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Buying Intent: The Backbone of Sales & Marketing

Buying Intent: The Backbone of Sales & Marketing

The next time you step out of your house (which in 2020 is an adventure by itself), you might just want to take a moment to truly appreciate how far technology has grown. And when I say this, I don’t just mean the occasions where you potentially spot one of Google’s self-driving cars, pop into an interaction-free Amazon Go store, or get your mind blown after reading about Elon Musk’s Neuralink project. 

I’m talking about the little things—like the fact that we have supercomputers that fit in our pockets, that we’re able to see the live COVID-19 infection count whenever we want to, or that we’re able to see and connect with someone that’s halfway across the world on a video call without breaking a sweat.

Which is why it’s really disappointing when you see an email or LinkedIn message from a salesperson selling a product that is absolutely irrelevant to you. 

Technology’s come too far to still running poorly targeted campaigns to prospects that have zero interest in buying our products?

Pitching an app that helps find hostels in France to a married New Yorker is just poor targeting, isn’t it?

In all fairness, the real loss here is that of the salespeople and marketers. If you work in this industry, then by reaching out to people that have no interest in buying your product, you’re wasting time, effort, and money that could have been spent much more efficiently—by reaching out to people who have at least some possibility of buying your product

As someone that is working in sales or marketing today, you DO have the ability to discover high-intent prospects for your company. However, a lot of people aren’t aware of the fact that there are ways to accurately determine the buying intent of a prospect before reaching out to them.

That’s exactly what this blog post is about—buying intent, and how you can use it to aid your company’s growth. I’m going to answer questions about structuring your marketing and sales processes to leverage buying intent effectively.

Let’s start with the fundamental definition of buying intent and continue to work off of that.

What is Buying Intent?

Buying intent or purchase intent is the measure of a prospect’s inclination to buy a product or a service. Buying intent can be typically recognized by tracking intent signals from a decision maker or a company, or by uncovering insights based on other passive indicators of intent. 

If you’d like to learn more about active or passive buying-intent, you can read about it in our post here. The post also talks in detail about indicators of buying intent, and the different ways in which you can determine buying intent. If you haven’t read it already, we highly recommend you check that out before continuing with this blog article.

In short, an active high-intent prospect is someone who is currently looking for a product or service to service their individual, team, or company requirements. On the other hand, a passive high-intent prospect is a user that might have an inherent need for a product, but isn’t performing any actions that might indicate that they have a requirement for it at all.

In most cases than not, about 10% of your total addressable market (TAM) consists of high-intent prospects. Let’s take a look at the typical distribution of prospects across the buying-intent pyramid to understand that better.

The Buying Intent Pyramid

After looking at this image, I imagine the natural follow-up question you have is, “How do I find these high-intent prospects in my target market, and how do I make them my customers?” 

That’s exactly where buying intent comes into the picture. Proactively finding prospects with whom you’ve never interacted before requires a lot more effort and optimization, so let’s start by discussing the different indicators of buying intent for outbound prospects before moving on to inbound prospects.

Indicators of Buying Intent for Outbound Prospects

You can determine the buying intent of outbound prospects using five broad indicators. 

Buying Intent Indicators of Outbound Prospects

Technographics

Knowing and understanding the software that a company, team, or individual uses will give you deep insights on what product they’re likely to buy next. Technographics can also track down users of your competitor’s product,and help you find users of software with which your product integrates seamlessly.

Firmographics

This might be a little too simplistic for some, but firmographic insights can be a great way to eliminate bad-fit prospects, especially if your internal lead qualification criteria focuses heavily on attributes like employee size, company HQ location, etc.

Content Consumption

A good way to understand what the prospect’s on the lookout for is looking at terms/phrases for which they’ve recently run searches, webpages they’ve visited, or the content they’ve read on your blog or website.

Buying Patterns 

Buying patterns are another great way to predict the likelihood of a prospect to purchase your product/service. Factors like upcoming contract renewals (if they’re using a competitor’s product) and recently purchased software can help you understand if a prospect would be interested in what you’re selling.

