Intent, Deeper Personalization & Authentic Content Benefitting From Buyer Insights, Intelligence

Published: July 24, 2019

As buyers continue to expect more relevant, contextual engagement earlier on in the buying journey from vendors, B2B organizations are digging even deeper into buyer data to ensure they can meet expectations. This includes leveraging intent data alongside other behavioral analytics to provide hyper-personalized messaging and content that resonates with audiences and highlights the brand’s authenticity.

These are just some of the recurring themes and discussions that took place during the 2019 Buyer Insights & Intelligence Series, a week-long webcast series designed to provide actionable strategies and best practices to better leveraging buyer and account data in go-to-market efforts. 

Experts and thought leaders from companies such as Triblio, DriftConversica and PureB2B shared their assessment of account and buyer data within the B2B marketplace, including the growing importance of intent signals and data’s impact on hyper-personalized experiences, one-to-one messaging and content.

If you missed the opportunity to sit in on the sessions live, here is a recap of some of the prominent key takeaways:

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Intent Data Driving Key Account Plays Throughout Entire Sales Funnel

This year’s series highlighted a variety of ways buyer intelligence — specifically intent data — is being leveraged within B2B organizations. Presenters agreed that intent signals from key stakeholders at target accounts can be beneficial across both marketing and sales — whether it be via helping prioritize account lists, offering insights for deeper segmentation and relevant messaging, or offering opportunities for one-to-one sales engagement.

While B2B buying is often associated with long, drawn-out sales cycles, changes in buyer behavior show that younger generations are willing — and looking — to engage with vendors as soon as possible to get their pain points addressed. New research highlighted by John Dering, Senior Director of ABM Technology & Strategy at Demandbase, shows that B2B buyers have become much more agile and are even making purchase decisions within the first three months. 

Therefore, it has grown evermore vital to deliver content and messaging that resonates based on their needs and expectations.

“A company or vendor that speaks to the prospect, delivers content that is relevant and adds value to process is what people go with,” Dering said during his presentation. “Understanding the company, their needs and how to communicate with them is critical.”

Dering added that the best way to do this is through the use of intent data. Demandbase, for example, uses it to identify what companies are interested in and align that with their product offerings, messaging and more to provide deeper account and stakeholder experiences.

“If you can deliver an experience that is relevant to companies on the fly — whether anonymous or not — you stand a much better chance to deliver on the buyers’ expectations,” Dering said.

Experts agreed that intent data has its place throughout the entire customer journey and can have a positive impact on personalizing experiences at every stage of the funnel. Andre Yee, CEO of Triblio, noted during his session that, instead of applying intent data to solely top-of-funnel demand gen, you can activate intent deeper within the funnel by putting it in the hands of your sales team. The companycan then coordinate messaging across your other channels to ensure messaging is consistent and continuing to accelerate the deal.

Yee went on to highlight three specific methods for activating sales teams with intent data signals:

  • The “Competitive Box-Out:” analyzing third-party intent on competitors to position reps with insights to proactively counter the competition with the right information and messaging.
  • Focused Interest & Concerns: Utilizing intent signals to uncover key interests and concerns within target accounts based on their website and content engagement.
  • Detecting “Ghost Replies:” Identifying account activity on first- and third-party websites despite those accounts being unresponsive to sales inquiries.

“This is where you’re adding value to the selling process by giving them insight into the intent of buyers in the middle of what might be a very competitive selling cycle,” Yee concluded. “If you activate intent, you’re adding value to your account execs to engage on topics that are relevant to their prospects.”

Experts also agreed that account-based strategies, tied with intent signals, ultimately better position companies to orchestrate account-based plays throughout the funnel. 

Sandra Freeman, Head of Strategic Marketing at Engagio, noted during her session that her company orchestrates specific plays depending on how engaged that account is with the brand. For example, highly engaged accounts receive personalized outreach from SDRs, AEs and even executive connections based on their intent signals, while lesser-engaged accounts are targeted via marketing nurtures, display advertising, content syndication and more.

“I really come back to this [thought process] a lot when trying to figure out what the next course of action should be with a given account,” Freeman said.

Freeman went on to share two examples of plays that can be executed for highly engaged accounts versus lesser-engaged accounts:

  • The “Executive Connect” Play: Utilizing hyper-personalized engagement to schedule one-to-one meetings with key executives. For example, Freeman shared how her team uncovered that a VP within an account is a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. The team went on to send a personalized direct mail offering to that VP based on that insight and requested a meeting.
  • The “Meeting Incentive” Play: Leveraging unique incentives to generate urgency with an engaged account. Freeman noted that Engagio identifies eligible accounts based of their engagement and intent signals highlighting interest in ABM. The incentive should be unique and relevant enough to the account for them to want to take the meeting.
  • The “Continue Conversation” Play: A mid-funnel play in which accounts are reengaged via a unique medium. Engagio, for example, leverages Vidyard to create personalized videos with reps based on past conversations. Freeman noted that the company sees a 4X increase in response rates to these plays, on average.

