Taking Marketing Data Back to First Principles

Dec 10, 2020 | Author Ed Marsh

Tl;dr - Intent data can add enormous value to marketing and sales efforts. But if it's used in selfish ways by vendors, the benefit is only fleeting. Sustainable success and results from purchase intent data require a clear, fundamental understanding of how to use it for the buyers benefit. This first principles approach recognizes that effective use is focused on optimizing for the prospect's best interest over the medium to long-term.

Building Up From the Basics - Universal Truths

Are you familiar with First Principles? If so, skip to here.

If not, here's a quick primer.

"First-principles thinking is one of the best ways to reverse-engineer complicated problems and unleash creative possibility. Sometimes called “reasoning from first principles,” the idea is to break down complicated problems into basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up. It’s one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself, unlock your creative potential, and move from linear to non-linear results." from Farnam Street

And Elon Musk with his take.

There's a similar concept in economics. Wikipedia says that "In accounting, finance and economics, an accounting identity is an equality that must be true regardless of the value of its variables, or a statement that by definition (or construction) must be true."

Revenue Growth Identity

And we can define an identity, or first principle, for marketing and sales.

All sales and marketing activities must be in the prospect's medium to long-term best interest, or they will cause harm to the seller.

In other words:

Prospects' best interest (over medium to long-term) = Vendor's best interest

Let's quantify this a bit.

Why medium to long-term? Because just like the unpleasant disruption of changing routines, starting exercise, losing weight, etc. it's common that what's good is also unwelcome in the short-term. Every business person has more on their plate than they can manage. Asking them to consider things that aren't on their list of priorities; to entertain other perspectives that will take time and thought; to schedule a meeting; to be interrupted by an unsolicited call or email - are all unwelcome and counter to their short-term interest. It's the medium to long that's relevant.

Isn't the vendor's best interest best satisfied by selling more? Not to the wrong people, or to companies that don't need it, or in situations where it won't benefit the buyer. Those sales create revenue short-term, with operational scale issues, high churn rates, negative reviews, etc. And even if deals aren't consummated, it's still damaging to the vendor because every bit of sales and marketing energy that goes into a selfish (not at least mutually beneficial) pursuit carries an opportunity cost (where it could be more productively directed elsewhere) and reputational risk.

Many vendors fail because this demands a lot of them. To really solve for this "identity" requires vendors to understand prospects, their industries, their competing interests on buying teams, business accounting, regulatory considerations, capital allocation priorities, competitors, and more. That's a lot. And since most high activity sales jobs are assigned to the folks who have the least depth in these areas, it makes sales enablement critically important. Regrettably sales enablement is generally poor. So most companies operated from the position that they believe their solution can help companies facing a given set of circumstances. Therefore it's good for prospects. Ergo, they should sell it. Period.

That's short sighted.

What Does This Have to Do with Intent Data?

First, the identity applies to the intent data space. We see lots of companies selling data when it's not in the buyers' best interest. They may not be positioned to activate and orchestrate it. They may not understand the nuance of the data model and understand how it realistically fits their marketing and sales objectives and/or motions. And they may have unrealistic expectations. But quarterly pressures drive lots of rationalization among vendors urgently trying to close deals.

Second, it's fundamental to understanding how to activate data. 

Generally, if companies use intent data with the goal of simply selling more, they fail. Sure, they often increase the short-term rate of success in outbound sales by focusing the efforts, but they don't drive sustainable, scalable revenue growth.


companies that use a full data stack to understand in more detail the entire situation - for instance:

  • the problem prospects are trying to solve
  • conflicts within the buying team and roles/functions
  • the outcome they're trying to achieve
  • other solutions they're considering
  • breadth and level of engagement

are therefore also able to understand if they really can help, and if so, to sell successfully. 

And selling successfully is virtuous when actually solving for the prospects' medium to long-term best interest.


  1. If a First Principle of Revenue Growth is that success is predicated on solving for the prospect's interest
  2. and companies that use a full intent data stack (first, third, enrichment, technographic, etc.) can better discern and address the real situation within prospects
  3. and they use that insight to successfully sell the right solution that solves for the prospect's interest

then we can say that taking the challenge of intent data activation back to first principles delivers a better result.

What Does That Mean in Practice?

Basically it means that intent only works if you work it; if you analyze it; if you think about it. Each data signal tells part of a story. The more signals you can aggregate across your full data stack, the more you can infer what's happening. And the more likely that you'll make the correct decision on whether you can help - and pursue that goal.

Hearing that there's a data surge related to a topic with opaque taxonomy generally satisfies the vendor's desire to know who's in market. Knowing that a bunch of folks have been passively shown some ad is not only problematic from a data propriety perspective as TechTarget's Don Hawk discusses in this article, but it is an especially crude way of assessing who's ready to buy.

Neither provide the full range of context and nuance to make an informed decision about whether a vendor can really help, or just pitch.

So in the short term, intent data can be used for the vendor's benefit to bump sales.

The long-term value, for both customer and vendor, however, only are possible with a return to the first principles of revenue growth - specifically the fact that solving for the buyer's medium to long-term interest is the only path to sustainable success and growth in today's world.



Everything you need to know about intent data

Subscribe to Our Blog



want to get started or learn more? Let’s Talk.