Intent Based Selling: What Is It and Why It Should Be Part of Your B2B Sales Strategy
2024-03-07·12 Min Read
by Max Woo

Intent Based Selling: What Is It and Why It Should Be Part of Your B2B Sales Strategy

It seems like these days we can't hop on a sales call without our prospects bring up intent. How do we use intent in outbound? How can you guys help us identify intent from our market? What even are relevant intent signals for our business? Everybody is talking about intent, but what is actually intent in the B2B context, and how reliable are the intent data out there?

In this blog post we'll talk about the difference between B2B Intent Marketing versus Intent Based Selling, and also touch on the players in the market that are providing intent data and strategies to leverage intent signals. By the end of this post you should have a clear understanding on the topic of leveraging intent in your go-to-market strategy, and whether if intent based selling is appropriate for your outbound strategy.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understanding Intent is Crucial: Recognizing the difference between mere interest and a strong buying signal is fundamental in targeting your sales and marketing efforts more effectively.
  2. Intent-Based Selling vs. B2B Intent Marketing: While both focus on using intent signals, Intent-Based Selling is more direct, leveraging these signals for personalized sales outreach, whereas B2B Intent Marketing uses them to tailor marketing efforts.
  3. The Power of Personalization: Using intent data allows for crafting personalized outreach messages, significantly increasing the likelihood of engaging high-intent prospects and improving conversion rates.
  4. Levels of Intent: Identifying the level of a prospect's intent (no intent, some intent, high intent) enables a more strategic approach to outreach, prioritizing those with higher readiness to purchase.
  5. Intent Signals as a Guide: Direct triggers (e.g., company events) and subtle cues (e.g., browsing history) can provide valuable insights into a prospect's readiness and interest, guiding the sales approach.
  6. AIDA Model Relevance: The Attention, Interest, Desire, Action model highlights the importance of capturing prospects who are transitioning from mere awareness to genuine interest or desire for a solution.
  7. Efficiency and Cost-effectiveness: Leveraging intent data streamlines the sales process, targeting efforts towards more promising leads and reducing the cost and time associated with engaging uninterested parties.
  8. Impact on Outreach Effectiveness: Tailoring outreach based on intent makes communications more relevant and engaging, enhancing the overall effectiveness of sales strategies.
  9. Accessing Intent Data: Various platforms and services provide intent data, with big players like LinkedIn and Zoominfo offering detailed insights into potential buyers' behaviors and interests.
  10. Choosing the Right Intent Data Provider: It’s essential to select a provider that matches your specific needs, considering factors like data relevance, flexibility, GDPR compliance, and alignment with your business objectives. Small, niche providers might offer more tailored solutions for specific industries or intent signals than larger, more generic platforms.

What Is Intent Based Selling?

We've probably all been hit with ads on social media that eerily close to what we want to see. You were just talking to your friend about buying some headphones, and next thing you know you see a Sony ad for their latest headphones, and it's become a meme that your phone is listening to you.

intent based advertisement

Your phone is most likely not listening to your conversations, and it's certainly not reading your mind, but it has correctly identified you as a high intent prospect for headphones. But how!? One reason is probably simply because you're noticing what you want to see, and you thought nothing of the dozens of other ads you saw that day. Another reason could also be that you're deliberately being targeted from the interactions you've had recently across different sites, and your data are being captured, and from those data your intent is being mined. This is intent based advertising in the consumer sense, which is very intuitive for us to understand because we've felt it first hand in many cases. Intent based selling stems from the same concept, instead we're linking intent to the account or company, and sometimes the individuals that work at a particular company.

Intent based selling is the use of market signals to identify companies and individuals as prospects with high propensity to buy, and crafting personalized direct outreach via email or phone to sell to those prospects. These intent signals could range from company events to individual search behaviours. Some intent signals can be direct triggers, which we talk in depth in our previous post on Trigger Based Selling, and others could be more subtle such as browsing history of prospects to customer complaints about your competitor's offerings.

Intent could be passive or active, whereas a blatant bad review or a post on a site like G2 looking to switch to a competitor is active (catching this prospect in the right moment will guarantee a sale most of the time), and other times passive intent is shown when general keywords are search in LinkedIn or Google.

We like to think about the AIDA model a lot when considering intent:

  • A - Attention/Awareness
  • I - Interest
  • D - Desire
  • A - Action

AIDA

From this model intent rests at the interest stage. We want to capture prospects that are already educating themselves past the attention stage and crossing to the interest or desire stage. If you are able to identify that a prospect was passively searching for a keyword like "health records management" and your company sells healthcare management systems, you better jump on that opportunity and figure out how to get in touch. Compare having such intent to a completely cold outbound campaign, where the prospect hasn't even gotten past the attention stage, the advantage could mean hitting your target or growing faster.

Understanding levels of intent

There are 3 levels of intent that we should think about when creating a campaign.

