Your Channel Partner Program Needs QBRs in 2022

Meetings suffer the scorn of many and lay at the heart of known productivity drains – but, in the channel, quarterly business reviews (QBRs) are a noteworthy exception. If anything, today’s decentralized way of doing business and recent pandemic-driven challenges to meeting with partners in person have increased the importance of QBRs for numerous channel programs. That’s because of all that can be packed into QBRs and what they reveal about partner relationships. In our ongoing series of interviews with leaders in the channel, the humble QBR has surfaced countless times in different contexts as an essential tool for channel program success.

With 2022’s marketing and channel plans unfolding, we took a deep dive into QBRs, including interviews with channel leaders on 2022 QBR trends, to help your program benefit from this essential tool.

What is a Quarterly Business Review (QBR)?

Quarterly business reviews (QBRs), as the term suggests, are reviews of business performance, often in the context of a business relationship, held every three months, or quarterly as the name implies. Traditionally, QBRs have been associated with client servicing or, more to the point, checking in with key customers to ensure that business objectives are met.

What is a Channel Partner QBR?

In the channel, QBRs are employed in relationships with sales and distribution partners, collectively known as “channel partners,” to set goals and ensure that partnerships are on track. However, since channel partner relationships are a complex, two-way street involving incentives, revenue generation, and support, the nature of those QBRs is more complex.

For channel-driven or channel-only companies, QBRs with channel partners are arguably more vital to a technology service provider’s success than are QBRs with customers. And given the unmatched ability for channel sales to drive massive revenue growth, they’re more important for businesses with an indirect sales channel.

Why the Best Channel Partner Programs Use QBRs

The best channel partner programs use QBRs to guide, level-set, and develop relationships with partners. Among the biggest ones, QBRs are used in the channel for the following reasons:

QBRs keep channel partner relationships warm

You grow what you nurture. All relationships require ongoing contact to thrive or perhaps even survive; business relationships are no different. In the channel, that goes for relationships with distributors and with customer-facing sales partners alike. QBRs, at the most basic level, help you develop and drive relationships.

QBR attendance is an early indicator of partner commitment

Partnerships with distributors and customer-facing partners take time to reach full stride. Since not all sales partners perform equally, it’s challenging for providers to navigate the potential chicken-and-egg paralysis of knowing which partnerships to invest in before a meaningful history of revenue generation has developed. Positive indicators might include matching an ideal partner profile (IPP) or completing training modules. Conversely, it’s a red flag for partners that don’t show up for – or actively participate in – the first QBR.

Channel partners may view QBRs as an indicator of your commitment to the relationship

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If you view attendance at a QBR as an indicator of your partners’ commitment to the relationship, then it stands to reason that sales partners view it as a sign of yours. That’s particularly the case with partners that take their own operations most seriously.

For this reason, as well as the indicators on your side mentioned above, many channel executives view the first QBR as the most important contact point and an essential component of partner onboarding practices. That first check-in meeting can set the tone for the relationship and expectations of both parties going forward.

Beyond the first QBR, ongoing participation in QBRs can flag waning interest in the partnership, particularly when combined with a reduced quote and deal volume.

QBRs deliver feedback on your programs and team throughout channel partner lifecycles

In all relationships, key contact points are moments of truth. With customers, the first bill is the most important as they evaluate billing accuracy, expected expenditures or savings, and reflect on their experience in getting services up and running. Key customer QBRs are designed, in part, to identify any issues or factors that might cause customer dissatisfaction. And then ongoing QBRs make sure issues are uncovered and resolved.

Similarly, first QBRs with channel partners offer essential moments of truth. They’re evaluating how both they and their customers fared in your company’s hands as well. Once established, ongoing QBRs remain an important gauge of the health of your ongoing partnerships.

QBRs uncover external forces that impact your partnerships

While channel partner QBRs focus on the relationship between the two partners, they also can uncover the impact of external forces, including your competitors. If a competitor is upping the ante – delivering programmatic benefits or offering an irrational SPIFF to woo partners in the near term – you’ll likely uncover it in a QBR. Digging a little deeper and you might find distributor-only overrides that are driving deals to competitors.

Sales partners get essential feedback on performance from QBRs

Partnership is a two-way street. When you’ve invested in a sales partner and set relationship goals, it’s essential to review the expectations against outcomes. This, more than anything, sets channel partner QBRs apart from traditional, customer-focused QBRs. In sales partner relationships, revenue flows in both directions, and so does accountability.

Channel partner QBRs can deliver quantitative as well as qualitative feedback

QBRs, by their very nature, facilitate qualitative feedback—especially early in relationships with sales partners and distributors. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be anchored in quantitative information.

Early in a partnership, important KPIs to either review or guide conversations include items like:

  • Logins to the partner portal
  • Downloads of sales materials
  • Interactions via email or messages with your team
  • Participation in training
  • Quotes and requests for sales support
  • Deals in the pipeline

Common ongoing QBR metrics for review include all the above, plus:

  • Deals closed
  • Quote velocity
  • Total MRR
  • Performance with provider-supplied leads
  • Leaderboard positions and other incentives aimed at revenue generation

Seven 2022 QBR Tips and Trends in the Channel

We interviewed five channel leaders for insight on where channel program QBRs are headed in 2022. They include:

Overall, they predicted the following QBR trends for this year:

  1. Channel Partner QBRs are more relevant than ever
  2. Channel Partner QBRs are the rule, but with exceptions
  3. Channel Partner QBRs pay off with all stakeholders present
  4. Channel Partner QBRs are investments in partners most likely to succeed
  5. Metrics matter in channel partner QBRs
  6. PRM enables data-driven channel partner QBRs
  7. Channel partner QBRs are essential to the overall partner experience

Channel Partner QBRs are more relevant than ever

The ability of QBRs to facilitate organizational and outcome alignment between providers and partners remains highly relevant across the channel. QBRs allow both entities in the partnership “to keep aligned on the annual targets set and have a 360- degree view of the partnership’s performance,” notes Christian Alvarez from Nutanix.

