This is part three of the Rethink Your Revenue series. You don’t have to read part one or two to benefit from this article, but it will help connect all the dots to change the way you think about your website performance.
If you follow the latest developments in the sales industry, you’ve probably heard the phrase “buyer intent” (aka ‘purchase intent’) more than a few times in the past few years. Unlike other popular buzzwords that seem to come and go, buyer intent digs deep into the foundation of any sales process and thus should gain your full attention.
G2, the largest tech marketplace, defines buyer intent as “the probability that a customer will purchase a product” and similarly defines buyer-intent tools as those that “capture research around actual buyer journeys and signs of their purchase intent.” In other words, buyer intent can be interpreted as a spectrum which measures how likely someone is to purchase a given product or service.
Think of a typical buyer journey today. Hardly anyone just visits a website (or walks into a retail store) without the preliminary research already done. Since nearly all that research happens online (ideally on your website), you have to be able to discover and capture the buying intent of all website visitors.
The problem, however, is that most of your website visitors are anonymous. Marketo estimates that up to 98% of those who visit your website don’t have any apparent characteristics that could identify them in real time.
So, how do you decipher the buyer intent of someone who is completely anonymous to you? Let’s start by taking a step back and reviewing the different types of visitor intelligence today.
The Different Types of Visitor Intelligence Data
There’s a big difference between identifying a visitor and identifying their intent. In digital marketing we typically work with three different types of intelligence in this arena:
- Identity: The attribute(s) by which we can identify who a visitor actually is. This information may be in the form of an IP address that can be related to a corporate domain, a device-ID that can be cross-referenced to prior identifiable behavior, a first-party or third-party cookie that can identify the visitor in terms of prior website activity, and/or an email address that can uniquely associate the visitor with online and offline information, often in a CRM system
- Fit: The ability to profile the identified visitor against demographic attributes (age, sex, income, etc.) in the case of an individual consumer and/or firmographic attributes (company size, industry, annual revenue, etc.) in the case of a known business. In each case, marketers can segment and qualify their visitors in terms of their hypothetical 'fit' for their product/service based on the data.
- Buyer Intent: The set of behavioral signals that show the intention of your prospects to purchase a product or service. Your prospects are actively seeking solutions, looking for vendors which might offer products or services to address the problems they have. They search online, consume content, conduct extensive reviews, and ultimately leave a “digital exhaust” trail that shows what they’re possibly seeking.
Each data type serves a different purpose in advancing our understanding of website visitors, including which of those represent the best prospects to acquire our products and services and thereby how we should invest resources to convert that interest.
The Problem with Identity-First Marketing
Conventional wisdom has been to first establish the identity of a visitor (e.g. find out who they are, what company they work for, their email address) and then see if their profile is a fit against your ICP (ideal customer profile) and only then try to understand what their intent is for being on your website.
To summarize, the traditional approach is to decipher a visitor’s identity, then fit, then intent in that order. It's logical, but it's not the most effective way to capture the full potential of your website.
Why? Because this approach forces your visitors through a limiting filter of identity. Only those visitors who can be identified are profiled and ultimately engaged. In a world of ever-increasing privacy with the elimination of cookies, the elimination of cross-website tracking, and the increased use of VPNs, it is getting harder and harder to identify your website visitors. Considering the high barrier to obtaining identity information, that means only a fraction of your website traffic will be identified and engaged.
As mentioned, Marketo famously declared that 98% of website visitors are anonymous with no identifying attributes. A whole industry has grown up around the desire to identify or infer the identity of website visitors or at least what company they may belong to. It's a challenge. Most data enhancement tools struggle to identify the individual visitors more than 20-30% at the best of times. Some tools may infer what company the visitor belongs to 50-60% of the time, but that's not the individual, just the company. From there, marketers and sales teams will figure out if that identified individual has the right fit against their ICP, and only then go through the motions (via chat or other means) to determine if they’re even likely to buy or become a lead.