  1. There's obviously cold outbound where the prospect has no inkling of wanting to purchase your product or even aware about you. This is the lowest level of intent. This is what most sales teams are doing because it takes more work to target warmer prospects. Not only do you have to identify them, you have to tailor your messaging once you do. So most sales team resort to spray and pray.
  2. The second level of intent is when a buyer is actively thinking about a solution, just looking in the market, or have already actioned on a way to solve their problem. This could vary from them trying to hire someone to solve this problem, using a different competitor tool, or maybe someone just left the company leaving a hole that needs filling. Sometimes intent could be unknown to the prospect but could be very useful for you as a seller of your services. Take for example that someone is hiring for a payroll administrator, and you've just created a software that automates payroll using AI, fully. Now this hiring manager may not have any intent on buying a software, but most likely because they are not aware of such a solution, they just know they need to figure out payroll and they don't have capacity to do so themselves. Sometimes the prospect needs their problem solved, and shows intent for the root issue, and it's up to you to grab that intent and introduce an alternative solution through your product.
  3. The warmest level of intent is an inbound, or a referral. These are prospects who've done research on your website, competitor websites, talked to their peers, and finally decided to take a few meetings, you included. This is the warmest type of prospect because they are in the market to choose a solution, the rest depends on your product/offering.
LevelWhat is itExample
1 - No intentCold outbound, where a potential buyer doesn't know anything. Sometimes you have to introduce the problem.Pulling a prospect list based on certain criteria, building a generic email campaign, and cold calling until you get a hit.
2 - Shows some intentWarm outbound, where a potential buyers has shown some signal that your solution would be helpful or fitting for their needs.Identifying a prospects through triggers, signals, and specific criteria about their business. Compiling a prospect list in this regard will certainly yield lower volume, but you will be personalizing the email campaign based on these intents, and sometimes it helps to mention these triggers or research on cold calls as well.
3 - High intentInbound or referralsInbound through filling out a form, a meeting booked directly with you, or an intro from an existing relationship. At this point it's up to you to communicate value, don't fumble!

There are certainly many aspects of intent that we cannot track, but there are many we can, and sales people should leverage any intent at their disposal to at least supplement their spray and pray campaigns.

As you think about your own situation and which level of intent are you targeting, think also about where you could spend more time. More and more people are being turned off by the noise of the market and want to self educate instead of being told what's good or what to buy. With this shift maybe it's time to think about shifting your focus to level 2 and 3 in terms of intent based outreach. The market is ripe for new technologies that support this mission, and LavaReach is on a trajectory to power meetings booked through a fully integrated prospect identification process, lead enrichment system, and fully automated outreach platform. At each step the workflow has to be efficient, or it will be too much work for any one team to handle. We know because we've been there, and that's why we set on this journey to automate as much of the prospect research as we can with AI.

Why is Intent Based Selling Important?

In the rapidly evolving marketplace, understanding and leveraging buyer intent has become crucial for sales success. Intent-based selling goes beyond traditional sales tactics by focusing on the buyer's underlying intentions, needs, and interests, providing a strategic advantage in creating more personalized and effective sales approaches. This method not only enhances the buyer's journey but also leads to more efficient and impactful sales processes.

Understanding intent will lower cost and increase sales efficiency

Recognizing the intent behind a potential buyer's actions allows businesses to streamline their sales efforts, targeting only those who exhibit clear signs of readiness to purchase. This understanding significantly reduces wasted resources on uninterested prospects and enhances the focus on high-quality leads. By prioritizing efforts on these leads, companies can achieve higher conversion rates, decrease the sales cycle length, and ultimately, lower overall sales costs.

Identifying buyer intent early in the journey enables sales teams to tailor their approach, offering solutions that align closely with the buyer's current needs and pain points, leading to a more efficient sales process and a better allocation of resources.

Intent based selling will make your outreach more effective

When sales strategies are aligned with buyer intent, outreach becomes significantly more impactful. Sales teams can customize their messaging and solutions based on the specific interests and behaviors demonstrated by potential buyers, making each interaction more relevant and engaging.

This relevance boosts the likelihood of positive responses, as prospects see that the solutions offered directly address their unique challenges and goals. Intent-based selling turns generic sales pitches into compelling, personalized narratives, fostering stronger relationships with prospects and increasing the chances of converting them into loyal customers. By aligning sales efforts with buyer intent, companies can not only enhance the effectiveness of their outreach but also build lasting connections that contribute to sustained business growth.

How to Get Intent Data

There are many products in the market that considers themselves to be intent providers, although we disagree with how some of these companies classify intent, we can see that all the big players have incorporated intent into their stack of offerings. This gird from G2 highlights the market leaders, where LinkedIn and Zoominfo leads the pact.

intent data providersHow do these companies classify intent? After digesting some articles from LinkedIn that explains how the overall intent personas are captured on their platform, we've summarized the following activities which define the intent of the buyers on LinkedIn.