Thematic Analysis

Gaining a deep understanding of your prospects’ pain points, the kind of campaigns they are running at the moment, or the keywords they use on their website can give you a broad understanding of the general themes along which their sales and marketing teams are working at the moment.

If your company works on outbound sales & marketing practices extensively, then you can use these five indicators to start segmenting prospects and reaching out to them right away. Almost all of these insights can be determined using a product like Slintel. Start by segmenting prospects based on how soon they will likely purchase your product/service.

For example, if you realize that a particular prospect is:

  1. Using a competitor’s product (Technographics)
  2. Fits your lead qualification criteria (Firmographics), and 
  3. Has their contract renewal coming up in 45 to 60 days (Buying Patterns)

then this indicates that they might be interested in buying your product or service within the next 30-45 days.

You should be able to filter down prospects in your target market into four segments, as follows: 

  1. Segment A: Prospect likely to buy from you immediately (0-45 days)
  2. Segment B: Prospect likely to buy from you shortly (46-90 days)
  3. Segment C: Prospect likely to buy from you next quarter
  4. Segment D: Prospect not likely to buy from you in the next 6 months
Segment your prospects into intent buckets based on when they’re likely to make a purchase from you

Your assumption about when a prospect will likely purchase from you need not be perfect. Create these segments roughly in the beginning, just like you would with the expected deal value of an opportunity. We will be covering how you can improve your buying intent determination later on in this post.

Before looking at what you need to do after segmenting outbound prospects into these buckets, let’s quickly take a look at the indicators of buying intent for inbound prospects.

Indicators of Buying Intent for Inbound Prospects

When it comes to inbound leads, the buying intent indicators might vary. Firmographics, content consumption indicators, and your lead qualification criteria (read more about this here) will play a much larger role in determining the buying intent of inbound prospects. 

Buying Intent Indicators of Inbound Prospects

To determine the buying intent of your inbound leads accurately, I’d like to emphasize that you need software that can track user activity on your website to deduce buying intent based on prospect purchase behavior. For example, you can use a software like HubSpot to track the pages that users visit, or even go one step further to set up tracking for custom “events” that users complete on your website. 

Alongside that, you could also use something like Drift to capture lead information along with their original referrer URL, last referring site, etc. You could also use Fullstory, Hotjar, or any other software as you see fit, but we highly recommend narrowing down on these options and setting them up before you begin. 

You will also need to set up some automation to determine the location of the prospect, their company size, decision-making authority, and other such attributes. A product like Slintel can help you get all these insights without any hassle. For inbound leads, your team needs to run a sales discovery call and then a product demo after the prospect enters your system, provided they meet your lead qualification criteria.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all method to determine this—the bases on which you segment your prospects rely on your qualification criteria, average sales cycle, and other such factors. You might not be able to come up with the perfect criteria the first time around, but that’s alright; you can always work on improving it over time based on your sales results. If your company does not have its lead qualification criteria defined at the moment, we strongly recommend that you work on defining them right away before moving forward. 

Once you have all these things nailed down, you can segment the prospects using a method similar to the one we discussed earlier—based on when the prospects will most likely purchase the product (refer to illustration 4).

Buying Intent Across the Funnel

Once the prospects enter your marketing and sales funnel, you can further work on applying other scoring mechanisms and buying intent indicators to determine how likely a prospect is to purchase from you. The following practices can be applied to both inbound and outbound leads

It would probably be a good idea to start by recapping the age old AIDA funnel one more time. The AIDA funnel, as you might know already, breaks down the purchase journey of the prospect based on the cognitive stage associated with their behavior. AIDA stands for Awareness -> Interest -> Desire -> Action, the four broad stages that the user goes through before purchasing a product. 

In more recent times, an “R” that stands for Retention has also been included at the end of the AIDA funnel to focus on one more crucial step of the process. For this example, since our use-case is heavily focused on Marketing/Sales and not Customer Support/Success, we’ll stick to the AIDA funnel.

