John Eitel (Canva): Bottom-Up + Top-Down

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This is a podcast episode titled, John Eitel (Canva): Bottom-Up + Top-Down. The summary for this episode is: <p>John built the global sales team at Canva, which allowed the company to expand further into the enterprise. He walks us through everything a PLG founder needs to know about adding a top-down motion to a bottom-up, product-led foundation. When should PLG companies do this? Why is it necessary? What is the strategy? And how do you do it IRL?&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Key Takeaways: </strong></p><ul><li>[4:35] Repeatability in enterprise customers and understanding where these deals stall out</li><li>[8:01] Stall points in enterprise spending and getting purchase approval</li><li>[10:30] Embracing a top-down motion for PLG companies</li><li>[14:17] Combining bottom-up and top-down to scale business using customer success stories</li><li>[17:24] Communicating to executives the story of what software adoption saves</li><li>[20:24] A broader context and story of how the platform improves customer lives</li><li>[22:47] How the data component can make or break sales efforts</li><li>[27:40] Where is adoption happening and using data to determine who gets involved</li><li>[30:10] How to get the entire company working with sales</li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Mentioned in this episode:</strong></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Sign up for OpenView's weekly newsletter</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">John Eitel, Former Global Vice President of Sales &amp; Success at Canva</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Canva</a></p><p>Subscribe to&nbsp;<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Blake Bartlett on YouTube</a>.</p><p>Podcast produced by&nbsp;<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView</a>.</p><p>View our&nbsp;<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">blog&nbsp;</a>for more context/inspiration.</p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView on Linkedin</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView on Twitter</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView on Instagram</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView on Facebook</a></p>
Repeatability in enterprise customers and understanding where these deals stall out
03:23 MIN
Stall points in enterprise spending and getting purchase approval
02:25 MIN
Embracing a top-down motion for PLG companies
03:35 MIN
Combining bottom-up and top-down to scale business using customer success stories
03:05 MIN
Communicating to executives the story of what software adoption saves
02:58 MIN
A broader context and story of how the platform improves customer lives
02:22 MIN
How the data component can make or break sales efforts
04:50 MIN
Where is adoption happening and using data to determine who gets involved
02:29 MIN
How to get the entire company working with sales
06:52 MIN

John Eitell: ...I think it's important to understand that you are kind of traversing a whole new course here, whole new Meyer persona that you need to address and really speak to them in their language there.

Blake Bartlett: Welcome to BUILD, the podcast from OpenView. I'm your host Blake Bartlett, and the show features conversations with software founders, leaders, and investors. Each episode unpacks a new key insight on how to build your company and navigate the fast changing world of software startups. Recently on BUILD, we've had a number of great conversations about taking PLG to the enterprise. It's a popular topic here on BUILD because it's a popular topic in PLG. It seems to me these days, every founder I talk to is asking about how to build for the enterprise and how to add a top down motion to enable expansion into larger accounts. It's not an easy transition and there is no single right answer or silver bullet for founders, hence why we're hitting the topic repeatedly from different angles with different guests here on BUILD. Some of the episodes I'm thinking about include Kyle Parrish, who built the sales team at Figma and talked about the importance of sales culture in a PLG company. We also had Jesus Recena on the show talking about how he built the PLG data and analytics infrastructure at Unity to better understand the customer base and enable a growth strategy. And most recently we had on Annie Pearl, chief product officer at Calendly, talking about the product implications of building for the enterprise and how to manage the organizational complexity it brings to your company. Today we're continuing the enterprise PLG conversation with John Eitell, who was the global vice president of sales and success at Canva. Before John, there was no formal sales effort at Canva and he built it from the ground up with a ton of obvious success to anyone who's followed the Canva story. John walks us through everything you need to know in order to add a top down motion to your bottom up PLG foundation. When exactly should your company start this journey, and what signals will tell you that now is the time? Why is it important to embrace and not avoid enterprise sales in the first place? What this new flavor of enterprise sales looks like from a strategy standpoint, and ultimately how to put all of this into practice without breaking your current team and customer base. Today is an absolute gold mine for PLG founders and leaders. Let's dive right in with John Eitell. You recently told me that your role as a sales leader is really to be more of a sales puzzle master or a sales problem solver. I guess what exactly does this mean and how have you seen this play out in your career?

