Learning GitHub’s Approach to Implementing Product Qualified Leads (w/ Thibault Imbert & Morgane Palomares of GitHub)
Learning GitHub’s Approach to Implementing Product Qualified Leads (w/ Thibault Imbert & Morgane Palomares of GitHub)
What the heck is a PQL? And how is one of the best tech companies out there implementing it? While it stands for product qualified lead, what that actually means is a little different for every company. In this episode, VP of Growth Thibault Imbert and senior director of revenue marketing, Morgan Palomares, of GitHub, explain how they define a product qualified lead, how they are implementing the mindset and workflows at Github, and how they plan to measure success.
Like this episode? Be sure to subscribe, leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review, and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Matt Bilotti, and Thibault Imbert on Twitter at @MattBilotti, @thibault_imbert, and @DriftPodcasts, and Morgan Palomares on LinkedIn
Matt Bilotti: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Growth Podcast. I'm your host, Matt Bilotti. Today we have a fantastic conversation about PQL's, what they are, how to think about them, how it impacts your team and PQL's are product qualified leads if you're unsure. This is a conversation between two folks that work over at GitHub. We have Thibault Imbert who is the VP of growth and Morgane Palomares, who is the Senior Director of Revenue Marketing at GitHub. The two of them have been figuring out PQL motions in real time. In this discussion, they hash out a couple of other things that they hadn't quite figured out yet amongst themselves. So it was a really fun conversation between the two of them. If you liked this episode, there are plenty others that are filled with fantastic guests and good content. So go ahead and check that out. Hit the subscribe button, if you're a fan, and let's go ahead and jump on into the conversation. Hey everybody. Thanks for joining us today. We are going to be talking all about PQL's. So Thibault and Morgane work together. They're super excited to talk all about PQL's. They're going through a process now to get them rolling. So why don't we go ahead and get started with maybe just Morgane or Thibault, whichever one of you wants to kick us off. Give us a rundown... Actually, let's just define PQL first. Let's define PQL and then I'd love to start to hear of where you're at with it or implementation and we can take it from there.
Thibault Imbert: Sure. I'm happy to talk about PQL's. And full disclosure, Morgane is the one that really talked to me about PQL's is the first time at GitHub, so just reminder for everyone, Morgane and I work at GitHub, Morgan's been at GitHub for longer than me. I joined six months ago and Morgan will talk about how she's been really driving demand gen for GitHub. PQLs, what it means is product qualified leads. And so I think Morgan actually, you'll be a better person to talk about how is that different than MQLs. And PQL kind of a new term, honestly, I think if you talk to a lot of people even the demand gen space, they might know what PQLs are in terms of how you think and how you define, but the PQL term is kind of still an emerging thing. So product qualified leads instead of marketing qualified leads, the main difference is that you make products the way to qualify the lead. And so in a nutshell, the gist of it is you use product usage as a way to define intent and really the kind of like the qualification of that lead. Obviously it works really, really well, if not only for free and freemium products or trial products where people can just try to product self- serve. So that's what it means. PQL is a product qualified lead.
Morgane: Yeah, I think that's super helpful Thibault. I sort of think about PQLs definitely in terms of intent. So there are some MQLs that obviously have been brought in from a marketing team that serves either demand gen or demand capture. So it's either you're bringing people in that already have buying intent and you're just bringing them to your solution or you're actually putting that thought in their mind that they have this problem that you're able to solve and you're bringing them and then also hopefully convincing them that they should be making a buying decision. So both of those efforts that we're trying to bring this lead to you in the company. Whereas a PQL is just a yes and to that. So we are still bringing in those leads to our domains, trying to get that website traffic, but instead of bringing them to a form and then using lead scoring and previous data to say, this is the ideal MQL, you're actually bringing them directly into the product and you're letting them sort of showcase to you their intent. And then you take their activities either in the trial or in the product and you come up with the most important activities or actions, and then you use that to then inform your scoring model. So I love having both MQLs and PQLs, and I think of PQLs as just a second high intent funnel that I'm now able to tap and start sending qualified leads over to the sales team.
