How to convert product-qualified leads (PQLs) into revenue

Operationalizing PQLs? Start with segmentation.
Sandy Mangat
January 11, 2022
How to convert product-qualified leads (PQLs) into revenue

Product-qualified leads can be the unifying metric for teams executing on a Product-Led Sales motion. Not only do PQLs convert better than MQLs, but they are calculated using real product usage data, so you can understand why an opportunity is qualified (not just taking a stab in the dark). 

We broke down the basics of building a PQL metric in our Definitive Guide to PQLs series (go read that first if you haven’t yet ✌️). Now, we will focus on HOW teams can leverage PQLs to drive actions within their sales, marketing, or customer success workflows. 

In this blog we’ll break down:

  • Refresher on what is a PQL
  • Segmenting PQLs 
  • How to set up workflows to convert PQLs 
  • Operationalizing those workflows in your tools 

TL;DR of a PQL

PQLs are users that experienced your product’s core value, match your ICP, and/or have shown purchase intent. PQLs can be broken down into 3 categories:

A user or account (or even a team or workspace) becomes a PQL when they hit a combination of the above signals to indicate that the go-to-market team should take action. Exactly what those PQLs are depends on the type of company, the company’s goals and the customer segment that the company is targeting.

This leads me to a very important topic for PQLs: Segmentation. Segmentation and PQLs go hand in hand - you’ll need to segment PQLs in order to establish who owns what leads and how the PQLs should be operationalized within your workflows.

Time to pay close attention, because segmentation is the one of the most important parts of defining and operationalizing PQLs.

Segmenting PQLs: Who owns what…

So, what do we mean by segmenting PQLs? 

Segmentation helps you define the who, what, and how: who should you target, what message should you use with the specific audience, and how the message will be communicated. Without a segmentation strategy, PQLs will become a free-for-all or, even worse, a vanity metric that sits on the proverbial shelf.

You may choose to segment PQLs based on the target market (eg. SMB, mid-market, enterprise). Or, you might choose to segment based on who owns the PQL (eg. sales-ready, sales-assist ready). Or, maybe you’ll segment based on a company goal (eg. free-to-paid conversion). 

Below we’ll walk through 3 ways to segment PQLs:

  1. Sales-readiness: sales, sales-assist, etc.
  2. Product-Led Sales goals: seat expansion, free trial conversion, etc.
  3. Target market: company size (SMB, mid-market, enterprise), industry, geography, etc.

#1 Sales Readiness 

We recommend that PLG companies segment customers by sales-readiness as it helps go-to-market teams know which specific team-member should be responsible for which account/user and how to interact with that opportunity. You can better align your sales resources to each of these cohorts.

To segment by sales readiness, use the above matrix: map your accounts/users by product usage signals on the x-axis and customer fit signals on the y-axis. 

  • Top right: Sales-ready PQLs ➡️ Account Executive: These are top accounts/users that match your ICP and have very high product usage. These should be the top priority for your sales team. 
  • Top left: Sales-assist ready ➡️ Sales-assist/product specialist/onboarding team: These opportunities align to your ICP, but are not yet at the product engagement threshold that warrants a sales conversation. Your sales-assist (or equivalent) team should engage with these PQLs to educate/enable the user on the product to unblock them and showcase the value of features beyond the paywall. Use this opportunity to deepen their engagement with the product as well as capture any feedback that might be useful to your product and/or growth team.
  • Bottom right: Keep warm ➡️ SDR/BDR or Product/Marketing: These opportunities have high product usage, but low customer fit. This could drive various next steps for your team. If this is a new use case that your company is interested in exploring, a SDR/BDR should engage to qualify the opportunity and uncover potential new adjacent business opportunities. Or, if this is a lead that has not yet met the customer fit threshold (eg. you don’t want a sales team to engage until they have 500 employees), then you should funnel the lead back to marketing & product to nurture until they become a customer fit.
  • Sales never touch ➡️ Product/Marketing: These leads have not shown any meaningful product engagement nor do they fit your ICP. You should not spend any sales resources on these leads and leave it up to the self-serve product and marketing channels to either nurture them back into play or let them churn. 

#2 Product-Led Sales Goals 

Another way to segment PQLs is by aligning them to your Product-Led Sales goals. We personally love using this strategy to identify your first set of PQLs at Pocus - oftentimes these goals naturally align to different teams and workflows that already exist in your GTM motion. 

Here are some examples of PLS goals we’ve seen recently from Pocus customers:

  • Enterprise consolidation
  • Seat expansion 
  • Free trial conversion 
  • Startup program partners 
  • Free to enterprise conversion

Let’s take one of the above examples and define the PQL.

Example PLS goal: Free trial conversion PQL

Example Definition:
Signed up for a free trial, fits ideal customer profile, and significant usage in the product.

Example Signals:

  1. The account is NOT paid customer
  2. A user signed up for free trial
  3. User’s role is an ideal customer fit
  4. User’s industry is a target industry
  5. User invited 10+ teammates
  6. Account’s daily usage increased by 30%

Example owner: Account Executive

So, every time an opportunity hits a combination of the above signals, the free trial conversion PQL should be surfaced to the Account Executive. The AE will understand why they are getting this lead (to convert from free to paid), who the user is, and how the user has already engaged with the product to better inform their sales strategy.

#3 Market or Customer Segments

Most SaaS companies have already thought about their customer segments and target markets like SMB, Mid-Market, Enterprise, or specific industries or geographies. 

If your existing GTM motion is segmented based on the target market, an easy way to keep things simple with PQLs would be to also align them to these targets. 

