Use of intent data is growing, and for good reason: It's hard to pass up the promise of gaining greater visibility into people when they are actively looking to buy.

But as with most new digital marketing tools, there is a lot of confusion about what intent data actually is, what it can do, and how it can create greater efficiency in your marketing funnel.

Even if you've already chosen an intent data tool, you may be struggling with how to best integrate it into your sales and marketing process and tech stack. With so much promise, intent data could end up being a disappointment for teams that struggle to make their data actionable.

Here's an overview of what we know to be true about intent data right now.

Intent data is third-party data

You already have access to your own, first-party engagement data. It's what you collect in your own channels, via email marketing, website, etc. It reveals who is responding to your marketing.

Intent data, on the other hand, is third-party data. It's collected on channels that you don't own, and it shows what type of research a person or team is performing on other websites.

Let's say you want to find out what companies haven't yet visited your website but are still actively researching your category of product. Those companies would otherwise be invisible to you, but with intent data you have a way to know whether they're in the market for a solution you can provide.

Intent data is information about what someone has looked at online. The viewed material and the frequency of interaction signal how interested that person is. Intent data providers aggregate that information to surface signals that a buyer team is actively looking for a solution.

Some intent data vendors provide information from only one Web property, or a limited set of properties. Others aggregate data from many more sources. Either way, it's important that you and your team are clear on the source of the data so you can make sense of what you're seeing.

It's another input, not the full picture

Intent data does not solve all of Marketing's problems. Intent data signals provide timely visibility into what was previously hidden, but it's not a silver bullet. Intent signals can best provide clarity and direction when used in conjunction with other data and excellent operational practices.

To start making intent data actionable, determine how you want to use it. There are a few primary applications.

First, intent data can help to prioritize leads. It can enable you to identify individuals and accounts that are actively seeking a solution like yours. From there, you can market to them or have sales prioritize them for outreach.

Second, intent data can shape your messaging so it resonates better with your audience. By gathering third-party data, you can uncover what topics people are researching, and respond in kind—whether in one-on-one conversations with SDRs, in nurture campaigns, or through other avenues. That gives you valuable insight into what your audience cares about, which translates into a significant advantage in the sales process.

Intent data is maturing, but marketers aren't harnessing it fully yet

Intent data is no longer in its infancy, but that doesn't mean it's as prevalent or maximized as it could or should be. The step that remains is making intent data actionable. And what good is intent data doing if it's just sitting in your system instead of being put to best use?

Part of the problem is rooted in a lack of standardization across different platforms—in everything from reporting to delivery models. Some platforms offer easy-to-read dashboards that integrate into commonly used technology like Salesforce, whereas others operate in Excel spreadsheets.

The ways that intent data is captured, delivered, and reported on are sure to become more standardized as the metric matures even more, which will be helpful for marketers wanting to make the most of it tactically.

As with most newish data sources and marketing trends, intent data has come a long way since it first emerged. But it will be a while before it becomes the crystal ball we would like it to be.

For now, if you're planning to use intent data, it's important to learn as much as you can—and recognize that there will be much more to learn as it evolves and as marketers learn how to better harness its insights and use them in practical business applications.

More Resources on Intent Data

How Marketers Can Generate Their Own First-Party Intent Data

Purchasing Buyer-Intent Data: A Marketer's Primer

Seven Ways Intent Data Maximizes Marketing Budgets and Enhances Sales Performance

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image of Kirsten Markson

Kirsten Markson is the go-to-market practice lead at LeadMD, a performance marketing consultancy.

LinkedIn: Kirsten Markson