  • Following a company
  • LinkedIn Company page visits
  • Profile visits to self
  • New connections to self
  • New connections to colleagues
  • Profile visits to sellers on contract, or visits to leadership
  • Lead Generation Form completion
  • LinkedIn Ads engagement (views and clicks on ads)
  • Accept InMail request to colleagues on contract
  • Official company website visits (LinkedIn Insights Tag installed)

Feel free to dig deeper yourself:
Article 1:
https://www.linkedin.com/help/sales-navigator/answer/a1325209
Article 2:
https://www.linkedin.com/help/sales-navigator/answer/a507435
(Refer to the question, "How is account buyer intent determined?" in this page).

As mentioned in the first portion of this blog, we would consider this as passive intent, which we fully leverage to identify prospects for our customers. In our opinion the active intent are the more valuable. LavaReach builds custom research agents that crawls the internet for farmable insights. We recently built a fully automated system that identifies new facility opening for a customer in the energy sector, and help them use this data to personalize emails at scale and run campaigns.

Working with a go-to-market software that prioritizes intent based selling will mean you're getting closer to higher conversions than using purely databases as your lead source. In the final section we'll talk about how to choose the right provider.

Finding the Right Buyer Intent Provider for You

Choosing the appropriate buyer intent data provider is a great leap forward for businesses looking to enhance their B2B sales strategies. It starts with understanding your requirements, especially the need for a platform that aggregates and delivers context around interactions with your products or company, while also ensuring flexibility to adapt to your needs.

You should first create a long list of potential providers by identifying essential features like detailed buyer journeys and clear signs of purchase intent. Through online research, refine this list by prioritizing providers that align with your key business objectives and offer the specific functionalities you need.Really think about the intents that would be relevant at your stage.

Narrowing down your options further requires evaluating each product against your list of needs and wants, considering reviews, compatibility with current workflows, and objective third-party analyses. GDPR compliance could be a critical filter throughout this process, but likely not for most companies at this stage.

Set a few demos or free trials to gain some firsthand experience with the software or service, giving you a chance to ask vital questions and assess the provider’s fit with your business needs. When it comes to final selection, the most important factor in our opinion is the size of the company you're engaging with. If your intent signals can be considered niche or tailored for your business or industry, 9 out of 10 times a smaller company will venture into those areas with you and offer flexibility the big players like Zoominfo probably won't unless it aligned with their product strategy.

Ultimately, the decision to invest in a buyer intent data provider should align with your business objectives and budget, but the sales world is changing to become more and more intent driven and less about spraying to the masses!

FAQs: Intent Based Selling

What is the difference between B2B Intent Marketing and Intent-Based Selling?

B2B Intent Marketing focuses on identifying and targeting prospects based on their demonstrated interest in specific topics related to a business's offerings. It uses intent signals to create more effective marketing campaigns. Intent-Based Selling, on the other hand, takes this concept further by using market signals to identify companies and individuals with a high propensity to buy, allowing for personalized outreach efforts like email or phone calls to sell products or services directly.

How can identifying intent signals improve my outbound strategy?

Identifying intent signals allows you to distinguish prospects who are at various stages of readiness to purchase, from merely being aware of a need to actively seeking solutions. By tailoring your outreach to match these levels of intent, you can significantly improve the effectiveness of your outbound strategy, moving beyond generic approaches to engage prospects with personalized messages that resonate with their current needs and interests.

What are some examples of intent signals and how can they be used?

Intent signals range from direct triggers like company events or individual search behaviors to more subtle cues like browsing history or customer complaints about competitors. These signals can indicate passive or active interest. For example, if a prospect is passively searching for a keyword related to your product, it’s a chance to engage them with targeted outreach. Identifying and acting on these signals can help you prioritize high-intent prospects, making your sales efforts more efficient and effective.

Why is Intent-Based Selling important in today’s sales environment?

Intent-Based Selling is crucial because it aligns sales efforts with the buyer's underlying intentions, needs, and interests, leading to more personalized and effective sales approaches. This method not only enhances the buyer's journey but also leads to more efficient and impactful sales processes, higher conversion rates, and a decrease in the length of the sales cycle.

How can I access intent data to leverage in my sales strategy?

There are numerous products and services in the market that provide intent data. Key players like LinkedIn and Zoominfo offer comprehensive insights into buyer intent based on various activities such as company page visits, profile interactions, and engagement with ads. Additionally, platforms like LavaReach specialize in leveraging passive intent by crawling the internet for insights that can personalize outreach at scale. Choosing the right provider involves considering your specific needs, compliance requirements, and the level of customization you require for your sales strategy.

Author Photo

About Max Woo

Max Woo is a multiple time founder with years of first-hand experience in B2B sales and revenue leadership. He has a consistent track record of helping companies experiment and implement outbound in SaaS and other industries. Throughout his career, Max has set up numerous outbound motions for the first time for companies that previously had not found success with sales led customer acquisition. Max also regularly shares his insights on LinkedIn in areas such as trigger based selling, AI enabled customer acquisition, outbound automations, prospect research, and more. He is dedicated to empowering sales leaders and individual sales people to not only become better professionals, but also learn to embrace unique strategies and build experiences that are tailor fit for the way their prospects can realize value, and he believes that empathy for customers and prospects always triumph against tactics that just closes the deal.