You have surely heard the buzz about intent signals in the marketing world, but you’ve also probably heard how there is no single “best in class” yet.  

What makes intent so confusing and difficult to get right? What does it REALLY mean? What makes an intent signal, and what makes one signal better than the other? And most importantly, how do you go about harnessing them in support of best-in-class B2B demand generation? 

The what and why of intent signals? 

Intent signals are specific observable activities exhibited by an employee of a company or the company as a whole, that indicate their current or potential need for a product or service. It comes in a wide variety – ranging from various locations to various types. However, not all intent signals are created equal. Here, we’ve categorized intent signals into five types, which all mean different things, and require different kinds of actions to take full advantage of them.

The five main types of intent signals are: 

  • Engagement – what are specific actions employees within organizations are taking? 
  • Research – what are people in the organization researching and reading online? 
  • Hiring – what types of roles are organizations trying to hire and grow teams for? 
  • Technographic – what types of technologies did the organization start to use or drop? 
  • Company event- what newsworthy activities have occurred within an organization that can tilt the scale for purchasing decisions?  

In aggregate, these signals are generated by customer actions and behaviors. These actions and behaviors can be measured by marketers when observing several types of channels like email, web, social, or ads. On the other hand, other signals are more difficult to track, like face-to-face meetings, search queries, and water cooler chats! Putting all these signals together is like following the breadcrumbs your buyers are dropping.  

Now, let us dive into the nitty gritty and break down what each type of intent signal is, and why each is significant in optimizing your intent strategy.  

1. Engagement intent signals

Think of engagement signals as little clues that potential buyers give off when they are in the market for what you are offering. Engagement intent signals refer to specific actions that potential buyers take to indicate their active interest in your brand or product. These signals could come from various actions such as: likes, follows, comments, downloads, going to conferences, or visiting event booths.  

Engagement signals are broken down into two categories: 

  • Public – An action that is publicly observable, for example, a like or comment on your company’s or competitor’s LinkedIn. While these signals are great, context is necessary. Just because someone liked your LinkedIn post about company culture, does not mean they are ready to make a purchase. 
  • Private – An action that not everyone has access to. For example, a research whitepaper is downloaded, or content is read on a publishing site. These signals can be of much higher value because they are proprietary.  

Engagement signals are valuable because they show you that your brand is top of mind for buyers. They demonstrate an active connection between the prospect and your brand or content.  

Let’s say you have a prospect who just downloaded one of your eBooks and tuned in to an online seminar you hosted. These actions are like bright neon signs saying, “Hey, I’m really interested in what you offer!” Armed with this insight, you can then craft a highly customized follow-up strategy that caters precisely to the prospect’s individual interests and requirements. This approach allows you to nurture the prospect by delivering targeted content that aligns with their demonstrated areas of interest, ensuring a more effective and engaging interaction.

2. Research intent signals

Imagine someone has just started the buyers’ journey – they are surfing the web, checking out blogs, and visiting websites. These actions send out what we call “research signals.” Research signals are more of a passive signal since the prospect is simply surfing the web and not taking any active, public action. 

Understanding research intent provides a sort of roadmap for your next strategic moves. You can use this data to identify what topics buyers are researching, what they are interested in, and which part of the buying journey they are in. Once you know that, you can then determine the best ways to follow up and engage your potential buyer. For example, say you are a CRM provider, and you notice that a prospect just did an online search for “what is the best CRM.” This signals that whoever is researching this topic is beyond awareness and starting the consideration stage research. With this knowledge, you could then begin to target them with ads about your brand and solutions. 

3. Hiring intent signals

Hiring signals are mainly job postings.  

Hiring signals let you know a company has money, and they are ready to spend it. For example, if a company is hiring for various tech positions, chances are that they are expanding, and could use scalable technology of a certain type. Or, if a company is hiring a whole team of developers, they could need better devops systems. 

4. Technographic intent signals

Technographic data is a popular commodity by which we track what technologies a specific company is using. We turn this information into intent signals by tracking when someone started to use a technology or stopped using another one! 

For example, say the product you are selling is a Salesforce app. In this case, you would want data signaling if a prospect recently began using Salesforce as their CRM. This information can assist you in determining what buyers are in market and tailoring your outreach to their specific needs. 

5. Company activity intent signals

Activity intent signals encompass meaningful or newsworthy events for a company. These could be things like; a company just opened a new office location, a company successfully ran a series funding, or even if a company laid x number of people off. Think about these signals like little alarms that go off when something interesting happens in a company’s world and they would inexplicably create changes within the organization.  

Each of those activities has implicit signals of intent. In the example of raising funding, it would signal a company is flushed with cash right now – of course, they are going to be spending money, and you want them to spend it with you. 

‘How?’ Painting the full intent data picture

So, here is the deal: figuring out ‘what’ each intent signal means and ‘why’ it matters, that’ is the straightforward part. The hard part is understanding how to combine all these signals together and leverage them in a way that paints a full picture of the buyers’ journey.  

What makes “doing intent right” is understanding that buying is not only happening in one place – it is happening on social media, blogs, news, job postings, apps, phone calls, it is even happening at the water cooler. Buying happens everywhere, it is not just one source or one signal that is the silver bullet. It is the context of all signals that are put together like a puzzle to create the customer journey. 

How do marketers leverage different intent signals to paint the full picture? Two ways: 

1. Consider each signals different meaning and weigh them appropriately 

Because not all signals are created equal, we must figure out how to prioritize them. This involves assigning a level of importance or a ‘score’ to each signal based on its relevance and context. 

Now, when you add up all these scores from different intent signals, you get a prospect’s “total score.” (Well… usually there’s more to it than just adding up a bunch of numbers, but you get it.) This total score is like a key that helps us understand where a prospect stands in their buying journey and guides us on how to approach them. This way, we are not just guessing; we are using data to understand where prospects are and how best to follow up with them. 

2. Adopt the most 360-degree view possible

Marketers must be able to capture and contextualize various kinds of intent and arrange those signals accordingly.  

The best way to think about this is by imagining a timeline view of a prospect’s journey – In the beginning, say a prospect has just started reading blogs. At this point, you would not immediately have a salesperson calling them. But then the same prospect posts a few job openings, now it is a promising idea to run some ads. And then they begin engaging with your content, that might be the golden moment for a salesperson to reach out. It’s how you use intent signals to understand and act on the buyers’ journey that makes intent data a truly valuable and powerful tool. 

Don’t let anyone convince you differently – a single web visit or download may mean nothing, but within the timeline of events, it might just be the signal you need to close that million-dollar deal!  


You’ve heard marketers say it plenty of times – not all intent data is created equal. But that’s what makes intent signals so valuable. We continue to strive to understand better, the what and ‘why’ behind each type of intent signal, so we can understand ‘howto optimize the customer’s journey the best. 

Would it not be an ideal world where we could always provide prospects with the exact information, they need at the exact time they need it and eliminate all guesswork?