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7 PQL Mistakes to Avoid

April 20, 2022
by
Peter Zawistowicz
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If you’re involved in a go-to-market function of a B2B SaaS company, chances are you’re familiar with the concept of the PQL. Short for “product-qualified lead,” PQLs are like the MQL’s cool younger sibling. While PQLs are certainly more on-trend than the tried and true MQL, their relative newness means that we’re still figuring out the best way to operationalize them.

As their name implies, product-qualified leads are a logical progression from the traditional sales and marketing funnel, but modified for a product-led world. As Hubspot’s then VP of Product, Christopher O'Donnell, said back in 2016:

“Mixing the velocity of freemium with the higher price points of inside sales can be magical.”

Determining exactly when and how to route users into no-/low-touch and high-touch swimlanes can sometimes feel like more of an art than a science. To bring some clarity to the problem, here are a few common pitfalls to avoid when implementing a PQL model.

1. Following up with all PQLs the same way

When an SDR receives a marketing-qualified lead, they have a clear set of actions to take in pursuit of a singular objective. Email cadences may be tweaked and no two qualification calls are identical, but whether that MQL is from an event or a digital ad, the process looks mostly the same: try to get in touch with the prospect, figure out if there’s a potential opportunity, and either move the sales process forward or disposition them.

PQLs, on the other hand, arrive with a much wider range of product context. Additionally, existing product users don’t share the same motivation for product access the way an MQL might.

When following up with PQLs, the most important consideration is how they came to be “product-qualified” and what they need in order to deepen or expand their usage. With the wealth of product data available, this can be much more narrowly defined than the general purchase intent of an MQL. For example, the PQL may have been triggered specifically because the user hit a hard usage threshold or expressed interest in a paid feature. Ensuring the follow up aligns with this initial intent is critical for a successful outcome.

The most common type of product-qualified lead indicates a user may need human assistance to convert from free to paid. However, users may move out of a self-service experience into a sales-led motion at any time during their adoption journey. Click to view larger.

2. Assuming the goal of a PQL is always to create an opportunity

Closely related to the previous pitfall, a PQL initiative can fail to generate pipeline and frustrate customers if every PQL is treated as if the primary objective is to kick off a high-touch sales cycle. As discussed in the previous section, product-qualified leads are highly context-dependent and require tailored follow up. First and foremost, that follow up must deliver incremental value to the user.

3. Triggering PQLs without product context

Tailoring follow up and aligning goals with the intent a PQL is demonstrating is only possible if the person fielding the PQL has visibility into how the user has been engaging with the product.

At a minimum, the recipient of a PQL needs to know:

  • the scope of the trigger (Specifically, which product organization did the behavior happen in and which users were involved?)
  • the timeframe (Was the PQL triggered by a recent, sudden change or is this behavior consistent with past usage?)
  • the best way to handle PQLs of this type (Are there resources that should be shared? Who in the should be involved?)

4. Treating PQLs like a “handoff”

With MQLs, the point that the lead becomes “marketing qualified,” represents the moment that person has reached a point in their journey where they are “ready” for a sales cycle to begin. They’ve read enough whitepapers, watched enough webinars, and attended enough events that deploying expensive sales resources is now viable. The dominant channel through which the company engages with this person shifts from marketing to sales.

In product-led organizations, prospects and customers interact with the company through multiple channels. From in-app chats with support, engagements with marketing, and conversations with sellers, no single person “owns” the entire customer experience. 

As a result, PQLs do not correspond with a seller leading all communication with the user. Instead, sales must keep in mind the other touchpoints users may have as they navigate the sales process.

5. Only triggering off positive signals

Because of its roots in the MQL, product-qualified leads often connote a positive signal that an existing user is ready for a sales engagement. However, in a product-led model, sometimes the most critical moments for human intervention are actually when things arent going so well.

Imagine a healthy user starts logging in less frequently or error rates for an ideal prospect suddenly skyrocket. These moments are excellent opportunities for sellers to coordinate resources to deliver value to a customer in need, setting them up for continued success and growth.

6. Only triggering on user-level signals

Sometimes, small levels of consistent usage from several users is equally or more of a signal than lots of usage from a single user. This is the same thinking behind “marketing-qualified accounts” (MQA) under an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy. 

Conversely, even if usage in aggregate looks healthy, finding out it was driven by a single user reveals significant churn risk. Consider alerting sellers when usage in a given period is originating from a small set of users.

7. Assuming someone can only PQL once

The nature of a hybrid go-to-market model means that users may move in and out of high and low-touch swimlanes at different points in their lifecycle. It’s important to build in the assumption that a user may trigger a PQL several times for different reasons.

Additionally, even if a sales cycle is in progress, sellers should still be alerted to positive or negative behavior signals to ensure things stay on track. Contrast this with the conventional wisdom that, once an opportunity is created, teams won’t typically “re-MQL” a prospect based on further engagement with marketing.

Pace Insights help you engage users at the right time with the necessary context. Click to view larger.

An alternative approach to product alerts

At this point, you may be noticing that the product-qualified lead differs quite significantly from its marketing-qualified sibling. When your best prospects and customers are regularly using your product it’s important you are kept in the loop on all important changes. That’s why, at Pace, we don’t have product-qualified leads but instead trigger Insights that correspond to significant moments at any point in the user journey.

With this approach, it’s easier to provide contextual guidance to the recipient of the Insight based on the conditions that triggered it. Additionally, it makes it easier to tie specific sales actions to the impact they have on product and revenue metrics you care about.

If you’re interested in test driving Insights with Pace, consider joining our beta.