Why Customer Success Playbooks fail in a product-led model and what to do about it

Why Customer Success Playbooks fail in a product-led model and what to do about it

I recently had a conversation with a top CS leader who was struggling to build and get their “Playbooks” to work.

I heard her struggles and they felt very familiar. My suggestion to her was — forget the playbooks. I knew she wasn’t going to get them to work because they just don’t fit the way a SaaS business works. They don’t fit the desired journey of a modern SaaS customer. She was obviously surprised at my take on this because the “Playbook” has been a pretty standard part of the Customer Success function for a long time. And I understand why.

Playbooks — when used in the context of a Sales or CS team — represent lists of “plays” (or actions) that a rep is required to apply against any new lead or customer. They are borne from the belief (hope?) that there is some consistent, linear set of steps that can be designed and followed to ensure success for every one your accounts.

I know this dream. I’ve held it. I’ve designed plenty of playbooks (on both the Sales and CS side) — all of them some flavor of this:

We use this type of playbook with the stated goals of:

  • Ensuring success for our customers (follow these steps and success is yours! follow them not and…well); and
  • Making things easier for our reps (just follow the playbook for each account and you’ll never have to think about anything!).

But let’s be honest — these playbooks are really just management hacks. We mostly use them to hold our reps accountable for working their accounts. This account is only on step two of the playbook — what’s the deal??

And while this kind of approach made sense in a traditional software sale (or even more so in a service-type offering) — it falls apart really quickly in a modern SaaS business…especially in a product-led operation.

Why is that?

Well…because SaaS — especially product-led SaaS — is different than a traditional software offering. It is a different business model. It’s a model that is built on the premise of reduced human intervention. In fact:

The goal of the “product-led” model is, in many ways, to drive sales (and engagement) with NO human intervention.

These are products — and business models — designed to support a self-serve customer journey.

Of course, this isn’t the reality. Even though some companies don’t like to admit it, we know that most of the companies in this space have strong Sales and CS teams. These teams are still important/essential parts of the customer experience. The reality is that very few companies can drive strong growth without these teams in place and operating at a high-level.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the product-led model was built to work without them. This is important to remember. Users of these software products don’t care about following some linear adoption process. With a try-before-you-buy offering (free-trial and especially freemium), users expect to sign-up and get started without talking to anyone. And they expect to upgrade without talking to anyone. And they expect to use the product without intervention. In short,

Customers don’t care about your playbook.

This means that the effectiveness of these playbooks collapse shortly after you build them.

The playbook failure

In most cases, playbooks require reps to follow some rigid, linear process that, as I just mentioned, is not in-line with how customers experience (or want to experience) your product. These playbooks basically force a rigid process onto a fluid experience. Square peg, round hole.

The typical playbook is designed to create a bunch of tasks for reps at different points of the customer journey (which, generally, will be defined by the age of the account).

Do this on day one; then two days later, do that; then five days later, do that; etc.

And these tasks are generally created without respect to a previous task being completed. Inevitably, after a few weeks with this new process, your reps will wake up to an insurmountable mountain of overdue tasks in their CRM.

This leads to stress and frustration for everyone involved. Reps start to feel overwhelmed, management starts to question their work ethic, and customers start receiving a bunch of desperate emails — not because they need help, but because reps are trying to check off the steps in their playbook.

Whispers of “screw these playbooks” will be start easing into water cooler conversations (ie — private Slack channels). The seeds of resentment will be planted.

Wide-scale mutiny is not far off.

Is there a better way? What is the solution?

But we need to do everything possible to ensure our accounts are successful!

I appreciate that instinct, but you have to remember: the product-led model is not designed for manual intervention. It’s designed to open your software up to larger audiences and drive larger numbers of accounts. This means you simply can’t touch every customer — as much as you may want to. And, not for nothing, many of your customers don’t want that either.

This means that the playbook is the wrong framework for a product-led CS (or Sales operation). What you need instead is a proper signaling system. A system that highlights which accounts on which you should (and can afford to) be spending time. These signals can generate/trigger specific actions (like task creation, or emails, for example), but they will be targeted to specific accounts that deserve/require your attention.