John Eitell: Yeah. That's funny that you remember that, but yeah, I think that it's just probably the way that I think about kind of my role, leading and building new go to markets. I do feel like you all do a great job of highlighting this, but sales is changing the world of... Buying is changing, the way the consumers consume is changing. And so I think the successful sales are the ones that understand how that evolution's happening and how to embrace it and really kind of lean into it. And so I think probably like one of my strengths as a sales leader is that I've worked in different contexts, different backgrounds. And so I think whenever I come into a different solution, I bring lots of pattern recognition and things that have worked well for me in my past, but I'm always kind of thinking, what pieces do I want to borrow from other things that I've done? What are some new things that I want to introduce? And so I think that's what really kind of makes it fun is it's not a one size fits all, show up every day with a playbook that I know that's tried and true. It's always kind of having a certain element of experimentation and being able to figure out what works in a new and evolving context.

Blake Bartlett: Yeah. You took the words right out of my mouth. The one thing I wrote down as you were talking was playbooks because certainly as a VC, I see this a lot. That new sales leader comes in. Is this a playbook person or is this somebody who really thinks about things kind of on a case by case basis?

John Eitell: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I feel like PLG is at the front of that. I do feel like this is kind of one of the major trends. It shows this evolution, and so I do think being able to adapt, learn. I listen to a ton of podcasts from my peers, even in the industry because I think that's the neat thing. I think a lot of us are all kind of figuring this out together. And that's what gets me excited, as probably one of the older dogs, too. I feel like that's kind of really neat to me is that you can reinvent new ways to do this. The solutions aren't always the ones that worked in the past here.

Blake Bartlett: Yeah, and that's a great transition into the topic of the day, which is sales in a PLG environment. And more specifically, if you're starting as a PLG company, you're typically starting with the classic bottoms up motion, the self- service motion, but at some point it's going to make sense to add a top down motion to complement that. And this is obviously something that is a new context in the software world and so you can't use old playbooks. And so this is perfect to sort of understand how do you actually problem solve this? What does this look like in practice? And you have some amazing experience from Canva and many other great PLG companies where you've done this in real life, so we're going to unpack that.

John Eitell: Look, I think it varies by company, which is always a bad answer for this. There's not this always iron clad, this is the immediate sign that it happens. But I would say there are some basic things to look out for. I think at Rackspace and WP Engine and at Canva, we had started to land at different times our biggest customer, an enterprise brand. And that was when it was like," Okay, it's maybe time to think about things differently." Right? We started to get this bigger customer that was exhibiting some different buying behaviors and everybody was really excited about it. And so I think it was... Really, that's kind of sign number one is when you start to get your first big customer and then hopefully some repeatability in some of these bigger customers. And then, we talked about this in past conversations, too, looking for different kind of stall points along the way, like what is causing some of these deals to either stall out or just grow to a certain size and not continue to grow? And so kind of looking at the data, I think data's kind of your best friend in guiding this. With Canva, we saw that we were getting into a lot of big enterprises, but we were only landing team sizes of 40, 50, maybe 60 employees in companies that had thousands and thousands and tens of thousands of users. Right? We were just scratching the surface, and so it was like, okay, for us, that was a stall point. It was like, okay, there's obviously interest in the enterprise, but they're only getting to this certain size. Why is that? And we knew that the opportunity was that much bigger on the other side of this. It was like, okay, we need to unpack this and understand it. WP Engine was the same. It was a lot of self signup. And then we moved in kind of SMB and mid market and then we started to land some really big names. Right? And then we quickly learned how they bought was different. They had security reviews that we had to run through with them. We had to go through legal negotiations. We had to do a number of things that just were a barrier to them getting any bigger with us. Right? We could do a lot of little small deals with big enterprise, which to me is kind of sales hell. It's like this opportunity is massive on the other side and you just can't quite get to it. And I think that's when you start to think about how do I introduce a human element through this top down motion. I even think about it like... Top down motion, there's ways to kind of leg into it, use your way into it. I've talked to a lot of companies that are going through this transition and they can even see early phase of where you can get adoption in enterprise but we see certain users sign up and abandon partially through the process. Right? There's some problems with the signup process or they're not seeing enough value on the other side to complete it. And so they introduced, I'd say, a light touch kind of sales motion, but it was someone who could come in and really educate, guide, coach them through the signup process and get them to the other side to get them adopting. I think just looking for those different stall points and figuring out where they are, and then when to kind of phase in the different elements and pieces is the real kind of key and magic to this.

