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Divining Intent

by Matt Manning

The intent to purchase has always been a critical piece of information to b-to-b marketers and the information services that serve them. Intent comes in many forms:

  • Past purchases: The core of any direct marketing campaign is a list of people who have bought a related product/service with the same price point as your offering.
  • Emerging needs: If your firm just bought a commercial printing press then it is likely to buy ink for that press. Looking for ‘symbiotic’ purchases is a high-percentage marketing approach.
  • Long-term requirements: A company that retains a realtor to look for commercially zoned land will probably need architects and general contractors in a matter of months. The firm that gets a ‘tip’ on this indicator early stands a strong chance of winning the business.
  • Financial events: The value of pitching prospective customers right before or after a major funding event (investment round, IPO, sale of a business unit) is that they tend to buy everything more readily. The converse also applies for companies restructuring their debt, laying off employees, etc.
  • Professional motivation: Executives spend more freely during their ‘honeymoon period’ at a new firm. Pitch them early on the products/services most closely aligned with the stated goals for their employer and the odds are in your favor.

Over time, more and more of these kinds of intent data have become available to the commercial marketplace, but historical purchasing data is the trickiest to obtain. It is private, for one, being owned by the vendors to the company you’re targeting, so it’s hard to get outside of direct research (i.e., telephone surveys asking about products/services used) or a Data Cooperative model (where group of sellers pool anonymized/aggregated customer data for insights into their best clients).

That said, it’s normally easier/cheaper to divine intent via ‘data exhaust’ metadata. For instance:

  • Job postings: Volume indicates general corporate growth; skillset definitions in job postings show intent to tackle certain types of projects with specific tools in mind.
  • Attendance at particular events: Long-term intent to deploy people and tech to expand into specific areas.
  • Vendors’ public customer lists/endorsements: Insight into installed technology at those firms. Announcements of large new clients point to growth.
  • Public RFPs/Government records/Legal settlements: Resolution of legal disputes, the granting of patents, the registration of domain names, and the levying of government fines are all examples of the types of news events that indicate a corporate reaction is imminent.

However it’s done, the effort to read the data tea leaves to figure out what products and services organizations will buy is a never-ending pursuit that will always pay dividends to those who crack the code.

posted by Shyamali Ghosh on January 10, 2018

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