A New Holy Grail: How to Use Intent Data in B2B Marketing

May 25, 2018


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Article ImageIn the marketing world, we talk about “holy grails” – data sources so valuable that they seem to give your campaigns eternal life. B2C marketers have long considered intent data to be one of those holy grails. They have been studying keystrokes, shopping carts, searches, and browsing patterns to predict what customers are likely to do next. B2B marketers didn’t dabble with intent – until recently.

Intent data is becoming a holy grail in B2B marketing as well, but we use it in a notably different way. I’ll talk about how intent data is redefining B2B marketing and how you might capitalize on this technique. 

The Basics of Intent

As the name implies, intent data predicts what a person is likely to do next. We experience the consequences of this data as consumers all the time. You visit an online clothing retailer, and then their ads follow you around the internet. The ads might include a category you browsed or an item you added to the cart but never bought. More nuanced intent data takes your entire media diet into account, basing intent on your reading, video watching, and social media habits.

With B2B buyers, we can’t trace intent the same way. No one puts a $50,000 per year CRM platform into a shopping cart, nor is that purchase the decision of a single buyer. More likely, an early-stage tech buyer is going to rely on searches and avoid downloading white papers, lest she trigger an avalanche of emails and phone calls. B2B intent data requires its own technique. 

The B2B Method

B2B intent data combines multiple sources to triangulate a company, role, and individual. Here’s how it works:

  1. Target specific search terms then obtain reliable intent data from sources like Bombora and 6Sense. Their data provides the company and location initiating the search via IP addresses.
  2. Determine the persona you believe is most likely the initiator or influencer of the search you targeted (e.g., director of marketing if you’re targeting searches related to marketing).
  3. Check your current marketing database for these individuals.
  4. Acquire other potential prospects at the company using tools like LinkedIn or data solutions like DiscoverOrg.
  5. Next, target these individuals with digital ads, emails, social content, and other campaigns that are relevant to their search data. If they engage, you’re on the right track.
  6. Last, contact these people within one to three weeks, when the intent is fresh.

The process is 70% to 90% accurate when performed rigorously. Automated scripts listen for searches so that no one is buried in manual work. Identifying target personas is the more manual part of the process, and timing is critical.

The person you contact may not be the decision-maker, but they may have influence nonetheless. In B2B marketing, we have to know the entire buying unit, not just the first person who sends a signal. Generally, you’ll identify two to three likely candidates, especially in larger businesses.

Keep in mind that intent data is about identifying people who haven’t taken overt steps like downloading a white paper. If or when they do, it’s important to make a connection between your intent data and this warmer signal, otherwise you might contact the person in two different ways that don’t make any sense together.

What Next?

If you’ve been reading the news, this process might give you pause. If you contact a buyer and say, “Hey! We bought your ‘anonymous’ search data and traced it to you. Want to buy our platform?” you can imagine how that might go. B2B intent data requires some tact.

First, consider your audience. High-tech marketers and salespeople are going to be fine because they do this sort of thing too – and they might be excited to know how you found them. My clients say their prospects often respond with a “Wow! Cool.” If you contact a person in healthcare, journalism, or higher education the same way, they might not be so enamored.

You don’t have to spell out the process unless the person asks, in which case you should be transparent. “Hey, we noticed that you’re interested in a marketing automation product,” might be enough. “I noticed you were searching marketing automation,” is too creepy.

Balance your outreach using several channels. My team and I often rely on direct mail, which complements and sometimes rises above digital messages. A physical piece of collateral is less fleeting than email when it’s done with great creativity.

Some Considerations

Understandably, any process that turns anonymous search data into a person’s name and role should raise eyebrows. First, keep in mind that you’re using company data, not personal data. Second, consider that anyone who’s tech-literate can privatize their searches. Again, this technique is appropriate for high-tech audiences who see intent data as useful versus a step over the privacy line.

Privacy aside, your biggest concern is timing. Intent is temporary. The biggest error is to wait a month before contacting individuals, by which point they may be gravitating towards a competitor.

All that said, recognize that intent data is becoming a “holy grail” in B2B marketing, and give it a shot. If you’re waiting for white paper downloads, you’re going to be late to every party.


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