So, run the math. If you can only identify 30% of your visitors (at best), what about the other 70% - the vast majority of your traffic? If your marketing strategy is predicated on finding the identity of a visitor before you can qualify and engage them, you're not only missing out on the majority of the opportunity hitting your website, you're fighting the momentum toward ever greater privacy. This is the problem with identity-first marketing.
Intent: The Key to Unlock your Full Potential
So, how do you avoid the identity-first limitation? What if you could turn the conventional wisdom (and order of things) on its head? What if you could know the intent of every visitor on your website and then optimize your engagement tactics to convert the highest potential visitors with your best resources, maximizing your ROI on digital marketing?
Imagine if instead of the Identity → Fit → Intent sequence, it was Intent → Fit → Identity? First, you determine the intent of every visitor, then determine if they're a good fit for your offering, and finally seek their identity once you have engaged them.
If you could do this, you'd no longer have to harass every visitor, asking for their email on the slightest pretext. More than 50% of visitors will abandon your web experience when you ask for an email address too early. So, just like the best Nordstrom salesperson, you could let shoppers ask questions without asking them first for their personal information. Instead, you could determine their intent by observing their behavior and then engage those with the highest buying potential when the moment is just right (more on this later).
What is "Intent" Exactly?
There are generally three types of "intent" that we encounter in digital marketing:
- In-Market Intent: This is the implied intent attributed to an individual visitor if that visitor can be successfully associated with the domain of a known corporation. Based on the recorded behavior of other individuals in the company on other web assets or their engagement with published digital materials, an in-market intent hypothesis can be formed that the company may be interested in or actively acquiring assets similar to your offering. This intelligence is primarily formed offline and requires the visitor's identification plus the relevant intelligence on that company's interest in your offering. It tends to be more generally used in Account-Based-Marketing (ABM) strategies where marketers want to know if companies in their target segment are actively looking for their product or services so they can intensify their pursuit of those accounts.
- Conversational Intent: This is the ability through Natural Language Understanding (NLU) to infer the intent being expressed in a chat dialog, otherwise known as Conversational AI. It is extremely helpful in the increasing role that chatbot technology can play in the interaction between visitors and a brand. However, an actual chat dialog generally occurs in only a small number of visitor journeys. It cannot be applied in most customer journeys without forcing the visitor into an unwelcome chat dialog.
- Buyer Intent: This is the ability to assess the real-time intent of a website visitor based on their real-time digital signature: how did they arrive on the site, what did they engage with, and for how long? It's about their intent "in the moment" and it is a very accurate predictor of their likelihood to convert. In digital marketing, buyer intent is also known as “purchase intent” and often as “behavioral intent”.
From the above descriptions, you can probably recognize that buyer intent has the potential to be the most effective type of intent as it doesn’t require any knowledge of the individual or their company, nor does it rely on trying to understand the nuances of a chat conversation (of which, only a few website visitors will have with you). Buyer intent gives you the ability to understand the intent of every single visitor on your website.
How to Determine Buyer Intent
When it comes to your website visitors it is simple - you want to categorize and focus on those who have high buyer intent.
If connected to your sales team, those high buyer intent visitors are most likely to turn into customers, and revenue.
Determining buyer intent isn’t simple. For it to be effective, it needs to be determined instantly while the visitors are on your site. According to Nielsen, the average page visit lasts less than a minute before the visitor leaves for another website. This means that you need to determine the visitor’s buyer intent and engage those with the highest buyer intent within seconds, when their interest is at its peak, through a real-time engagement tool such as chat.
That’s a tall order, and it’s not something that can be done by any human.
Buyer Intent and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI today has a wide range of applications, but it’s especially valuable in identifying buyer intent and triggering an appropriate response (e.g. connect high-quality leads to live sales chat). AI tools can quickly assess tens of thousands of website pathways and hundreds of other digital fingerprints, such as referral URLs, pageviews, time on page, page sequencing, and more. These findings can then be tracked against millions of previous customer profiles and interactions. In the end, your success rate could rise from meagre 5% to over 90%. And it’s only possible thanks to AI and machine learning.
