Turning a Continuous Improvement Mindset Into Successful KPIs

When growing and scaling sales teams, stasis can set in even quicker than a sales leader might realize. That’s why Marty Sanders, head of American sales at cybersecurity leader Vectra, prioritizes continuous improvement as a strategy and goal for every member of his organization.

During this episode of Growth Hacks, the trio discuss how Marty hires sales leaders that are hyper focused on growth, and how Vectra supports their employees with a culture that allows them to excel. Marty also walks us through how his new hires generated 50% of revenue in just six months…and how they cut their sales cycle by more than half along the way.

Here’s what you will learn:

  • Why Vectra treats recruitment with the same focus they do dealmaking and sales
  • How to recruit and hire talent that has an improvement-focused mindset
  • The strategy behind implementing a culture of continuous improvement
  • How Vectra shortened its sales cycle while growing revenue generated by new hires

To hear more on this, settle back and press play.

Please find the transcript below, which has been edited.

Kunal Mehta: In today’s episode, we have a special guest, Marty Sanders. Now a little bit about Marty.

He started his career at EMC, where he eventually led a division from a hundred million in revenue to a billion in three years. After that amazing run, he became CEO of a Tony Robbins company that focused on doubling sales in 24 months or less. He went on to work for one of our venture advisors here at TCV, Mark Smith, at a fast-growing company called Rubrik.  Now he’s at the helm of America Sales at Vectra, who is a leader in cybersecurity and a TCV-backed company. And I’m sure you’re going to share some incredible best practices. Welcome, Marty Sanders.

Marty Sanders: Thanks, Kunal. So great to be here.

Katja Gagen: Awesome. Marty, where does this podcast find you today?

Marty Sanders: Got off the plane a couple hours ago from Chicago and I’m looking around and I think I’m back in my home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Kunal Mehta: Well, Marty, I got to tell you my first day at TCV, I walked off at jetway and I was greeted by these incredible superheroes. And I remember thinking, this is just incredible branding. I loved it. I loved how they had a superhero for cloud, network, data center, but then I realized it was Vectra, a TCV-backed company, and they’ve kind of cracked the code on simplifying cybersecurity. Maybe you can give us your quick pitch on Vectra.

Marty Sanders: Absolutely. I do get excited every day here at Vectra because we’re fighting bad guys. We’re helping companies prevent the serious damages that come from cyber-crime. What Vectra does is we provide peace of mind that your mission-critical assets are protected from cyber-crimes, like ransomware and supply chain. And we do it by detecting adversaries and responding to adversaries at speed. Thanks to our superior AI and ML platform.

Katja Gagen: That’s interesting Marty. So, what is most important prevention or adapting as quickly as possible? And since we hear about ransomware and security breaches every day in the news, has demand gone through the roof for Vectra’s solutions?

Marty Sanders: Thankfully they have, but you know, sadly it’s because crime is getting very, very bad. And one of the challenges that companies have today is they’re spending way too much on trying to prevent and stop and block threats that can’t be blocked. So, the new wave companies who are doing a great job defending themselves against ransomware and supply chain are focused on detection and responding to adversarial threats versus prevention. Because eventually somebody is going to get in. So, it’s all about identifying them and getting them out as soon as possible.

There’s about a 300% uptick in ransomware I saw in the Washington Post recently. We are seeing a significant uptick in early indicators of ransomware amongst our current customers. But the good news is we are seeing the early indicators of ransomware with our current customers, thus being able to identify and respond to that. That’s why our customers are out of the headlines.

Katja Gagen: Right. And obviously cybersecurity is a really hot topic and being ahead of the game is key to fight the bad guys, so to speak, right? How do you find good talent in an industry that is in short supply? And what are your secrets for hiring and for ramping people quickly?

Marty Sanders: There’s a lot to unpack there, Katja, and I will tell you it’s tough and it’s never been tougher. But we’re having great success, despite all those headwinds. And part of it is a culture and treating recruiting with the same level of focus that you treat any large transaction or large deal in the forecast.

And it starts at the top, making sure that I carve out time to do recruiting and leveraging my network and tools on LinkedIn. Then it goes down a level to my managers. So, when I’m inspecting their business, it’s not just a forecast and pipeline review. It’s also a review of their recruiting activities.

So that’s really important to us, that we treat recruiting like we treat multi-million-dollar deals. The second thing that we’ve done is we’re a lot more efficient in our recruiting and we’re getting a lot better predictable results by using a personality DNA test from company called OMG. What we’re able to do is very quickly after we identify a candidate — do a 10-minute interview — we ask them to take this test and, you know, if they fail the test, we don’t move on. It gives us back a lot of time because it’s customized for us, and it’s able to take into consideration the skills and the wills that makes sense for the candidate and it makes sense for us here at Vectra and we don’t have any exceptions. You pass the test, or we don’t move on.

