The Complete Guide to Product Qualified Leads

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Chapter 10: How to build cross-functional teams (for product qualified leads and more)

The importance of cross-functional teams (for product qualified leads and more)

With a product qualified leads strategy in place, how else can you leverage your product team and product data to drive revenue growth?

Different teams will focus on a specific stage of the customer lifecycle - ”functional teams” (marketing, sales, customer success, product, etc). But what we’ve learned from studying the organization is that executing a product qualified leads strategy becomes a cross-functional discipline.

Product and engineering get involved with their traditionally-owned product databases. Data science gets involved to compute models. Sales gets involved to work the leads, and provide feedback to the system.

None of these teams can execute the PQLs process on their own.

As a marketer, it’s key to remember that you have to have a stake in the product team -- whether you’re the one joining the conversation, or whether it’s someone working right alongside you who understands how important your projects are to growing the business.

While PQLs may be a cross-team discipline, your organization might not be set up yet to support cross-functional projects. So how can existing, siloed departments collaborate on projects like this one? And how can you form new cross-functional teams?

The challenge is making one team’s priorities also the priority of another team.

Product qualified leads is fundamentally a revenue initiative, best led by sales and marketing. So depending on your tracking setup, you may not even need significant input from product and engineering to provide the product usage data needed to start the PQLs process.

But as value-based and product usage-driven strategies like product qualified leads become more advanced and sophisticated, there’s still the challenge of convincing product and engineering to feature your initiative on their roadmap.

Sometimes, product and engineering don’t fully understand the methodology and strategy behind growth. This can make it hard to get some level of prioritization. Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

“We’ve had product growth clash with development of the core product sometimes, because at times, the growth methodology might be looked down upon by the engineering team.” --Pedro Magriço, Head of Product Growth at Typeform 

Which begs the question: how do you get buy-in from your product team?

How marketers can build buy-in and develop cross-functional teams

Top to bottom reorganization is expensive and rare, because as humans, we struggle to let go of things we feel we own and control -- and sweeping changes of an entire organization move power around.

Companies that have undergone sweeping changes tend to follow in the footsteps of another model, like Spotify’s Squads and Tribes: a model directed from the top down.

*We don’t recommend you start with this.*

Just like getting started with product qualified leads, you want to start small and prove the case. For building cross-functional teams, there’s a key trick.

Start with net new projects

Remember how power and control plays in: people don’t like having things taken away from them, but also don’t feel attached to new things that aren’t their own. Of course, they may want to contribute and feed their opinion on a new project, but they aren’t attached in the same way than if they *own* that project.

So the answer to starting cross-functional teams is simple: *start with new projects.*

Do something no one else is doing yet. This circumnavigates the politics of ownership, so you’re in control from the get-go. You don’t have to wrestle the steering wheel away from anyone else’s hands.

From there, your challenge is to build momentum to *earn* resources from different teams. You need to demonstrate how your initiative can contribute towards other team’s goals, instead of coming across as a mercenary.

Start small

Create a cupcake, not an entire cake. Start by asking yourself:

What’s the smallest, yet still “complete” version of this first project?

What are the minimum resources we need from another team to get started?

The minimization of your demands can pave a long runway. If you only need a data dump from your engineers, that’s a totally different proposition (for them) than asking them to develop something (and sidetrack resources already allocated, or donating their own time).

Then, celebrate the quick and dirty first pass. If you can’t get an ongoing event stream, see if you can export data from an analytics tool and matchup with data from your CRM in a spreadsheet. Look for basic correlations and “magic numbers” in usage.

With that, you can start to implement the sales and marketing side of your product lead qualification test - it’s back in your control.

Use this success and further iterations to prove the value of product qualified leads at your company -- which, in turn, helps you push for resources. It’s no longer an abstract “hack” to look down on, but something that demonstrates value in your business, and others.

That’s the first step to breaking down silos and getting access to resources - if not, a meeting.

(An entirely separate guide would be needed to deal with the internal politics of companies).

Start personally

The first follower principle is important. Don’t swoop into your VP Engineering’s office and demand he allocate someone to your crazy new project. “Serious” developer time isn’t going to be allocated to small chunks of projects - it’s not big enough to warrant their headspace.

Instead, build a relationship with a solo contributor engineer, or someone who can help you with your minimal v1, and get their buy-in. Get someone who can make the case for you interested and bought into the value you’re trying to build.  

Parkinson’s law (that work expands to fill the time available) is reversible - if an engineer or someone else finds a project *genuinely* interesting and impactful, its likely they’ll figure out how to make time for it.  

As a go-to-market team, sometimes product-engineering types are turned off by different strategies we use. They may see spammers and shady tactics across the internet, and equate other marketers’ bad behavior with your own. But a project like product qualified leads ties very closely to real life and value created - meaning it can be a bit easier to communicate and earn a developer’s buy-in. (e.g., “Why don’t we notify sales of users and accounts who are already getting value?”)  