Blake Bartlett: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense to me, and I'm kind of hearing two big buckets of things that are happening in the context of the company that will tell you now is the time. One is a little bit more intuitive and clear to me. The other was a little bit more counterintuitive, but the clear and intuitive one is, and this is classic for PLG, is that the customers pull you there. That's a really good signal. We got our first big deal. We had no idea what we were doing. We pulled out all the stops. There was a bunch of diving catches and Herculean efforts to get that deal across the finish line, but we got it. I'm sure there's more of them. Let's build a process around it. But the other bucket, the less intuitive or counterintuitive to me, at least, example you gave is stall points. What happens if you get to a certain point and you're getting pulled to a certain point and you should get pulled further? There's a lot more seats to get in this account, but we're not getting them.

John Eitell: Yeah. Yeah. You'll find it, and I do think a lot of them... Look, the neat thing is how far you can get with someone pulling out a corporate card. I think that's the really neat thing in enterprise is that you can see a good amount of adoption, but I think that's another natural one. Certain thresholds get triggered on a corporate card where you can't can no longer get away with kind of sliding it under the radar and kind of doing it on your own. You need to bring in procurement, other folks like that. I think that's when it needs more handholding. And that's just an obvious, kind of easy stall point to see. I always try and look at those things and think about how do you not overdo it? How do you come in with a lightweight way to still kind of move through those stall points? Because I think the customers will value that and you'll get a ton out of it, because you can minimize a lot of your sales costs here. But, I mean, a good example of this is legal agreements. I think that when you get into enterprise, it's just natural that someone's going to ask for what is the legal agreements that we signed up under here? We'd like to review them. And I've seen teams overly do them and actually drop the binder on someone and say," Okay, here's this overly legalesed contract." And I've often kind of skewed towards let's make it simple. Can we make it one page or less? Can we make it hugely customer empowering? Can we make it something that everybody in their right mind would sign up for it easily? And it gives us the right amount of protections. Right? We want to make sure that we're not putting ourselves in jeopardy, but we don't want to over complicate things, so that they can kind of look at the terms, go through and hopefully click through them if they can, without having to do a legal review. I mean, that's one example of how you hopefully can maximize these stall point and do it without a heavy human element there and just make it easier for buyers to buy.

Blake Bartlett: That kind of sets the stage with the context of what's happening inside a company. In many ways that's the when of the problem. When do I start thinking about this? When do I do this? What should I be looking for in my company? The next question for me is, well, why? Why should companies embrace it and not avoid it? For me, I certainly have often run into PLG purist founders who don't want to embrace the top down motion, or perhaps think that their company can be successful in the enterprise without it, and maybe we're exempt from needing to do that. That's an old school way of thinking. To me, I definitely don't think it's optional. I think it's a necessity for all PLG companies at some point in their journey, but I'm curious what you think. Why is it so important to embrace this top down motion and this top down moment and not avoid it?