Ultimately, tying intent into other demographic and behavioral data can help provide a deeper, holistic view of target accounts. Jack Wildt, Senior Manager of Demand Gen Operations at ON24, noted during his presentation that, to get a “3D view” of your buyer, a mix of demographic, behavioral and declared (i.e. intent) data is vital.

“This is data’s three dimensions here at ON24,” Wildt said. “Demographic data is paired up with our inbound programs, which helps us uncover behavioral data through our demand generation efforts and hopefully leads to us uncovering declared data to start catering messaging and ABM programs towards them.”

Wilt noted that declared data — or intent signals — are helping businesses overcome new data limitations caused by laws such as GDPR to provide relevant customer experiences throughout the funnel. While intent signals can be gathered through a variety of sources, Wildt said webinars are a unique tactic for offering different ways to gather intent in a 30-to-60-minute session.

“During that experience, you can provide a variety of opportunities to [engage],” Wildt added. “It’s a true interaction, while form fills are more transactional.”

Taking Personalization To New Heights With Account Intelligence, Conversational Marketing  

For a long time, personalization simply meant slapping the recipient’s name into an email to get their attention. Now that buyers have grown accustomed to this level of personalization, marketing and sales professionals must go beyond “Hi, [name]” to engage buyers. While it’s still a buzzword in B2B marketing, effective personalization requires leveraging deeper customer insights and knowing specific buyer preferences to engage customers and prospects on their terms. 

Numerous sessions during #bii19 discussed the importance of reaching buyers with relevant content on their preferred channels, as well as using account intelligence to better personalize the customer experience.

The latter was highlighted during Chris Rack’s webcastin which the PureB2B CRO noted that progressive sales and marketing teams are unlocking account intelligence to prioritize and personalize their prospecting efforts. 

To accomplish this, Rack suggests that B2B companies:

  • Start with a highly focused account list for better prioritization;
  • Establish the account’s key buying triggers you can focus on;
  • Re-design sales and marketing funnels to align with those account buying triggers; and
  • Increase account intelligence research activities to gather the necessary insights to scale personal

“Automation can kill prospecting [efforts],” Rack said. “Three primary ways to discover account intelligence is to leverage user-generated intent data, list acquisition with the necessary buying triggers and launching internal research processes.”

Rack highlighted one company, Sidecar, that was looking to expand its database of mid-market e-retailers. With the help of research-based account intelligence, which included deeper insights for personalization, Sidecar was able to identify and prioritize ideal prospects. The company saw a 20X increase in annualized ROI, as well as generated 156 opportunities out of 12,500 net-new leads — all while formally streamlining their internal account prioritization processes.

Another way to optimize personalization efforts is to know when and where to reach buyers during their purchasing journey. During their webcast, Darryl Praill and David Hood of VanillaSoft, shared preliminary results of a study the company conducted in partnership with the Telfer Business School at the University of Ottawa and the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals. The survey revealed needs and sales engagement preferences as seen from the buyer’s point of view, including key information sources for buyers trying to identify a need, speed to contact best practices, channel preferences, competency importance and time scheduling. 

When it comes to channel preferences, the research found that buyers expect sales to engage with them via email (63.88%) and phone (39.30%). While email did reign supreme over phone, Hood noted that sales reps shouldn’t rule out phone conversations as they are the most personal channel. 

“Phone is the hardest channel because it’s the most personal channel. It’s the one where you’re really involved,” said Hood. “You’re putting yourself on the line. But that’s why it’s such a popular channel with buyers, because that’s your real opportunity to interact — not just to learn about the product, but to learn about the company and people. I do agree with a lot of people out there who say, ‘I don’t buy from the person, I’m still buying the product.’ But the person has an influence. So, when you can wrap it all in one package, I think it still leaves the phone as an important communication channel.” 

Other key stats revealed during the session include: 

  • 73% of buyers said word of mouth is a key information source when they are trying to identify a need; 
  • 45% said they prefer sales follow up later within the same day of first engagement (Hood noted that responding right away can reduce the close rate); 
  • 89% of buyers want sales to understand their business needs, followed by product knowledge at 84% and industry knowledge at 68%; and
  • 41% said they want to pick a time on a sales rep’s calendar using an online service to book appointments. 

Aside from phone, email, SMS and social, there is another engagement channel generating heavy interest the B2B space: chatbots and virtual AI assistants. These new tools can not only help sales reps engage with prospects on a more personal level, they could also help glean greater insights from target audiences, which can lead to enhancedcommunication, lead scoring and personalization efforts (just to name a few). 

