Pulling Apart the Curtains on Third Party Intent Data Providers

As the predictive marketing and sales space heats up, more and more B2B marketers are asking this question: How do I identify prospects who are in-market but not on my website?

Intent data is a new marketing method and category of software that seems to deliver the answer. There have been a lot of recent discussions about what is third party intent data, and how to use it to drive revenue (i.e. identify your best prospects, personalize content).

As a B2B marketer at a data-driven company, I am not convinced that the current set of intent data providers are living up to their hype. In this post, I am going to try to break down their big talk and highlight three things you should pay attention to when you evaluate your options:  data coverage/match rate, data accuracy/relevance, and data freshness.

What is intent data and what is third party intent data?

Intent data (synonymous with behavioural data) is any action taken by a lead or contact that signals to the marketer whom to focus on when, and with what messaging.

Third party intent data (external intent data) is activities on what leads are reading or searching on the broader web outside of your owned digital properties.

Today, the conversation is being led by software vendors in the predictive marketing and sales space (6sense, Leadspace, Infer to name a few). These vendors are leveraging first party intent data plus technographic and firmographic data (from external sources) in their systems to help with use cases like list-building for account-based marketing, ABM advertising, predictive lead scoring, and content personalization.

At this point, vendors in the predictive marketing & sales space are defining third party intent data solely as B2B publisher data or content consumption data. 

Right now, the four players in the spotlight are Bombora, The Big Willow, IDG and Tech Target.

According to Sean Zinsmeister, VP of Product Marketing at Infer, “B2B external intent data is only available through third-party providers like Bombora, The Big Willow, IDG and TechTarget. Publishers like TechTarget.com and CIO.com have opened up their terms of service and are selling visitor data.”

These data providers “track the articles a user reads, the content they download, their site searches, and potentially even the comments they leave. For example, data might show that people from the ibm.com domain are viewing more articles than normal about ‘help desk software,’ which could provide a hint about IBM’s software needs” (Venturebeat, Does Intent Data Live Up to Its Hype?)

Below is an illustration of external intent data provided by Infer.


Use cases for third-party data include targeted advertising, building target account lists for account-based marketing strategies and personalizing content marketing programs.

As marketers, we know that before we add any new data sources to our core systems, we need to scrutinize it.  Factors such as data coverage, data accuracy/relevancy and data freshness will dictate what we can and can’t do from a marketing perspective.

So far, there are some open questions on these intent data providers’ abilities to provide actionable data.

1.Data Coverage / Match Rate

According to Vik Singh, CEO of Infer, intent data is typically aggregated up to the domain level, so marketers still have to do the additional legwork of finding out which individuals to contact.

“For net new leads, it’s important to consider that most external intent data is aggregated at the domain level. You are not going to know who read the articles, so you’ll have to try to figure out the right contacts at each account in order to effectively prospect to these leads,” says Vik Singh.

So naturally, the next question to ask intent data providers is this: what percentage of contacts in my database can be matched to the intent data provider’s database?

This metric is called coverage or match rate. It’s defined as the percentage of contacts in your database that have a match in the most recent intent data from the provider.

If your contacts aren’t visiting a particular network of sites regularly, or can’t be matched via their cookies or through IP lookup, then the intent data isn’t going to help you identify who to reach out to and what to say.

What you want ideally is to have multiple points of intent data on many individual contacts in your database, not sparse data on just a few contacts.

2. Data Accuracy and relevance


Even when we have content consumption data, we still have some gaps about the buyer.

Reading articles happens during the education portion of the buying cycle. But before people visit certain sites and read certain articles, they are asking questions to express their pain points on sites like Quora and Twitter. Content consumption data does not cover the earliest part of the buying cycle.

In addition, just because an account may be “surging” in terms of reading more articles on a topic, it does not necessarily mean a particular contact or decision-maker from that account is ready to talk to a salesperson. A person could have ended up on a page for a number of reasons, e.g. accidentally clicked on link bate.

