Tl;dr - There's a lot of buzz around intent data. That's inducing many companies to invest in 3rd party intent data without a clear path to return. Meanwhile, many capital equipment sales teams have a huge, overlooked asset in their 1st party intent. Let's look at how they can leverage it.
What is Intent Data?
Intent data is a collection of signals, derived from online behavior, that marketing and sales teams can use to infer what companies and people may be in the market for what products, and their stage in their buying journeys.
There are three primary types of intent data. First-party intent is what you collect on your own digital properties (website, email, social profiles, etc.) Second-party intent data is obtained through another party - normally a trade publisher who sells access to their registered users and audience, and leads based on content engagements they observe. Third-party intent data is harvested elsewhere on the internet, collected in various ways, and has widely varying accuracy.
There's a lot of detail to each, particularly third-party intent data. Our partner, IntentData.io, Inc. offers lots of educational material around methods of collection, accuracy, sales enablement best practices, and more.
Many companies reading this may already purchase 2nd party data as part of their capital equipment sales and marketing. If you run trade journal paid ad programs, you've probably received some leads for people who have seen your banners, clicked on your links, etc. So you're already in the intent data game - it's not mysterious after all.
Further, if you have website tracking tools and marketing automation like HubSpot, you're collecting 1st party data already. Some of it is for known users (you have an associated cookie set by email or form fill) and some from anonymous (a known user using a different device with a cookie that's not yet associated, or a new visitor or one who hasn't yet provided identifying information to associate with their cookie.)
Some of this information is contact level, and some only account level (often derived through IP address resolution - although that's less accurate in a work-from-home world.)
The weak point of all intent data is found in single word in the definition above - "infer". As marketers and sales people we have to be really careful not to always assume the most favorable sales scenario which data could be construed (or twisted) to indicate. Intent data signals are one piece of info to weave into your other research.
Most third-party intent data is purchased in the technology marketing space where budgets are large and pressure to add leads and pipeline is intense. Working with third-party data is complex, and coordinating marketing and sales efforts takes planning and careful execution.
But you don't need to start there - particularly in the industrial space. First Party data is pretty straightforward if your team is trained and accountable for consistent proper use.
First Party Intent Data, Marketing Automation & CRM
Let's assume that you have marketing automation in place that not only tracks website visits, but also email opens and clicks, form fills, social media engagement, etc. And let's further assume that your marketing automation database tracks contacts and their activities in a usable and digestible form. HubSpot, for instance, offers a contact timeline view showing all of those activities in a filterable chronological view for each contact and company.
If your CRM and marketing automation are built on the same database, then it's easy for the marketing automation insights, including valuable intent data, to be displayed in a sales rep's CRM view. Many companies have this. Shockingly few reps use it.
Marketing automation and CRM/sales acceleration tools should also include alerts to notify reps when certain things happen. For instance, an active contact revisits a particular page on the website, opens a quote, clicks an email link, or if an unknown contact from a target account visits your site.
These alerts should be configured to proactively notify reps of important activity that they'd discover the next time they viewed a contact's timeline, but on which they should potentially take action immediately.
So intent data should be displayed for a rep when preparing for a call or meeting, reviewing project status, etc. It should also be delivered proactively to a rep in real-time when signals that are actionable and particularly relevant are observed. It's a tool to boost sales effectiveness by helping reps anticipate and react.
This sort of first-party intent data is also often incorporated into lead scoring models, as well as target account / ABM prioritization. It also helps with long sales cycle, complex sales with large buying teams like machinery sales. In those situations, it can provide valuable insight into who's on the buying team, where they are in the buying journey, and more.
But the term "intent data" may be a hurdle here. It sounds complicated even though you may already have lots of 1st party data and probably some 2nd party too. So let's simplify a bit.
Digital Body Language - Sales Process & Sales Methodology
Let's put a different name on it. Let's call it digital body language.
You've certainly had sales training that covers mirroring prospect behaviors and identifies certain behaviors (looking at their phone, crossing their arms, etc.) as meaning certain things. You've also likely built some behavior based if/then into your sales process and coaching. For instance, if a prospect voices a certain objection, then you respond a certain way. That's based on body language and direct communication.
I'm guessing you also have an if/then for a situation in which a prospect ghosts you after you've sent a quote. If that happens, then do this/ask this/think or assume this. If you use CPQ (configure/price/quote) software, that's likely providing good intent data to understand whether they've opened your quote, how long they've spent on each page, etc. That's an interesting example because it's based on digital body language (in this case absence of it.)
But what about all of the other digital body language that you're capturing? For example:
- Two separate visitors from a long silent account have hit the pricing page on your website within the last week
- A visitor who has bounced back and forth between your "semi-auto" and "fully-auto" machine page on three separate visits finally submits an RFQ form from the semi page
- Three new, anonymous users from an account with a pending opportunity visit warranty and support pages on your site
- A long time contact is combing through old emails in which you suggested some creative solutions to persistent problems
Those are just examples. The variety of potential scenarios is enormous. The point is that we're often conscious of using body language (first-party data) in our sales activities, but too often don't include the digital version.
Using First-Party Intent Data to Improve Capital Equipment Sales
Let's look more explicitly at how capital equipment sales teams can use intent data to boost sales effectiveness.
In the context of complex sales with long sell cycles and large buying teams like machinery sales, intent data can be used to inform and trigger actions across the entire lifecycle.
Most of the time when people discuss intent data in the context of prospecting, they're referring to third-party intent data which might either be purchased in conjunction with a sales leads database or as a standalone.
