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The beginners’ guide to Intent data

Triple-digit sales growth?

79% reduction in cost per click?

300% increase in click-through rates?

Over 300% increase in meeting creation rate?

By now, you’ve likely heard of Intent data and seen the awesome results it can deliver, but what is it? How do you use it? And how is it different from cookies?

If you’re in sales or marketing and you want to know what all the buzz is about, this guide is for you!

In this guide, we’ll answer the following:

  • What is B2B Intent data
  • How does Intent data show purchase Intent and if they’re ready to buy?
  • What are the different types of Intent data, and how can they be used in marketing automation platforms?
  • What are the best tips and tricks to get started with Intent data when launching your B2B marketing campaigns?

Ready to dive in?

What is Intent data?

B2B Intent data is the trail of digital breadcrumbs your potential buyer leaves as they traverse the web conducting research for their next purchase. It tells you when buyers are actively researching online for a solution and which products and services they are interested in (aka purchase Intent) based on the web content they consume.

Now that you know the specifics, let’s take a second to think about how you make a big purchase. Let’s say you’re looking to buy a new in-ground pool for your backyard. ⛱

You wouldn’t just call a sales rep right away, would you? Of course not! At this point, you don’t even know what questions to ask! 

So you hit up Google, watch videos, check out reviews, and read through blogs and articles to start narrowing down what you want (oval or kidney bean shape? fiberglass or concrete?) and who you want to install it — all before you ever reach out to a specific pool salesperson.

What is Intent Data

B2B buyers are no different

They’re just buying a SaaS solution instead of a pool. (…way less fun in the summer, am I right?)

So, for example, when an organization wants to pick up a new customer relationship management (CRM) platform, they don’t immediately reach out to sales. 

Instead, they start reading applicable industry articles, comparing solutions on sites like G2, and researching you and your competition via your websites and other sources. In fact, CSO Insights found that a full 70% of B2B buyers fully define their needs before ever reaching out to a salesperson.

Intent data is a structured collection of all these digital breadcrumbs your potential buyers leave behind as they consume content across different sites on their research journey.

Buyer beware!

Why is it important to structure raw Intent data?

First of all, the sheer amount of data generated by monitoring 28 billion monthly consumption events across 3 million domains, categorizing them by topic, tying them back to your target accounts, and scoring and ranking them can be dizzying.

But more importantly, it helps sales and marketing teams gain valuable insights and sales intelligence to personalize marketing campaigns across the buyer’s journey.

For example, most companies are quick to throw a lead on a nurture sequence the first time users enter their email to download an eBook.

But just because someone downloads a single eBook doesn’t necessarily mean they’re interested in buying your solution. In fact, according to Bombora’s research, only 15% of your buyers are in-market at any given time.

So, to make sure your prospecting time and advertising dollars are best spent, Bombora compares all these consumption events to historical activity baselines for each account to ensure an account is showing a genuine uptick in interest and not just window shopping.

The two sources of buyer Intent data

First-party and third-party Intent data

Intent data comes in two main flavors: first-party and third-party.

Here’s the breakdown:

First-party Intent data comes directly from your marketing efforts and digital properties

If someone clicks on your ad, taps a link in one of your emails, or visits your website and you track it, this is first-party data.

First-party data is what you collect directly from user interactions with your social campaigns, email campaigns, and website. It’s fantastic because you can collect significant details about each visitor and the actions they’ve performed in real-time.

What first-party data doesn’t tell you is what your prospect is doing 99% of the time they’re NOT on your digital properties. 

That’s where third-party data comes in.

Third-party Intent data is information about your prospects collected from properties you don’t own

Is your prospect eyeing your competitor?… or have they just not found your solution yet?

With first-party data alone, you’d never know.

Third-party data expands your reach by giving you a more well-rounded view of your target accounts during the buying process. You can identify prospects who are interested in a solution but haven’t yet heard of your brand. 

So, in addition to knowing if a customer downloaded an eBook from your site or watched your webinar, third-party data will also tell you if this customer is downloading eBooks, watching webinars, and reading blogs and articles on other websites and platforms.

Where’s the party at? 

It’s important to note that these two types of Intent data aren’t in conflict — in fact, they work together amazingly well.

Third-party data is usually your first indicator that an account is in-market, as it will catch all the account’s early research activity before they reach your site. 

After you use this data to bring the customer to your platform, you can use your own first-party data to understand what content they’re engaging with and what will push them over the edge to buy.

Do you know where your Intent data comes from

Why should marketing and sales teams use Intent data?

