Figma’s Kyle Parrish on Using Brand Stewardship to Integrate Sales and PLG
Integrating sales into a PLG company can feel like trying to mix oil and water. The two don’t immediately seem compatible. PLG organizations tend to have a very specific kind of culture, one that is, at best, reservedly cautious about sales and, at worst, aggressively suspicious.
Typically, sales isn’t even a twinkle in a PLG organization’s eye until the company has already experienced some pretty substantial growth. This means that, in a way, the party has already started, and sales is the late arrival who has a hard time figuring out how to insert themselves into the existing conversation.
For these and related reasons, it’s incredibly important for PLG companies to hire the exact right person to build and launch a new sales team. Starting with the wrong sales leader can send things off the rails pretty quickly, which then sets everyone up for a much longer and more difficult battle to achieve a successful balance between sales-focused and self-serve customers.
When searching for a sales leader, it’s important that PLG organizations think about sales as an extension of the company’s brand. This may be an unfamiliar concept, but it’s a critical one to understand when you’re trying to introduce sales into the mix.
This idea of sales as an extension of brand came up on the BUILD Podcast during a conversation between host Blake Bartlett and guest Kyle Parrish. Kyle’s sales experience includes five years at Dropbox, a company he joined when it had about 50 employees and was just starting to build out a sales team. Since 2018, he’s been the Head of Sales at Figma where he was the first sales hire and took the lead on building out the sales organization.
Kyle was able to successfully build sales-thriving organizations within these staunchly PLG companies by positioning sales as brand stewards rather than interlopers.
Getting Past the Sales Stigma
Sales is often at a disadvantage right from the start since, for many self-serve companies, sales teams are an afterthought. And in many other cases, the idea of having a sales team is automatically perceived as a threat to the organization’s way of life and even survival.
When you bring the wrong kind of sales leader into that kind of environment, you run the risk of proving everyone’s worst fears.
What is the wrong kind of sales leader? In this case, it’s someone who Kyle describes as being, “solely hell bent on driving toward the number, and just the X’s and O’s part of the job.” Instead, what you need is someone who will take a step back and take the time to really understand who the customer is and how the organization thinks about building and shipping product.
Someone who comes charging in, assuming that they have all the answers in their playbooks will fail. When entering a PLG organization, a sales leader needs to be willing to learn about the company and adapt their approach. They need to listen before they start issuing edicts and orders.
“I didn’t let the misconception about being a suit at Figma carry through into how I thought about building the sales team,” says Kyle. “I focused on establishing a kind of microcosm of sales culture within the larger company culture. That started with understanding the company culture, and then figuring out how sales can fit into that and hopefully evolve into a successful future state.”
Establishing Sales as a Brand Steward
When a PLG company sets out to find a sales lead, they are usually looking for someone who has:
- Relevant industry experience in the appropriate market
- A level of experience that matches the company’s level of maturity
- The ability to grow and scale the organization
- An appreciation for the value of cross-functional collaboration
A consideration that’s often overlooked is how the candidate thinks about the sales role. You want someone who focuses the sales role around the customer experience—someone who will represent your company and brand in a way that aligns with what you’ve already built.
For example, Figma has a very strong community built on a decade’s worth of relationships. As Kyle hired for the sales team, he was specifically looking for people who could integrate well with and support what they were already doing. “Every member of the sales team needs to understand that we’re all extensions of the brand,” he says. “Which means we need to show up with empathy for the customers, whether that’s in person, over Zoom, or in an email. The Figma brand has been carefully cultivated for many years; it’s our job to uphold that.”
The wrong kind of sales leader would look at that community as a kind of honeypot to raid. The right kind of sales leader would step up to be a member and a steward of that community.
Rallying Everyone Around a Common Cause: The Customer
When sales is new to an organization, it’s easy to compartmentalize sales and self-serve teams into completely independent silos that have little interest in each other’s wins and losses. But as you grow and scale, the only truly effective way forward is to get everyone on the same page and working cooperatively. That means a sales team that has an innate understanding of (and respect for) self-serve customers, who won’t cannibalize that side of the business and will instead focus on cross-selling and upselling those customers.
Thinking about sales as an extension of your company’s brand—in service to the customer and the user experience—helps reframe the role of sales in a way that transforms how they collaborate with the rest of the organization and engage with prospects and customers. It’s truly a game changer that can accelerate growth across the board.
To hear more from Kyle and Blake, catch the full episode on the BUILD Podcast.
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