Kunal Mehta: Marty, I love, just the science that you apply in terms of hiring. We spend so much time training sales reps on qualification. Whether it’s through MEDDPICC or MEDDIC or whatever, you’re using the same approach on hiring. Maybe you can give us a little bit more color about how you apply that process to hiring?

Marty Sanders: Absolutely, because now we’ve done a good job at sourcing candidates, and we get somebody that passes the test. There’s still a lot of work to do so in closing the sale because it is a sale, and we use MEDDIC as part of our hiring process. Understanding, what is the metric that the candidates are looking for, which is typically income or upward mobility, you know, who’s the economic buyer? Many times, I’ll be on with a candidate, and I’ll say, Katja, do you discuss this opportunity with your significant other or spouse? And she may say yes. And I’ll say, would it be helpful if I got on the phone with your spouse and talked a little bit about the opportunity, to make sure I’ve answered all questions? Just making that offer goes a long way in the recruitment of a candidate.

Kunal Mehta: And what’s the result at Vectra through this process?

Marty Sanders: Well, I adopted it as soon as I joined the company about seven and a half months ago, and the last two quarters, in what used to be considered a long sales cycle, over 50% of our revenue is coming from folks that have been hired in the last six months.

Katja Gagen: Well, thanks, Marty. I also want to drill a little bit into the sales cycle. A lot of our companies in the portfolio have very long sales cycles and then they hire these industry superstars with a big Rolodex, and they pay non-recoverable draws. What’s your take on that?

Marty Sanders: My take is this is a problem that many companies are facing, where we hire the person with the expensive Rolex and the nice suit, and they make all these big promises and nine months go by and you really don’t have the right scorecard to see if they’re doing a good job or not.  So, I address it in a couple of ways.

Number one is what can we do to shorten that long sale cycle? And I’m obsessed with that. And making sure when I use the sales, like a DNA test or personality profile, does this person have the ability to do transactions? Even though you’re not a transactional business, just having that transactional ability really goes a long way in shortening sales cycles.

Number two is building a scorecard to measure if they’re doing a good job and then three, and most importantly, tying that draw to the KPIs on that scorecard. I will not give a draw just for the sake of giving a draw, that you get money just for showing up. We’re going to make sure we tie that draw to MBOs that are great leading indicators that we’re building pipeline. But even activities like identifying stakeholders, meeting the stakeholders, getting the senior leadership like me or my CEO in front of the customer. Identifying use cases, modeling a TCO, developing unsolicited proposals. And most importantly, have you identified pain in any part of an organization? Just making sure we’re paying that draw and tying it to hitting these KPIs.

Kunal Mehta: Marty, I think those verifiable outcomes that you’re talking about and tying the draw payment to that is incredibly refreshing to hear. I know you have this great way to onboard, ramp, even identify talent, but you also have an incredible way to think about just continuous improvement as folks come in. Maybe you can talk to that a little bit and how you’ve compressed things like sales cycle.

Marty Sanders: Continuous improvement has to be throughout an entire organization, and everybody has to be obsessed with that. Probably my biggest obsession right now, is shortening the sales cycle. When I came to Vectra, our sales cycle in America was 241 days, and now we’re down to 111.

Last quarter we had five new customer transactions, brand new net, new customers that closed in less than 30 days. So, we’re certainly trending in the right direction. And the pillars to get that done is — a big part of it is culture and not allowing that limiting belief that all of our sales cycles are nine to 12 months.

One of the things that you have to do again, going back to the sales DNA, is making sure you hire people that do not have that limiting belief and agree with me that we can shorten that sales cycle. Number two is making sure all your sellers can articulate the value prop in 90 seconds or less. You can get that in less than 90 seconds; you can build a 90-day sales cycle.

Next is building a culture of compression where every Friday is treated like month end, every month end is treated like quarter end, and every quarter end is treated like year-end. By the way, this is tough. It can wear people out, but you have to maintain it. But because it’s tough, you have to do two things. Again, hiring people who are built for that.

And then number two, really being aggressive in recognition and making sure that you’re checking in on your people, that they can continue to maintain that pace.

Kunal Mehta: That level and that mindset is incredibly important. And I remember Marty, when we first met, you talked about no goose eggs ever. Maybe you can just explain to our listeners how that mindset is so critical in your own organization.

Marty Sanders: A great example is, you know, a sales rep who doesn’t clearly have a deal to commit, you know, from a forecasting perspective. And they’ll say their commit is zero. You cannot allow anybody to put a goose egg in their commit.

They must put something. Something has to be in there because if you allow them to have a zero forecast, you’re basically giving them a mulligan. You’re giving them the subconscious right to fail. By getting them to commit to something, anything, even if it’s $50K, that commitment now is tied to a moral obligation, and they are morally obligated to get to that commit. So, it’s very important that none of your managers can ever accept somebody committing to zero.

