How to Buy Intent Data

May 12, 2021 | Author Ed Marsh

Tl;dr - Many companies start the intent data research process with a specific use case in mind. Sometimes they don't realize all the ways it can be used. And often they aren't aware of the differences and nuance in different data models that will impact their short and long-term options. Here are some points to keep in mind regarding how to buy intent data.

What, How & Why of Buying Purchase Intent Data

Most companies come to the question of how to buy intent data with a set of assumptions about how they'll use it and why they think it may help. As a result, they tend to focus on the "what" - the specific technical details of the intent data model and provider.

That's certainly an important set of questions and one that involves some important decisions which aren't necessarily immediately apparent as people initially research the first question of what is intent data. We'll outline some of the overlooked "what" questions below.

But we also recommend digging into the "how" and "why" considerations. For instance, handing data to BDRs is very different from using it for customer match for display ads. Similarly, using it to understand the entire complex buying team is very different from using it as a tool to better engage with media as part of enhanced PR campaigns.

So let's dig into these categories to help construct a more robust model to guide intent data evaluation and procurement projects.

How Will Your Team Use Intent Data?

In a perfect world, you'll use it for success, marketing, and sales use cases - and multiple use cases in each department. (Here's an overview of ways to use data across the enterprise.)

Realistically, though, data is typically selected for a primary marketing or a primary sales use case - and increasingly for customer success.

It's really important to understand "how" you'll use it initially, and then more broadly within that context. Examples include:

  • identify active accounts that match your ICP
  • prioritize ABM/target accounts
  • for signals in industries that aren't well covered by general tech and business publishers
  • use it to focus PR efforts
  • provide a list of sales "leads" to BDRs
  • identify target accounts that might be active in the market
  • observe activity among current open opportunities
  • supplement understanding of entire buying team in complex sales
  • demand generation
  • paid ad targeting
  • in conjunction with technographics for account qualification
  • what degree of sales enablement will you provide
  • will you integrate with a customer data platform (CDP)? or just dump the data into CRM?

Why do those matter? In some cases, account-level signals will be enough. In others, you'll need contact level™ intent data in order to fulfill the requirements of the use case. Additionally, some will benefit from specific insights into the key term and competitor engagement to understand at the contact level where they are in the buying journey, the problem they're trying to solve for and more.

The point here is to not simply assume that it's just to identify active accounts - your proper activation plan needs to go a couple of steps deeper. And those details will help to guide your intent data vendor choice.

Why Do You Think Intent Data Will Help?

The "why" is another category to consider.

Are you looking at intent data as another plug-in to a robust data stack? Or as a core tool to tell your sales team where to focus their attention? Examples of why include:

  • conduct market research to guide content creation
  • competitive marketing research
  • market and persona research
  • "lead" generation
  • improve the efficiency of paid ad campaigns
  • provide personalized experiences for buyers (web content, chat experiences, ad messaging, outbound sales cadences, etc.)

These answers, like those to "how", will influence the best data model to meet your needs. Counterintuitively, for instance, if your sole goal is to tell reps what accounts to focus on, you might be better with only account level hints to steer them toward accounts that are active and attractive for prospecting. In that case, you would want to think about data with contact level signals which marketing could use to provide brand awareness ads efficiently, while an extract of account level signals guide the sales prospecting effort.

What Kind of Intent Data Will Work Best?

Based on the answers to the questions above then you're in a better position to compare specific solutions. Here are some broad considerations.

Collection Method

Is it based on a publishing cooperative, bidstream, or observed activities?

The publishing cooperative limits the range of sources, generally reflects on opaque topic taxonomies, and relies on IP address resolution. Because the publishers own the content they're able to observe engagement such as scroll percentage and number of page views.

Bidstream data covers the entire web and includes key term detail, but it's notoriously inaccurate, high volume, and the process itself is considered by many to be problematic.'s data is based on observations of action taken publicly with content. That enables us to understand the specific details of the engagement (e.g. key term) across all the structured and unstructured data of the web.

Account vs. Contact Level

Is it enough to know what account is taking action? This is often problematic at the enterprise level where knowing that one person from thousands (but not who) is taking action. Do you need to know the office location? Do you need to know who the contact is? Or at least their job title? (The actual person, not the name of someone that fits your ideal persona that's suggested as likely in an account that's showing some activity.)

Integration and Activation Options

Your decisions above, regarding how and why you'll use the data, will impact how it might best be integrated. Many providers talk about pushing it immediately into, for instance, but it might be lost at that point for specific sales activity as well as many marketing applications.

Variety of Signals

Do you just want to know that an account is showing activity around a topic? Or do you need insights to support ABM efforts, technographic detail, and specific buying team insights? Do you want social signals included, or only direct content engagements?

Known and Unknown Unknowns in Buying Intent Data

Based on how most buyer intent data is sold, many companies approach it just assuming that they'll have a list of accounts flagged automatically in Salesforce or their marketing automation. And that may be what they need.

But...if they do that, how will reps be informed of important signals? How will they react?

But how many signals will there be? What KPIs are they tracking to determine the ROI on the data investment? How long should they subscribe in order to prove the concept?

What tech stack barriers will they encounter? How will they coordinate tactics across platforms?

There's a lot that's simply unknown until a company starts working with data.

So it makes sense to begin with a pilot - often a quarter to refine the implementation and then a quarter to test the orchestration and results - rather than a full-blown subscription. That trial approach, combined with a deployment plan that anticipates gradual implementation across use cases and departments, allows companies to incorporate lessons learned and gradually refine their data operations rather than remain stagnant in a low-value integration/activation. 



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