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Making Sense of Intent Data for Your Business

By December 14, 2023January 18th, 2024Insights, Data & Analytics, Data Solutions
Published Date: Thursday, Dec 14, 2023
Last Updated on: Thursday, Jan 18, 2024
Marketing team Making Sense of Intent Data for a client.

In today’s saturated markets, customer acquisition is incredibly tough – and expensive to get wrong.

$611 billion is lost each year on poorly targeted digital marketing campaigns in the United States alone. Add to that the fact that 90% of B2B decision-makers ignore non-personalized marketing due to digital fatigue, and it’s easy to see why GTM teams are quickly returning to the whiteboard.

Intent data is the key that helps B2B sales and marketing teams separate the ready from the rest. When used in the right way, intent data provides teams with the signals that show where buyers are in the market and their likelihood to purchase – a hyper-efficient way to segment, target and win new business.

In this article, we’ll break down the key benefits and applications of intent data and how it can spark a unique competitive advantage for your marketing and sales initiatives.

What is intent data?

Intent data is a type of market intelligence that indicates a prospect’s level of interest in a product or service based on the online content they consume. It’s captured from a person’s digital behavior that suggests buying signals relating to specific relevant topics: Search terms, website visits, content downloads, social media activity and more. 

Armed with these behavioral signals, marketing and sales teams can prioritize accounts that are actively researching solutions in their market rather than relying on blind prospecting or strategic guesswork. With a list of active, high-intent prospects, leaders can ensure budget, time and resources are used in the most practical (and profitable) way. 

Intent data also provides clarity over buyer sentiment (positive or negative) attached to specific prospect research. This helps teams understand exactly where a decision-maker is in their buying journey and personalize outreach efforts based on customized profiling and product propensity – the likelihood a prospect is to buy.

Intent data is typically classified into two main categories: First-party and Third-party.

FIRST-PARTY INTENT DATA

FIRST-PARTY INTENT

Intelligence collected by you about your audience based on digital interaction and engagement suggests a heightened interest in purchasing.

THIRD-PARTY INTENT DATA

THIRD-PARTY INTENT

Intelligence collected by a variety of external sources that provide a broad view of online activity – outside of your own site and content data.

Marketing professional looking through data collected.

Intent vs in-market vs trigger

There is often confusion around what ‘intent’ really means. Is the intent data first- or third-party? How is it being collected, collated and scored? Is every prospect showing “intent” an easy win?

It’s key to establish that intent data does not necessarily equal in-market prospects or ripe and ready sales opportunities. Intent as a broad term means a potential buying signal across the entirety of the funnel – a suggested interest, be it early awareness or vetting providers. 

We tend to split product propensity data into three categories:

Intent

Custom-curated intelligence from consumers/customers actively searching for products, services or topics related to them.

In-market

A predictor that suggests a prospect will be in-market for a solution in the future due to upcoming contract expiry.

Trigger

A change that increases a prospect’s probability of suiting your offer – an assumed need based on circumstance.

Marketing professionals working through intent vs in market.

Types of intent data

Intent data sources are like leads: You can never buy enough or have enough. Investing in third-party intent data is a common choice for marketers looking to add an extra edge to their customer profiling.

There are two main types of intent data to be aware of, and both will offer a unique insight into buyer behavior and purchasing signals at varying points in the customer journey. It’s important to establish what you’re looking for before signing on the dotted line.

Search intent

Search intent data is captured when a potential buyer searches for a related keyword or phrase on a search engine like Google or Bing. Businesses can use this data to understand the queries their target audiences are searching for, pinpoint a clear need or, in the case of first-party data, see what keywords led them to your site.

The purpose of search data can be two-fold. It can provide the grounds for immediate targeting by identifying sales-ready leads that are actively showing in-market purchasing signals or researching competitor solutions or it can qualify prospects in the awareness stage that are researching highly related topics – rather than actively shopping for outcomes.

Engagement intent

Engagement data is more suggestive of sentiment than search intent. It refers to users’ interactions with particular lead source channels like articles and social media – typically first-party but often external, too. Engagement datasets can include Time-on-page (ToP), clicks, likes, responses, shares and more.

Engagement data is most effective for informing bottom-of-funnel campaigns. It measures individual actions that show how invested they are in your offering – and that the account is actively aware of your product and position in the market. This intent data is typically more qualitative than search intent and is a justifiable way to model propensity and inform personalization in longer-term B2B buying cycles or ABM initiatives. 

marketing team working through types of intent data.

