B2B lead generation, demand generation, content marketing, and digital marketing, in general, are all reliant on customer data to be successful. Intent data helps your marketing and sales teams identify companies and prospects interested in your products and services. Unlike traditional customer information, intent data goes beyond simple firmographic and demographic information. It looks for signals that indicate a potential buyer’s intent to make a purchasing decision.
Yet, despite its usefulness, Demand Gen Report’s ABM Benchmark Survey showed that only about a quarter of B2B companies are actually using intent data and monitoring tools, and only 35% of respondents to the survey said that they are planning to do so in the future. Even if most B2B companies realize the potential benefits of identifying a prospect’s intent, many feel that applying it is something out of their reach. It is also true that some firms that do use intent data may fail in leveraging this data and thus, not realize its full potential.
This guide to intent-based marketing will tell you all that you need to know about how to leverage intent data for the overall success of your organization.
Defining B2B Intent Data
As its name would suggest, intent data shows when a lead or a target account exhibits signs of intention to make a purchase. It’s important to know that most B2B buyers will do significant research on products and companies before buying. In fact, roughly 67% of their buyer journey is done digitally, and 57% of it will be completed before they come into contact with a sales rep for the first time.
Put simply, intent data represents all of the customer research being done either on your website, social media, or elsewhere on the internet. When used correctly and efficiently in combination with other customer data, this information will help boost conversion rates, customer retention, and sales.
Depending on how and where it’s collected, intent data can be divided into two types:
- First-Party Intent Data – Also known as engagement data or internal data, first-party intent data is information that’s generally available by tracking the activities on your website. When customers and prospects visit your pages, consume content, or download ebooks and white papers, you can collect this data by using a Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) and a CRM software. You can even use lead tracking software, such as Leadfeeder, Visitor track, or Kickfire. Unfortunately, first-party intent data is sometimes anonymous, making it difficult to get a clearer picture. Marketing automation services can, however, generate this data more effectively.
- Third-Party Intent Data – Also known as external data, third-party data is information gathered about prospects when they visit and interact with third party websites or apps. Third-party data can help boost conversion rates by as much as 300% and can accelerate the sales cycle. As an example, Sales Lead Automation (SLA) uses Bombora’s third party cookie data to track content consumption on over 6000 websites. By identifying the topic of the content and mapping that consumption down to the IP address, SLA can identify the company consuming that content, then target the likely individuals who might be consuming that content. Beyond Bombora’s cookie based data, you have bidstream data which comes from advertisements served within apps and websites. When you visit a website or use an app and see an advertisement (i.e. banner ad), bidstream data passes along basic facts about the ad unit including the url the ad was served to, your ip address, and device information like screen size and location. Depending on the platform, some bidstream providers claim to capture up to 50 attributes about a user. This collection process is called Fingerprinting.
By combining these two types of data, sales and marketing teams will know who to target and how to better personalize content and messaging. B2B companies will also be in a better position to build targeted account lists, and implement an account-based marketing strategy. B2B intent data can also be used for highly-targeted ad strategies and all sorts of other marketing campaigns.
How to Leverage Intent Data for B2B Marketing Success
B2B intent marketing is all about capturing as much data on companies and prospects as possible to understand their intent. Doesn't it make sense to focus on companies consuming content related to your products and services first? Click To Tweet Intent data makes targeting random prospects and companies who happen to match your ideal customer profile seem inefficient.
Selecting Terms and Phrases
Let’s say you own a marketing agency that offers lead generation services. By identifying companies who are consuming content related to lead generation (i.e. lead generation services, business growth, sales enablement), you are able to assume that these companies have at least some interest in and possibly intent, to hire a marketing firm to help them with their lead generation efforts.
By identifying the topics and terms related to your products and services you can find companies and individuals more likely to convert. This improvement in marketing effectiveness is related to relevancy. Most people don’t mind you sending them an unsolicited message as long as it is relevant. Similar to the way advertisers use data to serve ads about products related to previous searches, intent data works in the same fashion.
When selecting terms you want to track put yourself in the prospect’s mindset and determine which phrases or keywords you would use to find a solution to the problems you need help with. The example above we used included Lead Generation Services, Business Growth and Sales Enablement. However, you may also want to include other terms like Sales Strategy, Sales Acceleration, Sales Performance, Online Lead Generation, and Outbound Marketing. All of these keywords indicate intent around generating sales, leads, and revenue.
Also consider industry events like Adobe Summit, Inbound, Oracle World or Sirius Decisions, which for this type of business, might indicate an interest in advanced marketing and sales strategies designed to help a business grow.
Depending on your industry Intent data providers might also be tracking content consumption related to brands. As an example, Sales Lead Automation has a client who provides third party logistics to companies in the U.S. In addition to the keywords directly related to logistics, they also looked for companies consuming content related to their client’s competitors (i.e. Cardinal logistics, C.H. Robinson, Con Way Freight, DHL, Geodis, FedEx). The idea is that if someone is consuming content related to those competing brands along with other more specific keywords or topics like Reverse Logistics, Outsourced Logistics or Cloud Logistics, those companies are more likely to convert. In fact, this very strategy proved highly effective for their client. So think outside of the box when it comes to selecting keywords in your intent data strategies.
