Product Qualified Leads is a Team Sport

The evolution of SaaS means it’s out with the old way to sell software and in with a new “try-before-you-buy” business model. The same goes for how we qualify leads. No longer is the number of times someone visited a website or attended a webinar an adequate measure of a their likelihood to convert to a paid account. 

Nowadays, the most accurate indication of an account’s likelihood to convert is their success with the product. This is why qualifying any lead needs to be based on how successful they are with a product before starting to pay for it. 

Want a way to figure out how likely a lead is to close? Try Sherlock.

This is why every SaaS operation needs a process for defining and engaging Product Qualified Leads (PQLs). (Good news! We’ve got an ebook for setting that up). 

We have spent a great deal of time talking about Product Qualified Leads and that PQL process, but up to this point we have mostly addressed PQLs in the context of your Sales team, which makes sense. Product Qualified Leads are essentially today’s version of SQLs. These are leads that are ready for sales attention. Which is why we have focused on the Sales team to date. 

But the reality is that the Product Led Growth model — and therefore an effective Product Qualified Lead process — calls for cross-functional effort and coordination. It is cliche to say that something in your business is a “team effort”, but in the case of a building and managing a PQL process, this is a legitimate claim. 

But don’t run away form this fact — embrace it. Embrace the fact that a modern SaaS business can no longer operate effectively in traditional silos. We can no longer hide behind individual metrics and toss customers over our proverbial fences. The early customer experience, and the journey from TRY to BUY is defined by the efforts of several teams. 

In this post, we will focus on the teams involved in building a solid PQL process and their respective roles in that process.

Which teams need to be involved in your Product Qualified Lead process? 

What do we mean when we say “cross-functional”? Who is on your PQL squad? At the very least, it should be this crew:

  • Product
  • Marketing/Growth
  • Sales/Revenue Ops (if you have them)
  • Sales
  • Customer Success

I know what you’re thinking. Whoa! That’s a lot of people involved in one process! 

Don’t worry. While each of these teams play a pivotal role in the process, their contributions fit perfectly within the scope of their regular work. Let’s take a deeper look into the role each team will play:

Product Team: The Gatekeepers

Obviously your product — and as a result, your Product team — is central to a PQL process. I mean, we’re talking about Product Qualified Leads here. These are leads that are qualified based on their engagement with the product. This means your Product team has a central role for two reasons.  

First and foremost, the Product team is charged with building a product that, well, has value. But as it relates to PQLs, they also need to design and orchestrate a product experience that enables new signups to find their way to some level of value before requiring human support.  This means good UX, in-product messaging, on-boarding flows, education, etc. This is the Product team’s most important contribution to your PQL process. 

However, that’s not their ONLY contribution. Any PQL process is dependent on product engagement data. This data is required to build and define PQLs for your business. You need to know:

  • how much each account is engaging with the product;
  • how far they have gotten toward Activation;  
  • how many users are engaged (and which ones);
  • what features they have (and haven’t) used;

And your Product team owns this data. That means they play an essential role in facilitating that the right product data it tracked, transformed into a usable format, and delivered to your team when and where they need it. While many Product teams won’t see this as part of their responsibility, it is. 

As you can see, this whole process hinges on the Product team. They are The Gatekeepers.

Marketing/Growth Team: The Architects 

When we say “marketing” here, we’re not talking about your typical, old-school lead-gen marketer. We’re talking about a more modern growth marketer that (a) can think and design for a complete customer experience; (b) is very comfortable getting her hands dirty with data; and (c) is adept at working in a cross-functional capacity. 

This person will likely become the architect of your PQL program. She will play a major role in supporting the product team to build that great initial customer experience — from in-app messages, sign-up flows, on-boarding emails, and beyond — with the goal of driving as many PQLs as possible. She will also play a critical role in crafting the conditions that will define PQLs for your business and in building a playbook for addressing them in a way that works for your specific situation.

In short, she will likely be the one that brings all the moving pieces together and makes this process a reality. 

Ready to give your teams everything they need to take users from trial to forever? Give Sherlock a try.

Sales/Revenue Ops: The Trafficker 

If you have a Sales Ops team, they will sit right in the middle of your PQL process. Their role here is no different than their role in any lead qualification process. They will play a critical role in insuring that the PQL metrics are delivered to the right place so that your sales team can take appropriate action — quickly! 

