SalesTech Star

SalesTech Interview with Mike Burton, Co-Founder and SVP, Data Sales at Bombora

Tell us about your journey into the Enterprise Data Sales industry. What made you co-start Bombora?

Right place, right time — it was an organic evolution of what I was already doing. We were inside of a media business, Madison Logic, and had a data asset that was very useful for Sales and Marketing. That product just kept evolving and that business became its own independent business, and I just kind of found myself there. I have a background in professional improv, so grabbing onto something and just working at it is familiar to me.

From the time you first started in the Sales industry, how much has the Sales Technology landscape evolved?

A lot and a little. The tools that are available have grown in the last two or three years. We now have the ability to be much more targeted in outreach. So, on the one hand, everything’s changed because there are so many new tools and there’s so much more information at a salesperson’s fingertips. On the other hand, nothing has changed, because it’s still all about being able to offer value to prospective customers and to listen well and solve their problems.

What is Bombora for Sales teams? How do you project data for Sales in this overtly competitive data marketplace?

Bombora helps sales teams by enabling them to prioritize accounts that are much more likely to be in market for their solutions, and so, to engage with them. The fact that the market is competitive, is why sales teams use us.

Tell us more about your vision for ABM and Lead Generation Orchestration. How can B2B sales teams benefit from these strategies?

It’s important to understand which accounts are most likely to be your next customers, and then to have one unified motion across Sales and Marketing that is attacking those accounts at the same time. B2B sales teams benefit when companies undergo an evolution from two separate efforts into one unified effort.

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How different are Sales Operations products compared to traditional IT SaaS and Cloud?

We sell data that gets used in sales and a bunch of other places. Sales tends to move into testing faster if they’re able to find something that helps them drive pipeline — they’re able to act quickly, whereas I would imagine that selling into these other departments might be a little more bureaucratic.

How do you differentiate Customer Success and Customer Experience? How have these definitions changed in the past 5 years with Sales Analytics and Intelligence?

I don’t know if I draw a big distinction. If our customers are really successful, then they’re having a great experience. Success is the only experience we want them to have. Everything we do is to make them successful. If we do that well, we know they’ll have a great experience.

Tell us how you achieve Sales Performance standards across Marketing-Sales efforts. How does it impact your revenue targets?

We struggle with measuring these standards, in general. How are we executing? We think we’re selling well, but maybe, we could go faster, you know! Or maybe we’re selling as fast as it could possibly be sold. We’re not even sure what to compare it with, because we’re a big part of creating the category. As customers adopt this data, they’re pioneers. We struggle to figure out to what degree of excellence we’re performing. We look at how well we’re engaging more customers quarter over quarter, of course, but it’s always hard to know how much better we might do.

Regardless of measurement, there are basics we organize around:

  1. Sales and Marketing must be organized around and towards the same accounts and agree on what we are measuring.
  2. OKRs across all the different sales, customer success, product, and marketing teams must be visible and aligned (which is quite a process).
What are the core strategies you focus on at Bombora for global business development? How does it impact your Sales Acceleration initiatives?

We’re a data company, so we focus heavily on global data acquisition — making sure that we acquire data in a compliant, consent-driven way, given GDPR, etc. Only once we have that secured can we figure out how to enable people to see value from that data. It’s really important for us to be able to do that at scale, because the largest, most sophisticated B2B marketers are global companies.

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What is the current state of “Channel Sales Partners” in technology? Could you elaborate with some examples deployed/practiced at Bombora?

We’re not experts on the broader state of channel sales partners. But I think one of the innovative things we’ve done here is we’ve combined our channel strategy with our customer success and integration strategy. So, while channel partners sell our data to a longer-tail part of the market, Bombora sells direct licenses to large enterprise, sophisticated B2B marketers — and then they use those same channel partners and platforms, oftentimes, as activation for the data. So these companies become channels, but they also become customer success channels — kind of activation partners.

Sales Culture and Advocacy

What is the sales culture that you represent in the enterprise tech market? Why is it important to build a sales-focused culture for any business?