John Eitell: Yeah. Look, I see this one often as well, and I get it. I guess I get both sides and I think PLG is a beautiful thing. I understand the purest point of view and the willingness or the want to avoid it here. And I think actually I would say to those founders," Maximize it for as long as you can. Stretch that runway for as long as you can." I struggle to see going all the way and I've even looked for use cases and examples of companies that have done it really well. And it always is inevitable. It's kind of like fighting gravity. At certain points, when you get a sizable enough engagement with an enterprise, the expectations of what they want you to provide is different. Right? And so they're going to look for dedicated teams and dedicated points of contact. They want escalated support. They want kind of different models of how they get treated. Right? I mentioned security reviews. They'll have all these requirements and hoops that you'll need to jump through. And so making sure that you're on top of those and knowing how they play with that customer's scenario and work together with that scenario. Those all are going to be kind of the natural gravity that comes in and you have to have those teams in place, or you'll tend to have a lot of small deals with large enterprises, which... It can be a major headache, right? Because you'll still probably get dragged into a lot of those things. You'll end up having to do a legal review one off. You'll have to come up with some kind of support model to support them. Right? And so you'll either get kind of stuck in sales hell doing small deals to big companies where you know there's a lot of upside. And obviously also probably working a lot harder because you're creating a lot of one- off scenarios and solutions, which don't scale. And so I think that's when it's important to think about what is the time? If you're serious about it, what is the time to make that shift? What is the time to make that pivot. And then go all in on it. I think that's something that really I talk to a lot of PLG founders about is... Make that decision when the time is right and then don't do it half- heartedly. You got to go all in. You got to support it and there's lots of ways to support it but I think that's the other thing that's really kind of key is don't avoid it. It's inevitable and it's kind of natural gravity, and then when you get there go all in on it.

Blake Bartlett: Yeah. Yeah. It kind of makes sense to me to look at it through the lens of customer success, not as a discipline, but as a philosophy of clearly everybody wants customer success. They want their customers to be successful. And going up market and enabling that motion that allows you to go up market or to expand to the full potential in a large account is really the concept of having more customers be more successful with your product.

John Eitell: 100% agree.

Blake Bartlett: If that's the why, and we need to not avoid this moment and definitely embrace this moment, let's get into the what. And I think the what of this topic in many ways is the strategy. How would you personally describe the strategy from the 30,000 foot view level of combining bottom up and top down? What are some of the new capabilities you're going to need to develop on things you're going to have to think about as a go to market organization?

John Eitell: Yeah. Yeah. I'll talk through some of the elements of the strategy and then I'd like to make it real and probably just use some examples from my past. I think that the key is when you have these entry points, right? You're really kind of getting this kind of proof of concept, I would say. The way we looked at it with a lot of the companies that I've led here, we have this team that's utilizing it, right? They become kind of this champion for us that we're able to make successful and use as kind of business case to the business. And that's the really fun part about this is being able to take that now to the decision maker, and in our context of Canva it was the CMO. But being able to talk to them about this huge value add that we could bring to their organization, how we could make them more efficient, how we could really help their team scale in effective ways. And then really kind of draw back to this team that had kind of already signed up on their own, right? Using them as this, great positive kind of beacon of light that we can start with here, use as a kind of point of success to really help scale this to the rest of the business. And that was really a lot of times our storyline there when we'd go to the CMO. A lot of times they hadn't even heard of us because we had kind of come in through user making this decision on their own, maybe scaling it to their immediate team. And we wanted to play for bigger stakes than that and really go for that kind of end to end, wall to wall deployment. Being able to come in and really kind of drive home all those key elements, I think was the big thing for us. Also, being able to show the usage and adoption is a positive in that I think oftentimes the wall of resistance you hit is it's going to be really hard for us to adopt a new tool. We've already got tool exhaustion. We just implemented X, Y, Z. And so to be able to say that it's already happening, it's already happening with some virality and teams have already kind of selected this tool and they're getting so much value out of it already. You can go talk to them firsthand. Yeah, I think that really helped us kind of speed the path up and really in the end also kind of shortened the sales cycles, going from virtually unheard of in the CMOs mind to them not even knowing they had this problem to quickly getting them alive and alert to this big problem. And then the solution that we can help drive with them there. I mean, I think, and it does take some transitioning. I think the immediate use case, you often think about how you're going to make that team's life better, easier. Their job is becomes easy to accomplish and it makes them more successful in their role. And then when you move to the CMO and further up the chain, look, it is about that broader impact. It's about making the larger organization more efficient. And so you have to be able to switch gears and understand that. And I think that's also a common mistake I see is some people think what worked for the initial team to get on the platform is going to resonate and oftentimes that falls flat. And so I think it's important to understand that you are kind of traversing a whole new course here, a whole new buyer persona that you need to address and really speak to them in their language there.