Sales Ops will ensure that your sales team spend less time digging for the right leads and more time interacting with qualified prospects. 

Sales: The Closers

Their role is pretty clear. Their job is to take these precious leads from PQL status to closed deal. Bring ‘em home! 

But they will also play an important role in defining – and refining – PQLs. Their feedback, from the frontlines, will help you understand if the way you are defining PQLs works effectively in their process and actually leads to more closed deals. 

Customer Success: The Caregivers

In a PLG model, CS teams can play an essential role — not just post-sale, but pre-sale as well. 

Yes, that’s right. In fact, in many cases, CS will play a more important role than a Sales team in converting accounts in a Product-led growth model. In a product-led growth model, prospects aren’t interested in being sold to. They are interested in getting value from a product. Your CS team specializes in making this happen and should be brought into the sales process as soon as possible. This function can have a huge impact on turning early users into PQLs. 

Looking for a run-down? We’ve got you covered

TeamArchetype Role in PQL process
Growth/MarketingThe Architects– Helping to design onboarding and early user experience with the product
– Defining PQLs for your organization
– Designing customer engagement process for trial or free accounts
ProductThe Gatekeepers– Designing and building early customer experience that enables users to self-serve to some level of value
– Generating and distributing key product data to enable a PQL process
Sales OpsThe Traffickers – Make sure that sales team is aware of PQLs where they need them  when they need them
SalesThe Closers– Help team define and refine the criteria for Product Qualified Leads
– Close. Those. Deals!
Customer SuccessThe Caregivers– Help new users get to value with the product – drive PQLs!

PQLs as a Unifying KPI

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One of the major benefits of building a PQL process is that in doing so, you are creating a truly collaborative KPI. There aren’t many metrics in a SaaS business that multiple departments can rally around. You always hear, “marketing owns this”, “sales owns this”, “customer success owns that.” The truth is that most KPIs live in departmental silos, driving more competition and in-fighting than cooperation. But Product Qualified Leads are a pure cross-department KPI. Everyone has a hand in driving Product Qualified Leads and can therefore can collaboratively rally around the metric.

  • For Marketing, high PQL counts mean that they are not only bringing in more leads but more of the right ones. Messaging, targeting, channels all working well, as well as the early user experience
  • For Product, strong PQL counts mean that new users are finding value in the Product AND are finding their way to value. For the first time, PQLs give Product a seat at the revenue table
  • For Sales, PQLs represent their lead list. They know that these accounts have already gotten some value from the product and have the highest likelihood of closing. A long list of PQLs is like Christmas for a SaaS sales person
  • For Customer Success, PQLs not only represent receptive potential customers, but because they are engaged with the product before even buying, they are much more likely of becoming long-term, successful customers

And, of course, PQLs will resonate right up to the board level because more PQLs mean more closed deals. More efficient sales. More top-line growth. More overall business value. Giddy-up! 

Sherlock & HubSpot: Better together (& more from Product)

A busy summer for the product team here at Sherlock! We’ve decided to hunker down, turn our backs on nice weather, and release a bunch of new features — ready for our customers as they return from vacation and get back to work. 

This batch of releases includes some nice new segmentation options, better ways to manage your scoring profiles, as well as more great ways to get your Sherlock data outside the Sherlock app with the release of a sweet new Chrome extension as well as our first HubSpot integration! 

Let’s have a closer look. 

The Sherlock Chrome Plugin

See account and user engagement info from anywhere in Chrome

As we watch Sherlock become an integral part of the workflows across multiple SaaS teams, we wanted to make it easier for those team members to access their Sherlock data without having to remember yet another password 🙂

(Seriously. It’s like we’re begging users not to use our product!)

With the release of this Chrome extension, Sherlock users can quickly find information about their users and accounts right from their browser.

No searching for tabs or passwords. Just click the extension and get the info you need. 

From any Chrome tab, you can:

  • search your Accounts and Users (great for quickly checking up on engagement)
  • look up all your Scoring Profiles
  • sort by Score and Activation Rates (a must-do for finding your PQLs)
  • view your Default and Custom Segments (like Ice Cold and Red Hot)

Ready to get started? Here’s how you set it up. Your teams are going to love it!

Want to see Sherlock in action? Click here.