Matt Bilotti: And maybe it'd be helpful if we give people a couple of examples of what a PQL might look like at different companies. And then I would love to hear how you're thinking about it at GitHub
Morgane: Yeah. So when I was at Zendesk before GitHub, we really looked at PQLs from a trial perspective. So the demand generation team was really trying to drive traffic to the trial. And then once obviously all of the prospects are in the trial and we were trying to help them in product find the most sticky features. And we felt as though if they took X action in the first day that they would have the highest propensity to actually convert. And so that's an easy way to start with PQLs. If your company has any sort of try experience, web try by model, then you can start with PQLs just within the trial and still treat it as a pre- sale motion. Whereas Thibault, you can kind of talk us through how you're also thinking potentially about being using PQLs outside of the trial.
Thibault Imbert: Yeah, absolutely. And before I do that, I was just curious, maybe we could ask Matt, at Drift, do you folks use PQL and if so, how do you define them?
Matt Bilotti: Yeah, we use PQLs. PQLs is one of our best sources of leads. We define PQL... It has changed over the years, but one of the ways that we approach it these days is basically for context, Drift view free product, you could sign up, you can take the chat widget, you can put it on your website, you can start having a conversation. And so for us, a PQL looks like somebody that has had a certain amount of conversation activity in a given timeframe, because it means that their website has the right amount of traffic to generate conversations. And they most likely have some sales folks that could use Drift to generate more of those leads. So we look at it a lot from the perspective of how many conversations are they having on a daily basis and how many meetings are they booking using Drift? And those are our core levers. So it's less like, did they install the widget or not? And it's more of what type of activity are they getting once they have installed our chat widget.
Thibault Imbert: That's awesome. That's very cool. Yeah. And so back to Morgane's question, the way, as both of you pointed out, it's all about these leading indicators that correlate with conversion. And so there's this data exercise to look at what are the patterns and what activation means really for these customers. And from there, you reverse engineer the path to what is the right journey for these people. And so Morgane was saying, outside of the trial, the way we're thinking about it is that in some ways, if someone gets into a GitHub funnel and we know what is the kind of the recipe to get them to be successful with the product for, let's say an enterprise product, then we can do the same thing for other tiers, other segments, and then replicate that. And where it gets really interesting is how then we work with the sales team to provide that visibility to the sales organization because I think that's the thing that was a learning for me is, and this is where Morgane was really helpful in bringing this PQL approach. And so how do we dock with the sales team? Because the sales team really needs that data today to do outreach to accounts. And instead of going on LinkedIn and looking at people that are getting series B, D, E, N, and saying, okay, maybe these people are right now to engage. You're looking at their engagement. You're looking at are they stuck? Are they healthy? And how do you deploy customer success to make the make sure that they're successful and that you engage with them at the right time.
Morgane: I love that Thibault because PQLs, and if you have never worked with PQLs before, one of the great things you can do to first get started obviously is start to look at your existing customer base and then see which of these customers are using our product in the way that makes us feel obviously good about ourselves, that they've actually gotten the value in what they've purchased. And you start to look at the behavior that they have in your product. And then you start to look at those attributes and say, okay, how can I then start to help future customers adopt what our best customers are already doing and bring that all the way through to the pre- sale customer life cycle. So that also when that lead has become a customer, you already have the motion going from a trial perspective, but the key really in all of it is that it unlocks all sorts of segmentation for you. Whereas if you're strictly in an MQL world, you are really segmenting your audience based off of job description, a few more attributes and/ or the annual reoccurring revenue, the quarterly reoccurring revenue, it's a revenue sort of number that also helps you do segmentation. Whereas when you start moving into the PQL world, or even just looking at product usage in general, you're not looking at things from which accounts are bringing us the most money it's about which accounts can use our help in getting more information in order to find that value discovery faster. That's what's really cool about PQLs in going in that direction. And in general, even if you don't necessarily come out the gates with the PQL model at your company.