But don't overlook the power of your first-party data. Generally you're prospecting to contacts who have not opted in to receive your marketing emails. Therefore your outbound cadence will include one:one sales emails (they can be automated, but they're one-off.) If one email get's opened and the other five in a cadence don't, that's intent data. If three emails get opened, and one gets clicked shortly after you left a voice mail, that's intent data too. As is their behavior once they click through - e.g. quick bounce? or visiting several pages?
You might call the former just routine prospecting results, but the latter could be a great sign that your message may be resonating a bit. Although pouncing on the person isn't advisable, you might create a workflow that would trigger a task to edit the remaining emails and call scripts in the cadence based on those observations of their digital body language.
If you prospect to multiple people in the same account, you'll also get insight into engagement in different functional silos that could help map the buying team mindset.
Target Account Sales
Target accounts (as they're called in the machinery sales world) or ABM (account-based marketing - the name in the digital marketing world) are great places to leverage your first-party intent data.
Kerry Cunningham, who studied ABM at Sirius Decisions and Forrester, used to remark that companies would oddly celebrate and fixate on the first lead conversion from a target account when the most important conversion was the second. Although just one more data point, it was a clear indicator that there was likely some issue or initiative with corporate attention vs. a curious individual. That's a meaningful interpretation of 1st party intent data.
There's a lot to defining the ICP (ideal customer profile), building the target list, categorizing them, and identifying the full buying team (often >10 people in various roles.) Those are topics for other articles. But intent data can feed workflows to improve results. For instance, three or more contacts opening prospecting emails could be used to trigger the addition of the company to a domain-level LinkedIn paid ads list. Or two or more form conversions or chat engagements could trigger moving an account higher on the BDR's list, or even assigning the account to field sales.
And for a sales rep, seeing multiple contacts at a target account engage within a rolling time period, is a great sign to prioritize their other contacts for simultaneous outbound prospecting.
Lead Qualification and Management
Lead scoring is a wonderful use for your first-party intent data, and it requires very little training of the sales team.
Many capital equipment sales teams wrestle with how to assign and nurture top-of-the-funnel leads. In other words, if a contact doesn't have an active project and budget, but engages with some of your content, should you try to sell them?
There are various schools of thought. You'll have to decide. But what's clear is that multiple engagements, during repeat visits, gradually engaging with content deeper into the buying journey should trigger more active sales activity. Your intent data will collect those observations, but a stream of alerts might overwhelm a rep.
So the marketing team can step in with some workflows that observe these activities and ascribe lead-scoring values to them. A pricing page visit or RFQ form submission will be more strongly weighted than liking a LinkedIn post. The velocity of engagement with marketing email should reflect in the lead score, along with many other factors.
Certain lead scores should trigger sales activity. The point is that it's not just a single threshold prospect action (those are important) but also a constellation of signals that indicate a more advanced lead in aggregate.
This dynamic lead qualification process based on intent data can improve the automatic assignment of the right resources to each lead at the right time.
Simple workflows can also be used to generate internal emails to the sales team so that lead assignment notifications also include the context and some recommended follow-up steps (e.g. the best cadence, some collateral to share, suggested call scripts, email templates, etc.)
Pending Machinery Sales Opportunities
Much like the lead qualification and target account sales plays, pending machinery sales projects are rife with opportunities for the application of intent data.
Protracted sell cycles with long periods of silence and large buying teams are both factors that complicate capital equipment sales. Insight that supplements direct communication can provide skilled sales people clues on what's happening and how to proceed.
Even the simple observation regarding the pace of communication that the JOLT Effect highlights could be packaged in a red/yellow/green dashboard for sales management and used to automatically adjust deal likelihood....all using intent data signals.
Your digital properties aren't only for selling new accounts. If you've built them properly, there's great engagement and value for current customers.
So route those signals, provide those alerts, and trigger those workflows for the customer service team just as you would for sales.
Obviously, the triggers are different, but the concept is the same.
Finally, it's important to use intent data to optimize the visitor experience too.
Just as you can use signals to trigger sales activities, you can also use them to inform workflows that will adjust the buyer experience. For instance, if you see someone revisit a specific product page three times, why not use a chatbot to suggest a relevant case study? Or if a prospect is back on your site two days after submitting an RFQ and your team is still working on providing the quote, then acknowledge that via a chatbot to connect them with someone live.
Personalized content (dynamically served website content) can be informed with intent data signals to provide a meaningful and engaging site experience.
The Roles of Sales Enablement and Sales Coaching
Intent data is going to be captured by various platforms. Some will be sales oriented and others marketing oriented. Most of the automation that will help to dynamically interpret data and trigger activities will be managed by the marketing ops team.
Therefore, while tight integration of marketing and sales is critical to optimizing your ORE™ (overall revenue effectiveness), it's particularly critical to leveraging your first-party intent data.
Marketing must make the information actionable through automation and sales enablement workflows and content
Sales management must incorporate it into coaching and management dashboards and hold sales people accountable for using it. Particular attention needs to be paid to role plays to make sure that data isn't used in a clumsy or creepy way.
And sales people must be frequently reminded that the goal of data is to make them more efficient and effective and to improve buyer experiences.
Too often intent data sits in a database and never gets leveraged. That's a waste.
Intent Data - Start Simple and Gradually Improve
There's lots of buzz about intent data (mostly third-party intent data), and increasingly it's incorporated into other products like Zoom Info.
It's powerful, but can be very complex to fully orchestrate.
Don't sweat that. Start small.
Your first party data is likely an enormously powerful but largely latent resource waiting to be leveraged to boost sales effectiveness and results.
Later, after you've fully activated first and second-party data, you can consider purchasing third-party data to further refine your system.