Tying what you want to do, with why it’s valuable in real life, can dramatically change the attitudes of people and teams you need to get buy-in from.

“Now that we have been mining all this data and starting to correlate it and things like that, now the appetite among the team to actually do this has changed dramatically because there's a realization that the messages can be very targeted and can be very helpful and don't have to appear to be marketing-y or sales-y. They can come across as much more, "Hey, we're trying to help you solve this problem and we noticed that you may potentially have this issue or have this solution or something along those lines.

“The appetite for even doing this kind of stuff has changed and now there's no longer any pushback to doing this and now, overall, that company is much more aligned towards even allowing for these things to happen because of the fact that they're super contextual and super relevant.” -- Emmanuelle Skala, VP Sales at DigitalOcean

Product qualified leads are only one example of this. You need to bridge your sales, marketing, and product teams to be successful in other efforts, too:

▪️ Sales needs to understand who the leads are, why they’re qualified, and be able to give feedback to the qualification algorithm

▪️ Marketing needs to be able to nurture leads and trial users to the point at which they become product qualified.

▪️ Product needs to be able to provide the usage data needed for qualification.

Since sales needs to take action and provide feedback, whereas product and marketing only provide an input (data, nurturing), it makes sense for sales - *or someone from sales* - to collaborate with someone from your sales team, and have them take the lead.

How marketing should talk to sales about product qualified leads

Marketing cares about driving more paid conversions and leads for sales. So, as you probably know, the ongoing challenge is whether sales accepts the quality of these leads, and whether there’s enough.

Lead qualification with product usage data can reveal many more high-quality leads for sales to talk to, and it gives sales a natural conversation starter (e.g., “hey, I notice you just installed your 5th integration.”)

This allows marketing to simplify and focus messaging. Instead of sending generic, send-to-all spam, marketers can nurture for the specific (more limited) high-value actions that have been found to trigger value and “aha!” moments. It makes marketing’s job easier, and their results bigger.

**Do NOT ever position a PQL strategy as a complete replacement for lead qualification**. Sales will be incredibly risk-averse and hostile to a project that threatens to disrupt their pipeline.

Keep it familiar. Sales knows and expects different initiatives to happen that will drive more leads. Use this language. Describe it as a “campaign” between product, marketing, and sales to drive more leads. Don’t threaten extinction.

How sales should talk to product and product qualified leads

Good product teams will be customer focused, with lots of iteration and understanding of what customers are doing -- through surveys, interviews, analytics, user testing and so on. Ideally, marketing and product work together to collect these insights, as the team at Moz does:

“I'm actually on the product team as the product marketer. I think it's really helped in how we're building our product to be super user-customer focused, and we do a ton of customer interviews and iterations along the way, and we learn a lot from customers that way on how to message to them.” --Brittani Dinsmore, Product Marketing Manager, Moz

Sales can and should leverage this existing activity. If product already cares deeply about understanding the customer, then why not share that motivation with other teams?

Sales can argue that they want to leverage the same insights as product marketing does. This should be in real-time and on an ongoing basis, and it can relate product features and adoption directly to revenue growth.

Emphasize this relationship. Tying the work of everyone on product and engineering to dollars and deals can delight and motivate.

Do NOT position this as something to be “built”. Product and engineering can be wary of building new things. These need to be maintained and updated over time - in the real world, there’s never a “one-off” project.

Instead, start the conversation with how existing product usage data is being tracked and stored. What is already built, is working, and has a purpose with another team? What is going to be maintained anyway? Anchor their minds here.

Once you’ve identified how this is tracked, then you can discuss how sales can export and leverage this data. Exporting from something that already exists is far less disruptive than building something new.

Of course, the reality is there may need to be some technical work to package and deliver the data. Something may still need to be built. But an engineer’s mind will approach “joining the dots” more readily than building something new.

Product qualified leads are an iterative process

Product qualified leads have multiple axes to explore and improve on - the strategy is never “done”.

But since product usage informs who you talk to, and what you can say, it can give a much clearer path to iteration and improvement than other lead qualification methods.

There are three key axes:

1. WHO you talk to

2. WHAT you say

3. WHERE you say it

Let’s look at those in turn.

WHO you talk to: Finding more triggers

We discussed in the earlier chapters about how to find your ”aha!” moments, and this is an interactive process you can improve upon.

1. Seek raw product usage

2. Find correlations with quick regression analysis

3. Data science and modelling

As your PQLs process grows and scales, you’ll graduate through these three steps. The resource requirements increase dramatically, particularly for the data science options (either in-house teams, or external services).

WHAT you say: Creating new content

Triggers can’t exist in isolation. It’s not good enough to just reach out and ask a lead, with no context “can we hop on a call.”

PQL strategy craves personalization to work. As you find more triggers and *”aha!”* moments, you’ll need to craft more content, too.

