Beginner's Guide to Product Qualified Leads (PQL)

Wes Bush

Founder of ProductLed and bestselling author of Product-Led Growth.

Wes Bush

Founder of ProductLed and bestselling author of Product-Led Growth.

Last Updated
June 4, 2024
Estimated Reading Time
10 minutes

Table of Contents

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A product qualified lead (PQL) is a lead who has experienced meaningful value using your product through a free trial or freemium model.

As a result, PQLs are more likely to become a customer than other leads. Unlike Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), which base buying intent on arbitrary factors such as email opens, whitepaper downloads, and webpage visits, PQLs are tied to meaningful value.

When you reach out to a PQL, they should have already experienced meaningful value in your product. This makes the sale easier because there’s no need to sell the user on the value of the product.

If you still need a little more explanation on what a PQL is, I created a short video on the topic below:

Before we dive into how to identify a PQL, I wanted to take a second to list out what PQLs are NOT:

  • PQLs are not people who upgrade their free plan;
  • PQLs are not marketing qualified leads;
  • Someone who signs up for a free trial does NOT qualify as a PQL;

Perhaps you have used these definitions. And it's hurting their business. For example, if your PQL definition is someone signing up for a free trial, your entire team is going to optimize for that outcome. This sounds fine, but nobody cares about helping the new user become successful in the product.

To choose a successful PQL definition, it has to involve helping the user become successful in your product. I'll share a few great examples with you in a second.

What is the First Step in Identifying a PQL?

This is where most founders or CPOs give up. One of the biggest challenges is the first step, which involves truly understanding how to define a PQL in the first place. That’s not to say the definition of a PQL is hard, but understanding what a PQL is for your business is challenging.

For instance, should a PQL be when someone activates their email, accomplishes a key task once in a product, sends 1,000 messages, or adds a coworker to the platform?

There are a million ways you can slice and dice what a PQL is for your business. What matters, however, is that you try to find behaviors that correlate with people upgrading.

This can feel like a bit of a moving goal post as the product continues to evolve. The more products and features you have, the harder it is to pinpoint exactly what behaviors lead people to upgrade. To really nail down the ideal definition of a PQL, you need to know your value metrics.

According to Patrick Campbell (the CEO and co-founder of Price Intelligently), the perfect value metric should align with your customers’ needs, grow with them, and be easy to wrap one’s mind around.

Read this post to figure out your company's value metrics.

Now that I’ve probably scared you away from thinking through what a product qualified lead could look like for your business, I recommend checking out some great PQL definitions so that you can see how simple they truly can be.

The last thing I want you to do is to stop reading this post because you think PQLs have to be complicated. As you'll see, PQLs can be extremely simple.

What Are Some Examples of Good PQL Definitions?

Like the MQL, the way you define a PQL is entirely dependent on how your business operates. No business should have the same product qualified lead definition.

The best definitions of product qualified leads are informed by conversion correlation data, for example, experiencing a product’s aha moment.

As such, a PQL is a moving target. Every business should constantly be refining what their PQL definition is and make sure it helps users experience meaningful value in the product. Here are just a few examples of PQL definitions from well-known brands:

  • For Slack, a PQL is when an account reaches its 2,000 message limit.
  • For Facebook, a PQL is once someone adds 7 friends.
  • For Drift, a PQL is once someone has 100 conversations on their website.

As you can see, each of these PQL definitions is closely tied to what the business offers as a product, and if you become a PQL, your likelihood of becoming a paying or returning user increases significantly.

One of the biggest benefits of the PQL is that it is closely tied to experiencing an aha moment in your product. As a result, PQLs close at significantly higher rates than MQLs because users understand the value of your product. It’s not uncommon for PQLs to convert upwards of 20-30% in my experience working with B2B SaaS businesses.

How to Identify What a PQL is for Your Business

Product qualified leads can be a competitive advantage for your business. If defined correctly, you can align your marketing and sales team, close a high percentage of free users, and understand what prevents your users from becoming successful in your product.