Sure, the stats at the beginning of this article are impressive, but they’re actually not the main reason marketing and sales teams start using Intent data.

The real reason marketing teams start integrating Intent data is for sales and marketing efficiency, or as we like to call it ‘sustainable marketing.

sustainable marketing

Here’s how it works:

Before Intent data

Traditionally, sales teams would make a list of potential customers representative of their target audience with the assumption they may be active buyers, and start engaging in cold outreach to drum up demand. Marketing teams would take a similar approach in creating a manual list of who they perceive as having some purchase Intent to run their marketing programs against.

The problem is that this approach can limit your visibility into which target accounts are actively researching your solution and have the highest Intent. Without an Intent-based marketing approach, reliable first-party Intent data, and actionable insights into key prospects’ buying signals, you are essentially flying blind in trying to capture active buyers across the customer journey.

We also experience an opportunity cost (every minute you spend calling the wrong prospect means one less minute talking to the right one), and we’re burning out our future customers by calling, messaging, and serving them ads for things they’re not yet interested in.

With Intent data

For organizations that use a combination of first- and third-party Intent data, this process looks quite different.

SDRs now get prioritized lists of leads based on activity level and can see what topics each lead is interested in so they can focus their time and attention on crafting more personalized outreach to the accounts with the highest propensity to buy.

Similarly, marketers can take a true, data-backed, account-based approach, working with sales and serving topically relevant ads to the most interested accounts.

All this means you’re spending less time and money contacting and serving advertising campaigns to uninterested accounts and more time closing business with engaged prospects. This sustainable approach allows marketers and sellers to do less but perform better, especially when combined with actionable insights from a robust lead scoring model and program.

Is tracking people legal?

With the recent rise of regulations like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), user privacy has come under much more scrutiny. 

Unlike risky bidstream data, Bombora’s Company Surge® data comes from a GDPR-compliant, opt-in data co-op where all data is collected with consent, keeping your business safe from fines and legal action.

Sourcing data that way adheres to current and expected future privacy laws, and is one of the reasons why Bombora is built for longevity with sustainability at the core. Basically, industry and regulatory privacy shifts won’t hurt us! 

Ok, now that we’ve kicked the tires, let’s take Intent data for a spin…

How to use Intent data in B2B marketing

We’ve hinted broadly at several use cases for Intent data, but let’s talk more specifically about what an Intent-powered sales and marketing process looks like in a few real-world use cases.

Build intuitive and dynamic ABM strategies

As much as everyone is claiming to use an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy, few are — and it’s in part because our existing tools and strategies don’t lend themselves well to ABM. Simply put, it takes a ton of manual work to transform our typical bottom-up, lead-led approach into a more top-down, account-based model.

Bombora’s Company Surge® Intent data, on the other hand, was built from the ground up with ABM in mind: 

As individual prospects traverse the web on their personal research journeys, this data is collected, aggregated, and mapped to target accounts. And this correlates to more meaningful data, as it delivers the account-level activity more indicative of an account ready to buy.

(Gartner reports that the average B2B buying committee is composed of 6–10 decision-makers, so it makes sense that you should see larger account-based activity if a customer is actually in-market.)

With this list of accounts in hand, ranked by activity level and paired with topics of interest, SDRs and marketers alike can more easily adopt an ABM mentality and instantly be more productive — focusing on the accounts with the highest propensity to buy and serving them the content that will be most helpful on their buying journey.

Personalize the buying process across the customer journey

Ok, so you know which accounts are interested, but what exactly are they interested in?

In addition to using third-party Intent data to gauge an account’s general level of interest, you can also determine what topics each account is currently interested in.

As we discussed, buying committees are growing, and each individual decision-maker is evaluating your solution from a different angle:

    • Sales wants to understand how your solution can make their jobs easier, increase conversions, and shorten sales cycles
    • IT wants to understand how it will integrate into their current systems without causing any security risks
    • Finance wants to understand the ROI, and how soon the investment will be recouped

Each of these roles and personas has different concerns and motivations, so it’s important we don’t just serve them all the same ads or treat them all identically with our outreach.

Learn more: How to use Intent data to create messaging that resonates

By identifying which Intent data topics your accounts are looking into, you can speak directly to each individual decision maker’s priorities, which smoothes out their buying journey and increases your chances of winning over the entire buying committee. 

What are Intent topics

Target with precision

Used properly, Intent data opens up a segment of exclusive data that can help increase ad potency without necessarily increasing ad spend.

