Hey everyone! My name is John Short, and I’m the founder and CEO of Compound Growth Marketing. I’m a friend of DG and an occasional contributor to his network of content (as is evidenced by this blog). I came up in the world of digital marketing with a demand generation slant. I’ve worked at companies like Monster, LogMeIn, Yesware, and Workable, rising up to the level of VP of Demand Generation at Workable where I managed a team of 8 people, and helped them grow 14X from Series A to just before they raised their Series C. Since starting CGM, I have had the opportunity to work with clients like Airtable, Drift, Robin, Workbar, and more.
In marketing, we focus a lot on customer personas and ideal customer profiles (ICPs). And yes – they’re a critical part of sales success.
But what do a lot of marketers forget?
Personas are worthless without knowing intent.
Understanding customer intent is key in B2B sales. Essentially, you need to assess: How do you build intent, and get in front of the persona at the moment when they are starting to consider your product?
Let’s explore exactly why customer intent is important, and how you can better identify it in the sales cycle.
What Is Customer Intent?
Customer intent describes the thoughts and feelings driving a customer toward a purchase.
In retail, intent is when a customer gets online and googles “denim jacket.” In B2B, signaling intent might look like a customer getting online and comparing product reviews on Capterra.
By the time a customer gets to the point of wanting a new product or service, they probably already have some options narrowed down in their head. That’s why you need to be able to predict intent and be there when it happens.
Why Is Customer Intent Important?
Understanding customer intent and using intent data can help you generate high-quality marketing leads. Because no matter how accurate your buyer personas are, intent is really the only thing that matters. You have to be there when that actual potential buyer decides it’s time to take action.
On the flip side, when personas get the focus, and there is no attention to the buying journey and intent, you’re going to struggle to convert. This skewed focus generates poor lead qualification, and, in my opinion, it also gives rise to crappy marketing trends.
For example, persona-based strategies definitely led to the (bad) gated ebook – which then killed the reputation of most if not all ebooks. Gated content was meant to capture info, but it’s rare that you find an ebook that captures positive intent to buy, and is juicy enough to drive clicks.
How Do You Identify Customer Intent?
The key is to think about the full customer journey, and not just the end.
The bottom of the funnel is about awareness partially, but also objection handling. At this point, prospects are probably already searching for [your company] vs [competitor]. Companies that are familiar to customers before the buying process starts have a massive advantage.
Here are the best practices I’ve learned over the years for accurately understanding and predicting customer intent, and ensuring you’re already in a customer’s mind when they reach it.
Ask the Right Questions
When I’m talking to a new company the first questions I ask are:
- What is your ACV?
- Who is your target buyer?
- Why do they come to you?
- What are the inflection points that lead them to need your product?
Once you know this information, you can get an idea of the sales cycle, who is involved, what the core strength of a company is, and the parts in the purchasing journey that you need to build content around.
All of these questions essentially help you identify key inflection points that signal intent, and build a strategy to capitalize on it. These questions also help us set up systems to track intent data and do some customer intent modeling.
Identify Key Inflection Points
Intent usually corresponds with key inflection points. Key inflection points are moments of change or pain that cause people to look for a new solution. Maybe it’s your software or service they need. The inflection points lead to intent.
When you understand the inflection points, it opens up options for leveraging data to target users, placing your product in the right places, improving prospect experience, and developing the right content.
Focus on Pain Points
Building great content around the pain point of the journey is key as well. There is a lot of creativity with what you can do at this point in the journey to convert users and start to build their interest before they realize that products like yours are a viable solution.
Model out the pain points in your buyer’s experience that lead them to your solution. Then create content around those topics so your customer is already thinking of your company when they finally experience it.
While we spend a lot of time and money focusing on strategies like buyer personas and ICP, almost nothing in marketing is as powerful as understanding customer intent and getting there before it happens.
Intent tells us not just who might be interested in our B2B solution, but who is. Because of that, customer intent analysis can lead to quality sales and better marketing leads. Use the steps above to start getting a better picture of intent in the buyer journey and your own sales cycle.