Intent is the new lead score, says Terminus CMO Natalie Cunningham

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher April 27, 2023
A deep dive into how ABM is evolving...


Account-Based Marketing is evolving, not just the technology but the strategy - a conversation with Natalie Cunningham, CMO at Terminus, brought clarity to that statement and brought to light a new way of thinking about intent.

Starting with the Prospect Engine

Terminus announced its Prospect Engine as a way for customers to identify the best-fit accounts and contacts not currently in their CRM. Best-fit means they align with a company's ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and are most likely to be in-market for their solution. The engine works with two types of intent data - third-party intent data from Bombora and first-party data from de-anonymizing website visitors. Cunningham argues that there is a lot more third-party intent data, but ‌first-party data, while lower on reach, is much higher on quality. 

Prospect Engine has two versions: a free version and a premium version. The free version provides a fit score that identifies best-fit accounts by looking at first-party intent data from website visits mapped to the company's ICP. The premium version identifies accounts and buying group contacts within those accounts and includes third-party intent data from Bombora. Terminus helps each company define its ICP to ensure clarity on best-fit accounts.

Cunningham explains that when it comes to the Prospect Engine, it's about quality over quantity. Customers define their ICP, provide their web properties, and specify the topics that matter in third-party intent data. But Terminus doesn't just hand them a huge list and let them figure things out. Instead, they provide a smaller, prioritized data set that is actionable, including actionable in the Terminus platform.

Focusing on the right contacts is key

Terminus believes you should deeply understand your buying committee(s), which means knowing the contacts in those committees. That way, when looking at intent, you look at it in terms of specific contacts. Cunningham points out, rightly, that just because someone shows intent doesn't mean they are the right person to spend time on. Partnering with Bombora, Terminus Prospect Engine can look for those accounts showing intent and match them with highly-accurate contact data.

There's more, though. Sales people gripe about contact data quality, but they need this data to do their job. So what's the answer? Ensure the contact data is as accurate as possible. Terminus has built an Intelligent Data Graph, which includes 8 million companies and 32 million decision-makers, with full profile information enriched with firmographic, technographic, and contact details. The contact data in the graph is re-verified every 90 days to ensure its accuracy. A dedicated team also verifies the account and contact data for everyone outside the graph before it goes in. Cunningham says: 

If you think about the amount of turnover, especially in certain industries, if you're targeting the tech industry, for example. That's pretty important. That contact data is not six months, 12 months, 24 months old. That's how you end up, and I put this on my LinkedIn recently; that's how you end up with people sending you ads targeting a company you worked for in 2019. It happens all the time.

It's a lot of work, but the Intelligent Data Graph gets smarter the more it's used. It's an effort they've honed over time with a focus on quality data over quantity. Also, they have been using the data graph for years; it just wasn't offered as a dedicated data product like it is now. She says:

We are not trying to be everything to everyone. We are trying to give, again, that signal first view, which inherently will make the dataset smaller than it would be if we said all contacts at that account in any buying committee, in any role, or we said all accounts, whether in your ICP or not. It's very intentionally focused.

The Prospect Engine will be the central nerve center of the Terminus platform going forward, supporting go-to-market (GTM) for data and activation. 

The evolution of intent data

Cunningham talks a lot about signal over intent, and there's a reason for that. She said the definition of intent we use today is too narrow. Terminus does believe that intent will continue to play a critical role in GTM around prioritization and discovery of new targets and segments, but our definition of intent needs to change. And that's because not all intent data is equal, she argues: 

The way that we talk about intent data is there's a spectrum of reach versus quality or sales readiness; that the data is different depending upon the type of intent data.

One end of the spectrum, Cunningham explains, is the high-volume, high-reach data, but it does not necessarily reflect an intent to buy. At the other end of the spectrum, you are de-anonymizing website visitors who are aware of your brand and have a higher potential of being interested in having a conversation. In between, there is a whole spectrum, and Terminus sees a more segmented approach to evaluating intent instead of saying that all intent data means the contact is in-market. 

Cunningham believes we need to start prioritizing activity and engaging differently based on the type of intent data. We also need to layer it to better understand what buying committee contacts are doing: 

Our goal is absolutely to become that nerve center at the account level and at the buying committee level that will tell you, based on, you know, be it review site data, be it lots of other signals that you could plug in, can you get a score on that account that you actually trust? That's not behind a black box? That's not some crystal ball telling you that it makes sense that you don't trust? Can you get a trustworthy, high-quality score that says, no, no, this account is worth your time. And it's this type of message that's going to make sense to them based off of the intent topics, based off of their activities.

The more she uses intent data for her programs, and the more she talks to customers and sees the prevalence of intent data in marketing strategies and GTM teams, the more Cunningham thinks that intent is the evolution of lead scoring. She believes we will end up somewhere between old-school lead scoring, where marketing identifies high-intent brand engagement and full-on third-party intent. 

Engagement - or intent - matters in both cases but aren't of the same quality. The intent is not necessarily the same. Creating a blended view, where marketers define the important topics, in addition to the ICP, will bring more accuracy to the account and contact level and improve marketing and sales efforts. 

Suggesting that intent is the new lead scoring makes a lot of sense when you evaluate intent in this way. A lot of people like to say that lead scoring is dead. But many marketers still do it. They have to because they need to define what activities are more important indicators of being in-market. No marketer would consider a whitepaper download as important as a webinar registration. And that's just one example.

Whether you use an ABM platform or not, it's still critical to identify your ideal customer profile (and you can in a lead score model), combine it with lead activity signals (intent) and, from there, determine who to send to sales for outreach.

My take

What I like about Terminus' approach is that it doesn't look at all third-party intent data the same way. By having companies identify critical topics, they are indicating which intent signals are more important – they are scoring intent. By combining ICP, "scored" intent, and first-party data signals, companies can more accurately identify the right accounts and contacts to work with. The whole process makes third-party intent data more valuable.

There are similarities with what other ABM platforms (or similar type platforms) are doing. For example, the idea of intent scoring is something Clearbit does when it looks at identifying and supporting accounts in the middle of the funnel. In this case, though, they primarily look at CRM contacts they need to engage and help to the bottom of the funnel. The free account intelligence is also offered by Demandbase (although Cunningham said they had this offering for a while for customers and just never promoted it). And 6sense provides similar tools that help Sales and Marketing prioritize in-market accounts and give insight into contacts in buying committees. Of course, each platform takes its own unique approach, but all show how much ABM is evolving.

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