I remember back at the beginning of my career when I worked marketing in-house at a local business. We had an agency that ran our PPC campaigns back when the only automated bidding available was through a third party. That agency did its due diligence in presenting monthly reports and quarterly reviews to our team, and I remember how pointless those meetings seemed to me then.
Looking back now, those meetings were filled with thoughtfully segmented data, top revenue-driving keywords, and plans to improve low-performers. And yet I never walked away from those meetings excited or inspired. I felt like I was there to hear data, much of which went right over my head. At no point was I compelled to ask questions, weigh in with insights, or challenge our agency contacts’ plans and assumptions.
It’s only now, over ten years later, that I realize what was actually happening; this agency was very good at explaining the what and the how. What they were missing was the so what and the why does this matter.
Don’t be scared to have an opinion
I see this across the board, not only in marketing, and I understand there are many perfectly valid reasons for it.
- Stating facts is much safer than stating your opinion. Keeping your slides objective is more comfortable than making a subjective interpretation that’s open to disagreement.
- Answering the “why does this matter” question takes time and deliberation.
- Answering the “so what” question requires thoughtful planning ahead.
Whatever the reason, I witness people across verticals hold back the “so what” during some critical times. And that’s a dangerous game to play if you have best interests at heart.
Business reviews offer account managers a unique opportunity to have candid conversations about progress to date and the plan ahead. And business reviews shouldn’t stop there. They should be about why we did or did not make that progress, what that means for the client’s overall success, and they should help everyone understand the reasons it all matters. So how do you ensure that your annual, monthly, or quarterly business review accomplishes these goals? How can you make sure you’re answering the “so what?” in your presentations?
How to answer the “so what?” and “why does this matter?”
1. Include an Executive Summary
The executive summary is the corporate version of the TL;DR, which stands for “too long; didn’t read.” It’s the big picture, the long story short, the essence of your review. Your executive summary should distill your entire deck or presentation into one key takeaway slide or paragraph. It should function independently from the rest of your document, and if you do it right, it should persuade your audience to pay attention to the rest of your presentation.
The executive summary is a crucial component of any business plan or project proposal; even scientific papers have abstracts that help summarize the key facts. They’re mainstays because they satisfy three important needs:
- they introduce your main point
- they highlight only the most important facts and figures
- they tell your audience why your plan matters
You want the executive summary to identify the lens with which your audience should view your material. Should your audience go into the presentation expecting amazing progress? Should they prepare themselves for bad news? Is it a mixed bag that you’re about to sort through?
I always introduce my executive summary slides with, “if you don’t remember anything else that happens over the next ninety minutes, I want you to remember this slide here.” When writing an executive summary, that should be the bar with which you measure the content.
What is important for them to know if your audience takes away nothing else from your QBR? What are the one, two, or three things you want them to remember? That’s what needs to be in your executive summary.
2. Be Ruthless and Move Data to the Appendix
You don’t need to feature all your data in your business review. Unless you have only one client contact who has asked for data exports and reports throughout your engagement, and no one else is present in your QBR meeting, there’s a good chance that there are some unfamiliar faces on your call. QBRs tend to attract executives, directors, and managers you haven’t spoken to before. Unless there’s an obvious takeaway from a table or chart, those higher-ups probably don’t want to see it.
Any time you want to feature data through a graph or a table, ask yourself, “what is this trying to say?” No one wants to see a bar graph demonstrating a correlation that doesn’t matter. If a chart doesn’t directly support your main point of the slide, but you still want to include it, simply don’t feature it. Enter the appendix, the wonderfully helpful depository of extra “stuff” that lives at the end of your materials. It contains all the information and data that corroborates your points but maybe doesn’t stand well enough on its own.
Don’t be afraid to link to the appendix in your main presentation. A simple, hyperlinked reference at the bottom of your slide or in the footer of your document can indicate to your audience that there’s more information available if they’re interested. It also works to remind people that you want to keep the business review high-level, as it should be.
Data that can be distracting and lead you or the client down rabbit holes is the perfect example of data that should live in the appendix. If you anticipate questions about a graph that you don’t believe are a valuable use of QBR time, push that graph to the end and let everyone know it’s available for their review after the presentation is over.
3. Use Subjective Language
In our non-confrontational world, where we’re discouraged from rocking boats and stirring things up, we sometimes struggle to enunciate our points clearly. Some of this comes down to good ol’ public speaking skills, but even the best speakers can shy away from making strong, declarative statements that convey their subjective opinion. And business reviews are the perfect opportunity to give your personal opinion about the data, the progress, and the goals.
The “so what?” is rarely just a next step or an action plan. To be effective, it also needs to include the framing, such as “these are great results, and we’re really happy with them.” That’s a subjective opinion that you need to share with your audience. Especially if you have higher-ups or C-suite executives in your meeting, you need to be helping them interpret the information by providing those qualifiers.
Is a two-point increase good? Was it much more than you thought you were going to get? Is this metric increasing actually a bad thing? Does the fact that this KPI stayed constant during an experiment mean that the test was a rousing success?
We cannot merely present information and next steps without giving our audience some indication about how they should feel about it. A genuinely great presentation touches on all components of the rhetorical triangle:
- Logos – the appeal to logic
- Ethos – the appeal to character
- Pathos – the appeal to emotion
Emotion and pathos do double duty by humanizing your presentation and giving your audience the cue for how they should respond. When you leave out emotionally loaded language, like subjective qualifiers, you ignore the essential component that helps you prevent your presentation from feeling flat and lifeless. Using subjective language, you guide your audience to the appropriate emotional state you want and/or feel.
Wrapping It Up
I’m used to QBR announcements eliciting groans from my teams and clients. They’re a lot of work and take a lot of brain power from both sides. It’s important to help your teams focus that brain power on the right things: the things that matter to your client and the things that matter to you as the account manager.
It can be tempting to use the business review as an information dump but resist the urge. After completing your draft, write up an executive summary showcasing what’s important. Push for the use of an appendix, where secondary information and data can live. And encourage your team and yourself to use subjective language in your delivery. With these three tips, you’re one step closer to creating business reviews that not only matter but that people actually want to attend.