Beginner's Guide to Product Qualified Leads (PQL)

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 like 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;

Have companies used these PQL definitions? Absolutely and but 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 people 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.

For many businesses, 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.

Figuring out what your company’s value metrics are could be its own blog post, but for now, I recommend checking out this post from Price Intelligently to learn more about 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 blog 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 to 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 for 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 successful 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?

Product Qualified Leads FAQ

How do you track marketing leads?

When you are tracking leads, you are looking for the source of the leads. This means actively monitoring where the leads are in the sales and marketing funnel and then pursuing the appropriate actions to get the lead to move into the next stage of the process.

What is a sales qualified lead?

Also known as an SQL, this is referring to a prospective customer that has been researched and vetted by both the marketing department as well as the sales team and is ready for the next stage in the sales process.

How is lead quality measured?

Lead quality can be measured by closing potential and revenue potential. Closing potential is describing how easy the conversion will be, while revenue potential described how much money the potential customers could generate either over a lifetime or a fixed amount of time.

What percentage of leads should come from marketing?

Marketing often supports approximately 75 percent of all of the leads while sourcing around 10 percent of them. It is a combination of sales enablement, demand generation, and a diminished focus on awareness.

What is the customer journey?

The customer journey or customer experience, as it is often referred to, is the product of the interaction between a business and the potential customer over the duration of the entire relationship.

How do you reduce the time for the process of leads generation and qualifying those leads?

You can generate leads in several ways, including paid online and offline advertisements. You can also use email outreach among many other things. If you choose to purchase leads from third party portals, then it is a pretty straightforward process and may go quickly.

However, for any other medium you choose to use, you need to run the process for each method, and each will take its own time that can be optimized in the future to cut down on the lead time involved.

What is the process of lead generation?

This is the process involved to attract leads (potential customers) in the hopes of nurturing them to complete the buying process and convert them into paying customers. To improve lead generation, a business should utilize email marketing. They should blog regularly, post on social media consistently, design great offers, get involved in networking, get personal, and use success stories to help attract potential customers and clients.

Wes Bush
Wes Bush
Wes Bush is the bestselling author of Product-Led Growth. He’s a renowned Product-Led Growth pioneer and has challenged an entire industry to find a better way to approach SaaS growth.
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