Stop scattering chum: Use intent data to catch big fish with your marketing automation platform

This article originally appeared on Marketing Land.

Is your marketing automation as smart as it should be? Columnist Thomas Koletas explains how using intent data can help make your automation program more intelligent and efficient.

Marketing automation software (MAS) is all the rage among B2B marketers. Frost & Sullivan predicted the MAS sector will expand by a whopping 300 percent from 2014 to 2020, growing to $1.9 billion. And a full 63 percent of B2B marketers invest 10 percent to 29 percent of their budgetsin marketing automation.

The unfortunate downside of all this growth is that marketing automation is simply not as smart as it could be. I don’t mean the concept isn’t a smart one; I mean the platform itself just isn’t smart.

Many rely on user-provided keywords and user-defined lead scoring. That’s fine, as long you’ve got a really astute and well-caffeinated administrator for both your MAP (marketing automation platform) and your CRM (customer relationship management) — and I’ll bet you don’t.

The MAP data conundrum

So how can you wise up your MAP? The answer is data — but probably not the data you have right now.

If you’re a typical B2B company, you’re relying on your CRM and analytics data to fuel your inbound programs. But there are a few problems there.

First, how up-to-date and clean is your CRM data? Is your sales team taking the time to update leads, accounts and opportunities? Are the leads in your “leads” tab qualified, or are they just coming straight from website forms?

Second, even if your data is super-clean, you may not have enough of it to make an impact. B2Bs — especially niche ones — tend to target narrower markets, which may mean hundreds of leads a year, versus the thousands (or hundreds of thousands) that Fortune 500 B2Bs generate and nurture each year.

That small pool of data is all most marketers use to fuel their inbound content marketing programs. We look at our analytics; we look at the keywords that are driving traffic to important pages of our website; and we make assumptions.

If the term “cloud-based data storage” is driving traffic and leads, that must be something we should be creating more content to support! When it’s driven six leads over the course of a month, can you really be so sure? Six leads may be great for your company, but does it constitute critical mass?

Right now, data-driven content marketing seems to be a “haves” versus “have-nots” situation. The “haves” have the budget for high-ticket consultants and analysts to provide real, market-wide data that provides insight into their target audiences. They’re able to create content that they know their audiences want, need and will complete forms to consume. They have funnels filled with qualified leads that are actively shopping for their solutions.

The “have-nots,” on the other hand, are using data to create content that they can scatter like chum across the surface of the web — on their blog and on every social channel — to attract everything from sharks to minnows. All those leads are filling out forms that feed straight into the CRM — and 90 percent of them are garbage.

The key, then, is to look beyond your inbound campaigns and beyond your own CRM data to gather data that will inform both lead scoring and media choices to promote your content. Consider leveraging intent data — and execute your automation programs against that data — to create more efficient and vastly more intelligent automation programs.

Adding intent data

How can intent data help? Well, for one thing, it can show you exactly what in-market shoppers are looking for. Far beyond what your analytics can reveal, aggregated intent data can uncover the terms your target customers are using to research solutions like yours.

“Cloud-based data storage” may be in there, but “cloud-based storage solutions for financial services” might be a bigger topic that yields much more interesting and specific content.

Expanding inbound programs to run media based on intent data will provide real-time feedback on the value of your topics. Targeting B2B shoppers who intend to buy “cloud-based storage solutions for financial services” with content about “cloud-based storage solutions for financial services” is downright surgical and should yield the results content marketers seek.

Leveraging programmatic advertising will help reach those audiences at a scale B2B marketers have been previously unable to achieve, quickly and with measurable results.

Beyond creating and syndicating content, that data can also help determine who the best leads are. Good leads engage with granular content. They are driven to the site via keywords or intent-targeted display ads, but then they read additional related articles. They watch relevant videos or webinars, and they download white papers.

Lead scoring can be established based on how users engage with that targeted content. That way, not every conversion filtering into the CRM is a lead, and — with intelligent qualifiers in place — only good leads will make their way over to sales.

At the end of the day, marketing automation is a fantastic tool for creating and syndicating targeted content — and intent data makes it that much smarter. So rather than scattering buckets of chum and pulling in a few good fish among the nets of bottom-feeders, put intent data to work and be confident you’ll reel in the big fish every single time.