Sherlock and HubSpot, just better together

Try the Beta now

You already use HubSpot as your CRM. Most excellent! Now you can use Sherlock’s singular engagement metrics to filter contacts and companies, trigger workflows and create segments. 

Sherlock adds a smart layer to HubSpot. Now all your customer-facing teams can see (and take action based on) how users are engaging with your product during their trial periods — and beyond. Have they hit first value? Has their engagement dropped since they converted?

For sales teams, finding PQLs has never been easier.

For CS teams – you don’t need to go find another CRM! Don’t go looking for a CS tool that is going to duplicate all the CRM functionality you have in HubSpot. All you need is Sherlock engagement data combined with the workflow and account management functionality HubSpot and you’re good to go! 

Here are a few ways Sherlock makes HubSpot smarter:

Create smarter workflows using Sherlock traits

With Sherlock, you can automate your outreach and task management based on user engagement. Has a user recently hit first value? Use Activation as a workflow property to automatically change their lifecycle stage. Has a user’s engagement dropped? Trigger a task so you don’t lose them to everyone’s least favorite 5-letter word — churn.

Trigger emails based on Sherlock traits

Much like workflows, you can also trigger emails based on a user’s engagement. Say you have a user who just adopted your brand new feature (congratulations, by the way). You can set up HubSpot and Sherlock to automatically send them an on-boarding email. Excellent! That leaves more time for your CS team to chase down those possible churn threats.

Report smarter with Sherlock metrics

SaaS revenue forecasting — it can be tricky. How likely is it that a deal will close? Often there is a gap between expectation and reality in answering this question. Fill that gap with product engagement insights, not your Account Rep’s“gut feelings.” With Sherlock’s smart layer on top of HubSpot’s renowned CRM, every Sales meeting goes from “I think” to “Here’s what we do”.

Bonus: Get HubSpot data in Sherlock

Not only can you get Sherlock data into HubSpot, but this connection will also allow you to bring HubSpot data into Sherlock where you can segment and drive custom alert. With this connection, bring in Company and Contact Owners as well as Lifecycle Stages from HubSpot.

In the Sherlock App

Segmentation by trait (or as we lovingly call it, “Segment Segmentation”)

See distributions of traits within your segments

Segmentation: it’s all the rage. And rightfully so. 

Many users have asked us for the ability to segment their different user/account groups by the traits that they send to Sherlock. We were happy to oblige. 

Within any Account/User segment, you can click on the Segmentation tab to see that segment broken down by the values of any particular trait.
Segment your product engagement data even further to find quick answers to questions like:

What percentage of my most engaged accounts are on enterprise plans? and How many of my hot trials have more than 200 employees?

That’s SaaS done right.

Set default profile from a Score Index Page

Our new score index page gives you a quick overview of all your scoring profiles and allows you to select one as the default. Customization, here we come.

No need to click, click, click to see basic information like weekly active accounts and average product engagement metrics. 

Want more details on a score profile? Just click on the one you’re interested in and it’ll take you to the dashboard you know and love.

Go from Sherlock to an Intercom or HubSpot profile

Moving between platforms has never been so easy. See a change in Activation on one of your users or accounts and want to reach out? No need to click 6 times to get to their Intercom or HubSpot profile. (You’ll still need to click once, but that’s just the way of the internet.)

Want to see Sherlock in action? Click here.

Activation vs. Engagement: What’s the difference?

If you spent a day at Sherlock, you’d hear us throwing these terms around as often as “coffee” and “SaaS” (very well, perhaps less than “coffee”). But what does Activation mean? What does Engagement mean? How are they related? What’s the difference?

Quite excellent questions!

Here’s our CEO, Derek Skaletsky, on the topic.


Let’s begin with Activation (Rate)

n. A static measurement of how far along a user or account is in their journey toward “first value” or the “aha” moment where they realize how great your product is.
n. An indicator of how far along someone is to becoming a product qualified lead

There are a few things a user would need to do to get set up in your product and get value out of it. These things vary based on the product. Let’s say you’re a modern SaaS company with a GSuite plugin for email collaboration. Your Activation steps might look like this:

The account journey from signup to Activation
The account journey from signup to Activation

Here’s an obvious fact that follows: Activation rate is just the percentage of steps completed. That means if an account or user has done 2 out of the 5 steps above, they are 20% Activated. 

They are 20% of the way to hitting first value with your product. Excellent!

