Comparing Purchase Intent, Buyer Intent and Behavioral Intent Data

Jun 16, 2021 | Author Ed Marsh

Tl;dr - Because the intent data industry is relatively young, it hasn't undergone the maturation that occurs over time. Therefore there are numerous loosely defined terms used - both to describe the products, as well as the methodology and outputs. Among those often used to describe data offerings are "purchase intent", "buyer intent", and "behavioral intent". What are the differences between the definitions, usage, and products that are described by these terms?

A Rapidly Expanding (And Sort of Disorganized) Industry

Physicists hypothesize that shortly after the big bang, gas was rapidly expanding. Then gradually it began to coalesce into concentrated clouds. These then gradually became solid bodies and eventually, the universe began to organize itself.

The intent data industry is somewhere in the stage of gaseous bodies starting to solidify. There's substance, but little organization and no corpus of agreed definitions, terminology, or best practices.

Many terms are coined and used but without clear definitions. Too often users affix their own assumptions to terms, and that can lead to unrealistic expectations of intent data in general, and misunderstandings about how one type compares to another.

One example is the varied application of basic function terms.

What's the difference between purchase intent and buyer intent? Or between behavioral intent and purchase intent? Is there a distinction between buyer intent and behavioral intent?

The short answer is that from the perspective of typical use cases of intent data for marketing, there isn't much practical difference between them. Varying terminology is frankly more a function of convenience and brand positioning. But let's dig deeper. We'll start with definitions.

And the best place to start is with the fundamental definition.

What is Intent Data?


At we define intent data as "sales & marketing intelligence" and a "collection of behavioral signals that help interpret B2B purchase intent."

What is Purchase Intent?

TechTarget defines purchase intent as the probability that a consumer will buy a product or service.


IGI Global offers the following definition:


What is Buyer Intent?

InternalResults uses "intent data" and "buyer intent" data interchangeably.


And Terminus which incorporates intent data into account-based marketing software describes it as follows:


What is Behavioral Intent?

Marketo defines intent data as behavioral intent.


Leadsift's definition of behavioral intent data is:


Where's the Daylight Between These Definitions?

These definitions all strike me as very similar. What's your impression?

In many cases definitions for one of the terms incorporate other terms.

The bottom line from our perspective inside the industry is that there is no substantive difference between the following intent data related terms:

  • intent data
  • purchase intent
  • buyer intent
  • behavioral intent

They all refer to data comprised of signals intended to help marketing and sales teams understand which companies are more likely buyers. Of course, the terms, which are quite similar, are not the same as the methodology of data collection. The latter is vastly different, and therefore the outputs are as well. That directly impacts the accuracy, volume, degree of detail, potential use cases, etc.

So this isn't to say in any way that data from different providers is the same.

The common product terminology, though, includes distinctions without a substantive difference.

Paying Attention to Detail

In practical application, though, there are a couple of minor differences worth noting.

First, consumer (normally B2C) vs. B2B. and most (perhaps all of the companies referenced above) only provide data for B2B applications. It's interesting that TechTarget's definition refers to consumer in the context of the buyer - not a B2B marketer who is "consuming" the data. That's worth clarifying if you're considering that purchase intent, to make sure it will help you understand the correct set of prospective buyers.

Second is the common reference to advanced stages in the buying journey or buying cycle. Many companies think of intent data as a tool solely used for uncovering bottom of the funnel activity. In some cases, the data can only provide reference to "topics" vs. specific key terms, and therefore it's hard to ascertain where in the buying journey a buyer stands (as you sometimes can by associating specific key terms with stages in the buying journey.) Further, absent contact-specific data it's impossible to associate seniorities & functions with signals - another method to understand the stage in buying journey.

But an important question to ask is whether you want just "purchase" or "buyer" intent - in the context of prospects who have decided to buy your product or service - or "problem" or "outcome" intent - prospects who are trying to solve a problem or achieve an outcome and may be at earlier stages in the journey (e.g. awareness) before they've reached the consideration stage to identify likely solutions and vendors.

Although this nuance isn't explicated in any of the definitions above it could be an implicit distinction between bottom of the funnel signals (purchase or buyer intent) and a broader signal set (like contact level™ intent data and behavioral intent.)



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