Katja Gagen: So, it’s a lot about having growth in mind, but also being very focused. That leads me to lifetime learning, Marty, and I know you’re passionate about learning. So, tell us, who do you learn from and who has had the biggest impact on your career?

Marty Sanders: I could literally chat for a week answering that question, as there’s been so many people that have influenced me and helped me. But my go-to book, the book that I ask all my managers to read, the book that I read on an annual basis is Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Influence, and his new book called Pre-Suasion. It’s all about using tools like neurolinguistic programming and the seven most powerful words and subconscious laws of influence to get people, to do what you want them to do. To lead them, to make the right decision. And the premise is: there’s no such thing as free will.

Kunal Mehta: Well, I love any books that have to do with influence and persuasion. Maybe you can talk about how that impacted you and your personal life.

Marty Sanders: The beauty of Cialdini’s work is the impact it has had on my personal life. And I’ll go back to a sales campaign, talk about long sales cycles, this is a sales campaign I started about 15 years ago. I had seen John Chambers do a presentation about the need for more engineers and said, “if you have small children at home, do what you can to get them to be engineers”. And I went home that day with a moral obligation to make sure my daughters became engineers. So, I looked at my four- and six-year-old in the eye and said, “you guys are going to be engineers one day.” And they laughed. They giggled, they went back to dance class and her piano lessons, not knowing that over the course of the next 15 years, I adopted every piece of learning from Cialdini that I could apply to influence my girls, to become engineers. And up until the day they were doing their college applications, they still didn’t realize what major they were going to do, but yet they somehow wrote down mechanical engineers.

And as I look back today, I’m very proud of my two successful daughters who are going to be big, big players in women in STEM.

Kunal Mehta: Marty — they’re going to know about it now, this lifelong campaign.

Marty Sanders: Cat’s out of the bag.

Katja Gagen: And so, taking this to the influence and persuasion in selling, what’s your number one tip that you can tell with our listeners?

Marty Sanders: I would probably start with, are you using the proper pre-framing techniques before you message to a customer? Here’s one of my favorites. And this came out of a result of doing presentations and I thought I was doing a great job, but they weren’t taking the actions that I wanted them to take at the end of the call.

And a lot of us have great calls with no actions. So, I’ll start a call and I’ll go, “Hey, Kunal, thanks so much for having me today. I’m really excited to be here. What I can tell you Vectra is very data-driven, and we actually take a look at the results of every time we do a presentation like today. And what I can share with you Kunal, is at the end of this presentation, the data says, that 75% of people who go through this take action at the end. Now that action may vary. The action may be a deeper dive, talk to a reference and some cases they just want to accelerate the move to a procurement, but 75% of the people who see what I’m going to share with you, take action.”

And at the end of my presentation, I’m not going to have happy talk. I’m going to say “based on what we just went through Kunal share with me your next action. I’m not asking you; I’m telling you to share with me your next action.

Katja Gagen: That’s really great advice, Marty. I love that and our listeners will love it too. So now as we’re getting to the end, we’ll finish with a quick lightning round. So, tell me what book is on your nightstand?

Marty Sanders: Awesome book by my friend, Randy Seidl. Your Go-To Sales Adviser.

Kunal Mehta: And I just wanted to know maybe the company you admire the most and why?

Marty Sanders: It has to be EMC. EMC sales DNA is sprinkled all over Silicon Valley and companies like ServiceNow, Snowflake, Cohesity, Rubrik, and now Vectra.

Katja Gagen: What’s the one thing you wish you had known earlier in your career?

Marty Sanders: People matter. Hire right? Sleep at night.

Katja Gagen: And Marty you’ve seen good and bad sales calls. What’s the best cold call opening line? What’s the worst?

Marty Sanders: Well, the best cold call opening line that worked for me when I was a young lad was: “Hey Katja. This is Marty from Vectra. We do a lot of business with other venture capital companies, and research says that it takes me nine calls to reach you. So, you could save us both another eight calls by returning my call and just give me three minutes of your time. If I don’t prove value in those three minutes, you’ll never hear from me again, Katja.”

Katja Gagen: I would definitely return that. What’s the worst one?

Marty Sanders: “Hey, Katja. It’s Marty from Vectra. How are you today?” I can’t tell you how many times somebody said, like “I’m horrible, my wife just threw me out of the house and my dog died. How are you doing?”

Katja Gagen: Well thanks so much, Marty, for sharing all your insights for salespeople and for life. It was so nice to have you on Growth Hacks today. Thanks for joining us.

Marty Sanders: It was a blast and I hope you two have an awesome day.

Katja Gagen: Thanks for listening to Growth Hacks. You can follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. To learn more about us and TCV’s CEO and founder podcast, go to TCV.com or email us at growthhacks@tcv.com.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.