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Greg Bell

What is Intent Data? And How Can Marketers Use It?

Greg Bell / July 01, 2020 / 0 Comments

In B2B marketing, people use the term “intent data” in various ways. This guest post from the fine folks at 6sense explains where intent fits into your marketing and sales motions. Said another way, how can you tap into the data, or digital body language, systematically to better connect with your future customers?

Where Does Intent Fit into Your Overall Targeting?

Let’s begin with some basics. Intent is essentially another word for behavior. In a B2B purchase, where few businesses have a retail location that potential buyers can visit to research, ask questions and view products, buyers perform these activities digitally. This is why intent or online behaviors are sometimes referred to as digital body language. As B2B sellers and marketers, it’s our job to create processes and use technology to capture, assess, prioritize and react to the body language of thousands of potential buyers simultaneously.

Although, not all intent is equal. B2B buyer behaviors are fraught with nuance. Take for example someone who’s researching terms like lead scoring, lead nurturing, and lead management on the Internet. Every marketing automation company would likely look at folks searching those terms as potential buyers. But the reality is the ideal marketing automation solution for a large global enterprise is very different than the ideal solution for a small startup. So, the question becomes, how can vendors like Marketo and Eloqua target the global enterprise while HubSpot and Pardot focus on the startup?

The answer is to incorporate fit. We love this straight-forward graphic from Michael Brenner. It showcases the simplicity of ensuring the company is a good fit for your product or service.

Intent Data Graphic: Fit, Intent and Opportunity

Intent Data Graphic: Fit, Intent and Opportunity

When you combine fit with intent, you’re almost there. All you have left is for something to change, because if a company hasn’t yet solved the problem you solve, why not? And what needs to change to make it happen? But that’s a blog for another day.

The Nitty-Gritty About Intent Data

Intent data spans research on the Internet, events, search, social, email, and more, giving you a rich view into your target buyer’s activities and level of interest in your products or solutions. While some people classify intent data as owned or paid, we generally think of it as either first or third party.

First Party Intent Data

First party intent comes when buyers interact with your company’s website or your sales and marketing tactics. Are they clicking through the campaigns you’re putting out there? Are they opening your emails and engaging?

Third Party Intent Data

Alternately, third party intent data represents research activity on sites other than your own, and being able to accurately match these anonymous buying signals to accounts is critical. This is what 6sense calls lighting the Dark Funnel™ — knowing who our buyers are and what they’re looking for before they raise their hand by filling out a form, interacting with a chatbot, or engaging with sales.

It isn’t possible to overstate how huge this intel is for B2B sellers and marketers. How many times have you wondered which companies are researching your competitors? Or tried to identify what specific use case a prospect cares about in order to target your messaging? With third party intent data, you can access these types of insights even if that prospect has never been to your site and isn’t already in your database.

The fact is that everyone has limited bandwidth, and traditional tactics like forms, email, and cold calls just aren’t as effective anymore. Buyers are in control of the journey, and as sellers and marketers our job is to meet them where they are, provide value, and help them move forward. It’s all about customer experience. And we need deep account insights in order to deliver the right message, content, and experience to the right person at the right time.

Account Identification

Also, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention account identification as another essential capability that frankly must go hand-in-hand with intent data. If an anonymous visitor conducts research on the broader B2B web, it’s one thing to be able to pick up an intent signal and know that companies are researching a certain topic or keyword. But, if you don’t actually know who those companies are, you can’t take action on the intent signal. So in order for intent data to be truly actionable and powerful, you must also have comprehensive and accurate account identification capabilities.

Can You Trust Your Data?

B2B data is notoriously stale and inaccurate. In fact, only 12% of B2B marketers have high confidence in the accuracy of the data they manage, and 84% said that the accuracy of marketing data was one of their top five weaknesses. For that reason, intent data is all the more powerful, because it solves for the staleness most marketers struggle to overcome.

Here’s how to use real-time insights to do real-time marketing campaigning.

Use Case: Display Advertising Campaigns

Let’s say there are 100,000 accounts out there showing some level of intent today. That’s likely far too many for you to sell or market to. So, you need to layer in your ideal customer profile (ICP) and figure out which ones are a good fit for your business based on historical data.

From there, think about how to begin engaging those accounts. Back to our marketing automation company example, if Marketo is targeting their ICP of companies with >$1B in annual revenue and >5,000 employees that are showing intent around lead management, they can run a targeted display campaign inviting those accounts to consume thought leadership content on lead management.

When companies (and the people that work for them) begin showing intent, they are still likely in the awareness and consideration phases of their buyer journey. At this point, your goal is to invite them to come and learn from you. And if you have a platform like 6sense that predicts which stage of the buying journey they’re in, you can serve content that is relevant at that stage. If they’re just at the start of that journey, offering them a free demo or a free trial is probably not going to resonate. But offering them an eBook or a link to educational content might.

If they’re in the bottom of the funnel, that eBook is probably not going to work. This might be where you offer that free trial or a demo to get them to actually start engaging at a deeper level. This is what stage-based display advertising looks like. And, because 6Sense’s intent is keyword based, your campaigns can also be tailored to the keywords your buyers care about.

Use Case: BDR Outbound Prospecting

For this use case, consider the scenario absent of intent data (probably what your BDRs are doing right now). BDRs executing on outbound prospecting are likely using a target account list. Sometimes these lists come from marketing touchpoints, past event attendees, or folks clicking through on emails or visiting your website. Conducting cold outreach to static lists like these is far from ideal, even if the companies on the list are a firmographic fit for your products and services—and the contacts match the job titles you typically sell into. Nobody likes receiving cold calls and emails, especially if you’re selling a solution they aren’t in the market for.

Now consider the possibilities for these reps with first and third party intent data at their fingertips. Imagine that they could prioritize their time on accounts showing high intent for keywords relevant to your products or services. Once their laundry list of accounts is prioritized, they’re able to focus their time on the accounts that they’re most likely to engage. In addition, BDRs can time their outreach based on the predicted buying stage, focusing on late stage accounts, and they know exactly how to structure their outreach because they understand which keywords the account has been researching.

Use Case: Competitive Intel

In the great debate of how marketing can provide more value during the sales process, this is the perfect example. Marketing is often charged with providing competitive intel for sales. Perhaps your sales team is exceptional at asking for competitive landscape and getting it during early stages of the sales process, but most buyers tend to keep this information close to the vest. With third party intent data, you can actually uncover which of your customers and prospects are researching your competitors.

Think about that. Even if the research does not necessarily mean they’re in a deal cycle with your competition, imagine what your sales reps can do if they have visibility into the potential competition in every deal. They can proactively address any potential competitive disadvantage you may have. And you as the marketer you can provide air cover by running campaigns that highlight key differentiators for your products and solutions—targeted specifically at accounts that are researching a key competitor.


With more and more people involved in B2B buying decisions today, it’s more challenging than ever for sellers and marketers to break through the noise and engage future customers. On top of that, buyers today remain anonymous through most of the purchase journey, making it incredibly difficult to identify and engage the right buyers.

But with accurate intent data (as well as account identification and other essential account engagement capabilities), you can understand which accounts are in market for your solutions, where they are in their journey, and what they care about. This puts the power in your hands to reach the right people at the right time with the right message, which, of course, is really the whole point of marketing and what drives superior business outcomes.


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