Episode 32: Eric Martin, Head of Sales, Vanta

Eric talks about his journey from; engineer to CEO to Head of Sales, what he loves about his job, insights into their process from lead to close, and more.

This week on The CoSell Show we have with us Eric Martin, head of sales at Vanta.


Topics discussed:

    • Eric's tremendous journey from an engineer to start-up CEO to Head of Sales, and what he loves about his current job at Vanta.
    • Their strategy is to step out in front and tackle pain points their customers might experience as they grow.
    • Insights into Vanta's sales process from lead to close.
    • Being thoughtful about your ICP and how investing in inbound marketing channels has a spiralling network effect that helped Vanta grow exponentially.
    • Building a sales playbook and hiring a smart frontline to leverage & replicate their aggressive growth.


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Follow along with the podcast transcript 

Pete Ryan: Hi, everyone. Thanks for listening to the Cosell show I have with me an awesome guest, Eric Martin, VP of sales over at a company called Vanta. How are you doing Eric?

Eric Martin: I'm doing well,

Pete Ryan: great. Great. Yeah. Thanks for joining me. So, yeah, we can kind of just kick things off. And, you know, my first question is you know, like initially, like what led you into SaaS and you know what's brought you to Vanta.

Eric Martin: Yeah, totally. Well, first off, thanks for having me, and congrats on the progress so far with co-sell I'll go on the record to say Vanta is a CoSell customer and vice versa. There you go. There you go. I love it. Fun when it works out that way and you don't have to, don't have to force it. Yeah, exactly.

Let's see, so, okay. So how did I get into SaaS? I'll give the cliff notes here. My background is in engineering, so I have two engineering degrees. I then kind of found my way into the world of entrepreneurship. Tried to start two companies of my own one in the kind of underwater hardware space in the morning and be a kind of real-time fantasy.

Let's call it sports or betting space. Neither of those startups worked out, learned a ton, and coming out of those in a number of my advisors were like, Hey, like if you want to be a CEO again, one day, every CEO needs to be a good salesperson and they're like, look. Like, you're such a people person.

We feel like you'd be really good at this. It's probably going to be pretty humbling, but you should give it a go. And so I went from kind of startup CEO to SDR and that was I think, eight, nine years ago. And it's been a tremendous, tremendous ride.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. So, engineer to CEO to SDR. And so that's pretty jarring, right?

I'm like, well, I do you feel like as an engineer it's like helped you in some ways and on the sales side?

Eric Martin: Oh, totally, totally. You know, I got into engineering because my mom was like, well, you're 18. You don't know what you want. You're good at math and science, like go get a professional degree. It's a good kind of like investment in life insurance, worst-case scenario, you can go be an engineer. And if nothing else like spending five years, because I did an undergrad and master's degree, if nothing else like spending five years, just kind of like, whoa. And kind of like that way it gives you a couple of things, like a little bit of an air of invincibility, and then to it, it ultimately just gives you good frameworks for solving problems.

So while I'm not calculating kind of fluid dynamic kind of flows anymore, kind of structural integrity of things, like certainly there are any number of, kind of problems that we're trying to solve on a daily basis here and kind of strategic initiatives that we're looking to get off the ground. Yeah, I'm probably certainly using some of the things that I've learned, at least from a framework standpoint

Pete Ryan: that's awesome. Yeah. I feel like it's in the SaaS world, it's like less about the rocket ship and like all about the rocket fuel being, being like the metrics and the KPIs that you're, that you're following day kind of reach your goals. I'll bet. On the engineering side that's helped a ton, right?

Certainly. Certainly. Yeah. Cool. Awesome. So for the listeners that are not familiar with Vanta yeah, what's, what's kind of the overview on the company and the stage and so on and so forth.

Eric Martin: Yeah, totally. So back in 2017, we created what is now called the kind of cloud compliance category. Rebuilt automates SOC2 ISO 27,001, HIPAA PCI, and GDPR.