Benefits of intent data:

Intent-based ads have a 220% higher click-through rate (Foundry)
55% of sales leaders see an increase in lead conversions when using intent data (DemandScience)
62% of marketing specialists say intent data is overhauling personalization and workflows. (SalesIntel)

Without buyer intent insights, it can be nearly impossible to maximize the value of GTM activities. Given that only a small percentage of any potential market is actively in a buying journey, those that fail to implement intent data risk sending targeted materials to prospects that aren’t ready to purchase – or worse, have no intention to buy at all.

Here are some of the main advantages intent data provides:

Personalization & behavioral context:

80% of consumers are more likely to buy when brands offer personalized experiences. B2B intent data provides more than the basic demographic details seen in traditional customer profiling – it enables sales and marketing teams to gain priceless insight into their prospect’s behaviors, content consumption patterns and where they are in the buying cycle. 

With this additional context, GTM teams can uncover the pains, priorities and preferences that their prospects face and deliver more personalized, targeted messaging to individuals or audience segments. Marketing teams can also decode content gaps and create materials that scale product awareness and expedite the buying process.

marketing team working through the benefits of intent data.

Timeliness:

Timing is now imperative to winning net-new business – and while a sales team stands a chance of influencing buyer perceptions in a demo call, purchasing decisions occur far earlier. In fact, 57% of buying decisions are made before a customer calls a supplier.

Intent data can help teams to understand where prospects are in the funnel and tailor campaigns based on the urgency and customer journey. For prospects in the awareness stage, businesses can choose to increase targeted ad exposure or engage early to fend off competitor influence further down the line. They can also deliver more aggressive outbound tactics for sales-ready consumers nearing a decision, leading to a shorter sales cycle.

Ad spend allocation:

Understanding user intent enables more informed decisions on advertising placement. Businesses can allocate their advertising budget more efficiently by targeting platforms and keywords that align with their audience’s interests, minimizing wasted spend on irrelevant audiences.

GTM teams will even adjust targeting parameters to deliver custom 1:few or 1:many messaging based on the strength of audience segmentation. By grouping prospects based on qualitative insights (shared behaviors, pain points and interests), businesses can create more meaningful ad groups and personalize en-masse, without the heavy expense of tailoring messaging on a prospect-by-prospect basis.

GTM team adjust targeting parameters to deliver custom messaging based strength of audience segmentation.

Prioritization & lead scoring:

35-50% of sales go to the vendor who responds first, according to research by Invespcro. Intent data helps sales teams to prioritize and focus on leads with the highest propensity and readiness to buy – based on their engagement with content, digital footprint and specific needs.

Businesses can also prioritize accounts based on value rather than urgency. Incorporating intent data as a part of a lead scoring model can help businesses segment prospects into high, medium and low priority groups based on their likelihood to buy and their potential lifetime value (CLV). This ensures high-value sales qualified leads (SQLs) are treated with adequate urgency – before they begin the buying process with a competitor.

Salesperson performance:

Intent data puts sellers one step ahead of their prospects, giving them the ammunition to drive engagement and build key relationships. By assessing a consumer’s online behavior and interactions with marketing materials (first- or third-party) sellers can quickly turn a cold call into a warm conversation, focusing their talk track in a way that is highly tailored and relevant to their ambitions.

Acutely understanding where a consumer/customer is in their journey also helps sellers align their assets and map outreach. If a prospect has very little intent to purchase, they can provide holistic service overviews and warm introductions. If they’re showing a slightly stronger intent, sales can provide solutions-focused content and call-to-action offers with demos or free trials.

Customer experience:

Customers now expect businesses to know what they want in advance. In fact, 71% of customers prefer proactive support. By closely paying attention to intent data, CX teams can preempt customer issues and quickly identify the right resolutions based on their content viewing habits – before they issue a support request. This leads to an increase in first-time resolutions and reduced customer friction.

Intent data can also help businesses facilitate better self-service – something 87% of buyers want. By tracking customer searches in real time, CX teams can create materials that actively fill content gaps, leading to reduced agent engagement and enabling buyers to complete buying actions on their own terms.

marketing team working out how Intent data can help businesses facilitate better self-service.

How can intent data be used?

Intent data provides niche, granular insights into human behaviors and, therefore, offers value across a variety of business activities beyond just net-new marketing and sales. Below are some innovative ways businesses have put intent data into practice.

Understand customer/prospect churn:

Intent data can enable businesses to actively identify clients and prospects that are reevaluating – and respond quickly. With sophisticated workflow algorithms, teams can set criteria for customers at risk of churn and layer these insights with search intent data to validate whether they are actively researching market competitors. Armed with this blend of detailed data, businesses can act quickly to remedy broken relationships and steer buyers back on-side with a captivating offer – before it’s too late.

