B2B marketers’ ability to activate their intent data is the defining factor behind whether their investments will meet expectations.

A recent TOPO survey and subsequent webinar (registration required) substantiate this finding. TOPO analysts explain that while B2B marketing teams are rightly investing heavily across diverse intent data sources, the No.1 challenge marketers face with their intent data investments is “Making intent data actionable.” In fact, 67% of those surveyed acknowledged having this challenge, exceeding the No.2 challenge by more than 22 percentage points. Actionability is clearly what dictates marketers’ success with intent data.

Of course, actionability itself relies on numerous factors. You can’t act on intent data without first digesting it for the insights. And distributing intent insights to relevant teams does little unless they’re educated on how best to act on them. Further, if the digestion of data and distribution of insights takes too long, the intent data may no longer be relevant.

Simply put, the B2B marketing organizations achieving big results with intent data have three things in common:

  • They’re able to aggregate, digest and draw conclusions from the data.
  • They have good working relationships (i.e., “alignment”) with relevant teams (especially sales), helping them understand the nuances of intent data and how to act on it in a variety of situations.
  • They can convert data to insights to actions quickly.

This is all great, but it’s also easier said than done. Here’s why.

Digesting Intent Data Isn’t Always Easy

According to TOPO, “Enterprise companies have an insatiable appetite for data, specifically the data that indicates prospect interest. We’ve seen companies buy all the intent data they can from multiple sources.”

It’s easy to understand why. The B2B buying process has become increasingly complex.

Intent signals provide glimpses into what accounts are currently researching and to what extent, allowing marketers to pinpoint prospective customers early in a buy cycle and select the right messages according to prospect research interests. It’s hard to overstate the potential impact these benefits can have on B2B marketing efforts.

Yet, there are a range of intent data types. Some offer a broad, global view, while others provide a more concentrated, nuanced picture. Some feeds derive signals from first-party interactions, while others aggregate data across a cooperative of third-party web properties. Most important, though, is they each hold complementary values. Accessing a range of intent data feeds ensures broad and in-depth coverage of online business buying activities.

Unfortunately, all the various intent data feeds remain fragmented, providing B2B marketers with quick snap shots into the buying activities of their prospective buyers. Because each data source monitors intent signals captured across differing web properties using differing methodologies, it’s very difficult to digest all the data and draw actionable conclusions.

According to Datorama’s 2020 Marketing Intelligence Report, only 33% of marketers describe their company’s current state of marketing data integration and management as “excellent.” And as Kathy Macchi, vice president of consulting services at Inverta, puts it:

“Many marketers aren’t using intent data as well as they could, and the activation piece is the biggest need. But the data and insights are often kept in silos — so there’s no cohesive picture. When this is the case, it’s hard to make cogent inferences around intent data and know what to do with them.”

Related Article: The Key Elements of a Successful Intent Data Strategy

Productive Cross-Team Alignment Requires Education and Agreed-to Actions

Whether providing raw intent data to adjacent teams or intent-derived deliverables (e.g., intent-qualified leads to sales), impactful results depend on whether those teams to know what to do with it. While this is true regarding both intra- and inter-departmental collaboration, the sales-marketing relationship seems to be the most important, though often challenging.

John Phillips, head of demand generation and partnerships at Nerdery — an organization using intent data with great effect — explains how good sales-marketing alignment is essential to reap intent data’s benefits:

“Marketing is responsible for creating funnel activity that converts to high-value deals. Having strong alignment with sales provides marketers with far greater control over the entire funnel. To ensure the use of intent data translates to results, marketing teams must educate their sales colleagues on how best to use the data. This can be challenging — persistent communication and the effective transfer of knowledge are key.”

Marketing must provide information to sales and business development reps (BDRs) around numerous questions. Here are just a few common questions to answer:

Learning Opportunities

  • How will intent data and/or insights be provided to sales, and at what cadence?
  • How should sales treat intent-identified accounts differently than target accounts that haven’t yet shown intent?
  • What do the provided intent scores mean?
  • Will marketing makes sense of any conflicting intent signals, or must sales rectify these issues?
  • How were intent-qualified contacts acquired? (For example, did they interact with branded contact or were they simply taken from a contact list among intent-identified accounts?)
  • What topics were intent-qualified contacts researching, and where were they conducting the research? (And more specifically, what talk tracks should sales use?)

Importantly, creating a workflow for addressing these questions and more should be developed before launching any intent-based initiative.

Related Article: When Did B2B Marketing Become So Complicated?

Intent Data Has a Short Shelf Life

One of the key values of intent data (if not the key value) is that it helps marketers know when to reach out to target accounts. Thus, time is of the essence.

Think of it this way: A sport-fishing boat may have all the best technology, showing exactly when a school of bluefin tuna is swimming below. But if the captain isn’t looking at the monitor or takes too long to notify the fishermen aboard, it’s of little value — and they’ll miss their opportunity. Similarly, if marketers don’t act quickly on intent insights, they can lose out to competitors.

The successful use of intent data depends on marketers’ ability to quickly gather, digest and distribute insights for relevant use cases. But as Jay Famico, chief research analyst at Iron Horse Interactive, explains:

“Integrated campaigns are difficult to begin with. So, without the right infrastructure, processes and knowledge in place, marketing teams can struggle to gather intent data and absorb the insights quickly and efficiently enough to ensure its effective use across numerous use cases.”

Related Article: B2B Buyer Loyalty Hangs in the Balance

Better Education and New Tech Solutions Will Help Dramatically

To be sure, many B2B marketing organizations are thriving with their intent data. They have focused time and resources on their use of it, in some cases creating dedicated teams and programs to focus on the issues of quick data aggregation, digestion and insight distribution to activation points. SAP’s Chrystal Ball program and Extreme Networks’ Project Orion immediately come to mind.

The majority of B2B marketing organizations, however, are unlikely to have access to such resources. Instead, these orgs must focus on educating all stakeholders on what intent data is and how to use it in specific cases. Moreover, they should establish processes and expectations to ensure quick and effective use.

Beyond education and setting expectations, there exists an opportunity for a new intent-focused tech category — one focused on first layering complementary intent feeds to amplify the most valuable insights, and then automating the activation of insights across numerous use cases.

B2B marketing’s journey with intent data has just begun. Once marketers get the hang of it and find solutions to their individual challenges, we’ll see the value of intent data skyrocket.

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