What is True Intent Data?
Data. It is a word that has sparked a revolution in marketing. There are new categories being built, new marketing teams being assembled around data science, and for all you sports fans out there, executives are being hired by teams in completely different sports and leagues based on their ability to employ data and analytics. But why now? Marketers have have possessed data and information on which to base decisions on for decades. So what’s new?
The world is not flat anymore
Data that vendors get from engaging directly with their customers and prospects is called 1st party data and it is very valuable and will always continue to be. But if you believe that 1st party data alone is enough to retain or gain a competitive advantage in the market, I’ve got a map of the flat earth to sell you. Let me let you in a little secret – buyers are somewhere else way more often than they are with you. And if you wait until your buyers come to you, you will be waiting for a very long time. According to Google, on average, B2B influencers do 12 searches prior to visiting a specific brand’s site. Using rudimentary math skills, one can infer that your buyers are spending roughly 92% of their time elsewhere. Unless you are Lloyd Christmas, there realistically should be nothing about that number that would make marketers optimistic. Yet smart marketers are seeing this as a real opportunity – and for good reason. More on that later.
Be where your buyers are?
If buyers are not with you more than they are with you, you need to go where your buyers are. Problem solved, right? In theory, yes. However, just being where your buyers are does not guarantee you success. Despite finding the right market and supposedly being where their buyers are, great brands and/or products fail all the time because they have either a. failed to understand their buyer (see New Coke or many brands that market to Millennials) or b. are too late (or sometimes too early) to the party.
3 ways to understand buyer intent
(and the differing value of data marketers can use)
Being where the buyers are is essential, but understanding who they are and when they want to hear from you is what sets good brands and products apart. In other words – do you know what the intent of your prospects and buyers are? There are three ways that brands can understand buyer intent (and how they use data to varying degrees of success to get there):
#1 – Take a Guess
Let’s be honest. There is still a lot of guesswork in marketing and there always will be. Whether it is an educated guess or a shot in the dark, the companies that guess right often win. And oftentimes, it comes down to how well informed you are before making that guess. There are a number of solutions available in the market that use data inputs to drive predictive modeling that essentially allows marketers to predict/target buyers who are most likely to buy from them. However, most of these solutions only go so far as the inputs that go into them. If you are using 1st party data, chances are you are already engaged with the buyers (limited universe) and/or have previously failed to convert them for one reason or another. If you are using predictive solutions to acquire net new leads, then it all comes down to a list of people you may want to market to at some point in the future (ideal buying profiles, prospects that may or may not have expressed interest in your brand or subject area, lead look-alikes, etc.).
#2 – Let your buyers tell you
Hey, if you have found a buyer that tells you they are interested in your solutions or are in the market for a new solution, then that is a win regardless of how or what data you use. Everyone wants to get to buyers sooner so that they can accelerate their sales cycles and beat their competition to the punch with qualified prospects. There are many solutions that will hand you contacts, data and/or org charts from “accounts ready to buy”. The methods these organizations use to confirm account readiness include cold-calling into companies, social media monitoring and web scraping press releases or other published offerings from accounts.
While you can certainly find a deal this way if you happen to get the right guy on the phone at the right time, the problem with this approach comes down to context, timing and accuracy. Contacts and accounts may look great on paper and fit your ideal buyer nicely, but there is little to no context with your brand or your specific market segment. Additionally, even if a company publicly announces the need for a solution in a particular area, they have already been researching the solution for months and have narrowed the short list down. Finally, many B2B buyers are known to say whatever they need to say to get off the phone with a cold caller. Buyer beware – some of the companies that employ this methodology will also make you remove any contacts derived from their services from your database if you do not continue to subscribe to their services.
#3 – Let your buyers show you
Its always good when someone explicitly tells you they are interested in your solutions, but that is becoming more and more of a rarity in the digital world. In fact, according to IDC, 65% of B2B buyers say they usually engage a vendor sales professional only when they have made a purchase decision. If you are sitting around waiting for all those late stage leads to come in, you may be missing out on 65% of your addressable market of buyers. So what can marketers do?