And this is mainly a question of smart segmentation — based on more than the age of the account.

Creating a Signaling system to replace playbooks

A good signaling system is much more in line with how a product-led model should operate. It replaces the rigid, linear nature of the playbook with a framework that “bubbles” up the right accounts and truly makes your team more efficient (and, dare I say, more proactive).

To build a good signaling system, you need to (1) define your signals; and (2) create a plan for actions against those signals.

Defining Signals

When creating signals, you should focus on two major vectors:

TENURE

There are 3 stages of Tenure we’ll consider in this discussion (you can define more if it makes sense for your business):

  • Brand New: accounts less than 30 days old
  • Young: accounts between 1 and 3 months old
  • Mature: accounts 4+ months old

ENGAGEMENT/ACTIVATION

When we talk about Engagement/Activation, we talk about them in the context of metrics created and tracked in Sherlock (but again, you can have your own versions of these metrics if you want to build them):

  • Engagement: An over-time measurement of how much a user or account is using your product.
  • Activation: 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.

Of course, every product/business is different, but this is an example of a signaling framework you could create for you SaaS product based on Tenure and Engagement/Activation:

For some businesses, it might make sense to add a third vector — account size (or potential account size). You may want to create signals for accounts of a certain size or you would plan different actions for accounts of different sizes. That might look something like this:

Defining Signal actions

Once you have your signals established and you are tracking them well, you should build a set of suggested actions for each. The actions that you design need to be unique and tailored for your business and operation. But as an example, your program could look something like this:

As you can see, by assigning specific actions to your signals, your signals will start to act as triggers. While at first glance this may resemble “a playbook”, there are a couple of big differences between the playbook and this signaling approach.

First of all, Playbooks are traditionally applied in a more global fashion — we must apply this playbook to every account (or the majority). Signals, on the other hand, are designed under the assumption your team simply can’t deliver high-touch attention to every account (or even most of them) and need to be able to focus their work on those with the highest priority. They don’t need a system to ensure every account is getting attention — they need a system to help them focus on the right accounts.

Secondly, playbooks are generally designed as linear processes — they call for several steps that the rep and user need to pass through to complete the playbook. Whereas signals assume a non-linear engagement pattern for accounts. They trigger single actions when certain engagement conditions are met.

For these two reasons, a good signal program is much more in-line with the needs and flow of a product-led business — and the journey that these customers take.

Other non-behavioral, scheduled signals

After reading a draft of this post, another friend in the CS space reminded me of a few “signals” (he referred to them as “touchpoints”) that he considered “scheduled.” These included things like QBRs (when relevant), NPS surveys, and renewal conversations that happen at specific times and are independent of any behavioral criteria.

These made a lot of sense and if applicable, should be added to your program appropriately.

In conclusion

While much of this discussion will seem obvious to many in the space, my hope is that it will help break others from an approach that was borne at a different time. A different era of the software business. By moving your approach to a better framework — one more in-line with how modern software is sold and serviced — you can liberate you and your teams from the oppressive weight of the traditional playbook!

Here’s How Audiense is Making the Transition from Sales-Led to Product-Led

Juan Fernandez of Audiense

For every company that’s trying to figure out how to layer Sales onto an existing product-led model, there are several trying to do the opposite — introduce a Product-Led Growth (PLG) model onto an existing sales-led model. 

And this is NOT an easy transition. For those who think this is a simple as slapping free trial sign-up on the website and adding some pretty new onboarding flows in the product is in for a rude awakening. In fact, the product challenges involved with this kind of move – while far from trivial – are many times, the easy part. 

One company that is in the throes of this transition right now is Audiense – a European audience intelligence startup helping marketers and consumer researchers understand how to be relevant to the audiences that really matter to brands. 

Although they started off as a self-service tool for community managers and small agencies, Audiense transitioned to a B2B sales-led model years ago. Their core product has been a sophisticated solution with a higher price point and every customer had to go through a sales process to buy the product.

Recently they decided to move to a product-led model. 