This type of intent data refers mostly to the keywords and questions prospects use while on the internet. Every time they use a long-tail keyword or phrase, you get a strong indicator of their intent. You can use this information to understand their interests, motivations, and behaviors. Your focus should be to track content consumption on topics that you write about, then segment customers, and target them with relevant content at every stage of their buyer journey.
Informational search queries can be incredibly useful, since they tell you precisely what prospects are looking for in their own words. You can create content that directly addresses these search queries, helping you build credibility, trust, and long-term relationships. Content for these strategies should be based on informational search queries and should include things like how-to guides and videos, FAQ pages, analysis and survey reports, insight-driven infographics, and thought-leadership podcasts.
You should also examine the internal site search queries. These are your website visitors’ search queries. Econsultancy discovered that only 7% of B2B companies are efficiently using and learning from their own site search data, while 47% are not learning anything at all. When you’re analyzing internal site searches, focus on the most searched terms, as these may indicate audience trends. Secondly, look for “next pages visited,” since they will indicate intent behavior flow, meaning, where site visitors go next after having been at a given page initially. Also, you should keep an eye on popular searches that don’t lead anywhere, since these will expose your content gaps and tell you what content is missing from your site.
Intent Data Segmentation
Buyer intent data helps to empower a B2B company’s advanced segmentation strategies. This marketing tactic is particularly useful, since it will allow you to get an even clearer picture of your prospects. It works by grouping prospects based on their similarities, which, in turn, allows sales and marketing teams to create highly-targeted messages for each segment.
Segmentation can be based on an array of commonalities such as firmographics segmentation, which groups prospects based on company-specific factors, like industry, size, location, technology used, etc. Tiered segmentation focuses on how well a target account matches your own business goals. This type of segmentation can be used equally as well in both account-based marketing (ABM) and demand gen. There is also topic segmentation. If your company offers more than one product or solution then you will want to segment the companies showing intent for each product or service.
Firmographic Intent Data
Firmographic data is a useful B2B marketing segmentation tool that helps you build and assess your target account list. This type of intent data consists of information like industry, company size, number of employees, location, revenue, technology used, etc., which can also be used to segment your target market.
You can gather this information from individuals when they engage with your content or when they give you their contact information (email address, company name, etc.) on a form. From a target account perspective, you can aggregate all of these individual intent data points and form a bird’s eye view within your CRM software of what each company is up to. You can then react accordingly and optimize your marketing tactics.
Aside from the individual stakeholders within an account, you may also want to look at account-based data regarding organizational features. Changes in their budget as a result of funding, mergers or acquisitions, or a recent uptick in hiring for certain roles which will contribute to your understanding of an organization’s purchasing intent.
Browsing Intent Data
This refers to where the data was gathered, be it your website or on sites other than your own. When combined with search queries and keywords, browsing data adds another dimension to your level of understanding of the buyer’s intent. Cookies and browsing history will track usage across different devices and browsers, providing a more comprehensive and less fragmented view of the customer.
Action Intent Data
Since most B2B buyers will complete over half of their buyer journey before coming in contact with you, it’s a good idea to understand their path before that initial engagement. Action intent data shows you the steps a user takes around your digital channel ecosystem, allowing you to optimize your content strategy and increase the likelihood of making a sale.
You can look at this action intent data as a prospect’s digital footprint, where each interaction provides additional knowledge about their mindset. This is important, given the fact that a typical B2B buying decision will involve anywhere from 6 to 17 stakeholders.
What’s more, their journeys may not always be linear, repeatable, or predictable. This insight will help you in mapping your digital ecosystem against each user persona segment, keeping track of all user actions across multiple channels and touchpoints. You can use these insights to optimize your intent marketing performance even further.
Predictive Intent Data
While the aforementioned types of intent data are mostly based on historical and real-time information, predictive intent will leverage this knowledge to identify potential future patterns and similarities. These can predict, with a certain degree of accuracy, future trends, actions, or behaviors, allowing you to be a step ahead at all times.
If, for instance, you notice that certain pieces of content receive significant attention from a particular user persona you’ve created, you can also use that content to target others in that profile that haven’t consumed it yet.
As an example, if ABC company: announces a new round of funding, implements a marketing automation solution on their website and has an increase in the number of marketing positions posted on job boards around the world, chances are that ABC company is implementing a global marketing automation strategy. In our previous example of Sales Lead Automation, this would indicate a need by ABC company to gain new products and services related to that initiative, making them a solid lead for SLA to target.
These buying behaviors can help you uncover new prospects to add to your target account lists and will alert your marketing team whenever there is a spike in certain activities that indicate intent. B2B marketing and sales teams will be in a far better position to respond to these changes, even before a buying intention is explicitly expressed.