During a session with Mark Kilens and Kate Adams of Drift, the pair talked about how conversational data fuels both marketing and sales efforts to offer consistent customer experiences. They also discussed how automation through the power of chatbots can further streamline data collection and give your buyers the information they need, when they need it. 

“The buying process now is broken and us as marketers, we’ve lost our way,” said Adams. “We have been optimizing for MQLs or MQAs — it’s all about filling up the CRM and qualifying leads… and finally passing them to a sales person. That is fundamentally broken. We forget that these are people at the other end. They’re not CRM records or MQLs … they are people and they want to have a conversation. We need to start optimizing for conversations, not records or vanity metrics.”

Drift recently conducted a survey on the state of conversational marketing, which revealed that buyers are becoming increasingly comfortable interacting with chatbots. In fact, only 14% of respondents noted that they prefer to fill out a form on a website over using a chatbot. While email and phone are still the top channels for engagement, Kilens noted that there is a big opportunity to use chatbots and online chat tools because they offer the convenience of a 24/7 service even when sales reps have clocked out for the day. 

Jan Sijp of Conversica also emphasized the growing interest in conversational AI assistants during his session in the webcast series. He said that this form of conversational marketing can help marketing and sales team glean the proper insights they need to better market and sell to target audiences in a personalized, one-to-one fashion. 

“As marketers, we deal with lots of leads,” he said. “We create campaigns to engage leads and target leads that match our ideal customer profile. But even then, it’s still a numbers game. Many top-of-funnel leads end up not being target lead after all or, if they are, they might not be ready to buy at the moment. Identifying true interest requires a one on one conversation with each lead. This is where conversational AI assistants come in … They’re just another member of your inside sales team. You can reach out to every single lead and get rid of any cherry picking, delays or inconsistent follow-ups.”

Brands Revamp Content Marketing Campaigns With Focus On Video, Authenticity & Enablement

Buyer preferences are constantly changing, and content marketing strategies must evolve with them. Research from Demand Gen Report shows that 73% of buyers say they have less time for reading and research and typically only consume between three and seven pieces of content before engaging with sales. Industry experts from SeismicVidyardPathFactory and Content4Demand offered tips for developing killer content that will engage today’s time-starved buyers.

During his presentationTyler Lessard of Vidyard unveiled new research that analyzed more than 320,000 videos published over the last 12 months. The research shows businesses are investing more heavily in video marketing and the number of videos being published is increasing. In fact, businesses in the top three industries are publishing more than one video a day on average. Additional findings include:

  • More companies are investing in webinars and social media videos;
  • 73% of the videos published in 2019 were less than two minutes; and
  • 43% of marketers are using intermediate or advanced analytics to better understand and improve their video marketing efforts.

“Video is becoming more accessible for anyone to consume, but more importantly for anyone to create,” said Lessard. “Video gives us the ability to create incredible content that’s truly engaging, memorable and brings a human voice and face to our brands. It also gives us the ability to track engagement data around our audiences and really understand what content is working, what’s not and how we can improve our messaging going forward.”

During another session, Dave Bruno of Aptos and Amanda Maksymiw of Fuze joined Content4Demand’s Alicia Esposito to discuss new approaches to content marketing and share their success stories with new content formats. Whether it be meme-like content, interactive content or content that takes a more auditory, storytelling approach, the speakers stressed the need for an authentic, humanized approach that will engage buyers. 

“Humanize your content. Understand that you’re talking to human beings who have short attention spans that are constantly getting shortened,” said Bruno. “Think Instagramable moments. Think about the things that people are migrating to and try to be like that.”

Content also has an important role to play in sales enablement. Meg Guarente of Seismic and Pam Didner of Relentless Pursuit LLC dove deep into this topic in their session. The pair offered tips for mapping content to different sales stages in the buyer’s journey, such as providing case studies during the qualification stage. They also noted which metrics should be in every marketer’s content analytics toolbox, including average page views, median view time, engagement by content and more. 

“Buyers want to engage with organizations in ways that don’t feel like selling,” said Guarente. “Content is the best way to do so and it lets buyers self-learn. They can learn about their industry, the challenges they face and new developments in their market. Content is the gateway for your customers to directly learn about and understand the products and services you offer.”

In another session, Elle Woulfe of PathFactory and Anne Wang and David Cheng of FireEye explored how content can be used for buyer enablement. The speakers discussed the need for B2B marketers to create more B2C-like experiences that mirror the personalized, on-demand experiences that platforms such as Netflix provide. Wang and Cheng explained how they use PathFactory to cut down on gated content, boost buyer engagement, improve content recommendations and get better content analytics and buyer insights. As a result, the company was able to increase engagement with one of its campaigns by more than 200% in less than two weeks.

“Being able to see from a metrics perspective, how long people are spending with each asset really enables companies to optimize their content strategy,” said Cheng. “We can also send all this data over to sales and provide a lot more intel on engagement, not just on an individual level, but on an account level as well.”

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