Watch. And learn.
Even though your buyers may not be telling you they are ready to buy, most of them will show you. The way a buyer behaves speaks volumes about their intentions and can tell you way more than they will ever tell you themselves. You’ve all got a large database of prospects and customers that you think you may already know, but do you know every step they took to get into your database or just the last step? If you have the ability to, have you observed their behavior even on your own site? Kudos to all who are tracking behavior on your site and understanding multiple attribution points for those in your database. If the numbers we introduced earlier are correct, that means you are now successfully covering 8% of your market.
But what about the buyers you’ve never seen or never engaged with? And how about the actions that those you already know are taking outside of your ecosystem? The only way you are going to insert yourself into the equation and exert more influence earlier and more often during the buying process is to be able to read the digital signals they are sending not just with you, but with other brands, competitors and information sources to help you understand what a buyer needs and when to give it to them. This is the truest form of intent data that you can get.
Choosing a partner to help you get the right outside intent data
There are many vendors that claim to provide you with intent data (TechTarget included), but the integrity of that data and the success you will have in leveraging that data all comes down to the source of the data. Your own first party data is great, but if you want a holistic view of your market, you will need to engage with an outside source to enhance your market view. All outside sources are going to provide you with 2nd party or 3rd party data – I will delve in to defining these more in my next blog, but in the meantime here are a few things you need to be aware of when it comes to any outside data source:
- Do they own the data they are providing you or are they aggregating it through 3rd party ad networks or other publisher partners? If the partner you are working with is mainly a data aggregator, then you will receive very little insight on the accounts and prospects that are being passed along to you. You want to work with a company that owns the audiences and data they are providing as they are more likely to provide deeper insight on where the buyers are engaging, what content they are looking at, and more detail on the types of actions that qualify as purchase intent. Otherwise, you are often just getting demographic and firmographic data on the account level with very little insight into topical interests and content engagement. Additionally, many of these data aggregators have very broad-based networks which partners come in and out of and do not provide transparency on where their data points are specifically coming from. Companies such as TechTarget that own their own data can make better judgments about content and intent associations, weight vendor content activity vs. editorial content activity and provide you with deeper intelligence on the true intent of specific buyers.
- How specific is the market you are getting data about? In the IT space, many vendors will tell you they are giving you purchase intent data on a particular market, but oftentimes, it is too general to provide the value you need. Let’s use the Storage market for an example. Vendors can give you purchase intent data on Storage, but that often leaves you with a lot of work left to do to understand whether or not your opportunity is real and specifically relevant to your solution area. Why? Because data on “Storage” does not really provide insight into whether buyers have intent around your solution – you are not selling “Storage” solutions, but Backup, SAN, NAS, Cloud Storage, Solid State Storage, etc. which are all very different solutions. For instance, TechTarget’s “Storage” market consists of well over 80 individual solutions areas, all with multiple sub-topics.
- What can I use it for right now? Most behavioral/intent data providers advertise that they provide Account-Based Marketing tools for display ad targeting, email targeting, targeted account lists for accounts that are most likely to buy and 3rd party starter contacts at accounts from publically available sources. All good things for marketers who are looking to target potential buyers in programs moving forward. But how does the data help you better penetrate accounts right now? Can the partner you are working with provide you with active accounts and prospects who are actually generating the activity being monitored or do they just provide “look-alikes” or contacts with related titles? If not, where is the intent?
Marketers have a lot of choices to make when it comes to working with data. There are new marketing technology solutions and new data vendors entering (and exiting) the market at a rapid pace. Many of them will tell you they are just the right partner or solution to help you find, influence, and target the right buyers at the right time. But next time one of these vendors tells you they are delivering purchase intent to your doorstep, take a closer look to see if they are truly delivering on the promise. Ask more questions like the ones above. You may be surprised with the answers you receive.