Juan Fernández is Audiense’s Head of Product and is leading the company’s transition to PLG. We sat down with Juan last week to talk about how he plans to make the transition.

SHERLOCK: The first thing I’d love to understand is why Audiense decided to move to a Product-Led model? What was the reason for this move? 


JUAN: We decided to move in this direction because we thought we were limiting our business by requiring customers to go through a sales process. We thought if we could allow new accounts to sign-up and try the product without talking to sales, we’d attract a much wider base of prospects. We also wanted to reduce the cost of acquiring new leads and disrupt our market by letting everyone experience our product first hand. 

SHERLOCK: And has that proven to be true?

JUAN: Definitely! We’ve seen a steady growth in leads month after month since we went to this model. And the best part is that these leads already have a deep understanding of what we do and what we offer. That makes the commercial conversation much easier.

SHERLOCK: What product changes, if any, did you have to make (or are you planning to make) to support this new model?

JUAN: Lots! The first set of changes we attacked was a frictionless sign up journey, a clear pricing model and a very simple online checkout process. Now, our focus is on constantly improving the whole customer journey, phase by phase. We’re starting with Activation rate, followed by feature adoption, conversion and finally product virality. It’s an ongoing process. Measure, identify friction, fix and measure again. Rinse and repeat! 🙂

SHERLOCK: How did your sales team respond to this move?

JUAN: To be honest, this was one of our biggest concerns. We wanted to make sure that opening up the product to self-serve signups wouldn’t hurt our sales pipeline. We wanted more leads, but not if it meant hurting our Salespeople. 

SHERLOCK: How did you avoid that?

JUAN: Well, first of all, a lot of our new business comes through channel partners, so our sales team isn’t dependent on free trial leads. But we still had to approach this product-led offering in a way that wouldn’t threaten them. Our product-led offering increases the number of hot leads (PQLs) for each salesperson, so they’re actually pretty happy about it. 

SHERLOCK: Interesting. So you are starting by removing some (but not all) of the friction for potential buyers. Are they ok with that?

JUAN: So far, it appears so. What we see is that customers considering the cheapest plans are happy to purchase without talking to a salesperson and those considering an Enterprise plan prefer to go the sales-led way. For us, it’s all about deciding which route to take for whoever is engaging with the product. 

SHERLOCK: And has this move changed how you are managing leads through your “funnel”?

JUAN: Definitely. I had to set up a process for qualifying these new leads based on how they are using the product and their firmographics (such as company size and location). We have Product Qualified Leads that we put in automated nurture campaigns and PQLs that I send to the sales team every week. It’s all pretty manual for now. I run a report for new accounts that have reached a certain Activation rate during their trial and send it to the sales team as a list of qualified leads. 

We also launched email sequences to accounts that haven’t reached a certain Activation rate yet. We want to encourage them to become more Activated or to raise their hand for a quick chat with someone from our team.

SHERLOCK: And what type of engagement emails have you seen the best results from so far?

JUAN: We are still testing a lot of this, so I can’t really say empirically at this point. But emails that come directly from someone at the company and offer help/support with the product, or better yet, specific features receive more responses. These sorts of emails have the added benefit of promoting actual conversations, which helps us move these accounts toward conversion.

SHERLOCK: Is your sales team happy with the transition so far?

JUAN: Yes! They actually prefer talking to leads who have at least tried the product and understand its value. Plus they don’t have to waste their time on customers who don’t really understand the offering. These leads have traditionally taken up a lot of their time, as I’m sure you can imagine. 

SHERLOCK: What’s next for the transition?

JUAN: A couple of things. First of all, we need to become more systemized about the process. Both on the automation side and on the ideation side. 

We want to reduce the amount of manual work by automating engagement sequences that we know are working. We also want to refine the way we ideate and prioritize improvements. I want my team and I to focus on developing a well-defined weekly ideation protocol, where we’re looking at our KPIs, deciding which metrics we’ll focus on, listing ideas, ranking them by cost and impact, and executing on the best ones.

SHERLOCK: Sounds like a lot! Why are you, as Head of Product, leading this effort versus someone in Marketing or even Sales?