Intent-Based Marketing and Content Optimization
Content consumption plays a crucial role in the decision-making process. On average, B2B buyers will do around 12 rounds of research before coming in contact with a sales rep. The key to a successful content strategy hinges on how well your marketing team will deliver quality content at the right time. Intent data can help with your content optimization, as well as how well you implement your strategy. It will inform you about the overall theme of the content, the buyer personas, the buyer journey map, content format, as well as your keyword strategy.
In the State of Inbound Report, it was also found that 61% of marketers consider SEO to be their top inbound marketing priority. Yet, it’s nearly impossible to generate organic traffic without actually focusing on the customers’ intent. Keep in mind that targeting the wrong keyword may help to temporarily boost website traffic. But if it doesn’t match the intention and purpose of web searchers, you’ll probably experience a drop in SERP rankings and conversions. In addition, by focusing on long-tail keywords that are made up of three words or more, you will be looking beyond simple searches and will also get a better understanding of the user’s actual intent.
It should also go without saying that customer information will also help with your other lead generation and marketing strategies, including, but not limited to, your paid search, email marketing, direct mail, lead nurturing campaigns, social media marketing, outbound marketing campaigns, and more.
How to Operationalize Intent Data
Regardless of the strategies or tools you use to capture intent data, it’s another practice altogether when it comes to leveraging that data. So while tools like Bombora will help you find companies consuming content related to your products and services, how do you take advantage of that data? You can begin by targeting the contacts most likely consuming that content at the company URLs that Bombora provides you with. In other words, who at this company is most likely the one searching or consuming this content?
In the examples above for lead generation topics it’s safe to assume the people most likely consuming that content play a role in their company’s growth efforts. Start by identifying C-suite executives responsible for growth then work your way down to more specific job titles that contain the keywords “sales” or “marketing”. Work your way down from most senior to less senior.
By uploading the lists of URLs Bombora has identified as showing intent, you can download these ideal contacts at those companies and drop them into email or LinkedIn campaigns. Another advantage of intent data is the ability to target your ideal prospects with display ads. This helps reduce your spend on wasted ads being served to contacts with no interest or intent.
Using the previous example of the logistics client, start with senior operational titles like Chief Operations Officer (COO) and Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) and work your way down by pairing job titles that contain the keywords “logistics”, “material handlers”, “transportation” with the job level of manager or above.
How do you buy this data and how much is it?
First you can go directly to various intent monitoring platforms like Bombora, 6sense, or Everstring to buy data like this. However, doing this is costly and it isn’t uncommon to encounter a startup cost of 20-30k and that’s often without contact data, just company URLs.
In order to then purchase the contact data at those companies you are gleaning data from via the intent monitoring platform, you can either purchase this data from providers like Zoominfo or SalesIntel at an additional cost.
Another option is to hire a firm who provides access to both the intent data and contact data when you hire them to run your lead generation programs. Typically, the total cost of this option is lower than if you were to pay for the data yourself. Not to mention the savings you will realize as a result of using the hired firm’s marketing technology and staff to manage such programs. It might make sense to hire a company first to test intent data campaigns before investing in all of these resources on your own.
Data Hygiene and Preparation
Now that you have your intent data and have downloaded all of the ideal contact data at those companies showing intent, it’s time to clean the data. The time and resources required to clean and prep the data depends on your personalization strategy. A typical personalization strategy includes first name, job title, and company. Since most of the data providers get their data or some of their data from LinkedIn, you have to spend time on data hygiene, standardization and normalization. This is mainly due to the fact that users often stuff their job titles and roles with several keywords in an effort to be found easier via search.
You can’t send a message to a prospect that says:
“Hello Bob, I noticed your job title was Vice President, Marketing – Solutions and Sales Enablement at ABC company.”
It doesn’t sound natural and screams, “form letter”.
It’s far better when it reads like this:
Hello Bob, I noticed your job title was Vice President of Marketing at ABC company and I wanted to introduce myself. I hope you don’t mind.
You will want to pick the most senior keyword when cleaning the job title field. We call it giving everyone a raise:) No one will get upset if you call them a VP when they are a manager, but you risk making someone upset if you do the inverse.
You will also need to clean up the company name by removing “Inc.”, ”llc”,”company”, “incorporated”, and any division specific names as well.
Lastly, sort your file by first name and try to update any abbreviations used for first names with like “A. for Alexander”.
“Hello A.” vs. “Hello Alexander” makes a big difference in your response rates. Another thing to keep in mind is that most data companies will have a certain amount of data that’s wrong. As an example, the last name is in the first name field (reversed). This usually happens because people want to personalize their LinkedIn URL and Bob Smith is already taken so they list themselves as B. Smith or Smith Bob on their profiles.
We find it takes about 8 hours to clean and prepare 5000 records for any outbound campaign. You can use an excel extension called KUTools to help speed up the process. We love that plugin!
If you want to learn more about B2B intent data best practices, subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.