To increase your ad effectiveness, make sure you’re using your first-party data to build audiences that match your ideal customer profile (ICP)  or existing customers, and use Bombora’s integrations to ensure the timing is right — with quality third-party Intent data right in your ad manager or platform.

Let’s talk results

An increase in ad effectiveness is one of the first benefits most companies experience when they integrate Bombora’s Intent data into their ad managers.

Click here to see how Exterro achieved a 2x–3x increase in their LinkedIn ad CTR with Bombora’s Intent data, and how Company Surge® helped Salesforce realize a 271% ROI on their digital display ad spend.

Provide personalized content marketing at scale

As your prospects progress along their buying journey, they’re looking for specific content at each stage. When they’re at the beginning of the journey, more top-of-funnel content is appreciated, but as your prospect gets closer to making a decision, they may expect to see more specific or technical content.

Intent data provides a means to match each individual prospect to the content they’re looking for at every stage of their research by showing you which specific topics they’re researching, so you can be sure you’re always serving them content they need.

Find content gaps

Digging deeper into your prospects’ content consumption trends may also help you uncover any gaps in your own asset library.

For example, if your prospects are searching for relevant topics which you don’t currently have content for, it may be a sign you could benefit from broadening your B2B content marketing strategy and/or creating new content to cover those relevant topics.

Improve email marketing engagement

Email is a powerful tool driving 49% of early-stage buyer engagement, but current B2B email open rates are only around 18%, with CTRs much lower (at around 2%).

This means even small improvements in opens and clicks can result in huge positive growth for your business.

By uncovering your prospects’ level of activity and the topics they’re currently researching, you can:

  • Re-invigorate leads that have gone cold by sending them new resources on the topics they’re researching
  • Provide new, relevant content (eBooks, blogs, events, etc.) to prospects right when they’re looking for it
  • Build personalized email sequences for accounts that are actively researching your competition
  • Cross-sell and upsell by sending emails to existing customers highlighting new products they’re showing interest in
  • Increase your open rates and CTRs by making sure you’re not sending emails to customers who already have a lower likelihood of responding

Using Intent data not only helps ensure your outreach is relevant, but it also helps your team be more creative in their outreach by giving them a head start with a topic to build from.

The impact of Intent data

Shed light on ABM blindspots and find hidden opportunities for sales

Without third-party Intent data, you’re mostly reliant on interactions with your specific outreach and digital properties to understand your prospects’ level of interest.

But this approach can leave you with some major blindspots.

What about those accounts that are actively researching but haven’t seen or responded to your advertising? Or those that are conducting a competitive analysis but just haven’t come across your site?

Based on first-party data alone, you’d be completely blind to these interested and motivated accounts!

Quality third-party Intent data helps shine a light on this Dark Funnel and uncover these hidden accounts by tracking all their research activity, regardless of where the research is taking place (publisher’s site, competitor’s site, etc.), and bringing it to light via an applicable report or dashboard.

This means sales will now have visibility into these highly motivated accounts that would have otherwise been missed without the help of third-party Intent data, and they’ll also have insight into what topics these accounts are interested in.

With this additional knowledge from third-party data in hand, sales will not only know which accounts to prioritize — but they’ll also know which topics and solutions to reach out with to help increase their cold prospecting conversions and even identify opportunities for upselling.

Intent topic tips

  • Increase cold prospecting conversions: So, you need to reach out to a new prospect. What can you say that will cut through the clutter and get their attention? Ditch the generic script! With access to Intent topics, you’ll know just what your prospect is interested in and be able to reach out with exactly what they’re looking for at the perfect time! Read how Turtl used this strategy to get a 300% increase in meeting creation rate!
  • Find new opportunities for upselling: Nobody likes pushy salespeople, but everyone appreciates a helpful sales rep! With Intent topics, you can see if your customer is researching another product you offer (from you or a competitor) and present them your solution. It’s an easier upsell for you because you know they’re already looking for a solution, and it’s easier for your customer because they’re already working with you. Everybody wins!
  • Prevent customer churn: Intent topics don’t only have to be related to the product you sell — you can also set up Intent topics focused on your competitors. By looking for activity on competitive topics, you’ll be able to discover new accounts that are actively researching your competition — and even find out if any of your current customers are considering switching over, so you can reach out and proactively prevent them from churning!

Intent topic benefits

Get started with Intent data

So, how can you realize the biggest benefits from Intent data? How can you get started with Intent data in your organization?

Don’t worry, we put together this handy guide to help you get started, and if you need additional support, our team would be happy to help you find out if Intent data is right for you.

Less marketing, less sales energy, less overhead — more results.

What’s not to love?

Get started with Intent data checklist