Blake Bartlett: Yeah. And maybe unpacking this language that they speak and the concept of business value a little bit more, oftentimes when you have the initial adoption from end users using a PLG product, they might not think about it in ROI terms. They might think about it in terms of this is just a better product. I like this product. Personal preferences is to use this product. I can't imagine my life without this product. And that's all really good stuff, but that's kind of personal preference orientation. And then maybe if they were really sort of pressured on it, they might say," Well, yeah, but it helps me save time." And so it's personal preference and time savings often time for the initial adoption. But as you start to speak to this executive persona, personal preference and merely time savings usually isn't good enough. What do you have to actually communicate instead?

John Eitell: Yeah. Yeah. You nailed it. I was going to say I think they oftentimes don't understand that, right? They just think, again, the common words they use are it makes my life easier, or it helps me do my job more effectively, or it makes me stand out from my peers. Right? But I think it really does come down to even bigger. I think you nailed it. I think one of the keys is they can be really helpful in helping you drive that story. Getting them to quantify our saved time and efficiency will ultimately build into that ROI. And so I think if you can get it from the users, that's massive. I think that'll be really helpful. And we did that a couple of ways, actually, by surveying some of the users after some of the proof of concept, and we tried to drive them towards some of the things that would be great inputs for an ROI calculator, but I think it is... At the end of the day, it does come down to dollars and cents and taking that time and calculating it into how you make the team more efficient, how you help them maybe hire more effectively, because they don't have to hire as many people in one category over another, right? And so that they can save on cost and those things. Those are the things that ultimately need to come from that so you can traverse that new chasm and make it to that new buyer and speak in a language that's going to make a lot of sense. Especially with a lot of these tools, too. I hear this often, too. A lot of these great PLG companies are creating categories. They're creating solutions to problems that didn't exist before. And so in a lot of ways, that's even trickier because it's not like," Hey, I want to replace X with Y and you can take your cost of X and replace it with Y and sure, we're a little bit more expensive, but we're worth it." You're actually asking them for a budget they may not have identified already, to think about, where they could pull some dollars and budget to be able to afford a tool for maybe a problem that they didn't even know existed. I think that gets even more tricky. You have to be good at telling the story of how the world with this product in place is going to be a better one for them. It's going to save them money. It's going to make them more effective. Again, speaking in the languages of things that matter to them.

Blake Bartlett: But it's also just the overall positioning, storytelling and messaging as well. And so what's important there? This probably brings in both sales messaging, as well as product marketing and that kind of thing. But how do you need to speak differently in order to not be perceived as just a tactical tool, but actually a business solution?

John Eitell: Yeah, I think it just comes back to more of that broader context story. Right? It's not just helping one person be better at their job. It's helping teams and departments and units and helping different departments and teams and units function better together. Right? That's where the platform story comes in. I think just in a simple, basic way, I always want our products to be kind of mission critical and that's also how I kind of anchor to that and that if we can build the right products and if we can position them correctly, and if we can implement them correctly, hopefully we become mission critical in that if you rip it out there would be major pain and upheaval and bad things would happen. And there's lots of products that you can draw on that you could probably think of in your day to day that kind of have really made that jump, Slack being one of them. I talked to someone recently who was like," We had to change from Slack to Microsoft and when we switched over, it impacted the culture of the company dramatically. We could tell that it had this massive change." And you think something as simple as a tool could be easily replaced, or some people want to think that they could be easily replaced, but I think that's a good example of how they became part of the fabric of how the teams worked together and became mission critical and became that platform which is really important. And I think it's on multiple people's minds on how you get there, right? It's on the product teams to build a product that is that sticky and that is that virally adopted and then also that painful to remove out of their hands if that were to ever happen there. It's important for the sales teams and customer success teams to put it in the right hands, get it into the right teams, make sure it's implemented correctly, make sure that you're ongoing to teaching, training, that they're maximizing. Getting the value out of it. Obviously product marketing and marketing play a big, big part in this with getting the message straight and making sure that it's understood in that context. But I think that's a big, big jump. But I think that also is a one that will mean the difference between, again, tens and hundreds of users to thousands of users on the platform when you make that jump.

