“Surprise! We Rock!”: The Distorted Reality of Supplier-Led QBRs

Spend Matters welcomes a guest post from Edward Jackson of Provade.

It’s that time again – time for the Quarterly Business Review (a.k.a., the QBR). On the surface, the name of this meeting implies a “governance review” by customers with their key vendors. The session covers the program in place, its performance, and what is working and what is not, and also drives forward-looking actions to make the overall program more effective. Sounds like quite the positive and productive event, right?

The reality is that the QBR is often – if not most of the time – a sales event for the vendor. First of all, most customers defer the work of the QBR to their suppliers, allowing them to compile all of the data and presentation materials. This allows the supplier to set the agenda and direct the interpretation of the data to create an overall subjective assessment of their performance. These presentations typically become numerous PowerPoint slides of data, data, and more data. Not surprisingly, the results typically indicate that suppliers are meeting or exceeding all of their service levels, especially after they toss out those pesky data anomalies to ensure that the data supports what the supplier knew even before they did their research: that they, the supplier, are awesome.

Of course, during the QBR the customer is going to question this projection of “awesomeness” and constant exceeding of service levels. But the customer is at a severe disadvantage due to the very premise of how the QBR is run. When the supplier has full control of the agenda and data, the customer is left to show up to the QBR with no supporting information of their own – no data or background on its collection and subsequent analysis. Therefore, the customers are at the supplier’s mercy as they try to anecdotally challenge the data or question its basis and results. At the end of the day, the supplier is left with the position of strength. They can simply state “the data is what the data is,” while the customer is flat-footed with no data to counter.

Does this formula sound familiar to you? How can we change the methodology? Well, to change up a quote from Dune (one of my favorite movies) – “He who controls the [data] controls the universe!” The customer can and should manage the data collection and analysis as well as the agenda for the QBR.

Now, I know your first reaction is, “But we, the customer, don’t have the small army that the supplier has. We can’t afford to put in weeks of work to compile and gather the data.” I would propose investing in a real-time data warehouse to drive the QBR data. Use this system of truth without vendor interpretation. Run the QBR by pulling live data from the warehouse, rather than Excel-massaged data put into PowerPoint summary graphs and tables. Put actual truth behind the claim “The data does not lie.” This is largely a one-time effort that enables the customer to really focus on reality – real-time data based on the system of truth.

This is the path to productive QBRs – unless you would prefer to continue going along with the supplier’s interpretation of their manipulated data and sit through quarterly meetings focused on just how awesome they are without any valid and credible way to counter. I think not.

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