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What Intent Data Can Tell Your Sales Team That MQLs Can’t

4 min
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We live in an on-demand society. Customer expectations are constantly evolving with the times, and so must the technologies we use to inform and support all aspects of the sales process. For the better part of ten years, we’ve been in the Age of the Customer. It’s just as it sounds: customers are at the center of our intentions, or they should be.

It’s not what you’re selling, how you distribute it, or even whether you hold the reins on information flow that determine your success today. Now that customers have greater access to information than ever before, their expectations of the customer experience — and specific aspects of the sales process — have changed. Your success depends on how well you empower and engage your customers. Fortunately, the methods for doing so have evolved. We can quantify and qualify the buyer experience like never before. We can interrogate our successes and failures for key information to teach us, help us try new paths forward, and get better results.

It’s art + science, not art vs. science

Marketing and sales teams both serve the greater goal of closing deals and creating wins for the business, but there tends to be uncertainty — or outright clashes — around how best to achieve that goal. While we’re talking about the art of selling and the science that helps power it, it’s equally important to consider the alignment of the teams responsible for revenue growth. You probably wouldn’t paint without a brush, and you probably wouldn’t close a deal without any relevant content, collateral, or data to support your efforts.

Align sales and marketing for the greater good

Perhaps you’re already account driven in your sales efforts. Great! That means you’re not solely focused on generating leads; you know who your target accounts are and are all set to engage them. But what about your marketing counterparts? Is their eye on the same prize?

Half of all sales and marketing leaders only somewhat agree (or don’t agree at all) on their target account list. In a research report we produced with Heinz Marketing, we found that even 42% of organizations that are successful lack consensus. All too often, marketing and sales teams rely on different datasets, work in different platforms, and track different success metrics. So how can you come together to identify target accounts and coordinate personalized engagement?=

Understand your collective focus: working ideal customer profile (ICP) accounts that are in-market to buy. With that goal in mind, you don’t need to waste time discussing methods for figuring out your target accounts; everyone is working from the same set of parameters. To put the metrics head to head against MQLs, we at 6sense would refer to Number of Accounts In-Market.

Driving revenue is the ultimate goal for both teams — with key factors such as account engagement, account velocity through buying stages, and conversion of in-market accounts to pipeline and revenue. The important conversation marketing and sales need to have is centered on the tactics to reach those in-market accounts and convert them to customers — that’s where the art comes in.

Narrowing down your target accounts with predictive analytics

So maybe we can’t exactly see the future… but we can make predictions with incredible accuracy where our accounts are concerned. This certainly wasn’t always the case, even for the most tech-savvy salespeople and marketers. Today, using predictive analytics allows your revenue teams to eliminate guesswork and prioritize marketing and sales efforts on accounts with an ICP and a strong intent to buy. When it comes to predictive analytics, there are three data sources to focus on: intent data, historical data, and firmographic/technographic data (i.e., ICP). Why does the combination matter? It’s not enough to have an ideal customer on paper. They need to also show intent to buy in order to be a valuable lead worth pursuing.

It may seem complicated, but we can help you make sense of it.

When you layer intent data on top of historical data and filter that through your ICP, you have all the fuel you need to predictably power your pipeline. You can identify a target account list that is the perfect cross-section of showing intent to buy and fit your ICP.

Quit guessing, start knowing: trade MQLs for in-market accounts

Who would settle for a crystal ball when they could have the facts? If you’re relying on MQLs, what you’re really doing is shaking that ball and hoping for a yes.

Historically, and especially in times of economic uncertainty, it can feel like the familiar MQL is a surefire way to generate revenue. In our report, we found that despite over half of account-driven organizations focusing their strategies on metrics like MQLs, 80% of companies failed to exceed revenue goals in 2019 — and 38% of companies didn’t even get 90% to goal.

The thing is, MQLs are often more convenient than they are accurate. They rely on outdated ways of getting data (e.g., form fills, spam, and cold calls). It’s like trying to fish in the ocean with a net. What you want is a kiddie pool and a spear. That’s where intent data comes in.

Real-time intent data

Intent data gives you total visibility into buyer activity within the Dark Funnel™, which is where signals like anonymous web visits, third-party research, and false form fills go unseen by your marketing automation platform. Intent data helps you understand what your accounts care about right now and where they are in the buyer journey. And unlike MQLs, which can become stale, intent data updates in real time… just like your customers’ buying behaviors and desires.

Your ideal customers may not even be visiting your website. They’re likely doing their research anonymously. By capturing intent data, you can spend time focusing on the accounts that are researching your products and services — or your competitors’ — and are ready to engage with you.

Fill in the gaps

When you examine your process, you’ll naturally find gaps in your pipeline which indicate that deals could fall through. 6sense Chief Market Officer Latané Conant refers to these gaps as “the red.”

Finding the red is a process. What leaks can you identify within your entire funnel? How will you plug them? By adjusting your processes. Then, by tracking conversion rates at every step, you can see what adjustments work and where prospect retention is improving so you can set revenue goals based on your new and improved pipeline.

Learn more about empowering sales teams in our ebook The Science of B2B Selling: How Modern Sales Teams Win Deals Now.

The 6sense Team

6sense helps B2B organizations achieve predictable revenue growth by putting the power of AI, big data, and machine learning behind every member of the revenue team.

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