Blake Bartlett: We've talked about the when, which is the context in the company, what to be looking for. We talked about the why, why this is important to embrace and not avoid or think you're exempt from. We just talked about the what, the strategy and what capabilities you need to develop. Let's get to the how. What does this actually look like in practice day to day for somebody who's trying to execute this strategy? We can pull this to one of your personal examples, Canva. Canva has millions of users. And so if I'm an AE at Canva trying to do this top down stuff, where do I even begin? Do I just call user number one and then sort of call down the list? Or is there a way that I actually action this in real life that's a little bit more strategic?

John Eitell: Yeah. Yeah. And before I jump into that, actually, I mean, I think that my answer... One of the things that I think is going to be really important and is going to be a part of my answer is look the data component. And I do think every company I've worked at data gets unruly. It gets unstructured. It gets hard to access or understand, or we didn't capture the right data in the early days, but now we do today. And so I think if I could get through to one team today, I would say the importance of data and getting it right in the beginning is awesome and I think is so important. And I have talked to so many companies that are going through this growth journey and they put their eye on this early and I'm like," Okay, that's amazing." Because we, I think in some ways did it well, but we, just like everybody else grew really fast, and as you mentioned had tens of millions of users on the platform when we decided to add this top down motion in. And so it really was this complete needle in a haystack moment here. It was a massive, massive haystack. And I think as an AE in the beginnings, we did the rough kind of, I would say, kind of caveman methods to get things up and going. If you were an AE on my team, what you found was you would look for patterns of adoption that you could quickly access and get to it. Who with this corporate domain is using the product here? Who's signing up the most recently? Is it a team of 10, 20? Are they starting to grow? That's a key indicator that we've got, obviously, some adoption swell growing in this organization, so it's time to reach out to that kind of executive to see if we can get them to foster a larger deployment there. Over time we started to learn that there were obviously a lot of shortcomings to that method. And that's where we really started to invest in kind of our data stack, our BI that sat on top of this, even a lot of the triggers of when this happens, who engages with what kind of story and message? And I think that's the fun part when you get into there, because we really started to learn that 40 users at a company doesn't always necessarily mean that you've got a team adopting. You could have 40 users who signed up independent of each other, didn't even know each other, and they may all be using this for something that they're doing on the side. Right? And so we quickly found some gaps like that. And so we were looking for are these teams that are working together? Are they showing patterns of behavior, like creating designs and sharing them? Are they inviting more people to be a part of their team? Okay, this is showing that this is more kind of B2B usage here. This is more team focused usage. Let's strike now and let's get somebody in front of them to talk through that. I think the other thing too is even using the email domain, we really invested a lot in enrichment and understanding that because over the pandemic, we found that email became, I think, even more muddy. I think there's a lot of people, because we were working from home and working life quickly converged over that time, people were probably a little less cognizant of using my personal email versus my work email. And so we saw a lot, I think, a spike in, actually, corporate emails for sign up. And so we quickly learned that doesn't always necessarily mean corporate adoption. On the inverse of this, we still have a lot of folks in the database and in our user set that we're drawing on that use Gmail accounts. And so how do you know that Blake at Gmail and John at Gmail are actually at some really massive company and that they don't go under the radar, right? How do we identify those needles in the haystack quickly? And how do we make sure that we're tracking on the right patterns of behavior to see that they're starting to do some things that are really interesting and compelling? And we probably want to insert somebody here, maybe customer success. Maybe it is our Canva coaches who do kind of the onboarding experience and make sure that they're getting the value out of it. Maybe it's an AE because we see this 40 person team, but we know that company has over a hundred thousand employees. And so really 40 is just a drop in the ocean and really represents a much more massive opportunity if we put the right players on the field and the right team in place.

Blake Bartlett: At the highest level you're looking for signals to indicate where is adoption happening and these signals really come from product analytics. What's happening in the product? What's the usage that we're seeing, or the user of growth that we're seeing inside the product? And so wiring up product analytics and exposing that to a sales team is super important, which makes a lot of sense to me. Does this really ultimately get at PQLs or does this look like something else in practice?