We effectively have reduced kind of what used to take companies, you know, six-plus months and, you know, upwards of six figures to go get into an audit-ready state down two weeks and, you know, low five figures. It's been incredibly fun. It's been a wild ride. I've been here almost three years now. We've added almost 3000 customers in that time.

All of which are kind of cloud-based software companies. Most of whom are in fact, like earlier stage startups that are going to go get these third-party audits performed similarly to yourself so that you can go kind of execute on strategic partnerships, close the kind of enterprise customers you want to work with, et cetera.

Pete Ryan: yeah, like walk me back to the really early days of Vantaa. What was it?

Eric Martin: Oh boy. So I think I joined as like employee seven or eight. We're now pushing 200 and we'll double again this year. Look back in the day. Super fun. I remember when I was interviewing with Christine, our CEO I like to tell people that like they interviewed me and I interviewed them. And so as part of that process, I got to shadow a few of Christina's sales calls at the time. And maybe she got lucky or she's actually a tremendous seller, but they were both one call 20 K deals. And at DataFox where I was working previously, I had just been unable to close the deal because we didn't have a type two SOC2 report.

And so like, this was the very top of mind. Having kind of witnessed kind of how much they need to have. Vanta had kind of like was solving for, I was like, all right, let's rock and roll. So all that said like the early days, it was one of those things where we were. We were competing against humans directly, right?

It was like software. You use human auditors. And to a certain extent, like that's still kind of like auditors CPA firms while we partner with them are still in, in some ways like our biggest kind of competitor as, as much as we kind of appreciate partnering with them today. But, yeah, I don't know when you're a sunburst.

Nobody, you get it. You know, you're wearing all the hats. There was a time when I was ahead of customer success, marketing, like unofficially, you know, but like certainly like gone are the days where, you know, I'm wearing kind of seven or eight big hats. And instead, we've added a, you know, an army of like rockstars to help us kind of, you know, apply the muscle that we need in the areas where we need them so that like, we can be more and more focused and it's been, been quite the ride.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. So, so as a salesperson at DataFox, you, you experienced the pain of not winning a deal because the SOC2 and then Vanta pops up and you're, and then, you know, you're on these sales calls. It sounds like they're just super-fast sale cycles. And you're like, count me in. I want to get on this rocket ship.

Eric Martin: Yeah, a hundred per cent, you know, it's like, you look like a lot of folks in SaaS, like don't get the opportunity to work for a business that's selling or has built a need to have a solution. And they find themselves selling nice to have products and like it's really important that they don't overlook those experiences because in the right kind of selling environment, Culture selling a nice to have a product.

You know what it does, it helps you build sales muscles. And so I was uniquely equipped. I felt coming out of two X, two kinds of SaaS experiences where we were selling a nice to have product coming into Vanta. It was like, oh, okay. Like I'm in sales shape right now. And people want this and they need this.

So we were just cranking deals. You know, it was like a 90% win rate, as a three to four-day sales cycle. And our metrics are, are still. At a week faster. They're not quite that three years later, but. But yeah, it was, it was kind of from day one, you know, it was like, oh, okay. It looks like we've struggled here.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. That had to have been so much fun. Just, oh, well, I mean, it is fun, right? I mean, you're out, you're on the rocket ship and you guys are growing like a weed. And so Yeah. Like w is that how, like, some of your deals close are, or most of them, like, it starts with the sales team having this like massive pain point, like Hey, we're losing deals because of, of SOC2 compliance, and then we're kind of like, then, you know, knock on their product or, you know, engineering or security team store and saying, Hey, we need SOC2.

And then yeah. Like, walk me through the. The typical kind of buying process and like who your ICP is.

Eric Martin: Yep. Yep. So actually, like, so that's what I thought was going to be the case. I just assumed that the vast majority of the prospects with whom we connected were going to come to us with a compelling event.

Like, Hey, I need this thing in order to get this other thing done. It’s actually like the vast majority of the prospects whom we speak with don't have a compelling event driving this, they're doing it kind of opportunistic. We are proactively either kind of on their own kind of initiative and, or.

