Why signals of intent matter to businesses

With digital signals of intent, businesses can wisely cultivate relationships.
22 October 2019

Knowing your customers’ intent will help your business. Source: Shutterstock

If artificial general intelligence (AGI) ever comes to be, we don’t know what it might or might not do. 

But in the interim, AI-powered products are allowing businesses to better understand who their prospective customers are and what they might do. 

That increased level of certainty is extremely valuable when it comes to the management of both resources and relationships.

Businesses of all types are expanding their digital presence across channels and devices. They’re rapidly producing and varying up content in order to capture limited user attention and meet the demands of a constantly shifting, increasingly mobile environment.

Beneath all this frenzied activity and competitive output, there’s actually an input of rich, technologically-organized data. 

Such feedback loops could improve the nature of business if the data is utilized strategically and guarded responsibly. By accurately picking up on signals of intent, businesses can help more people instead of accidentally bothering them.

For startups, in particular, resources are limited. For sales and marketing people, relationships are fragile. For prospective customers, pain points are real. 

Is intent marketing the key to harmony?

At the SpiceWorld 2019 conference in Austin, Texas, I spoke with Elizabeth Ronco, Executive Director of Product Management for Spiceworks, an IT community and marketplace. 

Ronco said that her company’s new AI-powered dashboard will take intent signals to the next level, helping marketing and salespeople to prioritize their long account lists. 

By staying focused on people who are actually ready to engage and buy, these professionals can see an uptick in sales via intent marketing. Advertising budgets can be used to achieve the most relevant kind of visibility.

It’s all about shifting the focus from contacts to context, according to Spiceworks. It’s relatively easy to ping someone out of the blue or draw in a fleeting digital engagement, but the context behind that engagement is what leads to fruitful conversations. 

Those conversations can then bring about a well-integrated solution or technological transformation.

“Our IT pros don’t want to be called when they’re not in-market; they get a lot of phone calls,” Ronco told me.

Her company’s account intelligence tool, currently in beta, goes beyond gauging interest. It seeks to identify where the prospect is within their buying cycle.

It shows the competitor products that the prospect is also considering and assigns a brand affinity score based on the technologies they’re currently deploying. This is all made possible by first-party intent data.

First-party intent data

The Spiceworks online community serves as a natural source of data, with billions of intent signals being generated from topic discussions, product reviews, network inventory, help desk tickets, and learning modules for professional skills development.

Ronco refers to her company’s first-party data ecosystem as the “12 points of telemetry,” something that strives to illuminate different types of interaction

Engagements with editorial content, advertiser content, and user-generated content all carry distinct indicators when they’re evaluated contextually.

But the best content strategies may actually elude businesses that are too consumed by their sales goals. “We actually find that those brands who teach first and sell second in our community do a really, really good job,” Ronco told me.

Third-party aggregators can leverage the networks of disparate publishers but Ronco suggested that this isn’t always necessary. 

“I think from my perspective, you can’t really interpret your data if you don’t understand your audience,” she said. 

By avoiding aggregators, Ronco said that it’s easier to closely know and understand the audience and communicate precisely what they need.

Laura Beaudin, a partner in Bain & Company’s San Francisco office, also told me that some companies underestimate the degree to which they can determine intent based on first-party data alone.

“If you think about it, first-party data is the only proprietary data source that marketers have at their disposal anymore. 

“And yet many find themselves still searching for a silver bullet that they can get from a publisher or a data provider,” she said.

Experimentation and budgetary strategies

Deliberate experimentation can further build off that initial data. 

Beaudin told me that a large global brand recently established a new rule for itself: Every campaign must have an element of testing so that they can develop greater insights and fill in any knowledge gaps. 

“In our experience, a robust testing program can drive at least 10 percent improvement in marketing effectiveness as you are learning more every step of the way,” she said. 

With all of this innovation and data, it’s likely that marketing messages will become increasingly relevant and well-timed. But some of the core challenges of marketing will remain. 

Consumers and IT decision-makers might still feel bombarded with messages, even if they’re more relevant messages, and there will still be constraints affecting their purchase behavior. 

Consequently, marketing budgets won’t necessarily be lowered by AI and intent data. But some strategies could shift.

Beaudin said, “We have found in recent research that the most effective marketing launches build to a peak – spending up to 40 percent of their budget by the end of launch day.  

“These peaks are blitzes, where marketers utilize six or more channels to get their message across and make an impact.”

Beaudin outlined this and other tactics in a recent report.

She told me, “I expect that continued growth in advertising channels will require marketers to maintain budgets and use them both surgically and with peaks for maximum effect.”