Intent data - the good, the bad and the work required to figure it out

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck February 25, 2021 Audio version
Summary:
The road to hell is paved with good intentions; the road to good account-based marketing should be paved with intent.

intention
(Pixabay)

One of the critical things to understand when you are building an account-based marketing strategy is intent. Who are the prospects in your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) who show signs of intent - some level of interest or plan to purchase a product you are selling?  But is intent data all it's hyped up to be?

Matthew Gibbons is Field Marketing Manager for Quickbase, a no-code platform for operational agility which is pitched at helping organizations unlock innovation within their people without the need for IT or developers to create custom solutions.

Quickbase was originally part of Intuit. Today, it's on its own and as well as working with the SMB/mid-market, it's now focusing on enterprise customers, a new market with different requirements.  Enterprise customers have multiple software solutions in-house, notes Gibbons, and they use the Quickbase platform as a tool to innovate on top of what exists already. Part of what makes this approach work is the native integration it offers via its recent Cloudpipes acquisition.

Before and after

Before using intent data, much of the marketing efforts to reach enterprise customers came through account-based advertising using Terminus and LinkedIn before tapping into 6sense and intent data. One driver for this was it became a priority to align marketing and sales and build trust with the Sales group. Intent data is helping do that.

Anyone who’s encountered 6sense will know it provides several ways to see and understand what customers are doing and whether they are in-market (ie: actively researching products). In Quickbase’s cases, 6sense is used to address several things: 

  • What companies in its ICP are researching topics of interest that match their product?
  • What competitors are being researched?
  • Who are the companies visiting the Quickbase website, including which pages?

Quickbase still does account-based display advertising, just using 6sense, with the account data then  powering its LinkedIn advertising. More importantly, they provide the information to their Sales team.

It’s often the case that a company will use Salesforce and integrate that with 6sense to send intent data into the CRM and build reports and notifications for sales people managing the accounts. But Quickbase doesn't use Salesforce. It uses its own CRM software, so it doesn't have that level of integration.  Instead, Gibbons explains that the firm develops alerts in 6sense that notify account reps through email and Slack about specific intent data on an account. 

Results

And it's working. The relationship between marketing and sales is much better because marketing is providing sales with valuable insights. The intent data also supports removing gated content on the website. Because the intent data provides top-of-the-funnel insight, Quickbase personnel don't need to capture contact information for every white paper or e-book offered on the website. Free trial and demo requests are still gated, but opening up all the other content helps build engaged audiences that will come back when they are ready to buy.

Gibbons acknowledges there is more to 6sense than Quickbase currently uses, such as its predictive capabilities, but using the core functionality to date has helped with the number one priority - a strong relationship between sales and marketing and good account orchestration. That’s a goal that according to a study by Rollworks and Bombora, is second on the list of primary goals for intent data. 

Is it worth it? 

So does intent data provide a competitive edge? I am a big proponent of account-based marketing. I do believe it should be a primary strategy for B2B companies. And to make an ABM strategy work, you need to know your ideal customer and need a way to understand intent signals to build the best program.

It's not just intent to buy because that is probably the hardest intent to discern. It's more about interest and what the level of interest is. I've worked with clients who use tools like 6sense, Terminus, and Leadfeeder to understand intent. It’s not easy and it doesn't always work. 

If you are looking at what companies are doing on your own website (first-party data), then intent data is beneficial. You see what product pages they are looking at, what content they are reading, how much time they are spending on your site and so on. You can use this information to create more of the right content, improve product messaging, run targeted email campaigns, run re-targeting ad campaigns etc etc.

This first-party data is also beneficial to Sales who are going to want to know when someone from one of their target accounts is on the website and what he or she is looking at. It improves the quality and timing of their outreach, leading to better conversion rates.

But when you look at intent data through keywords and topics, even competitor research, intent is much harder to figure out. It's not necessarily information Sales can use. Interest in a topic does not necessarily imply intent to purchase. And this information needs to be tracked over a period of time to know if there is indeed real intent. Not all intent data solutions do that. 

Then there is the question of data quality. Does the solution you use have enough data from third-party data providers to provide accurate intent signals? Do you know who those providers are? Are they trustworthy and accurate? Are there enough sources of data to give a true reflection of intent? 

One other challenge I've observed with intent data is that it's delayed. So, yes, maybe an account did have the intent to purchase. But by the time that data reached the marketer or the sales team, the account was too far down the purchase path to consider another solution. 

TrustRadius talks about downstream intent data - what they refer to as second-party data, captured from accounts in the mid-to-bottom of the funnel stage of the purchase journey. This data comes from people researching products on the TrustRadius website. (TechTarget and G2 provide similar intent data services). While I don't argue that there is some value to this intent data, I've worked with clients who haven't found it useful at all (and had to spend a good chunk of money to find that out). 

The key here is that the competitive edge is the actioning of the data, not the intent data itself. Intent data isn't a competitive advantage in and of itself. It's what you do with that data that provides the competitive advantage. You need to review and evaluate intent data continually. It's not something you can look at when you are planning a marketing campaign or building a new account list for an ABM advertising campaign or sales sequence. 

And intent changes over time. People in a company may do a lot of research early on when they are trying to figure out how to do something. At some point, there will be a decision that a product or solution is needed, at which point additional research is done, including looking at vendor solutions. Once a short-list is created, the research narrows and slows as a decision is made. 

Where you step in at any point in that process dictates what you do with the intent data. It also means you marry that intent data with some good old manual research of your own to make sure it's an account you should be focusing on. Yes, I know that manual research isn't scalable, but if you use it at the right point, it's worth the time you put into it. (Those top-tier accounts come to mind). 

Gibbons alludes to elements of this approach when he talks about how intent data is used at Quickbase. Sales gets alerts when target accounts are active, and it helps sales people to know how to engage those accounts at that point in time. Otherwise, intent data is used for advertising, with the idea to draw in interested accounts to the website that can then be passed on to sales at the right time.

My take 

I prefer to view intent data with a good dose of skepticism. I believe it's essential to understand to build the right sales and marketing programs, but I don't have full confidence that it is the right intent data at the right time. And do not believe every solution out there works

Some solutions are better than others. To figure out which one is right for your organization requires talking to current customers about the good and the bad, the challenges, and the opportunities. Then you have to try for yourself and you have to give this time to work. But you need to put in a lot of effort to examine and action the data. If you aren't ready to commit to the work necessary, I wouldn't spend the money.