Kind of on the advice of an investor or advisor or, you know, someone whom they're trying to at some point sells a deal to. So yeah, but it's interesting. And so from our, from our standpoints, the challenge or opportunity has been kind of like driving urgency. Kind of for all use cases. Right. And so attack that we've taken from day one is, you know, I'm not making the assumption that as these kinds of prospects know how to evaluate this type of solution or type of, kind of category of the solution because it's brand new, right?

Like when we started very, very few people knew that we existed and even fewer had. Any experience using a solution like this, and it's been fun to see kind of over the last three years, this category become more and more established to the point now where like most of the folks that we reach out to they've, they've heard of us, which is actually cool.

And so all said, right, like just kinda answering your second question. Like who are we selling to we're predominately selling to cloud-based software companies. Right. So You know, it's one of those things for better or worse. It's like SOC2 in particular, in the US it's just become table stakes.

And one thing that's been really fun about kind of the emergence of Vanta is that like we've made SOC2 so accessible that we've kind of in-kind of continuing to build. Kind of the most automated solution out there. We're also kind of like simultaneously creating more demand where like, historically, if Cosell was trying to go sell it to a Twitter, like them, at Twitter might not explicitly ask you to go get a SOC2, because like they've been through that.

And they're like, oh, that's a real pain in the butt right now. Like with the emergence of tools, like Vanta, they're like, like no excuses. Like you have to go do this thing. And not only that but now when Cosell works with other smaller vendors, Depending on your vendor management policy as you might also be asking these, you know, equally kind of like early-stage businesses to also go to demonstrate this level of security.

So it's been, it's this really cool kind of spiralling network effect that we've certainly taken away.

Pete Ryan: That's amazing. Yeah. I remember when I first heard about it through a friend and I think yeah, we, we got introduced to Eric and, and so, yeah, I think for me, it was like, okay, we keep on hearing SOC2 like, which is getting ahead of this.

Right. And, and roll it out. And, you know, I got to say it was like, You know, it was still a painful process, but I feel like it would have been 10 times more painful had we not used Vanta and so yeah, like yeah, I guess You know, there's, there's kind of the earlier stage company is right where it's, where they're just kind of getting going and, you know, they're hearing from their customers, Hey, we need, you know, you need to be SOC2 compliant.

We've never heard of your company. What, what have you, like, you know, this will help us you know, verify you in compliance. Like yeah. What are you guys thinking about? You know, as you, your, your plans to move into the enterprise. And cause I see like just every security team potentially, you know, being able to use Vantaa for just their day-to-day operations, right?

Eric Martin: Yeah. Yeah. Without giving too much away, like, are we, we're still very, very much focused on the kind of solving for the pain points of these early-stage businesses who are going through this for the first time. They don't have a compliance team in place. Maybe, don't even have a security team in place.

And they certainly don't have kind of an existing compliance program in place that said, right, like when you've been around for a few years and you're selling to fast-growing companies, inevitably as your customers grow. And so the tack we're taking is like, we are making sure that we're one step out in front of the kind of like the pain points that our customers might experience as they grow.

As a means of a kind of like making sure that like we're able to support kind of a wider and wider range of businesses from a like-kind of size and maturity standpoint to the point now where like probably, I don't know, a quarter of the companies be signed, already have a compliance program in place. And, you know, we've just kind of seen enough edge cases now and built support for those folks that like we can comfortably bring them in and like without kind of too much disruption to their, their process. In fact, like ultimately like making their process that much more. Got it.

Pete Ryan: Awesome. Awesome. And yeah, without, without giving too much away. Right. Like what's your, how's your like sales and marketing team structure and like, what is the typical flow of, you know, lead to close?

Eric Martin: So we, yeah, we have a pretty, pretty tight team today between sales marketing, frankly, our whole.

Or like whether it's kind of marketing sales and customer experience, we're all really tight. There's like a, we kind of spend a lot of calories making sure there's a clean Baton pass from the kind of one runner to the next. And today, most of our leads still come from inbound. Although we do have, an outbound function that we're kind of sinking more and more calories into, And wow.

I just totally blanked. What was that actually, I had no idea?

