Intent Data is Not a Solution for Sales Mediocrity

Oct 06, 2021 | Author Ed Marsh

Intent Data is Easy to Activate Poorly

As intent data becomes more ubiquitous we have more insight into what drives success - both from our own clients and lots of anecdotes.

The reality is that relatively few companies are really as successful as they could be with data because relatively few work consistently to fully orchestrate it.

It is not a silver bullet, yet that's the expectation of companies that subscribe, integrate it with their CRM, and ask the sales team to use it in their sales movements.

It's really easy to get started. And it fizzles pretty quickly.

But, it's more complicated than that....

Intent Data is Difficult to Activate Well

Fully activating intent data requires planning and clear, measurable goals, creativity, executive sponsorship.

Marketing needs to allocate resources to leverage the data for demand generation as well as provide analysis layers and sales enablement to support the sales use cases for data.

It's an iterative process of experimentation, measurement, and adjustment.

It takes time. It's a project of sorts, and it's not just a database to connect and let run.

And marketing can't do it alone.

Data Orchestration Requires Resources and Creativity

Full orchestration takes even more. Integrating an entire marketing data stack, approximating the techstack capabilities of a CDP and incorporating a full range of marketing tactics is a significant project.

The payoff can be substantial, as propensity to buy models and full customer lifecycle applications of intent data are unlocked. 

But beyond the work, commitment, persistence, and resources required from marketing to fully leverage intent data, there's an infrequently discussed Achilles' heel of intent data projects.

The salesforce.

Success Requires Superb Sales

Even great marketing teams can fail in their intent data initiatives great activation and orchestration.

Success with intent data, just like success with any marketing initiative, requires strong sales. And unfortunately, as markets evolve, buyer expectations increase, and sales gets tougher, it seems that the quality of many sales teams has stagnated.

In other words, as they need to be improving to keep pace with the market, they are in relative decline instead.

Perversely, contact level™ intent data which many assume will empower sales actually serves to reveal this gap.


In some cases the signals provide rich, contextual inferences about internal buying team conflicts and participation; about competitive risks; and even uncoordinated project objectives. That information is hugely powerful for a top-notch sales person who will use it to navigate the complex environment. And that information is usually lost on an average sales person.

In other cases the signals may reveal prospect thinking that has not matured into a formal initiative or project. Yet mediocre sales teams (and those driven by intense quota pressures) are only trained to work on BANT-qualified projects. Sure, they may use a MEDDICC sales process or equivalent, but look at their pipelines, lead management, and coaching criteria, and you see that generally they focus on projects with a clear identified need, approved budget, identified decision-makers, and time pressure/deadlines for implementation.

Finally, intent data also reveals lots of early conditions that might be favorable to projects - sort of a business development primordial ooze. But BANT minded sales people can't discern those.

Create Sales Opportunities Using Intent Data

Some signals will need a bit of aeration, or a bit of heat in the form of expertise to help a mid-level manager or business person define their ideal outcome and clarify what's necessary to achieve it.

Marketing certainly plays a role here through nurturing, but often the thinking hasn't progressed to the point of searching for specific solutions. Therefore only really expansive content and great personalization and contextual marketing will help those folks along directly.

This is what top salespeople do well and naturally. And it's beyond the ability of the majority who are, by definition, average.

It needn't even be an ephemeral top-of-the-funnel sort of signal, however. A good illustration is found in our ability to provide very granular and specific signals (beyond the capability of data built around opaque topic taxonomies) 

In a recent conversation with an MRO Inventory Software vendor, for instance, we looked at using engagements with alternative solutions as a way to identify early-stage opportunities. In other words, in addition to key terms related to MRO inventory control and management issues, and in addition to their direct competitors, we proposed observing engagements with vendors of parts storage solutions (physical goods), MRO supply chain consultants and MRO outsource providers.

The premise is that buyers trying to solve an MRO-related problem may have software already (a perfect use case for contextual™ technographic data) but might have selected poorly, failed to implement it, etc. Knowing that they're trying to solve a related problem (especially knowing what solution they are currently using - if any) positions a strong salesperson to create conversations and quantify a potential value gap.

A mediocre salesperson probably won't identify this constellation of signals and will therefore fail to recognize the opportunity. Even if they do, they'll blow it, and the prospect will go elsewhere. Only a top salesperson will be able to create a project, very early in the journey, using this sort of sales intelligence.

Not every company wants to undertake this sort of creative approach to creating projects. It's a great way to get a quick, gut-feeling assessment of your sales team's capabilities though. And if you're not sure they could, then that means they're likely not as effective at selling according to whatever process you follow either.

Using Data and Science to Optimize Your Sales Force

Like so many problems in business and life, the first step in fixing a poorly performing sales team is to acknowledge that they might be better. While we see this awareness resulting from intent data projects, the reality is that many business leaders arrive at similar concerns from various other triggers as well.

The next step, regardless of origin, is to quantify the problem and develop a plan to change. And then, especially in today's competitive market for talent, to create a process to consistently and efficiently recruit new top talent.

It's something every company needs to do, but it's notoriously difficult. Too often sales force evaluations and assessments rely on gut feelings or personality assessments. Those may help ensure a cultural match, but they're inadequate tools to determine which salespeople will actually sell.

The good news is there's a solution. One built on science and data. And one that, Inc. will soon start offering through a creative partnership.

Stay tuned for more!



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