JUAN: I think a move to “product-led growth” puts the product at the center of the operation, so the product team really needs to own the process. But this affects all departments so we created a cross-functional PLG team. It’s like The Avengers: a group of very different people, each one with a different superpower, and I am extremely proud to be working with them.

Apart from me as a team lead, this team is comprised by a marketer who is in charge of driving traffic to our top of the funnel: generating visits with our blog, newsletter, social media and advertising; then a product manager in charge of the on-boarding experience and the email sequences. We also have a customer success manager in charge of the knowledge base and the technical support and someone from the ops team in charge of account settings, legal and accounting. And finally, a UX designer who supports all of us by designing delightful experiences and beautiful graphic material. 

SHERLOCK: Awesome. Any advice you would give to others trying to make the transition from a traditional sales-led approach to a product-led approach?

JUAN: I’m still learning myself, so I wouldn’t dare. I read a lot and ask a lot of questions of people who have had success with product-led models. One thing I would say is that you have to think about it as an evolution and a constant learning and experimentation path instead of some immediate switch you can turn on.

SHERLOCK: This is great advice, Juan. Thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about your process!

Learn more about getting started with PQLs here >>

Sherlock + Zapier for a Winning Sales Operation

You already loved Sherlock’s Slack Alerts for your PQL process. Now we’re taking that a step further with Sherlock Actions. All you need to do is set up an Action in Sherlock, forget about it and we’ll take care of the rest. 

There’s Actions for apps like Hubspot, Intercom and Slack, sure. But if you really want to change the way you work, there’s our Zapier Action (courtesy of Webhooks). If you’ve never used Webhooks, start with this help doc.

Ready to to put your product qualified lead process on steroids? Here are 5 of our favorite Sherlock + Zapier Actions:

Todoist

Let’s start simple. Todoist lets you create tasks. In some sense, maybe everything you do is a task. But following up on PQLs? That’s definitely a task.

Set up an Action flow in Sherlock so a new task is automatically created every time someone becomes product-qualified and you’ll never miss an opportunity to connect with a lead that will actually convert.

Bonus points if you set up a task for leads that are close to becoming PQLs but haven’t quite gotten there yet. You’ll want to (gently) prod them into finishing those last few steps to first value.

Gmail

Sometimes a full out task management system is too much to manage. Maybe you like to keep it simple. Maybe you’re the sort of person that just wants an email when someone finally hits that Activated status. From there, you can filter them to another box, send them an email or reach out however you choose.

With Sherlock + Zapier + Gmail, you can have all that happen automatically. Well, you’ll have to reach out and do the demo, but all that process stuff will happen automatically. That leaves you more time to do what you do best — close deals.

While we don’t recommend sending emails directly to your leads through this setup, it is something you could do if you’re feeling brave. Want a better product engagement-based email outreach flow? Sherlock’s got you covered.

Pipedrive

You already know we have a direct Action for Hubspot (or you do now), but Hubspot isn’t the only CRM on the block. With Sherlock + Zapier, you can connect to any CRM on Zapier’s platform. Create leads, mark them as Activated and manage them however you see fit — and do it all where your team already lives.

Airtable

Still using Airtable to manage leads? With Sherlock + Zapier + Airtable, you can add Activated trials (or not) to a spreadsheet, categorize them as Activated and know exactly where everyone stands at a glance.

Then, when you’re looking for trials to reach out to, all you have to do is scan the list, find the ones that are Activated and 💥— you’ve got a list of trials that are already in love with your product.

Slack

Wondering if a new account is fully Activated? One of your key accounts adding new users? Worried you’ll miss a score change? You need a Zapier + Slack integration.

Just kidding. Whatever product engagement alert you need, we’ve already got. Use Actions to set up realtime, customizable product engagement alerts directly from Sherlock. 

With Sherlock Slack Alerts, you never miss an Activated trial

Now that’s Sherlock smart.