Sherlock screenshot showing Activation rate
Account Activation is on the left in Sherlock

In Sherlock, you can see an account or user’s Activation rate in a few places. The full Activation checklist is on the left side of any account or user detail page, and the Activation rate is visible on any user or account overview (because it’s such an important metric!) Additionally, you can see Activation rates in other platforms you’ve integrated with Sherlock — Intercom, Slack, and Hubspot being among them.

Use Activation rate in Slack, Intercom, Hubspot
Sherlock integrates with Slack, Intercom and Hubspot

Setting up Activation in Sherlock is simplicity itself. Get started and never miss another Activated trial again

When to use Activation (Rate)

Activation Rate in the Customer Journey
The Customer Journey

Activation rate is quite important in the early phases of the user journey, especially if you have a freemium version or free trial. In that case Activation, occasionally combined with firmographic criteria, is the best indicator of when a trial account is ready for an interaction with your sales team. (It becomes even more important when you have a large number of trials and your Sales team needs ones to focus on.)

But that doesn’t mean that Activation is no longer important after the free trial is up. Post-sale, Activation gives your Customer Success team a way to measure how far along the account is in the on-boarding process and what steps each user needs to complete to be fully on-boarded onto the product.

Separate you paid and trial accounts so your different teams can use different Activation criteria

User vs. Account Activation

It’s been said (and will be said again): If you are a SaaS business, you operate at an account-level. 

  • Accounts sign-up
  • Accounts adopt
  • Accounts convert 
  • Accounts pay
  • Accounts expand
  • Accounts cancel

Curious, it seems there’s a trend here.

Sales teams have always known this. Just look at how any CRM is organized. Marketers know this. That’s why ABM has taken off in recent years. SaaS businesses sell to other businesses — your product is used by teams. You operate at the account-level. 

Why wouldn’t you track Activation the same way? You would track it the same way. But accounts are made of users.

Track activation at both the account and user levels
Sometimes users have different Activation criteria than accounts

There are some Activation criteria that the account needs to do. For example, adding a certain number of team members to the account. On the other hand, there are some Activation criteria that a single user needs to do to become Activated. Think actions like setting up a profile or creating an individualized template. To truly understand how far along an account is on the path to Activation, you need to understand both the account Activation and the Activation rate of the individual users on the account. 

Track both account and user activation with Sherlock

Now, Engagement Score

n. An over time measurement of how much a user or account is using your product

This is all about the events (or actions) a user or account can take in your product. As you are well aware (surely), there are several things that one might do in any given SaaS product. Some of these things are more important than others. Login, for example, is not that important. Sure, everyone does it, but how much value does someone get from logging in? 

An obvious fact, that — not a lot.

Creating a report, however, is more valuable. A user would certainly derive more value from creating a report than logging in. (This is, of course, assuming you have the sort of SaaS app where creating a report is part of the value.) There are events that are likely even more valuable than creating a report and similarly events that are less valuable than creating a report.

engagement scoring model pql
Some events are more important in your product than others, so why would you weight them all the same?

So to get a good sense of how engaged a user is with your product, you need to collect all the (at least somewhat) important events that one might do in your product and weight them accordingly. Then, you need to do some math to find the engagement score for both users and accounts.

Don’t want to do the math yourself? Weight your events in Sherlock and let us calculate your engagement

When to use Engagement Score

Yet another obvious fact — all the time! In all seriousness, there are several things an engagement score can tell you. 

  • It surfaces accounts that are at risk and ones that are ready for an up-sell. 
  • It shows you which users on an account are going to be internal champions for your brand. 
  • It gives you an indication of which accounts might be good to reach out to when it comes time to build out your social proof

But most importantly, and partly because it is over time, the engagement score offers singular insights into the overall health of your business. If it’s on a downward trend, it could indicate you need to make some changes. A graph with a positive slope means you’re doing something right!

engagement going up/down over time
Engagement is a good indicator of how your product is doing

At-a-Glance: Activation vs. Engagement

Activation RateEngagement Score
Static metric to determine how far a user/account has progressedOver time metric for assessing how much a user or account is using your product
Use it at the beginning of the customer journey – both pre and post-saleImportant to track across the entire customer lifecycle
Trends are essential for identifying risks and opportunities

Ready to start scoring? Give Sherlock a try.