Matt Bilotti: Yeah. At the end of the day, the PQL, it is the customer or user has truly expressed their qualification rather than you assuming qualification of them being a good customer based on all those other firmographic data points that you're talking about.
Morgane: Absolutely. And then even from a mindset perspective, you're not necessarily trying to get that individual to complete another form for you. You're really changing your whole approach and mindset on how do I help them get the most value as quickly as possible.
Thibault Imbert: Yeah. And one thing that I liked in that is that because we were able to, or at least because we want to be able to provide these insights to your whole company, if people are successful then you also at least in the conversation we've had so far, you make people feel good about bringing more traffic to that rather than getting just people to talk to sales. There will always be people, a set of customers and companies that will want to talk to the salespeople first. And some companies will want to just try. And with the PQL approach, you make that conversation in the sales organization easier because you say, hey, inaudible there are different people out there. Some people will still engage with you directly. And the ones that will get into the funnel and get into the product will be able to scale the pipeline by making sure that they're successful self- serve. And we will provide that insight to you as the mature, so that you know when to engage. And so that way you really provide that visibility and a plus to the sales organization so that they don't feel like you're just taking traffic away from them. So it really helps have that conversation in full candor like we're still getting into that motion and instill a conversation on our side, but at least insofar, it has been really effective at kind of making people understand that it's a conversation about how everyone wins rather than growth versus sales versus marketing.
Matt Bilotti: And on that note of growth versus sales versus marketing, we've talked about the product perspective of it, the growth perspective of it, the marketing perspective of it and the sales perspective of it, who owns PQLs? Who is in charge of them? Because fundamentally the people getting to the website to sign up in the first place that's got to come from marketing. And then the reps are the ones doing stuff with it. And the product team is the one building the inaudible How do you think about ownership lines because Thibault, you're on the product prototype side, Morgane, you're over on the marketing side. Would love a take on that.
Thibault Imbert: It's a good question. And honestly, I don't think Morgane and I have talked about this though I'm sure Morgane has a point of view because she's been thinking about more of that demand gen more than myself, but I think Morgane actually, let's talk about this live. It'd be funny, but from my perspective, product growth really be... Our team is really about making these PQLs successful. So our job is to create the best product experience for these PQLs to be successful. And that's changing the product experience that's really understanding activation using the channels, notifications, emails and everything we can, and also obviously product to make sure they're successful. And I wonder, I do think our team will have an impact on bringing more PQLs, let's say a pricing page, but I would imagine Morganewould be leading more of the acquisition and we would be leading the activation, but Morgane, I'm curious your thoughts.
Morgane: Yes. Matt this is a great question. We haven't figured this out. So this is great. I would agree with you Thibault. I think that at the end of the day, if your whole goal with product qualified leads is to figure out who has the highest intent and who is most likely to become a customer and that it needs a sales conversation. So I would say that like Thibault in theory owns the PQLs, but my team is definitely driving traffic to the trial. And then also really working in walk step with the sales dev team to make sure that they have their sequences correct, that we're doing the experimentation that we need, that the volumes are at the level that they need. So in that sense, I feel like it would fall a bit more to the marketing side for the actual operations and day- to- day working with the sales dev team. I don't know Thibault, you tell me.
Thibault Imbert: Yeah, I agree. I think that makes sense. It's kind of funny that we're kind of doing the sausage building the thing in front of everyone here which is funny. You all got a glimpse of a conversation that Morgane and I could have had internally about how do we do that.
Morgane: That's exactly what I was hoping for here. So, then let's dovetail this into maybe the measurement and goaling of the PQLs. Have you gotten to the point where you've set goals yet?
