The promise of B2B buyer intent data is simple and compelling: get the right information in front of the right buyer at the right time. But if it’s really that straightforward, why isn’t everyone using it?
The value proposition of intent data vendors is typically that will combine their data (which is third-party data from your perspective) with your website analytics data (your first-party data) to identify companies that are actively looking to buy what it is you sell, and where they are in the buying process.
If you are able to either get this information before your competitors, or make better use of the knowledge, your company wins more business. If the value is that obvious, why is it that, “While the concept of intent data has been around for close to a decade, many companies are just starting to fully explore the best methods of harnessing it to grow their businesses”?
That quote is taken from the State of Intent Data report, published by Demand Gen Report and sponsored by DemandScience and TechTarget. Below are nine vital observations, from the report and other sources, for any marketing leader interesting in taking advantage of intent data to drive revenue.
What’s in the Intent Data Report
Before diving into those nine observations, here’s a quick overview of the Demand Gen report as described by the authors:
• How organizations are combining insights generated from multiple data sources to create personalized intent profiles for leads, prospects and customers;
• The combination of intent data with AI and predictive analytics to seamlessly discover and route leads and identify a buyer’s next move;
• The uses of intent data post-sale, such as upselling a complementary solution or circumventing potential cancelations; and
• Solutions, strategies and best practices for simplifying intent data collection and activation processes to promote increased adoption and success.
Now, nine things you need to know if you’re considering the use of intent data.
It’s Not for Everyone
Allocating scare marketing resources to the acquisition and utilization of intent data is probably not for you if:
- Your company is a small, early-stage startup. You’ve simply got too many other to-do items on your list that are a higher priority.
- Your company is growing very rapidly (high double-digits or even triple-digits). Demand gen isn’t your problem in this stage.
- Your product is the first, or among the first, in brand-new category. Intent data likely won’t be of much use since your challenge at this stage is more about educating prospective buyers that this type of solution exists rather than ranking at the top of search (since so few people even know to search for it yet).
- Your business model relies on driving a high volume of low-cost transactions, rendering details of each specific customer less important.
However, if your business is in an established, highly competitive market (as most are) and your biggest challenge is maintaining growth, then the use of intent data can certainly be worth evaluating.
It’s Still Early Days for Intent Data
Per the Demand Gen report, “Although actionable intent data is becoming easier to discover and manage, adoption remains low…Only 28% of marketers say they have an intent data strategy in place, and just 23% intend to create a strategy within the next 12 months.”
So, if your company is already making extensive use of buyer intent data, congratulations, you’re ahead of the curve. On the other hand, if you haven’t jumped on this bandwagon yet, you’re not alone.
Again, if the value proposition is so clear and compelling (who wouldn’t want to get a jump on their competitors?), why does adoption remain low? There are at least three significant challenges to adoption.
It’s a Big Investment
Though costs can vary widely depending on which vendor(s) you choose and the extent of what you want to be able do in the short term, it’s not unusual for even a fairly modest implementation to equal roughly the cost of hiring another marketing employee.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean your company shouldn’t make the investment (any more than it means you shouldn’t expand your marketing team). It’s a matter of capabilities and priorities. Do we have the budget? If we do, is that the best way to spend it?
Put another way, comparing an investment in intent data to other possible uses for your marketing budget, which is likely to produce the largest return? Your situation is unique. But again, if maintaining growth against stiff competition in an established market is among your biggest challenges, this is worth looking into.
Data Integrity is a Challenge
Data integrity is “the accuracy, completeness, and quality of data as it’s maintained over time and across formats,” per Harvard Business School (HBS). This HBS article identifies several threats to data integrity, including human error, collection errors, and inconsistencies across formats.
Relating to intent data specifically, one danger is having multiple entries for the same enterprise. For example, these names may all refer to the same company:
- Smith’s Manufacturing
- Smith’s Mfg.
- Smiths Manufacturing, Inc.
- Smith Manufacturing Corporation
- Smitj’s Manufacturing (because a human mistyped the name)
Is your system smart enough to match all those to same account, not just internally but when integrating your data with an intent data vendor’s tool? Do you have a way to flag such multiple entries and clean up the data? With buyer intent as in any other use of data: garbage in, garbage out.
