TL;DR - Intent data is a complex and disorganized market requiring buyers to be informed. One area that’s frequently misunderstood is the nature of contacts that are provided. In most cases the actual person who took action is unknown, and contacts that are provided are often sourced from data appending services. That compromises the immediate value of the data and carries additional opportunity cost.
Accounts Don’t Buy...People Do
There’s a common cycle among new users of most third-party intent data.
First, amazement and wonder at what’s possible. “It’s so cool to be able to actually know who’s active in the market! This is incredible information for targeting marketing and sales intelligence!”
Next, perplexity at the vagueness of signals. “Wait a minute...what are they really interested in? How do I know they’re active? What exactly qualifies as intent?”
Third, profound disappointment that they only get a hint of the information they need to leverage the data. “Time out. There are 750 people at that company. You can’t tell me who actually took the action? How am I supposed to actually market to them or sell?”
Finally, resignation and justification.
Sales says, “That’s worthless to us. We don’t know who is active, and we don’t know what their specific interest is.”
Marketing says, “At least we know what accounts are active, so we can serve ads to everyone there using paid social. It’s actually really cool that we have more info than we had before. And after all, they (the intent data providers and ABM software vendors) all say ‘it’s technically impossible’ or ‘probably illegal’ to have actual contact details.”
Steps two and three often take a bit of time to process through. The widespread use of data appending services has led to common misunderstandings about third-party intent data.
These Contacts Perfectly Match Your IDP
Perfect-looking contacts often fuel the honeymoon phase of data implementations.
After all, it’s really exciting! If your ideal buyer profile is the HR director or CHRO at a SaaS or internet-related company with 500-1000 employees, you’re pumped when you start to see data rolling in showing HR leaders in hundreds of these companies all active in the market.
These are exactly the people you’ve been looking for. You’ve suspected that they were looking for solutions like yours...and now you know it.
There’s only one problem: Those almost certainly aren’t the people that have actually taken action.
In most cases, they are contacts specifically selected to meet your IDP and obtained from a separate data source, and then overlaid or appended to the account-level intent data signal. They’re exciting to see precisely because they’re reverse-engineered to excite you. These are the people you wish were active, not the ones that are.
Most of us buy lottery tickets every once in a while knowing that it’s folly.
Similarly, many folks diligently begin to market to these appended contacts, believing that maybe they’ll just happen to be lucky this time.
Enterprise Sales Cracks First
Normally sales has the first "Emperor’s New Clothes" moment. When they realize they’re being sent fabricated (at least hypothetical or perhaps aspirational) contact signals, they push back.
In most cases, they don’t have the luxury of softer, higher-level, longer-term metrics like their marketing counterparts. They have to generate meetings, opportunities and revenue.
From their perspective, it’s of mild interest to know there’s some level of account activity, but it’s simply not actionable. The best they can do is to begin cold calling potential suspects just as they would a target account without any signal.
For salespeople, there’s no clear benefit to intent data that’s enriched with contacts via a data appending service.
If they’re lucky, marketing may take the account-level signal and begin to run account-wide paid social nurturing and conversion ads. Maybe those happen to yield a conversion that is more meaningful and worth sales attention.
Generally, though, once they grow wise to what’s being fed them, they sour on it.
(An important note - this is different than the important process of intent data activation. That takes time and it takes rigorous sales process. Prospects that have shown purchase intent at various stages in the buying journey are still prospects that need to be engaged. That requires a consistent, omnichannel outbound sales process. Of course it can be enhanced with granular context regarding the problem they’re trying to solve, stage in buying journey, job title, the outcome they seek, etc. Those marketing intelligence elements can be incorporated into Challenger Sale-style templates, call scripts, social media messaging, and nurturing paid social. They can also inform conversational marketing chatbot playbooks and create custom audiences for competitive retargeting. The point is that even data that includes actual contact details takes sales work, and sometimes that engenders grumbling.)
The Tragedy of Data Appending Services - Missed Signals
The worst part about intent data that’s simply enriched with imaginary contacts through a data appending service is the opportunity cost.
Yes, it aggravates the divide between sales and marketing and stokes the “unqualified lead” debate.
And yes, it means that resources continue to be wasted chasing ghosts across the TAM (total addressable market) rather than truly active buyers.
And of course, it’s unfortunate that data buyers aren’t more rigorous in their research. If they understand they’re getting “AI predicted contacts” and buy that data, that’s their call. (After all, everything is at least 5 times better with a dose of AI these days!) Too often, though, buyers believe they’re getting actual, active contacts and only once they’re enmeshed in one-, two- or three-year data agreements do they discover that the contacts are a mirage.
What’s really sad, however, is the missed opportunity.
- Actual, active contacts are ignored while they continue along their buying journey
- Important market awareness regarding competitor engagements, research behaviors, and product/market fit are lost
- The opportunity to truly personalize at-scale is missed
The fact that some anonymous individual, somewhere in the bowels of an organization took some action, or a few actions (we don’t hear much about reverse IP surges any more, thankfully) could be distracting sales teams from actual initiatives happening elsewhere.
When companies don’t know who the actual contact is (and their job title) they can’t use the data to understand where in their target organizations initiatives start, expand and conclude. They can’t understand at which stage in the journey their competitors excel or lag nor use the data for effective event marketing. And they can’t discern what problems/outcomes/solutions are getting the most engagement.
Most regrettably, the fact that they are working with appended contacts naturally means they can’t personalize at scale. Sure, they can use a <first name> tag for the dream contact that’s appended, but they can’t actually speak to the goals of the person taking the action.
Make an Informed Decision
For some companies, static databases are all they need, or want to buy (although some are quite expensive compared to intent data). Others will be excited about de-anonymizers. And many will see the potential in behavioral intent data.
But the intent data devil is in the details. A feed of actual, active contacts, demonstrating intent through actions sourced from publicly available information across the entire unstructured web is a very different product than accounts observed on a limited range of publishing co-op sites with hypothetical contacts from a data appending service.
That’s why we’ve put together a full buying and activation guide for intent data. Check it out.