Building a Product Qualified Lead process for your Complex product

This is part 4 of a 4-part series on PQLs: What they are, how to find them and how to build a winning Product Qualified Lead process

Want to know everything you didn’t know about Product Qualified Leads (PQLs)? Get our e-book.

activation slack alerts for Product Qualified Lead process

In case you haven’t heard, PQLs are leads that are more likely to convert because they have found value in your product. If you’re a modern SaaS business, you want to find these leads. So the only question left — how? It’s elementary: you need a Product Qualified Lead process.

So you’re convinced: you want to find PQLs and make a Product Qualified Lead process for your business. But where to start?

To build a proper Product Qualified Lead process, you will need to:

  1. Properly define what the criteria by which your leads will become product qualified (otherwise known as an Activation checklist)
  2. Have a set of guidelines for turning these leads into paying customers.

Let’s get started!

defining a pql is important for a winning Product Qualified Lead process

First off, how complex is your product?

When our customers ask how they should be designing their Product Qualified Lead process, the first question we ask them is: 

How complex is your product? 

More simply, how hard is it for a new user (or small group of users) to self-serve their way to first value? Don’t forget: self-serve means without any manual support of intervention from your team. 

The answer to this question is the starting point for your PQL definition. It’s answer tells you how Activated a new account should be before your team gets involved. 

This post covers a Product Qualified Lead process for complex products. Not sure if that’s you?

Ask yourself how many of your last 10 signups self-served their way to first value. If the answer is less than 4, read on!

A new user is almost always going to require manual support to get to the promised land. Complex products often require technical implementation, access to data or tools from other departments, or some deeper domain knowledge for a user to get value. 

A complex product might have a free trial period, but is more likely to only sell to customers who go through a sales demo with a more hands-on approach. 

Think Salesforce.

Looking for a different product type? Download our e-book.

Next, how big is the opportunity?

Now that you’ve decided you have a complex product, you should think of the other main factor that will determine how quickly your Sales team gets involved. Namely, the size of a Sales opportunity. As with simple products, if a new trial holds the potential for more revenue, you’ll want to get your Sales team involved earlier. 

At the very least, you should be able to categorize your new trial signups into Small, Mid-Size and Large revenue opportunities. 

Oftentimes, companies will use the company size of a new trial as a proxy for opportunity size. This is certainly one way to go about it, but you define opportunity size based on whatever criteria makes sense for your business. 

Putting it together with Activation Rate

The more complex a product, the earlier your Sales team should intervene. Similarly, the bigger the size of the opportunity, the sooner you want your Sales team on it. Sounds simple, right? (That’s good, because it is). 

If you have a complex product, you’ll need to get involved sooner regardless of the deal size. That being said, you’ll probably still want to wait for accounts to hit a certain level of Activation and keep your Sales and CS team focused on bigger deals.

Here are good rule-of-thumb Activation rate guidelines for a complex product:

Deal SizeReach out when:
Small 50% – 75% Activated
Mid-Size25% – 50% Activated
Large0% – 25% Activated

As you go through the next section, keep in mind the goal of a Product Qualified Lead process for complex products is to balance the time of your Sales team. That way, they are focusing on larger opportunities but aren’t abandoning smaller opportunities with a high likelihood to close.

Product Qualified Lead process for the Small Opportunity

Product Qualified Lead process for the small opportunity intermediately complex product
Product Qualified Lead process for small opportunities — Wait until they’re ready to convert

These pose quite the conundrum for Complex products. You know your product needs manual support for most users to get value, but how much time can you afford to give such a small opportunity? 

In these cases, the complexity of your product may just work in your favor. Wait, what?! 

That’s right. Small accounts that are really interested in your value proposition — in the promise of your product — will make the effort to get set up and experience some of the value. 

When their Activation is high, you’ll know they’re committed and it’ll be worth it for your Sales team to give them some attention. How high is high enough? We recommend waiting till they’re at least 50% Activated

How to engage these Product Qualified Leads

Because it is harder for users to recognize the eventual value of a Complex product on their own, trial leads on this product will likely need some kind of demo of the product from your Sales team. They will need to see the finished cake (complete with frosting) if they are going to move forward and convert. 

In these cases, it’s important for your Sales team to engage these users and invite them for an in-person demo of the platform, perhaps with an email. 

