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There’s no more universally-repeated marketing principle than “make data-driven decisions.” But when it comes to account-based marketing (ABM), many companies are still figuring out how to gather intent data and use it constructively. According to a 2022 survey, 45% of new ABM programs and 34% of mature ABM programs fail to use intent data.

If you’re pursuing an ABM strategy, you already know the power of focusing your marketing and sales teams on the most valuable accounts. But properly incorporating buyer intent data can take your ABM results to the next level. According to McKinsey, personalization driven by behavioral data can deliver a 5-8x increase in marketing ROI.

But intent data can be complex to implement. You’ve got to understand the difference between first, second, and third-party data, navigate data collection laws, and incorporate the data into your content marketing and lead scoring workflows.

Thankfully, I’ve designed this article to get you fully up to speed and have the perfect intent data solution for you to check out, too. By understanding the power of intent data and integrating it into your ABM program, you can speed up your sales cycle, close more high-value clients, and grow your business faster than ever.

Pro Tip: Use account data management software to keep track of all your collected insights.

What Is Intent Data?

Intent data is like a crystal ball that helps you understand when potential customers are likely to be interested in your product.

Source: GIPHY

To illustrate, let me share an example from the consumer products world. Target, the retailer, uses intent data from its customers to predict when they’ve gotten pregnant so they can offer relevant products. Target’s data scientists found that within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, women bought supplements like calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Around the beginning of their second trimester, pregnant women started buying significant quantities of unscented lotion. Target created a “pregnancy prediction” score that even estimated each customer’s due date, allowing Target to send timely offers.

This is similar to what happens with intent data in the business world, too. Just as most pregnant women don’t tell Target that they’re pregnant, most business buyers don’t approach suppliers until the majority of their purchase process is already complete.

Here’s what that means: many of your future customers are out there doing online research about your product, considering competing products, and going through the buyer’s journey alone. Unless, of course, you can use intent data to identify them, help them, and increase sales in the process.

Types of Intent Data

Every time you take an action online, whether you click an ad on Facebook or make a purchase on Amazon, you leave behind a trail of intent data. In a B2B context, intent data includes actions like the whitepapers you download, the webinars you sign up for, and the emails you click on.

Most ABM marketers use a mix of intent data, both gathered directly from customers (first-party intent data) and acquired from other sources (second-party and third-party intent data).

This user-level data will also be combined with company-level information like technographic (technology, infrastructure) and firmographic (size, industry, location) data. All of this combines into a holistic picture of actionable marketing account intelligence.

First-Party Intent Data

First-party intent data is the easiest to understand. This is data that customers willingly give to you through their interactions with your brand.

First-party intent data includes things like:

  • Live demos
  • Email opens
  • Website visits
  • Case study downloads
  • Social media engagement

For example, if a lead signs up for a webinar called ‘How to Choose the Right Cloud CRM,’ it’s fair to assume this signals possible purchase intent for a CRM product.

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Second-Party Intent Data

Second-party intent data is first-party data that is shared freely between two organizations. As privacy regulations on third-party intent data become stricter, second-party data is becoming an increasingly popular option.

While you won’t necessarily want to share your data with direct competitors, it can be a win-win situation to partner with B2B companies in adjacent industries that share your ideal customer profile. Tools like Crossbeam can help you identify data-sharing partners and can also facilitate the real-time integration of data back and forth.

Third-Party Intent Data

You know those “Click to accept cookies” banners on websites? Each time you click “accept,” you’re agreeing to share your data as third-party intent data.

Third-party intent data is collected by intent data providers and then resold to other organizations. While third-party intent data has been historically important to the marketing ecosystem—with $22 billion in marketing spend in 2021—it is under pressure from global regulations that aim to protect consumers’ data rights.

In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has curtailed the collection of third-party intent data. In the United States, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has had a similar effect. Meanwhile, popular browsers like Apple’s Safari have blocked third-party cookies entirely.

While marketers may favor first-party and second-party data in some situations, third-party intent data still plays an important role as 84% of software buyers use third-party reviews sites during their purchasing process. It's also easier to work with, as it's often already distilled into audience segments, eliminating your need to sort and analyze it.

How Is Buyer Intent Data Useful to ABM?

A 2020 DemandGen survey found that 47% of organizations use intent data for demand marketing and lead generation, 40% for sales enablement, 38% for digital marketing, and 29% to accelerate the sales pipeline.

The beauty of buyer intent data lies in its capacity to enhance the marketing and sales process by providing a deeper, more insightful understanding of customers. It does so by painting a clearer picture of a customer's intent, preferences, and behavior. This invaluable data can then be harnessed through various use cases to supercharge your ABM strategy.

Here's how buyer intent data can be your secret ABM weapon:

  • Generate Higher Quality Leads: Not all accounts are created equal. Intent data gives you the ability to identify qualified leads based on their behaviors and engagement with your brand. This means more meaningful conversations with decision-makers, improved conversion rates, and increased revenue.
  • Personalize Your Messaging: Buyer intent data helps you understand what your target accounts are interested in—and, by extension, the type of content you should be producing. By understanding your audience’s preferences, you can create relevant content to address their needs and interests and nudge them along the buying journey.
  • Speed Up Your Sales Pipeline: Understanding intent helps you identify potential buyers, allowing you to shorten the sales cycle by focusing your efforts on these "hot" leads.
  • Deliver Targeted Ad Content: By using intent data, you can increase marketing ROI by creating highly targeted marketing campaigns that resonate with your target accounts.

