The Gap Between Interest and B2B Intent Data in Marketing

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B2B Intent data is the latest tool in the marketing stack on the hype cycle. There are protractors and detractors, but when you get right down to it, intent data is just another great tool in your marketing toolbox. If it’s used correctly.

The problem is that intent is often confused with interest.

Interest is curiosity realized.

Intent is a focus on purposeful action.

Do you see the difference?

One could simply imply awareness and interest in a topic where the other implies doing something about it. You can have interest without intent, but it’s unlikely you’ll have intent that indicates propensity to buy without interest.

Therefore, we can expand the dependencies a bit further in B2B marketing and selling by recognizing that interest must be sustainable, and intent must include the ability and willingness to act (buy).

The Rabbit Hole of B2B Intent Data

Using intent data as a standalone proxy for B2B buyers is not a promising idea. It’s easy to get sucked in and look at accounts that have searched on keywords and phrases related to your solution’s category.

You think – Yes! This account is in market!

Then you see that five people from the account have shown interest. You have no idea who, but you just know that account is ripe for engagement. You eagerly check your CRM to see who’s engaging…BUT the contacts related to the account are dormant.

One of the things that confused me when I first started working with intent data is how the platform algorithm calculated the intent score. In the earlier stages, the score is all about them—their searches and activity without you.

As someone who does a ton of research on a bunch of diverse topics given my clients, I’m showing “intent” all over the place. And my inbox reflects that interpretation. Unfortunately.

Once they engage with your company, the intent score swings to have more weight based on branded interactions—visits to your website, branded keyword search, targeted display ad engagement, and more.

In that early “about them” part of the journey, all you’re seeing is interest…maybe. No indicated awareness your company exists on their active radar.

The intent data lacks specificity. You can see in what city a user is located, but with remote working and companies that have staff across regions, that’s not helpful. You still don’t know who they are. Even if they’re in your database, intent vendors can’t identify who is searching, just where they are, and their account affiliation based on reverse IP lookup. But you’ve no clue to title, division, buying or learning.

The problem is that a “general” search term doesn’t distinguish interest from intent. Is it simply topical interest? Are they researching how to improve their adoption of a competitor’s solution? Or their strategy and approach in how they’re using it? Or are they trying to solve a problem they can’t solve on their own?

Seeing competitors’ names as search terms can be confusing for the same reasons.

Experts tout the ability to get to buyers before competitors do with the added insight from intent data. But just because they’ve shown interest, doesn’t mean they’re intent on buying.

I’ve seen a lot of campaigns targeting accounts with lower intent scores for this reason show disappointing results. Mostly because the campaign is trying to place product before the buyer is ready to buy.

There’s simply no match with the account’s place in the buying process. Therefore, the proverbial rabbit hole.

Use Interest AND Intent Data to Build Engagement & Momentum

Intent data unrelated to direct interactions with your accounts is akin to “dark web” insights. You’re gaining visibility to what accounts are doing without you—what you’d otherwise not know. On its own, it’s interesting, but not compelling unless you’re able to define that interest with long-tail keywords that help you dial in on the reason, problem, aka interest.

Where intent data gets really interesting is when you can see interest build, direct interactions happen, and the escalation from interest to intent.

I’d submit that marketers need to have trigger programs in place that help isolate the merely interested from those with buying intent.

For example, when an account hits a certain intent score AND has reached a set account/lead score, fire off content that extends from the topic they just engaged in with you. Not one, but a series of content oriented to end stage interest, such as evaluation factors, questions to ask, reasons your customers bought from you, etc. It’s ideal if more than one member of the buying committee is already engaging.

If they engage with those assets, chances are they have interest and intent. If they don’t, you’ll know they’re not there yet. Either way, you’ll have valuable insights to share with your sales reps when you ask them to reach out to gauge where they are.

By gathering feedback from your reps, you’ll be able to refine your program, so you’ll capitalize on that shift from interest to intent.

Trying to force the issue won’t work. And reading too much into intent data without the corresponding data that shows more than interest is just perpetuating your reps’ reaction of shunning your MQLs/MQAs.

When used well, B2B intent data can be a game changer for relevance, which drives engagement and results in momentum toward purchase.

Perceiving interest as intent is a losing proposition.

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