Want to know how to win over small deals? Download our e-book and get considerations and sample emails.

Product Qualified Lead process for the Mid-Size Opportunity 

Product Qualified Lead process for the mid-size opportunity intermediately complex product
Product Qualified Lead process for mid-size opportunities — more users, lower Activation

These mid-sized opportunities are exactly what they sound like. Bigger accounts than a small opportunity, but smaller than a large one. The bigger the account, the more users involved, the more coordination necessary and the more complex the path to conversion. 

So let’s be honest: Not many opportunities will self-serve their way to conversion with a Complex product, regardless of the size. But because these are bigger than small opportunities, you’ll want to get your Sales team involved soonish, probably at around a 25-50% Activation level

How to engage these Product Qualified Leads

The challenge here is still the complexity of the product. It’s hard for users to identify the full value of the platform on their own. 

Focus your manual intervention on booking a time to talk to your Sales team instead of pushing the account toward deeper Activation

 

Not sure what to say? Download our e-book and get sample emails to win these mid-size deals.

Product Qualified Lead process for the Large Opportunity

Product Qualified Lead process for the large opportunity intermediately complex product
Product Qualified Lead process for the large opportunities — It’s ok to jump in a bit earlier

When you get large opportunities to sign-up for you Complex product, you don’t need a great deal of product usage to justify, at least, an initial touch point from your team. In fact, you should feel comfortable reaching out to these accounts soon after they sign-up or when they reach just about 25% Activation.

From there, it’ll be somewhat similar to a traditional Sales process. Or at least as you’re going to get with a modern SaaS product. Start by identifying the key decision makers and make sure that they see the complete, fully-baked value of your product, which can be hard to do during a trial so get them on a demo ASAP.

Ready to take that large opportunity from trial to forever? Download our e-book.

Product Qualified Leads (PQLs) are a Team Sport

This is part 5 of a 5-part series on Product Qualified Leads (PQLs)

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! 

Building a Product Qualified Lead process for your Intermediately Complex product

This is part 3 of a 4-part series on PQLs: What they are, how to find them and how to build a winning Product Qualified Lead process

Want to know everything you didn’t know about Product Qualified Leads (PQLs)? Get our e-book.

activation slack alerts for Product Qualified Lead process

In case you haven’t heard, PQLs are leads that are more likely to convert because they have found value in your product. If you’re a modern SaaS business, you want to find these leads. So the only question left — how? It’s elementary: you need a Product Qualified Lead process.

So you’re convinced: you want to find PQLs and make a Product Qualified Lead process for your business. But where to start?

To build a proper Product Qualified Lead process, you will need to:

  1. Properly define what the criteria by which your leads will become product qualified (otherwise known as an Activation checklist)
  2. Have a set of guidelines for turning these leads into paying customers.

Let’s get started!

defining a pql is important for a winning Product Qualified Lead process

First off, how complex is your product?

When our customers ask how they should be designing their Product Qualified Lead process, the first question we ask them is: 

How complex is your product? 

More simply, how hard is it for a new user (or small group of users) to self-serve their way to first value? Don’t forget: self-serve means without any manual support of intervention from your team. 

The answer to this question is the starting point for your PQL definition. It’s answer tells you how Activated a new account should be before your team gets involved. 

This post covers a Product Qualified Lead process for intermediately complex products. Not sure if that’s you?

Ask yourself how many of your last 10 signups self-served their way to first value. If the answer is between 4 and 7, read on!

With intermediately complex products, about 50% of new users can self-serve their way to value without manual intervention. Unlike their simple counterparts, these products typically have a free trial, but do not have a freemium version. Think Adobe.

Sometimes intermediately complex products are simple to set up, but hard to get to initial value. Other times, they are harder to get set up, but deliver easy value beyond that.

Looking for a different product type? Download our e-book.

Next, how big is the opportunity?

Now that you’ve decided you have an intermediately complex product, you should think of the other main factor that will determine how quickly your Sales team gets involved. Namely, the size of a Sales opportunity. As with simple products, if a new trial holds the potential for more revenue, you’ll want to get your Sales team involved earlier. 

