Intent is ROI’s hottest up-and-coming power source
Purchase intent is nothing new, but not everyone realizes we're already using it. Columnist John Steinert explains how you can take advantage of sources of intent available to you now to help you gain a competitive advantage.
I’m just back from three days at the Tech Exchange in Austin, Texas, an event which focused on the operational competencies that, while not always sexy, have become absolutely critical to success at scale. What particularly caught my eye was the success companies are having in growing ROI by improving processes, process management and process understanding, full stop. It took me back to the immortal words of W. Edwards Deming that “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” And it couldn’t be truer for anyone than it is for us marketers today.
So, exactly how well do you understand the fastest and best way to grow your ROI? And are you making sure to put that at the top of your 2018 priority list?
Since it’s amazingly easy to become overwhelmed by the increasing complexity of our world, we could all use a few ways to cut through the spin and fog. Despite the hype each year about the latest new thing (social selling, Account-Based Marketing, predictive… take your pick), certain fundamentals continue to drive B2B success.
Intent is a good example of a new “hot technology,” but once you understand it more, you realize it’s based on concepts you’ve been using for a while and data you already understand. While at the event, I was able to catch a presentation by SiriusDecisions’ Kerry Cunningham and Matt Senatore on purchase intent monitoring, and it helped simplify and synthesize some of the use cases and benefits. (Disclosure: my company, TechTarget, is a provider of purchase intent insights for enterprise technology vendors.)
Purchase intent is not new; we’re all already using it
All of us are trying to improve our ROI. We do it by working to get more out of what we’ve got and by experimenting with new approaches or capabilities. It’s critically important to communicate the value of each investment. We want to make and to transparently explain how we will realize value from what we spend.
Simply put, if we don’t yet have the skills or processes to take advantage of a new thing, it will take a while to realize the benefit. Conversely, if we’re confident we already have an organizational understanding of a topic, that puts us in a better position to explain it internally and use it effectively.
Cunningham and Senatore have made it clear that all of us in the demand generation business are, in fact, already very experienced with “purchase intent.” They pointed out that intent simply puts a name to the most valuable behaviors we all try to elicit, measure and understand — actual behaviors that we observe in response to our outbound and inbound marketing efforts.
From among all possible accounts and individuals, we’re trying to find and engage those who intend to buy something soon. When we qualify a “lead,” it’s precisely because we believe they’ve shown intent to purchase. So purchase intent is not new. What’s new is simply the variety of sources, their impact and exactly how they enhance what we’re already doing.
Realizing you’re already working with purchase intent should help you in two ways
- It should raise your confidence about discussing exactly what a provider can offer you. You know your KPIs and where you have real needs and challenges. You can easily compare those against exactly where an intent provider says they help most.
- It should make gaining support across your organization that much easier. Third-party intent is simply an enhancement of what you’re already doing. When you present it aligned to concepts people are used to, they will understand that it’s an enhancement rather than a whole new idea.
Four important angles to employ in your evaluation
The presenters outlined the following four questions to help you evaluate intent offerings:
- What will drive real value for you?
Before adding a new data source, you need to take a hard look at what you’re trying to achieve and where you really stand to benefit. Create standard scenarios where you have frequent needs and compare the particular offering against those. For example, if you need to identify more demand, data about audiences you aren’t already reaching can be huge.
- Is there a provider who covers your space well?
While a number of industries are covered well by intent providers, in others, the supplier landscape is still immature. You’ll want to balance your initial level of commitment against how clearly you can understand the impact the data might have on your business and how new the practice is with reference to your go-to-market.
For example, if your company offers very specialized products, a provider of surge data around general business needs may not be able to accurately distinguish between accounts that are truly in a buyer’s journey from those who are simply part of a natural economy-wide ebb and flow.
- How does it fit in with your existing workflow? How else can they help?
The more you have to change your process to take advantage of a new data stream, the more difficult it may be for you to take the actions necessary to achieve better ROI. You should look for providers who can immediately support the type of tactics you’re already doing.
For example, if you recruit audiences to events, ask how they can help your events pay out better. If you support a distributed sales team, find out how they deliver against your account coverage model. There are literally dozens of use cases where intent can help. Ask the provider about how they can help you realize the most value fast.
Furthermore, if your company could benefit from additional services to help accelerate and scale its efforts, choosing a provider that offers tactical and even global implementation support may be an important added consideration for you.
- Is success defined and agreed?
With any incremental investment, you should go into the adoption process with a clear view of both what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there. Unlike a “point solution” that supports only one specific functionality need, intent data can be helpful in many ways.
To realize the full value of a rich data source like this, however, you’ll need to make sure that you identify everyone who should make use of it and that you get them all onto your implementation roadmap. You should make very sure to put adoption milestones in place, monitor usage and evaluate outcomes against measures that accurately portray well thought out proof-of-concept experiments.
Think of third-party intent as an alternative power source just waiting to be harnessed
How can you better prioritize leads? Even if you believe you have a good indication of first-party intent (a qualified lead in your own system), that may not be a good enough indication of what’s really going on at the account to inspire sales team action.
Essential to productive ABM, some third-party intent providers can help you better compare demand in one account to demand in another. They can help provide sales with definitive guidance on who to get excited about now.
How can you better take advantage of what’s coming inbound to your website? While there are a number of ways to de-anonymize visits to your website, these may or may not be precise enough to drive changes in what you do in response. Furthermore, they may not give you the opted-in permission you need to go after an account aggressively via e-mail even if you want to.
Ask your third-party intent providers if they can augment what you see in your website data, and find out if they can provide opted-in contacts from the same account exhibiting the same purchase intent behaviors that you are seeing on your website.
How can you find and engage more of the total active demand in the marketplace? The most powerful intent sources go beyond adding insight to the interactions you’re already seeing in your systems. And even if you’re using predictive modeling to help you sort through all the possible accounts you could go after, the highest-quality intent providers can tell you which among these you should actually focus on now.
Depending on how the intent data is gathered, a supplier may not actually be able to enhance your understanding of your marketplace. For example, if there are only 10,000 companies who could buy your stuff, 50,000 companies showing intent should be a warning signal.
Look closely at the accounts the provider can show you; do they look right, or are they capturing spurious surges? Look at the behaviors being exhibited by their opted-in contacts; do they make sense to you, or are the titles unrelated to personas you really care about?
Understand whether they can tell you things you can immediately use to improve your content effectiveness or sales outreach approach; is there value to leverage in their intelligence beyond just adding new names to your list?
Put good sources of intent to immediate use to gain a competitive advantage
It’s very important to understand both the key processes necessary for direct performance improvement, as well as the meta-processes to drive the full adoption that maximizes ROI. And while many B2B marketers are not very far into purchase intent data adoption, as mentioned earlier in the article, we are all already using intent in our demand generation practice and can evaluate it using methods we already know and understand.
That’s why, in 2018, assuming there are good sources of intent for your industry available now, you could gain a real competitive advantage by putting them to immediate use. Unlike some of the more recent technological trends, third-party purchase intent data is something that’s been available all around us for a while. The difference is that now providers have found better ways to harness it to power what we’re all striving to do more effectively.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech Today. Staff authors are listed here.