Marketers need high-quality intent data to drive maximum returns from ABM and other lead generation programs. Here are four essential questions to ask your intent data supplier.
In B2B markets, power has been shifting from sellers to buyers for a long time. Increasingly, buyers are defining how they want to purchase goods and services.
In many cases, and across all stages of the buying cycle, their preference is to utilize the vast stores of content available on the web, undisturbed by sales reps. According to McKinsey, around one-third of buying activity now occurs via self-service platforms including web search, vendor and e-commerce websites, marketplaces, apps and chatbots. According to Gartner, the average B2B sales representative will be lucky to capture a buyer’s attention for a mere 5% of the time they devote to the buying cycle.
Forrester’s research into the information sources most trusted by decision-makers underlines how much of this activity remains beyond the immediate reach of vendors. In the early stages of evaluation, for example, Forrester suggests that only three out of the top 14 information sources are directly controlled by vendors (vendor websites, events and sales personnel). Interactions with all of the remaining sources, including peer-to-peer information exchanges, the output of industry analysts and conferences, ordinarily exists beyond vendors’ line of sight.
For vendors, the aim must be to embed themselves in as many of these early-stage customer journeys as possible, using ABM campaigns and sales outreach. Hence the increasing amount of attention marketers are paying to the so-called dark funnel and the increasing importance of third-party data that highlights intent on the part of buyers within the dark funnel.
The central concept behind intent data isn’t hard to grasp. But using intent data effectively does involve paying attention to detail.
Why? Because your inputs determine your outputs. For this very reason, it’s worth asking whether your intent data suppliers are providing you with the full picture.
To get a fix on this, it’s important to ask four questions:
- Do the data types you’re acquiring complement one another so that you end up constructing the fullest possible picture of each prospect’s activity?
- What does your intent data provider’s coverage look like outside North America?
- How actionable is the intent data you’re buying?
- Does the process of gathering data for signals of intent generate named individual contacts that a sales representative can immediately contact?
Seeing the full picture: why diverse intent data matters
To answer the first of these questions, it’s useful to understand how different types of intent data are collected by third parties at different stages on the customer journey. Let’s start with a blank sheet: a notional customer journey between need identification and purchase.
Any vendor can start investigating specific moments on this journey that are recorded within its own systems. These first-party moments may include a visit to your site to read a blog post, or a sales enquiry recorded within CRM.
Next, most marketers will aim to add a further layer of insights: the kind of online research signals that have become table stakes in the world of intent data (for example, a potential buyer reading an article or consuming a case study on a third-party media site). Typically, the sources for this kind of intent data include media owners and data co-operatives. Clearly, these signals of intent are useful. But on their own, they don’t yet allow you to make a definitive judgment about the level of intent involved. (Needless to say, not everyone who reads an article about data center strategy is actually in the market for a $500,000 server.)
It’s at this point that fine-grained intent signals come into play. A prospect might express a viewpoint on an online peer-to-peer network, post a relevant question on Twitter or start following a vendor, looking for evidence of thought leadership. They might attend a specific event, in person or online.
There will be additional layers of intent data to utilise. The prospect might have read a buyer’s guide, written by an expert or analyst. Their organisation may also be emitting intent signals at a different level: for example, a decision to shift the majority of infrastructure from on-premises to the cloud is highly likely to be recorded in a statement filed with the relevant financial authorities. We can also track the online signals – new job openings and internal job changes – that generated by a strategic decision of this kind.
Better signals generate better outcomes
All these varying signal types – we have listed 12 here, but many more are available – constitute intent data. But it’s important to note that not all of them are available from every vendor of intent data. This matters, because it’s the richness of the intent data at the start of the lead generation process that determines the quality and volume of the leads you will ultimately generate. There’s no getting away from the facts: poor quality data generates poor quality leads.
How do we know this? In short, because we (and others) have tested the concept repeatedly. So, for example, we know that the intent data that Foundry makes available to marketers typically results in in-market account discovery at two to three times the rate enabled by intent data from one of our closest rivals. All other things being equal, we also know that the deals generated by our intent data are on average 50% larger than those generated by our rivals.
At the top of this blog post, we mentioned two other areas in which gaps often appear in the offerings of intent data vendors. In both areas, we recommend closely examining what data vendors are offering you.
In Europe, the only intent signals that matter are GDPR-compliant
The first area involves geography. If your marketing needs extend beyond the US, we highly recommend looking in detail at your intent data provider’s international coverage. (You can do this by asking your supplier to run coverage tests in the territories you care about.) In some cases, you will see plenty of data. In European territories, at least, this suggests the presence of GDPR-compliant data collection methods. However, where the flow of data for Europe becomes a trickle, you are most likely dealing with a data provider that is not GDPR-compliant.
Why your data provider needs to offer named contacts alongside intent data
The other potential gap in intent data offerings is the ability to take action. Here’s a simple example: your intent data might suggest that a specific Fortune 100 company is very interested in security solutions for their edge computing infrastructure. In theory, this is excellent news. But it’s news that only becomes actionable if accompanied by a named contact, or even better, the identities of key decision-makers within a buying group or committee. In the absence of detail like this, your sales team will almost certainly find it challenging to identify which of the 500 IT decision-makers at Company X is responsible for securing the company’s edge infrastructure.
The circumstances in which third-party intent data is captured really does matter. As you might have guessed by now, Foundry offers large quantities of GDPR-compliant data for Europe. We also offer data for Europe, North America and everywhere else that’s actionable (in the sense it contains contact details for both individual buyers and buying groups).
Not all of our competitors can do this. Many have data collection methodologies that are non-compliant with GDPR, leading to a severe shortage of contacts in Europe. Many cannot link the signals of intent they capture with named individuals in a wholly reliable way.
Our business model works differently because we have always believed that the quality and diversity of intent signals is vital. More than anything else, it is these qualities that allow marketers to maximise the volume of high-quality leads they generate for their sales organisations.