Actions you need to drive users towards based on their position in the AIDA funnel

Let’s look at how you can set up lead scoring mechanisms and determine the purchase intent of the leads in your pipeline. Do bear in mind that we will not be showing you step-by-step instructions on how to set this up, since different companies tend to do this differently, and also use different software to accomplish this. Here’s a post by HubSpot explaining how you could do it using their software. You can use this as a reference to achieve the same on your preferred tech stack.

Here’s who you can apply lead scoring to different prospects to understand their buying intent.

Top-of-the-Funnel Leads (Awareness)

Factors that can influence the buying intent of a prospect at the Awareness stage are typically content, relevance, and their business requirements. Your primary goal here should be to get the user to consume more content on your website and give you their contact information, even if that just means their email ID in exchange for an ebook. Having downloadable gated content or a weekly newsletter subscription form will greatly help in this stage. You could also use pop-ups and other similar lead generation forms using apps like Sumo to get the job done.

Once the lead comes into your system, you can set up your lead scoring to increase based on the number of webpages they visited on your website, the average time they spent looking at your content, and the type of content they consumed (product/solution pages show higher purchase intent than blog content). 

Tie this information with your lead qualification criteria and the other indicators we mentioned earlier to get an accurate picture of your leads’ buying intent. You can use the illustration below as a reference to segment these leads into high, medium, and low intent buckets in the Awareness phase.

Buying Intent Factors for Top-of-the-Funnel Leads

Middle-of-the-Funnel Leads (Interest)

At this stage, you need to focus more on how your leads engage with your emails and whether they’re moving towards getting a demo of your product. This typically happens as a result of them filling up a demo request form or interacting with the CTAs in your emails, so keep a keen eye on those things to modify your lead score.

This also implies that you need to work on setting up nurture campaigns that will encourage these leads to purchase your product. Set your lead scoring to increase based on the number of emails they open and the amount of times they click on your email CTAs. You can also continue to track the actions that we covered in the previous section (ToFu leads) to gauge their buying intent.

Buying Intent Factors for Middle-of-the-Funnel Leads

At this point, you can also work on enriching your lead with information about their revenue, funding history, technology stack, and other such insights to understand whether they are a good fit for your company.

Bottom-of-the-Funnel Leads (Desire & Action)

Once the prospect has taken a look at your product on a demo and has shown interest in purchasing it, the major factors that will impact their decision are your product’s pricing and how well you fare against your competitors. At this point in time, for leads with whom you are already negotiating, the score that you would have calculated might not be very useful, and it’s up to you to manually determine who is likely to close and who isn’t. Make sure you send them plenty of Product Marketing and sales collateral to improve your chances of converting them, and offer competitive pricing if they express that they can’t afford you.

However the buying intent score will come in handy to know exactly who you need to reach out to when it’s nearing the end of the month and you’ve yet to hit your quota. In a case like this, you can always refer to the scores of the leads to prioritize them in order of importance to contribute to your company’s revenue for that month.

And the cycle continues!

It goes without saying that the first time you do set this up, you will not end up creating a perfect solution to the problem; nor will you come up with a flawless way to determine the buying intent of your prospects. But once this is in place and a month or two passes, you can always revisit your leads and look at what kind of buying intent factors really made the difference when it came to a deal closure.

The idea here is to close the loop, or in other words, make some inferences about what’s driving conversions and make modifications to your lead scoring process to make it more accurate. You could also use Slintel to aid you in this process. In case you haven’t checked the product out, Slintel is a sales intelligence platform that can give you buying intent scores for different companies based on intent signals that it gathers from various sources. The product also gives you access to the technology stack, company, keyword, lead, and branch insights that you can use to determine the buying intent of your prospects.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments section!

Harsha Annadurai

Harsha Annadurai

Harsha Annadurai handles Content and Product Marketing at Slintel. He has over three years of experience working in B2B SaaS Marketing and believes that failing fast, adapting quickly, and finding linearly scalable strategies is the key to a company’s success. He’s an obsessive music, gastronomy, and sneakers enthusiast.

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