For example, an enterprise PQL may have a different set of customer fit and product usage signals than your SMB PQL. The enterprise PQL should be routed to the enterprise AE and the SMB PQL routed to the SMB AE. The routing of these PQLs will also depend on what resources you have already aligned to these market segments. 

Convert PQLs into opportunities

Now that we know how to segment our PQLs, what playbooks do we run to convert these hot leads into revenue? Without a plan of action, PQLs become just another vanity metric. So, we break down how to action your PQLs by function.

As we know, Product-Led Sales is a team sport, so sometimes just an outreach sequence from your sales team may not be enough. You might want to layer in product engagement, email marketing, ad retargeting, and more. Below you’ll find potential workflows for sales, marketing, and operations teams. 

Sales 

The most effective way for sales to convert PQLs into revenue is not necessarily to sell but to help. In a Product-Led Sales world, we’ve taken the core principles of consultative selling and supercharged them. The sales team should reach out to their PQLs when:

  1. Users appear to be stuck or blocked from reaching value or 
  2. There is an opportunity to add more value (ie. try new features, expand within the team, etc.)
  3. The user has hit a paywall and is ready for a sales conversation

Actions a salesperson can take or automate:

  1. Get notified when a PQL takes meaningful action in the product 
  2. Use that information in a personalized email to the PQL

Some SaaS businesses really understand how to be timely and personalized. Throughout this post, I’ll include an example email (anonymized of course) that I’ve received recently that really hit their mark. 

Example of personalized email to an expansion PQL who might want to add more users…

What this email does well:

  • Waited to reach out until I already experienced the value of the product 
  • Focused messaging on helping me get more value while subtly hinting at expansion
  • Used a very tactical example of a new feature (eg. new workflow) I might find useful based on my existing use case

The salesperson on the other side of this email had some great insight about how I’ve been using their product and used that to create a well-timed and engaging email.

Are you thinking “ok this sounds great in theory, but how do I actually operationalize this?”


How Pocus can help
With Pocus, sales teams can easily identify PQLs and get deeper insights about those leads (eg. how are they engaging with the product). Once a salesperson is ready to engage with the PQL, they can automate the above actions directly in the Pocus platform. With Pocus’ no-code automation builder, you can give your sales team the ability to create the ideal workflow to convert new PQLs.

Here are just a few examples of the sales automation you can build in Pocus:

When an opportunity becomes a PQL, you can automatically… 

➡️ Receive Slack notifications when there is a change in the PQL’s product usage 

➡️ Create tasks or opportunities in Salesforce

➡️ Launch outreach sequences in your preferred tools

Marketing 

PQLs have been a game-changer for marketing teams at PLG companies. Marketers no longer have to rely solely on marketing behavior to gauge what to communicate, when, and how with customers (👋 say goodbye to only relying on MQLs). 

Marketers get a lot more insight into a user from their product usage, which can assist in creating well-crafted email sequences during critical moments like free trials and upgrades. 

Email sequences are by far the most popular use case and marketing tends to own all automated email to customers. 

For example, most marketing teams will own comms during the free trial or onboarding experience for a new user. Here’s a great example of an email to send when you’re trying to entice a new user during the free trial.

Examples of an email to send to a ‘Free Trial PQL’ whose trial is ending soon…

What this email does well:

  • Very clear messaging about my trial ending 
  • Personalized based on premium features I used 
  • Clear CTA on what to do next 
Examples of an email to send when the user hits a paywall or plan limit…

What this email does well:

  • Doesn’t immediately push you towards an upgrade and instead offers a way to keep your existing plan 
  • Includes CTA for an upgrade 
  • Short and sweet

How Pocus can help
With Pocus, marketing teams can use the same PQL cohorts as their sales counterparts to automate email sequences in their preferred platforms. 

➡️ Trigger a specific onboarding email in marketing automation platforms (MAP) like Hubspot and Marketo

➡️ Add a PQL to a specific list in your MAP

➡️ Retarget ads to a free trial PQL whose usage recently dropped off 

Managing PQLs with Pocus

If you got through all of this and are feeling overwhelmed about how you’re going to define and action PQLs… don’t worry, Pocus has you covered!

Pocus helps you manage and operationalize your PQLs… without relying on engineers or data scientists. 

Let’s break it down…

Step 1: Define PQLs

Pocus will combine your customer fit, product usage, and buying intent data into one holistic view of your customer. Based on your data and PLS goals, Pocus will recommend PQL scores.

Step 2: Iterate on PQLs

PQLs are both art and science. Pocus will suggest PQLs based on data, but the experts (YOU!) will need to iterate on the PQLs based on qualitative data and constantly evolving business strategy. Pocus provides you transparency into how the PQL is calculated with the ability to update the model without relying on data scientists. Say goodbye to black-box lead scores.

Step 3: Surface PQLs

As discussed above, different PQLs should be surfaced to different team members. Pocus will bubble up the relevant PQL to the right team based on market, PLS goal, or owner at the right time. Pocus will not just tell you who the PQL is, but why they are a PQL so that you can take the next best action.

Step 4: Action PQLs

After you receive the PQL and understand why they are a PQL, you can take the right action from within Pocus, whether that is sending an email, funneling the lead into a marketing sequence, or updating a field in Salesforce.

Step 5: Measure Impact + Experiment with additional PQLs

PQL experimentation is never complete! There is always more to learn with more PLS goals, target markets, and new sales hires. Pocus allows you to experiment with new PQLs and how that would impact your lead funnel and workflow.

Want to see this framework in action? Watch the recap of our live PQL workshop.
How to convert product-qualified leads (PQLs) into revenue
Sandy Mangat
Head of Marketing at Pocus
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