Christian Alvarez Nutanix QBRs

Global Touch’s Denise Sangster agrees. “Lack of alignment between the IT company and partners is a chronic problem in the IT industry,” she says. “Few IT companies appreciate their priorities are not necessarily aligned with partner priorities and mutual customers’ priorities. A quarterly QBR should be focused first on understanding each other’s priorities and then move into the execution, investments and goals.”

With providers introducing next-generation solutions, QBRs also serve as a progress report to identify and resolve partners’ gaps in technical understanding or go-to-market approach.

“QBRs are an extremely important exercise with a partner that highlights the success but also where there needs to be improvement,” said Jenne’s Shawn Berry. “This is especially important when trying to help a partner evolve into newer, more advanced technology solutions.”

Channel Partner QBRs are the rule, but with exceptions

Despite their well-established value, our experts observe that while the overall trend is an increase in QBRs, some vendors are letting them slide.

“[QBR usage] has to increase because we are all evolving in this industry,” says Jenne’s Berry. “On my end, it’s very important to watch trends and areas we can help partners with specialized dedicated support to help them grow their cloud practices with their individual clients.”

Shawn Berry Jenne QBRs

Nutanix’s Alvarez also sees them increasing “to assure [both organizations] that we are focusing in the right areas with our managed and emerging partners.”

Despite the clear benefits of QBRs, Sangster from Global Touch sees them decreasing among providers going through the motions. “I see [QBRs] decreasing because the channel is managed the way it has been managed for the last 15 years,” she says. “Time for a big wake-up call!”

Channel Partner QBRs pay off with all stakeholders present

Doing QBRs right starts with who’s in attendance. “It’s important that all stakeholders invest the time and are able to be involved,” says Jenne’s Berry, noting that including the sales teams as well as executives is key.

Zift’s Heather Tenuto agrees. “Any time you get internal and external sales teams together to exchange information about what they need to be more successful, you can drive revenue increases. When we’re talking channel relationships, that’s often focused on co-selling or sales engineering. But an open exchange of that kind of information makes each sales unit better just through the osmosis of knowledge exchange.”

Heather Tenuto Zift Solutions QBRs

Khali Henderson from BuzzTheory also sees QBRs as providing opportunities for revenue generation that may not be immediately obvious in the meeting itself. “We’ve entered an era when most buyers research solutions they’re considering online fully independent from the sales reps calling on them,” she says. “Takeaways from QBRs – especially in aggregate – can help to inform both to-channel and through-channel marketing communications activities in ways that can significantly boost conversions.”

Channel Partner QBRs are investments in partners most likely to succeed

In theory, providers should meet with every partner, but that’s not always practical. Providers with large volumes of partners may need to prioritize scheduling and staffing QBRs. Choosing partners to invest time into will depend on where you see your growth trajectory and which partners can get you there.

Global Touch’s Sangster recommends using an old-school rule of thumb for established partners. “QBRs must be a requirement of each partnership or at least the top-tier partners,” she says. “The 80/20 rule can also apply or prioritize QBRs with the 20 percent of partners that deliver the bulk of the revenue.”

Denise Sangster Global Touch QBRs

That said, Sangster says providers should also nurture relationships with partners most likely to deliver revenue in the future. “You also have to include the up-and-coming transformational partners that might be delivering the bulk of your next-generation revenues,” she adds.

Metrics matter in channel partner QBRs

Zift’s Tenuto emphasizes the importance of metrics in QBRs. “You need reliable metrics for performance reviews on both fronts,” she says. “They can be enormously motivational for everyone involved.”

Along this same vein, Sangster from Global Touch says that the process of developing and refining QBRs can reveal misalignments between providers and partners. When working with clients, she looks at historic QBRs and current plans, including investments, incentives, sales goals, etc. “We generally find a massive disconnect,” she says,

PRM enables data-driven channel partner QBRs

“Application and data sprawl are huge issues for sales and marketing teams,” says Zift’s Tenuto. “Flexible PRMs that – either natively or through integration – provide enablement and analytics are helping firms deliver better, data-driven QBRs.”

BuzzTheory’s Henderson agrees, noting that the ability to centralize partner engagement and analytics also helps channel content teams deliver a better partner experience across the board. “The less your team is thinking about how to work this tool or that tool, and the more they’re focused on messaging, outcomes, testing and refinement, the more successful your programs will be for you and your partners. QBR reviews are a natural part of that experience.”

Khali Henderson BuzzTheory QBRs

Channel partner QBRs are essential to the overall partner experience

QBRs with clear agendas drive conversations productively and positively and lead to more transparency, closer working relationships and crystal-clear goals. There’s plenty of room for improvement across the channel on all these fronts.

“The lack of disruptive innovation applied in the QBRs continues to leave IT company executives frustrated with partners and partners wishing IT companies would learn how to really work well with partners, as most IT companies don’t do it well,” says Sangster of Global Touch.

Henderson of BuzzTheory expressed similar sentiments, noting that “there’s always room for improvement. That goes for nearly any complex business process but is especially poignant when managing partner relationships. But just as customer experience is the competitive battlefront at the retail level, partner experience is where companies are pursuing competitive advantage in the channel. QBRs are an essential part of that equation.”