John Eitell: Yeah. No, I think actually understanding the difference there too. I mean, MQLs and PQLs, building in that level of scrutiny there, understanding how each of them behaved too, I think is the other thing that we really got good at was building some discipline and rigor. I think in the early days we treated everything as a lead, right? It was like, it came to us from inbound. They're not on the platform. This is a team on the platform. So, understanding what each of them are and then what team works with what I think is also key there, which, again, we didn't have in the beginning days. And so I think that's fairly common. Everybody works on everything. And I think getting more specific around the roles you introduce, the timing of when the roles get involved here and how they may team up, work together, or not even kind of touch a customer. I think that's the important thing. And also I think the neat thing about this, we've talked a ton about the sequencing and when, and the how and the why. Rally, I think, again, that it's not a one size fit, it's all you're putting in place here. Really think about how do you put the right touch in the right place. Having one or two or three potential roles that you're kind of introducing in here and making sure that not everybody gets an overly kind of enterprise sales experience, right? One, we don't put AEs on entry point kind of deployments here, those proof of concepts, until they reach a certain size, right? So, using data to dictate when does an AE get involved? And there's some companies that we want to get on ASAP because they have so much potential and there's some that are so small that it's like, okay, they'll never really need that resourcing and they probably don't want that. Let's make sure that we kind of surround them with the right kind of model that supports their growth and their deployments. And so I think just being very kind of smart and deliberate in scaling these things in the right increments with the right touches is really key here.

Blake Bartlett: I want to zoom all the way out as we close out the conversation here. We've been talking, obviously, a lot about the sales strategy and the sales team and all of the details of this in real life. But it's important to remember that the majority of the company is not on the sales team, and this can be a really big cultural change for a PLG startup. The type of thinking that you'll see is, we've been successful without sales up to this point. Why do we need it now? And so maybe give a little bit of a view to that. How do you think about change management for the broader organization? How do you message the role of sales and how do you get the whole company working with sales, as opposed to against sales, or just viewing it as this sort of sideshow?

John Eitell: Yeah. Yeah. That's awesome. I think it's a good one to think about and I actually have heard a number of folks come on your podcast and talk about this. I mean, for context, when I joined Canva, I was one of the first sales hires in a thousand person company, probably, at the time. And so we really were a small, small, small sliver of the overall entity. We actually had regular kind of meetups and kind of virtual coffees that we would do. And the common question I got is what is sales? I feel like you all dress fancy and talk fast. And so it was a lot of dispelling the myth just around that. And I think I really leaned into and enjoyed that part of this, was helping the company understand that. And I would say part of my role was being a chief storyteller, really one spending a lot of time outside of my kind of immediate sphere and spending time with products, spending time with marketing, spending time with support. Really diving into the trenches and helping them kind of understand the value that we can drive together. And then I think also working to just get on a regular cadence of doing... We had brown bags with my sales team where they would talk about product requirements to the product team, which I think was really great. They were thirsty and really wanted a lot of input for them for what the product was doing well for customers and what it wasn't. I think that was a great opportunity. We had a regular cadence of almost every month standing up in front of the company in company meetings. Mel and Cliff were great about giving us time to showcase this. But talking about the deals that we won and really telling the story of how they started as a initial team using the platform and they grew from that 40 to thousands. And I really loved to hit home kind of the key elements being that it wasn't one over the other that made this win successful. It was the combined story. And we have a major focus on social responsibility. And so it was even better to highlight those ones where it was like, okay, not only are we growing adoption of the platform faster than we could have done with just a pure PLG motion, we're helping some really impactful teams do some really impactful work. And so that was really the fun part was being able to highlight those stories over and over again. And that was for me the moment when we would do those every couple weeks, I would hear afterwards, like," That was great. That helped me understand. What if we did this for that customer? When you told us that story, it really made me think about this feature that we wanted to roll out." I think just being very repetitive at times, probably having to just kind of rinse, wash, repeat. But basically helping the company understand how this small kind of nimble team that's being built within the organization can have a massive impact and really can drive towards the common goals that we're all marching towards.