Thibault Imbert: Yeah. I terms of goals, I think there's two things. One is goaling in terms of how many people do we want to get as PQLs. Again, I think Morgane's been doing a lot of that with MQLs with specific goals quarterly. So on that, not yet. We on the goal in terms of defining what success looks like for a PQL and what the goal is for once people get into the product, what defines their activation and in some way, maturity, to define a successful PQL. This is something that we have done, and we've done all the qualitative and quantitative research to find what are these leading indicators? So for instance, we saw that a GitHub customer getting to the product. If they have, for instance, added code into their repo, obviously they're more likely to convert later, then you add on top of that, have they added team members, have they done their first pull request? Have they set up their first actions workflow? So all of that is something that we've kind of build that ladder for defining PQL, their scoring. And so now what we're going to be doing is we're actually building the product experience as we speak to start changing the product experience to get people to do these things, to make sure they're successful. What we haven't done is setting the goals on, okay, how many PQLs do we need to bring and even do all the backend work to actually have dashboard and reporting on that. That's something that we're working on as we speak.
Morgane: Yeah, that's all true, Matt. I think the thing that I would note on the how do you measure inaudible on PQLs is in the beginning, what I would do is just strictly look at the conversion rate of your PQL to SAL and SQL or whoever your company defines those standard funnel definitions, because I would hate for anyone to feel like they have to come with a large volume of PQLs. It's totally fine if in the beginning you have a very low volume, but you are getting to the quality that you're looking for. Because again, PQLs are supposed to bring that really high intent customer. So that's what you want to nail first. And then once you feel like you've gotten the actual science behind it, and these are the things that we want to measure that informs our PQL scoring model, then you can find tune that over time and obviously add more to the funnel and grow the scale there. But I would say in the beginning stay true to high intent, really focus on the most important things that you think would drive that high propensity to convert and go from there.
Thibault Imbert: Yeah. And Morgane's been talking a lot internally about intent of leads. And so in some ways PQLs are probably would be the most, the most qualified leads assuming they activate. This would be the most qualified lead we can get in some ways.
Matt Bilotti: So let's talk about getting the info on these PQLs, the PQLs themselves, the context of here's what they did in the product that make them a good PQL. Let talk about getting that over to the sales reps. One thing that I have seen from experience is that sometimes, or oftentimes the reps will just say, send me anybody that signs up that looks good. Just send them all to me. And you have reps that want to jump into PQLs that maybe haven't taken all the actions yet, but they look like a really good lead. How are you thinking about holding a line and saying the reps only see the PQL at this level and defining what that level looks like and how it goes up to them and in what way?
Thibault Imbert: Well, that's a great point. I don't think we thought of that, Matt. At least I haven't. And inaudible Morgane your thoughts on that since you've worked with the sales organization for longer, but yeah, it's a good question.
Morgane: Yeah. It goes actually to a larger philosophical question on how much can you tell the sales team about your scoring and routing models. So, there's a world in which you could definitely train your sales team on how to really understand the scoring model. I've found though that once they understand the scoring model and they get new lead outside of the very best one, they don't focus on it as much after. So I think there are some advantages of the team not fully understanding the scoring model in detail, but knowing that if it gets added to their queue, it has absolutely passed the scoring threshold and they should have confidence in that lead and follow up with them just as they would with the hottest of the hot lead. Now I've definitely worked with salespeople that want as many leads as they can get, even if they're not totally warm. And then I've also worked with a ton of salespeople that are like, I actually just want the people that are ready to buy right now. Don't waste my time with anything else. I would say you want to strike a balance. The first thing I would do is sit down with your sales dev manager or your sales leader, and start asking how many leads does your team need to have on a daily basis in order to hit your goals and be successful? And then you start to work your way backwards from there.
Matt Bilotti: Yeah. On the note of managing the reps and the context, I'll just give the example of what I've seen over at Drift in case it helps you both and other folks that are listening in. We basically had to get to a point where we would just hide the PQL information completely. We just wouldn't show the lead in Salesforce for the reps until they hit that threshold. And then they would show up because otherwise a few of the reps that got clued in of here's what the PQL is and they really understood that, they would, they would short circuit it, inaudible find the people that were on their way to becoming a PQL and kind of pick them up and run with them from there. And the challenge that you really have to think about that we didn't really think about a ton before we got going, was that the whole point of the PQL is to let the customer, let the user, get to that qualification point on their own. And if the rep is jumping in too early, you are short- circuiting that right? You're no longer letting them get to that value point on their own. And so, at one point we just kind of had to draw a line and say like, it will not even show up in Salesforce. It's not even searchable in Salesforce until it hits that threshold.