Our mantra is ‘Help, don’t sell. Show up and tell the truth.’ We listen and try to help them. If we do that, we’ll hopefully get to extract value. Just tell them everything you can about the way it works, to the best of your ability. There’s never any reason not to be forthcoming. Bombora CMO Marc Johnson and I were talking, and we agreed: Content that aims to sell, doesn’t. Content that aims to help, does. So, our sales philosophy spun out of that.

It’s not important to build a sales-focused culture. We’d want to change that. What’s important is building a help-focused culture.

How do you achieve this culture balance at Bombora? What percentage of this is driven by the application of technology, reporting tools and coaching?

We structured our sales process to speed time to value. We say, ‘For 90 days, if you agree to enter into this sales process with us, then we’ll just onboard you as a customer right now. We’ll do a historical buyers journey analysis to understand what topics drive their closed customers.  And we will use that to set up activations and get results. We’re going to take a partner with the prospect to create a mutual win. And around the 45th day, we’ll get to funding. If they agree and come onboard, we’re probably closing 90% of the deals. The good thing that we sometimes hear is, ‘I’m not ready to go into that.’ And that’s good — it’s good to know that.

Everything upstream, before we get into this process — all of using our own data, and the targeting, and the outreach — all of that is tool-driven. But once we get into the conversation, it becomes completely personal — it’s about helping and partnering.

How do you leverage AI and Automation at Bombora?

AI has become such a broad term that we tend to avoid it, honestly, but we do use AI to create our account lists. And AI is, of course, inside the Bombora recipe — predicting topics, understanding content and assigning Company Surge scores — so we use it pretty heavily. We figure out our addressable market and use our own data to figure out who we should be engaging with right now.

Would self-service technologies continue to disrupt customer experience platforms? How do you prepare for this disruption?

We welcome self-service, in the sense that any company can come to our website and learn who’s interested in their products and services, right there on our homepage, for free.

What are the major pain points for sales-driven companies in leveraging customer experience technologies for their own benefits and for business development?

Getting the right data into those systems. Those systems rely on the interactions that you have with your customers, but there’s a lot more to know about your customers — and often that data is not in your system.

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What are your predictions and observations on the “Role of Chatbots and AI Conversations” influencing CX*- driven Sales journeys?

Anything that gets people the information they need, faster, is a good thing.

My Sales Magnifier

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a revenue growth expert?

By not over-indexing on it. Understand where it can be useful, and make sure you’re not applying it outside that context. It’s always going to be a balance of technology and the personal relationship.

Which events and webinars do you most occasionally attend and why?

All of the B2B sales and marketing industry shows, including the Customer Experience shows — Marketo, Eloqua, Oracle, SiriusDecisions — anything that’s around the nexus of sales and marketing together.

Your advice to revenue-growth executives and salespeople in the SalesTech industry—

Help, don’t sell. Tell the truth.

What does your CRO community look like? Who do you huddle and communicate more often within the industry?

Other leaders at other companies in our space — not competitors, necessarily, but adjacent companies that are in the same ecosystem but are selling different products.

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Tag a person whose answers to these questions would like to read from the industry.

Lars Nillson was a famous inside-sales guru at Cloudera. He’s now the CEO of Sales Source. He’d be a good one.

Thank You, Mike. We hope to see you again, soon.


Bombora is the leading provider of intent data for B2B sales and marketing. Bombora’s data aligns marketing and sales teams, enabling them to base their actions on the knowledge of which companies are actively researching what products, and the intensity of that consumption.

Mike has been working with AdTech startups since 2002. Currently, he is responsible for driving adoption of Bombora’s offerings across email marketing, analytics, programmatic display, predictive analytics and lead scoring, and countless other applications.

Mike took on an integral role in building B2B’s first Intent data co-operative, helping Bombora to consolidate over 9.3 billion monthly B2B behavioral interactions. This consolidation of data fuels massive efficiencies across B2B marketing and publishing.

Prior to Bombora, Burton worked with Madison Logic as Head of Platform Sales. He was also Madison Logic’s first VP of Sales, helping the company in its earliest stages to grow revenue and gain a foothold in B2B’s competitive lead generation space. Mike also worked at Collective, and was one of the first employees at IndustryBrains, an innovative direct marketing firm that helped shape B2B’s early online migration.