Intent Data Explained; How Marketers Turn Intent Data Into Actionable Insights

Intent data can be a powerful predictor of which companies are ready to buy. But what is “intent”? And how do marketers rely on intent to make top-funnel decisions? In this article, I’ll explain the concept of intent data and show you how to leverage it for your business.

“Intent” is defined as something a person plans or means to do. Let’s pretend you are the owner of grocery store chain and I run into one of your stores waving a handful of cash and yell “I need diapers right now!”

Because of my behavior – my fast pace, the fact that I am yelling, and the cash I’m waving – you might be led to believe that my intention is to buy diapers very soon. The evidence of my intent would be that I walked into your store, that I am a real person, and that I was waving real money. Your assumption, based on the evidence before you, might be that I look like someone who is ready to buy diapers.

But here’s the thing,…behavior and evidence-based information do not always translate into real intent, and real intent does not always mean a potential target is going to make a purchasing decision now or ever.

What if, playing off the example above, your store only carried baby diapers, and I was only looking for adult diapers? Or, what if, as I was heading toward your diaper aisle, I instead veered off toward the meat counter and bought a slab of bacon? What if my intention was to buy diapers for swimming and your store only carried “Huggies Little Snugglers Diapers” for babies? Many things can go right when we’re trying to determine someone’s intent. But, as you can see, it’s just as easy for things to go wrong as well.

In the example above, I yelled out my intention when I entered your store, but ended up not becoming real buyer. I might have been a real buyer to someone, but not you.

Intent Data Explained

“Intent data” is behavior information about a person’s online activities. Topic and context data are different types of intent data – and both can be used to build up a profile. Tracking cookies and IP addresses can be used. Online reviews and search history can also be used. Almost any type of data can be used.

All this data about people within a given company – evidence-based information, behaviors and intentions, as well as context information – can be turned into a calculated “lead score”. Once we give a company a lead score, the natural next step is to rank them against their peers. As one company shows more intent, or begins to surge in it’s own intent, the lead score associated with that company begins to go up. A higher “surge score” shows heightened activity and can mean one or more people inside a company are preparing to make a decision or purchase.

Many businesses leverage this behavior and evidence-based information to determine when potential target companies are ready – or getting ready – to make a decision or to take action. The kind of company that helps you to see which other companies are searching online for information related to the same kind of offerings and solutions your business provides are generally called “intent data solution providers”.

The intent data community is only one small, but important, part of the much larger Account-Based Marketing (ABM) space. Some ABM vendors focus solely on data selection (Data For, ZoomInfo, DiscoverOrg) and predictive/intent. Other vendors focus on insight or ads/website and events. And still others focus on synchronizing interactions (Market, Engage, Eloqua, Hubspot).

Some of the more common “intent data” service providers include: Bombora, 6sense, Demand base, ZoomInfo, Clearbit, DiscoverOrg, Inside View, Tech Target, The Big Willow (now Aberdeen), EverString, and MRP Prelytix. Some are better than others at predictive selection. Others are better at understanding intent and place a higher value on privacy. As far as I can tell, only a few vendors are capable of delivering reliable data while also placing a high value on the privacy of people. Bombora is one of those.

Some vendors in the intent data space are better than others at inferring whether a target’s actual behavior translates into actual intent. But unfortunately, it’s my own observation that far too many vendors deliver aged (old) data, or are not able to draw a clear line between online behavioral intent and an actual target company ready to buy.

Getting reliable data is a major challenge in this space and there are a few hurdles to overcome before simply buying and using intent data.

(Note: My own personal issues are mostly related to the actual fit between intent and solution, the decay rate or shelf life of the data, the poor visibility into the actual person expressing interest, and the actual intent of the person doing the search.)

When you purchase intent data, ideally what you want is an integrated solution that delivers a list of currently surging companies that are looking at that moment. Many can integrate the data stream into your marketing automation solution or sales CRM. You can probably still pull the data and use it without any integration but having a seamless integration provides a better solution for both your marketing and sales teams.

Here’s How Marketing Can Use Intent Data

Some of the many ways high-quality intent data supports marketing teams as they focus on top-funnel activities, include: better alignment of educational content with audiences, more personalized emails to target accounts, using social media to focus and build audiences of potential prospects, and even targeted direct mail or live events.

Some teams have integrated intent data with their marketing automation solution (such as Marketo, Hubspot, etc.) and/or their CRM (such as Salesforce) to improve their ability to deliver quality leads to sales. Unfortunately, many more don’t have the resources or sophistication (or the real need) to take this additional step.

Let’s focus on the actual data in the spreadsheet for a moment, and let’s pretend you have the surge data on 2900 individual prospect companies. What can you do with this data?

If you know which industry each target prospect works in, you can figure out which industries are surging in their online search for solutions that you sell. If your business sells products or services into multiple industries, you might be able to use this data to target your top one or two industries that should command your attention.

It might be that your data will show many more prospects surging in healthcare, hospitals, and clinics than in any other group or sub-group. Or, if you can drill down into topic search data, you might be able to better understand what percentage of companies are currently searching for “commercial insurance” and “risk assessment” and “casualty insurance” and “property insurance” and “insurance broker” verses ”cyber insurance” and “cyber risk management”. Instead of having your marketing team write blog posts about cyber security, maybe you have the same team focus on writing about casualty insurance or commercial insurance. Making small changes like these to your tactical approach could make the difference between having a larger or smaller pipeline of lead/sales opportunities to work with.

With your surge/score data, you might be able to tell which subgroup of prospects will provide the best opportunity for a hyper-targeted direct mail campaign and direct call from the sales team. With the same data, you might be able to reposition your editorial calendar of all your outgoing blog posts (and social media) and optimization around your new hottest topic(s).

You can also apply what you learn from intent data to hyper-focus your advertising spend and ad targeting to create a more personalized ad campaign. Maybe this means you deploy AdRoll’s audience targeting and retargeting software to improve your ability to engage the right companies with the right message to keep them more engaged. Or maybe you use your new insights to pinpoint the right companies to invite to a webinar or regional event. Having intent data can also keep your team informed and help you to prevent customer churn. You can even use it to support new investments across client accounts. The list goes on.

And it’s not only the marketing team who can benefit. Intent data allows the sales team to focus more on bottom-funnel activities where the prospect is ready to open their door to buy. Having the ability to more accurately predict point of purchase gives the sales team the opportunity to meet the moment and deliver the appropriate message (one that resonates) to the right target company at the right time.

Whether you want to inform campaigns, target new companies, reach prospects showing intent, personalize content messages, enhance your ad targeting, or support the sales team – if you’re thinking about leveraging intent data, you will probably want to go with a customized approach tailored to your own business needs.

For more information on how your company can harness the power of intent data, or if you just want to start a conversation about intent data, reach out.


CHRISTOPHER MENGEL brings over 20 years of insights to business owners and talent leaders inside emerging technology and professional services firms to implement new initiatives, develop new strategies for growth, carry out organizational and cultural change, manage complex projects, and fill business-critical roles. Have a challenge you want to solve? Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter and subscribe to his posts or contact him.


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