Buyer Intent AI vs Predictive Analytics
Monitoring a visitor's behavior and then applying rules in order to "personalize" their journey sounds a lot like Predictive Analytics. So, what's new here?
Predictive analytics is an algorithmic technology that uses hypothetical projections and rules engines based on a limited number of data points. The hypothesis is human, typically a marketer's theory of what journey or pathway a high potential visitor will take. The human brain and rules engine technology we use to enforce the hypothesis is limited in terms of the number of permutations we can envision and the number of data points we can assess and apply through those algorithms. Simply put, it's limited by our human brain’s capacity to compute all the variants and our human bias to optimistically express outcomes.
Sounds fancy, so what's different about buyer intent AI? Machine Learning (ML) is the difference. ML and the computing power available to execute it allows you to examine thousands of data points when you don't even know if they will be informative or causal to each individual's behavior. Only ML can assess such a vast array of data points and then compare every permutation against billions of known outcomes to train the models to predict an individual's buying intent and do it in real-time.
Just as ML opened the door to self-driving cars, so it has radically changed how we can predict the buying intent of every visitor, known or anonymous.
How to Use Buyer Intent AI Today
The difference between traditional predictive analytics and buyer-intent AI tools is similar to the difference between recreational and commercial fishing. You could be casting off the pier with the best rod, bait and tackle available and still not catch anything significant. At the same time, commercial fishermen are actually using radar and sonar to locate the fish and deploy the right nets to maximize their catch.
When it comes to sales, buyer-intent AI is your radar and sonar, helping you identify every visitor with high buyer intent and then use the right tool (e.g. a messaging platform) to engage them. Buyer-intent AI tools can even serve lower-scoring visitors with options appropriate for them, such as proactive (for medium scores) or reactive (for low scores) chatbots.
The buyer-intent approach means that instead of the industry average 1-2% conversion rate via newsletters and contact forms, you can widen your engagement and revenue potential to all visitors, whether they are known or completely anonymous.
Additionally, AI never stops improving or adapting, and feeds off data like seasonal variations, competitors’ pricing models, product feature sets, and so on. No team of salespeople is able to analyze data this quickly.
Your sales team has an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the power of buyer-intent AI tools to dramatically increase website engagement. First, they could only choose to communicate live with visitors who show the highest buyer intent. Second, they could produce custom playbooks and questions that would be shown to further qualify low-scoring visitors through a chatbot, without taking up any time from your team. By implementing this strategy, a cloud-based healthcare provider PointClickCare has recently increased its conversions and revenue per visitor by 400%.
Using buyer-intent AI tools to engage valuable website visitors in real time is, however, just the first step in the world of new possibilities. Imagine how by knowing which marketing campaigns lead to the higher percentage of visitors with high buyer intent, marketers can tweak their projects with more accurate insights. At the same time, high buyer-intent visitors can be aggressively retargeted through search and social ads. Other previously expensive brand awareness campaigns could now yield a much higher ROI.
Finally, chat platforms like Drift and LivePerson could be utilized to engage website visitors with high buyer intent right when their interest is also at its peak (while they are still on the website). This makes it much easier for your sales team to execute and results in higher conversions.
Not sure where to start with modern chat platforms? Refer to our guide for building a successful chat strategy without breaking a sweat.
As for the most effective buyer-intent AI tool on the market, look no further than Lift AI.
Only Lift AI has been proven to instantly qualify every single visitor on your website with more than 85% accuracy. It does so thanks to its proprietary machine-scoring model trained on over one billion visitor profiles, over 14 million live chat engagements, and over 15 years of sales data.
Lift AI works with any chat platform you already have in place and, once installed, would automatically direct visitors with high buyer intent to your live representatives while serving everyone else with either a proactive chatbot or a self-help guide.
Just like that, you can double, triple, and even quadruple your website conversions without spending more of your team’s resources than you already do.