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. 

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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. 

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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!