“We're constantly looking for new triggers and new content, so that's a big part, is continuing those three with new content, new triggers. A lot of this also only really works well if you have relevant supporting content, so there's a big effort now that we've proven it to beef up our content team so that we can actually have more content related to all the different triggers and events that we're going to be using.” -- Emmanuelle Skala, VP Sales at DigitalOcean

Creating more content, and improving existing content to convert better, can create a huge workload on your content team. 

To drive buy-in, it helps to have some numbers and strategy for prioritizing content for the many different triggers and audiences. Another reason for starting small. 

WHERE you say it: Finding new channels 

Finally, product qualified leads can be used far beyond just calls and emails from your sales team. 

“Being helpful and relevant” can be applied in so many places that can drive engagement for sales. 

> Then the last thing is expanding beyond just those three channels into in-app messaging and chat. Those are going to be later in the year, but those are things we want to take it to the next level beyond just account managers ... sales reps and marketing. 

Live chat and in-app messaging leverages existing product usage and website visits. It gives you the chance to engage users right in the moment with relevant content. 

Operationally, your live chat needs to be staffed and monitored. As before, there’s a big content demand in order to provide the right messages and replies at the right time. 

Marketing emails can also be triggered, personalized, and automated at scale to users. You may well have a large segment of “almost product qualified” users who aren’t yet engaged enough for sales, but need that little more nurturing to push them over the finish line. 

Product qualified accounts can also give you an avenue to engage more users and grow revenue. By targeting potential users in a company that’s already using your product (for example, Dropbox may be used by the design team for sharing files, but the marketing team may not be using it), you can grow the size of that account. 

You can do this even without an email opt-in through prospecting for other employees at that account, then enrolling them in ad and website audiences personalized to their company and use cases. 

Coordinating and managing many tools, contacts, messages, and channels is called “orchestration”. 

Product qualified leads needs customer data orchestration

To make product qualified leads work, you need to orchestrate data between multiple places:

1. From your analytics tools or product database

2. Assign to accounts in your CRM, marketing automation tool, and data enrichment providers

3. Create qualifying segmentation or scoring

4. Sync all this data to your CRM, including the “conversation starters” for sales (why they are product qualified)

This involves at least two tools with different data formats. We discussed the different options for integrating customer data in an earlier chapter.

Teams tend to own tools. Tools own data. Data orchestration frees data from individual tools and spreads it across different teams. This enables cross-functional teams and projects to take off. But without a boundary, the possibilities become limitless.

If you’re going to be orchestrating data between tools anyway, then why stop with just syncing to your CRM?

And if you’re going to be creating content for triggers anyway, why limit it to content for sales?

A customer data orchestration strategy will make it easy to transplant different strategies across multiple channels, so you can supercharge your customer engagement at every touchpoint.

▪️ Product marketing can use product usage data to drive and nurture feature adoption 

▪️ Revenue operations can use product usage data to enable go-to-market teams (beyond sales) 

▪️ Marketing can use product usage data for lifecycle marketing and account growth

▪️ Marketing can use product usage data to target campaigns and content at existing users 

▪️ Customer success can use product usage data to personalize onboarding, proactively manage accounts, and nurture accounts through the entire customer lifecycle 

In summary, you can use product usage data to enable your customer-facing teams to personalize their outreach, and marketing teams to personalize content in the context of what users have done.

Takeaway Points: Creating High-Converting Content for Each Segment

1. Using product usage for go-to-market is a cross-functional discipline. You need to have a strategy for managing cross-functional teams projects.

2. PQLs are an iterative process. You can continue to find new triggers and develop more supporting content across more channels

3. Why limit triggers to sales? With the data behind PQLs, you can empower your other go-to-market teams like product marketing, customer success, and marketing with the data to personalize their outreach, content, and campaigns.

Continue to Chapter 11: Bringing it all together

Authored By

Claire Suellentrop

Founder, LoveYourCustomers

Claire Suellentrop helps high-growth SaaS companies get inside their customers’ heads. Previously the Director of Marketing and #2 employee at Calendly, she’s seen firsthand that truly effective marketing stems from a deep understanding of existing users’ needs.   

Now, she works with companies like Wistia, FullStory, and MeetEdgar to uncover their best customers’ needs and desires, then uses those juicy details to create more relevant, high-converting marketing and onboarding campaigns. 

Ed Fry

Head of Growth, Hull.io

Ed Fry is passionate about helping marketers grow their organizations and directly contribute to revenue. He was the first employee at Inbound.org and worked with thought-leaders like Rand Fishkin, Co-Founder of Moz, and Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder of HubSpot. During his tenure, membership grew from 5,000 to 165,000+ members between 2012 and 2016.

Ed currently oversees Growth at Hull - a customer data management platform that eliminates data problems for marketing and sales teams alike. 

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