Pete Ryan: No worry. It's no, it's just, yeah. So you've got a, oh, the structure of the team, right? Yeah. Yeah. As SDR, maybe there's like some inbound SDRs or fielding leads, and then it sounds like you're going to maybe invest in the SDR outbound function. I would imagine.

Eric Martin: Yeah. I'll speak to the sales team today. So, the sales team, there's, there's me. We have a sales director. We have a couple of sales managers with kind of 28 EAs. We have kind of two BDR leaders, business department reps. And then we have kind of eight BDRs, a couple of folks on enablement, and a couple of sales engineers.

For us, as you know, is one of those things where. We will at least double the number of sellers that we have this year, if not triple that entirely based on demand. So folks that are listening in here looking to kind of find a new role, whether you're in a leadership role and a role and, or want to get into the BDR function, like by all means, we're hiring on every front.

And yeah, we'll see, you know, it's one of those things where. You know, it's still a blue ocean out there in terms of the number of accounts that we can sell to. We think very competently, they're kinda more than a hundred thousand businesses out there who, you know, can and should be using Vanta and we've only scratched the surface.

So it's really just about kind of like making this snowball move faster than.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. I feel like the market timing for you guys just has been so phenomenal. And then also like but you guys are, are very well capitalized too, to capture a lot of this growth. Right? What, 50 million and in funding series a, which is like, you know, for series a, you know, the bar just keeps on getting higher and higher.

Eric Martin: Yeah. Yeah. Well, all the, all the credit to Christina there, she's incredibly intelligent and like a strategic leader. And so yeah, once again. Yeah.

Pete Ryan: Cool. So, yeah, so just to like dive into kind of some of the channels that you guys are, are seeing, obviously inbound is, is one, but like, you know, thinking ahead with again, without you know, given too much away, you know, where you kind of see you know, channels for growth when it comes to your kind of go to market

Eric Martin: Yeah just, you know, high level, it's like we're going through the same things that most SaaS companies are experiencing.

Right. Which is just. Wanting to continuously be really thoughtful around the kind of our ICP and our unique ICP for the different kinds of products that we sell. Right. The products and the segments. And so. I don't know, it's one of those things where yeah. We'll obviously continue to like, invest heavily in kind of any number of, kind of marketing channels to drive inbound.

And then we also continue to just like stay creative as it pertains to like, how do we generate kind of outbound business as well? Where if you. Early investments in outbound, back in early 2020, I guess, just pre COVID that really paid off that we've kind of continued to invest in. And, and now it's, you know like our BDR functions are like three months old.

So this isn't an org that has been kind of historically dependent on BDRs. And so one of the kinds of opportunities in front of us right now is figuring out like kind of like how to best leverage kind of humans in this outbound capacity. Right.

Pete Ryan: Cool. Well, yeah. And, and just to like, kind of go off script for a second, like, you know, what. What do you love most about your job?

Eric Martin: I mean, this is so cliche, but like, what I love most are the people whom we get to work with. Right. So one of the things that I kind of gleaned as opposed for my, my last experience at DataFox was like, DataFox really set the bar for me in terms of like, kind of establishing a sales culture right

Pete Ryan: And, but, but it was well, and not to, not to say, you know, point out data Fox, but you, you were kind of mentioning like vitamins for pain pills. Right. And like Vanta clearly, you know, vitamin and you know and then, yeah, you also said like that, you know, your. You were in like really good sail shape, which I totally get. Right. Cause I've worked at sales orgs where it's like, you know, you're, it's easy. Right. And then other ones where it's really hard. And I feel like the ones that have been really hard where I've grown the most, but

Eric Martin: yeah. But even, even, so what easy or hard, right? Like it's still like all kind of, you have to remember.

There are still humans before. All of it. Right, right. We are not a product-led growth business. And so that's where I probably say that. And so what I did was I borrowed the kind of company values from DataFox the moniker to remember that it's epic EPO, C H B, professionalism, ownership, constant learning, and humility.