Operationalizing Intent Data is Also a Challenge
Per the report, “While intent data is becoming a common commodity amongst marketing and sales teams, they are still determining the best ways to operationalize it.” There are several reasons for this.
One is that, unless your data set is fairly small, you’ll likely need (and certainly benefit from) applying an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to the results. While this can be highly beneficial, it also adds cost and complexity to your implementation.
A second reason is the challenge of understanding the intent data that your vendor is providing. These systems will often “code” or score prospects differently based on various factors. As a marketer trying to use the intent data, you need a solid understanding of characteristics like:
- How is that score arrived at? What goes into it?
- What exactly does a given score mean? For example, does a score of 90 indicate this is a hot prospect I should jump on immediately? Or does it mean they are so far along in their decision process that if my company isn’t already on their short list, it’s too late?
- What should I do when faced with a given prospect and score?
A final reason is understanding how the answer to that last question above varies based on whether this a completely new, previously unknown prospect for your company, or a lead you’ve been nurturing for some time. Making the most of intent data requires having different strategies in place based not just on intent score, but for known versus unknown prospects.
There Are Lots of Intent Data Providers to Choose From
Intent data is a crowded space, with a range of pricing models, strengths, applications, and methods of collecting data. TrustRadius has put together an excellent guide to the top intent data vendors. (DiscoverOrg didn’t make the list because it’s owned by ZoomInfo.) Click on the table below for more detail on each provider.
Intent Data Can be Useful in All Stages of the Purchase Funnel
As show in the above table, vendors also vary based on how their data is most useful—that is, which stage of the funnel they are best for addressing. Consequently, some companies end up using more than one vendor over time, to help meet different needs.
That said, intent data may be most useful in mid-funnel and post-funnel (existing customer) applications. The Demand Gen reports quotes Caleb Rule, inbound marketing manager at The Pedowitz Group, advising that “You should be combining data from various sources, but the reliance on first-party data has only become greater.”
Until prospective buyers become “known” to your company (that is, in your CRM system), you don’t have much first-party data to work with.
In the post-funnel stage, per the report, “Intent data is useful once someone becomes a customer because you can monitor what they’re interested in…We are starting to see companies with diverse product suites using intent data to upsell existing customers.”
In addition, “Intent data can also help spot customers who are looking to leave. Analyzing the signals from customers who have canceled can help identify customers at risk and reach out before you lose them.”
Of course, if you’re communicating regularly with your customers, perhaps even using a customer engagement platform, then you shouldn’t need third-party intent data to identify which ones may be at risk of leaving. But having another view of customer activity is never a bad thing.
AI Tools Can Distill Meaning from Intent Data
Augmenting your first-party website analytics and CRM data with third-party intent data can provide a much richer view of your prospects. But what marketers really need is not so much more data as it is actionable guidance: what is all of this data really telling me? What should I do next?
That’s where AI comes in. Per the report, “While combining multiple data sources is critical, it creates a mountain of information for marketers to sort through…marketers are looking to add predictive analytics to their marketing stack as they expand their data resources.”
AI tools like Click360 and Arria can produce actionable insights from large data sets. Click360 helps you understand where your website visitors come from (your most valuable top-of-funnel sources); how they behave on your website; and how they convert to revenue, so you can optimize for those channels and behaviors.
Arria applies natural language generation (NLG), a subset of AI, to reveal insights and create actionable narratives from data. It helps marketers make better decisions, faster.
Start Small and Build
Intent data can be used in a variety of ways, at any stage of the sales funnel. For those just beginning to work with intent data, it’s best to start small, with a discrete project and objective. Fine-tune your processes and measure results. Then take what you’ve learned and apply it to your next phase of use.
Per Chris Rack of DemandScience, as quoted in the report, “A lot of B2B marketers try to ingest too much data. If you really simplify and focus on a couple of very specific but very relevant data points and build from there, it drives significantly more ROI in the long term.”
The future belongs to marketers who can make use of data to drive revenue. That’s a powerful case for exploring the potential of using third-party intent data to improve prospecting and close more deals, by reaching your potential buyers just when they are looking.
The biggest reason to consider intent data, however, may be FOMO. As TechTarget’s John Steinert concludes in the report, “Intent data provides a huge competitive advantage…You can’t have less access to data intelligence than your competitors in today’s world.”