Meet Susan Bell, Co-Founder and Executive VP of Sales of Vertical IQ, a Raleigh-based industry research firm that helps thousands of professionals who advise small and medium-sized businesses. The company started by providing industry research—aka “industry intelligence”—to bankers before expanding to CPAs, insurance professionals, and consultants. Today they have actionable content covering more than 90% of the U.S. economy and can help almost anyone that employs a sales force.
In June, GrepBeat reported that Vertical IQ is what CEO Bobby Martin calls the “2.0 version” of a previous industry intelligence company, First Research, that he launched in 1999, which Dun & Bradstreet ultimately acquired in 2007. Then in 2011, Martin—along with other First Research alumni—launched Vertical IQ. That group includes four out of five people from the current Vertical IQ leadership team: Bobby Martin, David Buffaloe, Bill Walker, and Susan Bell.
Susan Bell leads the Sales and Customer Acquisition initiative for Vertical IQ. This industry intelligence guru started her career in marketing for a utility company before moving to Wilmington, N.C., and into the banking industry as a Senior Lender, where she met Bobby Martin. In 2002, she joined Martin and the intelligence tool startup provider, First Research, as Employee No. 6. She expanded the accounting and consulting customer base by over 100%, which contributed to the sale of the company to Dun & Bradstreet for $26 million.
In 2011, she joined Martin again along with First Research company alum, Bill Walker, to build Vertical IQ. Martin is quick to sing her praises today: “Susan built this company and brought in a large part of our customer base and continues to bust her tail to make things happen. She is the face of the company. Everyone knows Susan.”
It was refreshing during these COVID times to sit down with Bell, Martin, Buffaloe, and a few four-legged team members at their Raleigh location on St. Mary’s Street. Clearly, the leadership team is following their success magic from their first experience. Vertical IQ isn’t a startup sweatshop where employees are expected to work 12-hour days. Leadership believes in a work-life balance and the ability to enjoy both. The culture is relaxed but energetic, innovative, and successful. Dogs are as plentiful as humans.
Learn more about Susan—a tech leader, mom and avid shoe collector—in our Q&A below.
Q. Your first worked with Bobby Martin, President and Co-Founder, at First Research as Employee No. 6. Tell us about that experience?
I actually first worked with Bobby as a banker in the 1990’s in Wilmington. We then reconnected in 2002 in the “early First Research days.” First Research was a great place to work. We worked hard and hired great people we had worked with before or within our network to grow the business until its sale to D&B in 2007. It was like a family.
Q. Can you share what you envision for Vertical IQ going forward?
I see us expanding to other industry verticals, growing partnerships that make sense in the sales intelligence/enablement world, and remaining the No. 1 industry intelligence solution for sales professionals. We’ve had double-digit growth each year and hope to continue on that path.
Q. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
First—raising two great kids who are gainfully employed, married, happy, and on their own (whew). Second—being part of multiple successful startups that have allowed us the opportunity to provide new opportunities for others and for them to grow in their careers. In fact, Vertical IQ is a small company, but only one employee has left us to work for another company in all of the years in business. I love being part of the executive leadership team driving the overall strategy for the company and I’m excited about our future.
Q. What do you think the greatest challenge(s) is/are for startups in the present Triangle startup environment?
The biggest challenge is finding entrepreneurs who are skilled at managing and growing new businesses. Those who can turn a good idea into a successful company. With that, women have many of the natural skills but statistically speaking rarely start companies.
Q. Share a fun fact—something we might not know about you.
I like to sing and play the keyboard. My husband is a professional musician; my whole family is extremely musical. We’ve all served as praise and worship leaders/band members over the years.
Q. If you weren’t doing your role now what might you be doing professionally?
Maybe event planning. Though that would be a tough gig right now! Otherwise, I would just enjoy time with my extended family and more trips to Wilmington.
Q. If you could change something/anything (pie in the sky) what would you change?
I’d love to see big strides made to fight food insecurity in the U.S., especially among children.
Q. What drives or shapes the person you are today?
My faith and family. And a good perspective on work/life balance.
Q. Name a talent you wished you had.
Hmmm… being able to be in two places at once!
Q. Fast-forward 15 years from now… where do we find Susan?
On the beach. Always the beach!