As prospects utilize your application, they demonstrate buying intent based on product behaviors which can include:

  • Product interest
  • Number of users
  • Features used
  • Spending patterns
  • Usage patterns
  • Velocity - How fast a user or team is adopting your product

If you have a good history of product data at your fingertips, try looking for what behaviors closely correlate with users becoming paying customers. If you have Mixpanel, Amplitude or Heap set up correctly, then you’ll be able to see what events correlate with upgrading.

DataMiner has a great video that walks you through how you can use predictive modeling to find identify your PQL definition. If not, I highly recommend getting an analytics expert to set this up for you.

Although this process is time-intensive, you’ll be able to get a good handle on what behaviors are linked with users upgrading.

If you don’t have product data at your disposal, make sure to install a product analytics or product adoption platform to get a better handle on what behaviors link to users upgrading their accounts.

Once you have that in place, I recommend brainstorming a few PQL definitions as a start. Even if it’s just a hypothesis at this point, it will come in handy when you test it in your business.

Understanding Your Best Customers

If you do not take the time to understand who your users are, what they are doing on your site, why they wanted to sign up in the first place, and what goals they are trying to achieve, then you will find yourself struggling to craft the ideal message for them. When you get into personalization and segmentation, it is important to ensure that users are only receiving relevant communication.

To get a better understanding of your best customers, you need to collect and learn from different customer data. If one of your goals is to increase the trial to paid conversions, this is an essential step in the process and this kind of understanding is the foundation of everything.

What is a Minimum Viable PQL?

Let's say you’re just starting out or are launching a free trial or freemium model and don’t have anything but a guess as to what a PQL is for your business.

Where do you start?

I find that usage patterns are one of the easiest ways to define a PQL if you’re short on time. At first, your PQL could be as simple as a user that logs in 10 times. This, at least, shows that the user is actively using the product and is coming back for a reason.

Now, the next step is to find out what they’re coming back to do. Like I mentioned before, your PQL is meant to be a moving target. You can start with usage patterns, but eventually, you want to get closer to pinning what the leading behaviors of someone who becomes a paying customer are.

It’s an art and a science to finding what a PQL is for your business, but it’s more important that you start somewhere than pulling your hair out trying to find out what the “golden PQL definition” is for your business.

By this point, I'm curious. What is your definition of a product qualified lead for your business?

  • Is it the number of logins?
  • Is it someone who accomplishes a quick win in the product?
  • Is it a user that experiences meaningful value in the product multiple times?

I don't expect you to have the answer right away, but I'd encourage you to ask others on your team what they'd consider a PQL to be and then validate it with product data, if possible.

How to Implement PQLs Across the Organization

Once you have your PQL definition, you need to put the systems in place so that all teams can play an active role in generating more PQLs. This is not a solo sport. In this section, I break down some of the key metrics each team can be responsible for.

Marketing

To keep marketing aligned on driving quality signups, these are the top two metrics that need to be prioritized:

  • Visitor to Sign up - Quantity Metric
  • Sign up to PQL - Quality Metric

When setting up metrics for teams, I always recommend having both a quantity and a quality metric to ensure that each team isn’t sacrificing quality in order to attain the quantity metric. As you can see with marketing’s metrics, they need to prioritize the Sign up to PQL conversion rate to ensure that the signups generated are top quality.

Sales

Sales is in a unique position to help users who have experienced meaningful value in the product decide which plan is right for them and offer additional support.

The quantity metric that sales is responsible for influencing is PQL to customer rate – quantity metric.

For the quality metric, there are a lot of different ways you can decide what is best for your business.

Here are a couple of options I’ve seen work well for B2B SaaS businesses:

  • Length of contract for each user
  • Average LTV per account

Regardless of what quality metric you choose, it’s important that it reflects that we’re upgrading users that become and stay successful customers. When taking a closer look at the quality metrics for your business, you should come up with quality metrics for most of your quantity metrics, and this can ultimately help in the decision-making process down the line.

Product

These metrics will help keep the Product team aligned with delivering features and experiences that drive revenue. Having both a quantity and quality metric will ensure that the team is focused on driving the right kind of revenue through features.