And on day one, we adopted those on the sales team. So like and we've just kind of designed kind of the culture and the processes to kind of. Embrace those values all the way down to the point where every salesperson that we hire has to pay. Sales interviews. So like a couple of sales skills interviews, they also have to pass multiple values-based interviews.

And so there have been any number of candidates who have kind of come in and crushed the sales skills interviews, but we didn't get the signal we needed on the kind of values piece or that kind of the human integrity piece. And so we had to politely decline and I know my goal is for us to continue to like, hold the bar where we have, and while still hitting the hiring goals, because that's my biggest personal kind of, yeah, yeah.

Pete Ryan: I mean, at some point, right? Like there's, there's going to be a day where you're just too busy to actually interview every candidate. Right. And so yeah, like you're at this kind of like growth scale mode. Yeah. How, how are you thinking about like leverage and replicating kind of what's been. Yeah.

Eric Martin: That's a great question. So for those folks listening, one of the things that we did, and I'd never done this anywhere else, but like early days we built like a, an actual sales playbook and we kept that up-to-date every month and it was actually pretty interesting and it worked really well for us because we had such a repeatable model from day one.

But effectively, like, I don't know, because we have been so tight on the kind of. Our sales motion per se. Yeah. We built truly a machine. And so I, I shared that with the context of like my advice for folks out there, especially in my position is like, like go hire like senior kind of operational folks, like as quickly as you can.

We've had the luxury of kind of hiring really smart frontline managers. One of whom we've been able to promote to the sales director and kind of like through that promotion, like, you know, that's. You know, aloud kind of the entire company to like see, and now have like that much more confidence that like, we have truly built a machine here.

It's also just given me like that much more airspace to like go and like, make sure that I'm looking more than just kind of like, what's my next meeting today, you know, from like a sales kind of strategy and direction standpoint. So Yeah. In any case

Pete Ryan: And it feels like the, yeah, the values piece.

I mean, that's, it's awesome that you started doing that because there are a very few startups, like from day one, you know are, are kind of embracing that. Right. And so yeah, it's, it, it, I think it's. More important than most people think. Right. And you've probably been at Salesforce too, where it's like, you know, the experience wasn't that great.

And you kind of go learn something from that. Whereas like other sales orders were like, wow, this is an awesome experience. It was life-changing for me. 

Eric Martin: I think for, I think for us, it's one of those things where like, once again, look, we're, we're all, we're all knowingly drinking the Kool-Aid and we're perfectly comfortable with that.

You know, it's like, you know, this is still like a very self-selecting. Environment, right? Like, you don't just sign up for this. You don't sign up for this thinking, this is going to be easy, right? Like you sent it for this because you're, you're in it for kind of the experience and the challenges and the growth and, and also for the opportunity to like, kind of build these relationships along the way.

And so Yeah, once again, we're doing our best and it's put out well so far and we'll, we'll continue doing our best, so. Awesome.

Pete Ryan: Well yeah, my last question, Eric, and thanks again for your time. Yeah. If with what you know now, like what, would you love to tell you the kind of younger self, when you maybe just started Vanta, like some tips of advice with you know, what you've learned over the last few years?

Eric Martin: Yeah, this one's pretty easy. You know how they say, like sellers, like always be closing for the folks that are out there that are kind of like first sales hire leading teams, et cetera. My advice for you is always to be in. Got it. And then what I mean is I don't mean looking for jobs. That's where, I mean, I'll be interviewing new candidates for your team.

It's just like, it's something you have to like setting aside time for, from day one, right? Like even, even as the company matures and you have in-house resources make it a priority. If the sales metrics are kind of like where the company needs to know. Yeah.

Pete Ryan: Awesome. Yeah. Well, good, good stuff, Eric. Thanks so much again, for taking the time, and yeah.

If anyone listening wants to contact you, like what's the best way to do that.

Eric Martin: Yeah. You may just give me an email, eric@vanta.com, or connect me on LinkedIn and just add a note, knowing that like you, you heard this in the happy help. Awesome. This is a, this is fun.

Pete Ryan: Likewise, just cool.



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