The usefulness of content consumption data depends on the type of product you are selling. Inferring intent from people’s reading patterns is useful if you’re selling a product in a relatively established market where most people know a lot about what they’re looking for. It’s much harder to establish intent from reading patterns if you’re selling an innovative product that doesn’t quite fit into an existing category when there’s just not a lot of content out there about your space.

As Vik from Infer points out, intent data based on reading consumption patterns aren’t necessarily predictive, because “a surging account may not be highly correlated with a prospect being in-market.”

At Infer, they’ve put intent data providers to the test, by having intent data vendors match records for a diverse set of their customers and then running historical testing. The study found that “the intent flag was no better at predicting opportunities than random chance” (If you want to learn more about Infer’s methodology for predictive lead scoring, read their e-book “What is Intent Data?”).

3. Data Freshness

As a marketer, you need to send your SDR team and sales team good leads every day. And if you want to improve the effectiveness of your campaigns and messaging, you need to be able to react to your prospects’ behaviour in real-time (to learn more about how to run a real-time email campaign using intent data, see our blog post “How we triggered real-time emails from #ContentMarketing”).

To do all this, your intent data should also be updated in real-time. If you are considering an intent data provider, be sure to ask them how frequently they can provide you with fresh intent data on your lead records.

Now that you have more knowledge on these third-party intent data providers, let me take a moment to shine a spotlight on a category of intent data that’s largely been left out of conversations: social media activities data.

What are social media activities?

B2B buyers are generating new content on social all the time, as they follow brands, influencers, tweet about the events they are attending, and ask questions on different topics using hashtags. Social media activities are clues that tell marketers whom to reach out to and what to say.

A huge volume of new social media activities is generated every single day. On Twitter, over 500 million Tweets are sent each day. That’s 6000 Tweets every second.

Social media activities become especially useful when you get this data at the individual contact level. If you can figure out who in your database is talking about the things relevant to your business and what they are saying, you suddenly have a lot more context on how to communicate with these folks.

To help you make intent data actionable, Socedo provides a product that adds fresh social media activities into your marketing automation system as soon as these activities occur. The way our system works is pretty different from the other third-party intent data providers. Here are the key differences:

With Socedo, you tell us which intent signals matter to you  

When you go to one of the traditional intent data providers, you’re going to get aggregated data. Their technology will roll website visits and article views up to the domain level and then apply their proprietary algorithms to derive a “standard” set of intent topics. With Socedo, you tell us which topics you care about and which social media signals are important to you.

Socedo provides intent data on individual contacts, not just companies

We are not just telling you a list of companies that are “surging”; instead, we are letting you know which individuals in your database are showing interest in your space. In addition, because we’re looking at Twitter data, you’re likely going to get a lot more activities on the contacts in your database.

Socedo provides intent data in near-real-time, so you can react to each individual quickly

With Socedo, you’re getting new intent data on your lead records in your marketing automation platform as soon as someone takes relevant action on social media. For example, as soon as someone tweets about an upcoming event you’re sponsoring, your marketing automation system knows it and you can trigger an email to the person to invite them to meet you at your booth.  With faster and more contextual data, you can iterate your campaigns faster.

Here are some specific use cases for social media activities data:

  1. Use it to create real-time, intent-driven email campaigns (see our on-demand webinar where we explain how we are doing this step by step)
  2. Lead score relevant social actions to get more marketing qualified leads to sales.
  3. Social media attribution: understand how social media touches your buyers throughout the buying cycle. Make sure that your social team is getting the credit it deserves.
  4. Enable sales with contextual intelligence: Once you send leads to sales, you can provide your sales team with more context on their leads, to help them have more business-relevant conversations.
  5. Fuel account-based marketing strategies: Once you know the accounts and contacts you want to focus your effort on, Socedo can help you monitor activities from high-value targets, so you know what’s top of mind for them and use this data in integrated campaigns.


Understanding the nuances between the vendors is tricky when data providers use vague language and make bold claims, but it’s important that you take the time to understand what’s really behind the curtains of these intent data providers’ promises.

If you want to learn more about how you might use our data to understand which buyers are in-market, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and we’ll be happy to chat with you.

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