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Intent Data, Silver Bullets and Lead Bullets

Jan 02, 2020 | Author Ed Marsh

Tl;dr - Too often intent data is sold as an easy answer; a panacea for demand generation; indeed, as a silver bullet. It's incredibly powerful for sure, but unlocking the full value requires insight and action. Simply sending more mediocre emails to a list obtained from a new and different source will not yield waves of BANT qualified leads and revenue. Let's look at what's involved in fully activating and orchestrating buyer intent data.

If You Want an Easy Answer, Keep Looking

It's not you. It's us.

As a group, purchase intent data providers (we) have collectively been happy to bask in the warm glow of MarTech buzz, selling multi-year subscriptions for data that teases a simple solution to the ever tougher challenge of finding and converting B2B buyers.

With the subscription bought and paid, vendors are off to find the next deal. Meanwhile the data buyer follows a common and predictable path which arcs from anticipation to discouragement.

  1. Excitement about the first sets of data
  2. Uncertainty about how to activate it
  3. Feeling overwhelmed at the volume of data
  4. Struggling to convert data into revenue
  5. Frustration at lack of results
  6. Resignation

Buyer intent data isn't a silver bullet. It is a powerful tool.

Although intent data results are often called "leads," it's more appropriately understood as marketing and sales intelligence.

Turning data into prospects, opportunities and revenue takes work. It takes more than just a higher volume of outbound cold emails.

To use Ben Horowitz' (actually Bill Turpin's) metaphor, success with intent data takes lead bullets.

The Lead Bullets of Intent Data Success

Fully unlocking the value of intent data requires some fundamental building blocks.

This isn't to say your company can't find real value even if you're missing some of these. For instance, we've seen individual sales people power amazing results with careful, consistent analysis of a data feed and individual outbound sales. We've seen companies that don't send a single outbound email, use data effectively for retargeting to custom audiences with paid social conversion ads. And we've seen companies tackle churn with timely insights into actions by current customers that might indicate competitive engagement.

Best practice, though, requires the application of high-quality B2B marketing in the following areas:

  • Clear understanding of buyer - this means the complex buying team, individual personas, ideal customer profile (ICP) at the account level, entire buying journey, problems to be solved and more. The good news is that intent data can help here, but it works best when building on a strong base.
  • Analysis and integration - whether you've got hundreds or thousands of data signals flowing daily into your marketing automation platform (MAP) or CRM, or receive them in a data file, it's just data. You must massage it, analyze it, and integrate it with your other data sources. Individual activity is one angle, while company activity is another. The intersection of the two observed in third-party data helps to identify buying team initiatives. But that's not enough! What related first-party data would indicate a priority lead? What current pending opportunities, or existing customers are active? While many companies assume their existing MarTech stack will handle the required analysis, marketing operations teams are often surprised to discover that the process of incorporating intent data reveals gaps in the capability and missed opportunities with their existing data. (That's why we encourage companies to consider expanding their MarTech stack to include a robust Customer Data Platform/CDP.)
  • Killer copy - it doesn't matter whether you're talking landing pages, paid ads messaging, outbound emails, enablement content or social mentions. Crappy copy will yield crappy results, even when applied to amazing data. (Kudos to Dave Gerhardt @DaveGerhardt for elevating this topic. Spend 30 minutes on his Drift Insider course here.)
  • Segmentation - Contact level™ intent data provides really cool insight that savvy marketers and sales people can use to personalize their approach. For instance, key terms can be used to infer stage in buying journey, and then combined with the seniority and job function info inherent in job titles, and firmographic information, to align messaging with the circumstances. That's powerful! But making it work requires creative thought and powerful marketing technology. Matching contacts to the appropriate ad campaign, email cadences, website content, and even chatbot experiences - and doing it at scale and dynamically - demands a commitment to orchestrating buying journeys.
  • PersonalizationJapan Airlines recently created 3,000 pieces of content to support personalized marketing. That's probably more than you'll be ready to undertake. Nevertheless, the point is important. You'll need content that speaks to the important audience segments, with relevant messaging, at the appropriate points in their buying journeys, so that their experiences are personalized at scale. 
  • Omnichannel tactics - email works...still. That's clear. Of course it must be good email. But it's not enough. Social selling, paid ad nurturing campaigns, 3D direct mail, and events are all part of effective complex sales. Companies that buy intent data expecting that its activation will be as simple as just blasting mediocre emails to a list of intent prospects will often be disappointed.
  • Sales enablement and process - Not every "lead" is sales ready. Great intent data will help you identify prospects early in the buying journey - even different members of buying teams from the same company, but at different stages within the team. You'll need enablement content to nurture them, a clear process for nurturing and scoring, conversion and hand-off between marketing, BDRs, SDRs, and AEs. Marketing operations and sales operations will be key here. Don't expect to hand a list to your sales team and achieve any degree of success. 

Subscriptions, Pilots and Proof of Concept

Intent data may not be a great fit for your company. Further, certain types of intent data might not fit for your ICP, industry, product, etc. The details of your use case will influence the best option, and even the best combination of intent data sources for integration into your full approach to orchestration. Additionally, some providers will be more effective in helping you extract the value from your buyer intent data investment.

What's certain is that you're unlikely to know then (when you start) what you'll know later (after you've worked on implementation.) In the meantime data capabilities, your marketing strategies and tools, and buyer expectations will all evolve in parallel in a complex multi-variate demand generation landscape.

So why would any data vendor expect you to sign a three year, or even a one year deal? (Hint - it's for them, not for you!)

Three months (nearly a decade in fast changing buyer behavior and technology years) is a more reasonable unit of time to incrementally experiment while preserving flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.

Your data subscription should work for you. Choose accordingly.

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