Does buyer intent data really work? A 2022 survey by DemandScience found that 55% of sales teams saw an increase in lead conversions after using intent data. The more information you have about each customer (and the better you manage that information), the more you’re able to personalize your marketing and sales activities to speak directly to them.

How to Use Intent Data For Better Account-Based Marketing

97% of B2B marketers believe intent data is key to giving firms a competitive edge. But to stay ahead of the competition, you’ll need to not only gather the right data—you’ll also need to incorporate it into your account-based marketing strategy.

Gather Intent Data

Gathering B2B intent data isn’t always easy. First, there’s the question of where you get it from—first-party, second-party, or third-party sources. Whatever the source, you’ll then need to ensure data quality. In a 2021 Bombora survey, 56% of marketers said data quality was their primary challenge in using intent data.

First-party data should be the highest quality since you have the most control over it. Start by gathering first-party data sources like website clicks, content downloads, and email engagement. From there, enhance your account lists with second and third-party data as needed.

Classify Intent Data

Not all data is useful. Agreeing on what does—and what doesn’t—qualify as buyer intent data will be a point of healthy debate among your marketing team as you incorporate this data into your ABM program.

Look at each category of data with a critical eye. Are users just aimlessly browsing, or are they actually indicating interest and moving along the path to purchase?

Ultimately, you should identify multiple intent signals that, when taken together, indicate your prospect may be actively looking for a solution. For example, opening a single email doesn’t mean much. But opening every single email, downloading a whitepaper, and signing up for a webinar indicates a prospect who may be ready to buy.

Personalize Outreach

Personalization is no longer optional. In a 2021 McKinsey report, 71% of respondents said they “expect personalization” from brands and businesses.

But personalization isn’t just about inserting your prospect’s first name in the email. Instead, it’s about fine-tuning your marketing and sales outreach to cater to your prospect’s interests and needs—ultimately allowing you to connect in a more meaningful way.

For example, let’s say a prospect downloads a whitepaper about marketing automation platforms. Once that happens, it’s time to double down on what they’ve shown interest in, tailoring your outreach emails, ads, and marketing content with that in mind.

Customize Content Marketing

83% of marketers use intent data to create the right content for their audience. The information you collect with B2B buyer intent data can give you a broader perspective on what your customers need: relevant topics and pain points, for example, or identifying what stage of the buyer’s journey each lead is in.

If your buyer intent data tells you that a significant portion of your audience is interested in data storage, that gives you the justification needed to create blog posts, whitepapers, webinars, and social media posts about that topic.

Leverage Insights Against the Competition

Let’s say your purchase intent data shows you that your leads are engaging heavily with a competitor’s content. Armed with this information, you can review your competitor’s content closely to understand why customers are drawn to it. Then, you can improve on what your competitors are doing to gain an advantage.

Many ad platforms, including LinkedIn and Facebook, offer ways to spy on your competitors’ ads and learn from them.

Source: GIPHY

Improve Sales and Deal Intelligence

57% of marketers use buyer intent data to generate higher-quality leads.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Focus on high-quality accounts: Sales teams have limited resources. Buyer intent data helps them focus not only on the prospects who are most ready to buy, but also on those with higher budgets.
  2. Upsell or cross-sell: Buyer intent data can guide you toward upsell and cross-sell opportunities based on your leads’ interests.

Knowing a lead’s intention puts your B2B sales reps in a position to reach them in the right place, at the right time, with the right offer.

Speed Up the Buying Cycle

29% of marketers use buyer intent data to speed up the buying cycle. By scoring and nurturing leads, brands can prioritize leads based on their likelihood of buying. An ABM system with updated intent data empowers B2B salespeople to focus on the leads that drive the most significant results.

Intent data provides signals to indicate when leads are getting closer to “buying mode.” By understanding what stage of the buying journey your leads are in, you can provide the right information at the right time, nudging them toward a purchase.

Put Intent Data To Work For You

Buyer intent data isn’t just another marketing buzzword. In a world filled with short-term marketing hacks, intent data stands out because it’s mutually beneficial—consumers demonstrate a need, companies pay attention and help solve that need, and both parties win.

Still, that doesn’t mean intent data is easy to work with. Incorporating it into your ABM program means first wrangling with different types of intent data before determining which customer actions are true buying signals—and which customer actions mean nothing.

But the potential benefits far outweigh these hurdles. From personalizing your customer interactions to fast-tracking your sales pipeline, intent data can offer insights that are nothing short of transformative for your business. Plus, we have that perfect solution we mentioned earlier, so make sure you check it out.

By understanding and responding to your leads' intentions, you can provide the right information at the perfect time. With a thoughtful and strategic approach to buyer intent data and ABM, you can improve the quality of your leads, boost sales conversions, and gain a critical edge over your competitors.

For more ABM strategies, be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to B2B Account-Based Marketing. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to subscribe to The CMO newsletter for the latest trends, technology, and tools in marketing.

By Ryan Kane

Ryan Kane is a digital marketing specialist. As a writer for The CMO and The CX Lead, his perspective is informed by customer-facing experience at a tech startup, an agency, and a manufacturer serving Fortune 500 clients.