Morgane: That's a great point, Matt. And we actually have that rule for everything on our team. So our inquiries sit in Eloqua and we don't pass anything over to Salesforce and for that lead information to be sitting in Salesforce until it has actually become qualified lead, regardless if it's marketing and soon to be product. So we sort of cut that. We cut it all out. Yeah. Everything that hits their queue, they're supposed to follow up with.
Thibault Imbert: I didn't know that Morgane. That's really cool and Matt this is great to hear you guys did that. And I think we're probably going to be doing the same thing.
Matt Bilotti: Awesome. I love that we're getting this conversation in real time inaudible. Cool. Any other implications or things that you've run into as you've gone through this journey of setting up PQL that you think is worth calling out here that maybe you didn't expect to be complicated, but it's more challenging than you thought or something that was overlooked and you're saying, oh, I wish we just thought about that a little bit sooner. Any of those things come to mind that you want to share?
Thibault Imbert: Well, I think in full transparency, because I think that's the point of growth unplugged in those series to be vulnerable and transparent about some of the ambiguity and challenges of being a growth practitioner is... There's definitely going to be an impact, not an impact, but what's happening right now, this PQL conversation is triggering bigger conversations about how do we divide and conquer and what are the swim lanes between self- serve and sales and it has even implications into what people want to focus on and other areas throughout the company, because you're kind of you like it could be disruptive if you're always kind of inaudible MQLs and you just bring PQLS. It's not just like building a dashboard and just say, hey, we're going to hide stuff in Salesforce. There's a whole conversation you need to have about compensation and then what people are supposed to be focused on, what they are compensated on, and where do you draw the line and recalibrate the swim lanes. And so I think that's something that we have in front of us and we're working with leadership on. And so that's one thing. And the other thing is once we have that definition of a PQL and the product experience aligned to get peoples to succeed and becomes PQL, I think there's interesting things we can do around automation for lead scoring and automating a lot of things in terms of targeting and re- engagement through emails and other channels as part of lifecycle marketing. And so I think this is just the beginning, and I think we're going to learn a ton. And I think it'd be awesome to come back in a year and actually talk about some of the flaws, some of the wins and some of the learnings.
Morgane: Those are great points, Thibault. Yeah. There's still so much work to be done, y'all. I would say that some things that I wish I knew before I sort of started down this journey is first just ask yourself do I work at a web try buy company? Is the trial really important to leaders here? Do I have a product partner to make sure that it's the right experience to even make going on this adventure worthwhile? And then the second thing that I would do is if you really just want to dip your toes and get started without having to advocate this to LT and do all of the crusading and diplomacy that you would need to do, I would say start with the segmentation. The next program that you're putting together to drive growth or to help with your demand metrics. Think about, okay, how can I take my audience and actually segment based off of existing product usage? So you should probably do this with a customer campaign or to your install base, and then actually go through the segmentation of the product usage instead of doing it by top target or the biggest accounts or whatever sales is telling you is most important and see what the data shows and tells you, and then take that win and make it into something bigger and then bigger and then really then advocate from there that this is the future of how your business should be thinking about this.
Matt Bilotti: Well, this has been a great conversation and thank you both for talking through a bunch of this stuff in real time. This has been great. Thank you so much for listening to the podcast as always. I know there's so many things you can do with your time, energy, effort, things that you can watch, listen to, work on, whatever it might be. Thank you for spending it here. If you were a fan of this episode, hit the subscribe button. Plenty more episodes to come check out some of the past ones. If you liked it, I would super appreciate a review on the podcast app. Any questions, feedbacks, ideas, anything like that, my emails inaudible. com. Feel free to reach out. Thanks. And I will catch you on the next episode.