Unravelling the holy grail of purchase intent

Judith Niederschelp, managing director, Aberdeen Europe explains how to identify in-market B2B buyers

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get the right content in front of the right prospect and have them say, “I wasn’t thinking about buying this, but you’ve persuaded me, let’s make a deal!”

Sadly, it rarely works like this. For major business purchases, decision-makers only tend to look at related content when they already know roughly what they need. At any given time, target audiences fall into two camps: those who are in-market (a tiny minority) and those who are not (the overwhelming majority).

At the risk of stating the obvious, engagement will only end in a sale if the customer is in-market. Having a live conversation with a prospect about your solution may help, as can content-rich nurturing campaigns. But unless the prospect is in-market, they won’t convert.

3 ways to tell if a buyer’s in-market

So now for the million-dollar question: how do you know when someone is in-market?

These three approaches can give valuable insights.

1. Speculation

Many businesses share a common business cycle. This can allow you to make an educated guess about when they are likely to be in the market for specific services or solutions.

Similarly, certain business events (corporate moves, mergers and acquisitions) have predictable consequences. Knowing when a merger has occurred may give you a hint as to what a company might need (brand integration services, a more robust IT infrastructure) and when they might begin considering such purchases (usually a month or two post-merger).

Finally, correlating data – such as company size and technologies they have installed – may suggest potential readiness to consider a new solution. For instance, an enterprise resource planning solution more suited to their current needs.

While this approach might not be highly scientific, educated guessing can be a useful way to prioritise prospects that are more likely to be in-market.

2. Observation

Better than speculation is observation. What are buyers from your target companies doing right now? Do these activities suggest that they intend to invest in a solution like yours?

There are at least two types of observable activity that can signal intent. The most obvious examples are things like requests for proposals and agency reviews. These are usually announced publicly.

The second type of activity is more covert. For example, if several people from a prospect account have visited your website, downloaded whitepapers and explored numerous product pages, this may indicate they are in-market. If those same people are exploring content related to a solution like yours on a content-rich resource site, that may also signal purchase intent.

3. Confirmation

There is still an element of educated guessing involved in observing behaviour to infer intent. If you have enough customers and have been able to track behaviour on your website for long enough, such guesses can attain high levels of accuracy. Nevertheless, they remain guesses. The optimum approach is confirmation. That is, actually reaching out to prospects and asking them if they are in-market.

Confirming purchase intent can be handled by an internal sales development team or outsourced to a third party. But it’s important that it happens at the right time. You need to have already established enough trust to ensure that you get a straight answer from the prospect. Cold calling won’t cut it. A better approach is to use content to nurture relevant prospects who are not yet in-market. If you have become a trusted source of information, and then observe behaviours that indicate purchase intent, your confirmation calls are far more likely to uncover the information you need.

Engaging live

Once you’ve defined your target audience, established trust and credibility with meaningful content, then confirmed your prospect is in-market, you’ve laid the ground for live engagement. Whether this is set up and scheduled by an internal group or a prospect has reached out and requested a meeting or a demo, marketing’s job here is done. There are plenty of sales methodologies that offer guidance on how to conduct these calls. But B2B buyer research we’ve conducted at Aberdeen makes it clear that this conversation should involve:

  • A lot of listening
  • Objective information to help the buyer frame their decision 
  • Positioning of your product or service in terms of the buyer company’s strategic goals.

And there’s one last thing to bear in mind when interacting with in-market buyers. Making decisions about serious investments can be challenging: they will be looking to you for guidance. Help them define exactly what they need – even if that involves challenging the way they currently operate. If you can become a trusted advisor who adds tangible value to the decision-making process, it will run more smoothly and is less likely to falter at the final approval stage.