At the very least, you should be able to categorize your new trial signups into Small, Mid-Size and Large revenue opportunities. 

Oftentimes, companies will use the company size of a new trial as a proxy for opportunity size. This is certainly one way to go about it, but you define opportunity size based on whatever criteria makes sense for your business. 

Putting it together with Activation Rate

The more complex a product, the earlier your Sales team should intervene. Similarly, the bigger the size of the opportunity, the sooner you want your Sales team on it. Sounds simple, right? (That’s good, because it is). 

If you have an intermediately complex product, how soon you get involved will be very much based on the deal size. You can wait for smaller accounts to become (almost) fully Activated before getting manually involved. But if a large deal starts using the product, you’ll want to get your Sales and CS team involved to increase the chances of a close.

Here are good rule-of-thumb Activation rate guidelines for an intermediately complex product:

Deal SizeReach out when:
Small 75% – 100% Activated
Mid-Size50% – 75% Activated
Large25% – 50% Activated

As you go through the next section, keep in mind the goal of a Product Qualified Lead process for intermediately complex products is to balance the time of your Sales team. That way, they are focusing on larger opportunities but aren’t abandoning smaller opportunities with a high likelihood to close.

Product Qualified Lead process for the Small Opportunity

Product Qualified Lead process for the small opportunity intermediately complex product
Product Qualified Lead process for small opportunities — Wait until they’re ready to convert

Intermediate products require an — intermediate level of manual support for success, but it’s hard to justify that support for these small opportunities. 

On the flip side, any small opportunity that shows enough interest in this type of product to self-serve their way to success is an opportunity that is highly likely to convert. 

Enter the PQL process. You can justify some manual intervention for some of these accounts, but you have to be selective about it. Your sales team should get involved, but only when these smaller opportunities reach at least 75% Activation

How to engage these Product Qualified Leads

Sales should take a Customer Success approach with these accounts. Congratulate, encourage, and support. It’s about extending account engagement and Activation, not getting a demo. 

Want to know how to win over small deals? Download our e-book and get considerations and sample emails.

Product Qualified Lead process for the Mid-Size Opportunity 

Product Qualified Lead process for the mid-size opportunity intermediately complex product
Product Qualified Lead process for mid-size opportunities — more users, lower Activation

It’s likely that you’re going to need some manual intervention in order to convert these opportunities at a high enough rate. 

These accounts are more likely to have multiple users — and multiple decision makers. This means you will need more than one person to fall in love with the product in order to get a conversion. 

And that means this account will require more and earlier attention from your team. Qualify these leads once they get to 50-75% Activation and get someone on your team involved if you want them to convert! 

How to engage these Product Qualified Leads

Have a Customer Success rep engage with these accounts before your Sales team does. We know, we know — this violates every B2B playbook ever created. 

But for mid-size opportunities trialing an intermediately complex product, having someone who can help users navigate to a higher level of Activation will be more valuable than any kind of sales “pitch” you can offer. (And, don’t even think about just adjusting your sales pitch.) 

A CS-followed-by-Sales combo outreach delivers the right kind of support at the right time for these accounts and helps drive conversion rates. 

 

Not sure what to say? Download our e-book and get sample emails to win these mid-size deals.

Product Qualified Lead process for the Large Opportunity

Product Qualified Lead process for the large opportunity intermediately complex product
Product Qualified Lead process for the large opportunities — It’s ok to jump in a bit earlier

This is just the kind of lead your Sales team has been waiting for! You should drop everything and go after them with everything you’ve got, right? Wrong. 

Your intermediately complex product doesn’t need immediate intervention so you should allow every trial (no matter how big) some space to prove their interest in your product before a full onslaught. (It’s hard, we know.) 

But why? With bigger companies, it is often a lower-level employee who signs up for a free trial. They might not have any organizational support, which is fine — but is the very reason why a signup alone is not enough to justify Sales effort. 

With all that said, this is still a big account, so you should consider them product qualified earlier than if they were smaller. Wait for them to be 25-50% Activated and then go get ‘em! 

Ready to take that large opportunity from trial to forever? Download our e-book.