Blake Bartlett: What I'm hearing is that doing this transition where you add top down in order to effectively embrace the enterprise, and you do it through adding a sales motion, this is a team sport.

John Eitell: And I would say the cool thing too on this is that the teams that I see that do it well, really build that muscle around kind of collaboration and that team sport element. We kind of built a triumvirate which was kind of sales and success, product and marketing. And we met regularly, and we talked about all the things that we were working together on. And then it doesn't just start, or it starts there, but it doesn't end there. I would say that also our AEs did kind of regular deal reviews and they brought in all those teams to be a part of it. And it was an open invite that people could be a part of, and there was a Slack channel that we communicated some of these things. But it was not a look at us and what we're doing. It was more of we needed more help probably than we could talk about the successes. It was great to bring them into kind of the problem solving with us, to be able to talk about here's a big customer, big opportunity. If we could do this faster, if we could prioritize this faster, this is what it would mean to the company. And that was really neat thing. We even had a great CS leader. And I think we talked a bit about CS, but it's like CS has had the most massive resurgence. And I think is such a critical element about this. It's right there with data, I'd say. Invest in your CS org and invest in your CS leaders there. But I had a great CS leader who created what he called the heal desk, which is kind of the opposite of a deal desk, but it was customers that were in jeopardy of leaving us, really big customers that had grown to a certain size and then hit stall points again. And it was great to come in and just talk about it and get everybody else's help to solve these problems. I thought he did a really great job kind of leveraging the other teams and bringing them in when the time was right to get their help, not just being out there on the battlefield, dying on his own or having his team feeling like they're getting beat up. I think it really is about bringing all those parts together, embracing the team sport element, which isn't... Back to where we started here, I'd say, some overly SaaS companies of the past, it was... Everybody has their lanes. Everybody has their kind of silos. Everybody kind of stays within these swim lanes. And I think that the world is getting a little bit muddier and I think that's pretty cool. I hear a lot about product leaders being focused on having a... I've heard the conversations around should product leaders have quotas? And I think that's a pretty, pretty cool one, but I think your product leaders should care deeply about this, right? They should have a vested interest in the success of the sales team. Your marketing leader should feel the same way. And I think that we really are kind of breaking down those traditional silos and swim lanes and I think that's the fun part about the companies that you see winning here.

Blake Bartlett: Yeah. I think from an org design standpoint, PLG is part and parcel with cross functional work and cross functional operations together, really for all departments of an organization. And that's true at the early days, but what we're seeing here is that's very much true as you continue the journey and as you reach these new phases, including adding top down and embracing the enterprise. John, this has been absolutely a great conversation. Back to where we started as a puzzle solver, this is a puzzle that many PLG founders are trying to solve themselves right now and you've put all the pieces in place. Thank you for the masterclass and the walkthrough of adding top down to PLG.

John Eitell: Awesome. I appreciate it. It's been great spending time with you.

Blake Bartlett: Thanks for checking out BUILD. If you enjoyed the conversation today, make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and leave us a review so that others can find the show as well.


John built the global sales team at Canva, which allowed the company to expand further into the enterprise. He walks us through everything a PLG founder needs to know about adding a top-down motion to a bottom-up, product-led foundation. When should PLG companies do this? Why is it necessary? What is the strategy? And how do you do it IRL? 

Key Takeaways:

  • [4:35] Repeatability in enterprise customers and understanding where these deals stall out
  • [8:01] Stall points in enterprise spending and getting purchase approval
  • [10:30] Embracing a top-down motion for PLG companies
  • [14:17] Combining bottom-up and top-down to scale business using customer success stories
  • [17:24] Communicating to executives the story of what software adoption saves
  • [20:24] A broader context and story of how the platform improves customer lives
  • [22:47] How the data component can make or break sales efforts
  • [27:40] Where is adoption happening and using data to determine who gets involved
  • [30:10] How to get the entire company working with sales

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John Eitel, Former Global Vice President of Sales & Success at Canva


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Today's Host

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Blake Bartlett

|Partner at OpenView

Today's Guests

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John Eitel

|Former Global Vice President of Sales & Success /GM North America