Predictive analytics

Intent data can be used to predict future customer behavior and purchase intentions, based on the way prospects have moved through the buying process previously. Businesses can conduct more focused propensity modeling to understand the factors that influence purchasing intent and take a statistical approach to optimizing the variables that drive buying behaviors.

GTM plays & workflows

By implementing intent data into customer data, intelligence teams can begin to connect the dots between consumer actions and product propensity and automate workflows based on specific intent signals and predictive analytics. This is especially powerful for low-intent prospects in the early awareness phases, saving teams countless hours nurturing potential hand-raisers that only show glimpses of deal potential.

marketing team connecting the dots between consumer actions and product propensity.

Choosing the right intent data partner

When it comes to selecting a partner, it’s easy to feel lost in a sea of vendors promising the world. Choosing an intent data vendor is not a decision to be taken lightly. 67% of marketers say their number one challenge with intent data investments is making intent data actionable.

Here are some crucial considerations and key questions to ask for every business looking to implement intent data effectively:

Website tracking and analytics

Analyzing user interactions on a company’s website can reveal valuable intent data. Tracking page views, time spent on specific pages and engagement with certain content can indicate a user’s level of interest and intent.

Search engines

Monitoring the keywords and phrases users look for on search engines provides insights into their intent. Analyzing search queries helps businesses understand what users are actively seeking and allows for more targeted content creation.

Social media monitoring

Observing user interactions on social media platforms can reveal intent. Comments, shares and engagement with specific topics or posts can provide valuable insights into user interests and potential buying intent.

Email engagement

Analyzing how users interact with email campaigns, such as open rates and click-through rates, can provide indications of their interest and intent. For example, clicking on product links in an email may suggest a potential purchase intent.

Content consumption patterns

Monitoring the type of content users consume, such as blog posts, whitepapers or videos, can offer insights into their preferences and interests. This information can be used to tailor future content and marketing efforts.

Ad engagement

Analyzing how users engage with online advertisements, such as clicks and conversions, provides information about their interest in a product or service. This data helps optimize ad targeting and messaging.

Form submissions

Tracking form submissions on a website, such as contact forms or download requests, can indicate a user’s intent to engage further with the company. For example, filling out a demo request form signals a higher level of interest.

Third-party intent data providers

There are specialized companies that aggregate and provide intent data gathered from various online sources. These providers use algorithms and data analytics to identify potential buyers based on their online behavior.

Event tracking

Monitoring user participation in webinars, events or online forums can provide insights into their engagement and interest in specific topics. This data is particularly relevant in B2B environments.

Choosing the right intent data partner

When it comes to selecting a partner, it’s easy to feel lost in a sea of vendors promising the world. Choosing an intent data vendor is not a decision to be taken lightly. 67% of marketers say their number one challenge with intent data investments is making intent data actionable.

Here are some crucial considerations and key questions to ask for every business looking to implement intent data effectively:

Customization: Does the vendor offer adequate customization over taxonomy? Many partners take a syndicated approach which captures data from specific variables across set categories. For the most meaningful implementation, look for a partner willing to build custom, tailored intent data implementations according to your goals and intentions.
Discretion: Data privacy regulations such as Europe’s GDPR can make acquiring personal data incredibly difficult. To set expectations, you need to establish the type of data you can acquire legitimately prior to engaging with a vendor. To ensure legibility, many partners will provide account-level intent data without any personal insight into hot-seat decision-makers, leading to less targeted or relevant outbound communications. 
Reactivity: One of the main advantages to intent data is the ability to proactively engage with buyers when they are actively showing buying signals. Some data providers will offer real-time alerts when target accounts are showing elevated buying behaviors, making it easier to react quickly and strategically turn their interest into a genuine sales opportunity.
Integrations: Intent data acquisition needs to be coordinated and seamless across your business. Otherwise, processes become complicated, leading to lessened team adoption. Learning and implementing new platforms into your sales and marketing process can also be time-consuming. A good partner will be able to integrate with your existing tech stack and enable a short learning curve to help you hit the ground running.

Looking to outsource?

Intent data is not just a tool; it is a transformative force that empowers businesses to navigate the complexities of modern customer acquisition. As organizations embrace the strategic insights provided by intent data, they position themselves not just to survive but to thrive in an environment where understanding buyer intent is the linchpin to success.

Harte Hanks can help. Powered by over 573 million B2B/B2C insights and real-time buyer intent data from over 100,000+ global websites, our solutions are designed to help you see, hear and capture your next best customers at scale.

AudienceFinder, our market-leading data acquisition platform, helps strategists to identify decision-makers and decode their motivations. Armed with our appended 360° customer insights, we give you the keys to kickstart ultra-targeted campaigns and hit the right notes for conversion at the right time – with increased accuracy, less labor and lower acquisition costs (CAC).

Contact us today.