  • Sign up to PQL - Quantity Metric
  • PQL to Customer - Quality Metric

Customer Success

Customer Success bridges the gap between helping both users and customers. As such, the team’s key metrics reflect helping users experience a meaningful outcome in the product and expanding accounts through upsells.

  • Sign up to PQL Rate - Quantity Metric
  • MRR Expansion Rate - Quality Metric

Engineering

When it comes to monitoring the success of the free trial for the Engineering team, these two metrics are helpful:

  • Sign up to PQL - Quantity Metric
  • PQL to Customer - Quality Metric

When engineers are responsible for key metrics that involve the product they're building, I often find they can come up with brilliant ways to improve user adoption. If you're a small organization, you can always start with one engineer who's responsible for influencing these metrics and then involve more people as your organization grows.

Building Cross-Functional Teams

When you have the right product qualified leads strategy in place for your business, you can then begin to leverage your team and data to drive growth. You will have different teams focusing on each specific stage of the customer's life cycle - from marketing to sales, customer success, products, and everything in between.

It is nearly impossible for just one team to execute a successful PQL process on their own. PQLs are often viewed as a revenue initiative, and this initiative is led by marketing and sales. However, you will also need to have valuable input from other teams including those in engineering so you can have access to the proper product usage data that is required to initiate the PQL process.

Build Buy-In and Develop Cross-Functional Teams

To build cross-functional teams that are going to work, it might be best to start out small. Start with net new projects. You will find it is easier when you aren't actually taking a project away from anyone. You can instead build your cross-functional teams more successfully by starting on new projects that no one is personally attached to yet. You then need to find the momentum that is needed to earn more resources from the other teams.

Since marketing is more about driving paid conversions and leads for sales, there is a right and wrong way to discuss PQLs with them. You can discuss more high-quality leads for sale with lead qualification and product usage data. This allows the marketing team to create a simple and more focused message instead of having to send a generic greeting in hopes of bigger results.

Tying Everything Together

Unlike the marketing qualified lead, which is typically determined between the sales and marketing teams, the product qualified lead requires all teams to work together.

One of the best parts about PQLs is that it aligns teams to focus on helping the user become successful in the product.

If you embrace the PQL model, you'll have more successful users and more upgrades as a result. If that's isn't a WIN-WIN scenario, I don't know what is.

Now, I'm curious. What are your top two questions when it comes to product qualified leads?

Join ProductLed Academy to become crystal clear on PQLs

Defining your value metrics and what a product qualified lead means for your business can be tricky. If you still need some guidance, be sure to check out ProductLed Academy.

ProdutLed Academy is a 12-month coaching program, where you'll work directly with me (Wes Bush) to master each of the nine components of a successful product-led business (we spend around six weeks on each of these topics):

  • Vision: What is your company really good at?
  • User: Who do you serve best?
  • Model: How do you create a ton of value for your users to win?
  • Offer: Have you crafted an irresistible free offer for your ideal users?
  • Experience: Have you created an effortless path to value for your users?
  • Pricing: Is it easy for users to upgrade without talking to anyone?
  • Data: Do you know where users are getting stuck in your product?
  • Process: Do you have a growth process that enables your team to build out experiments, prioritize the high-impact ones, and launch the ones that are easiest?
  • Team: Is your team full of A players capable of taking you to the next level?

While you can have one or more of these dialed in perfectly, if you’re missing one of these key players, you’re going to have a hard time with growth.

Apart from focusing on those key areas of your strategy, ProductLed Academy comes with:

  • Weekly 60-minute group coaching call with Wes Bush, where you'll go through each of the components of the ProductLed Method (including pricing) to master a self-serve model.
  • Weekly non-negotiable tasks to keep you accountable.
  • Access to an exclusive ProductLed Founder Community so you can meet other ambitious founders and receive support 24/7.
  • Access to the ProductLed Vault, where you'll gain access to all of our programs (including ProductLed Acquisition and Accelerator), templates, and frameworks.

If you're ready to break through to the next level and master product-led growth, be sure to check out ProductLed Academy.

Or if you're interested in reading more on the topic, be sure to read my bestselling book: Product-Led Growth: How to Build a Product That Sells Itself. You can read it for free here.

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