Intent-based targeting in B2B marketing: intrusive or respectful?

words marketing strategy written on a chalk board for intent-based targeting

As citizens of a digital world, I believe that most of us have made some level of peace with the fact that products and services out there are tracking our online footprint. While some of us play an active role in choosing how much we are tracked and who is allowed to track us, a vast majority of people either ignore it or go along with the flow. Which is why intent-based targeting in B2B marketing is crucial now days.

“Follow-me-everywhere” advertising that would have sent folks concerned with their privacy into a tizzy is de rigueur today – especially in B2C marketing. We gladly speed-scroll through privacy policies and tracking disclaimers and sign our information away to the highest bidder. It’s not that we want to; it’s just too inconvenient to worry about the small print. We just want to get to our content fast.

Changing landscape

While consumer marketing in today’s world is held together by a massive, multi-billion-dollar, complex, algorithm-led digital advertising framework, B2B marketing has been slow to catch up, especially intent-based targeting. Long sales cycles and consultative selling approaches make click-through advertising ineffective and cost-inefficient. At my organization ( we have been trying to push the boundaries of what can be done to better target our messages to the right customers with the right interest and intent. 

But this was not always the case. Any senior executive in an organization would know that their spam filter is the most hard-working of all their software tools. As a CMO, I constantly am targeted on my phone by impassioned folks selling the next cool marketing platform; while I am grateful for all the attention, I tend to screen most of these calls. But when I actually wanted a solution that would help my team automate social posting for our company’s leadership, we had to do extensive web research to figure out the right tools for the job. Wouldn’t it have been awesome if one of those scores of marketing emails in my inbox had directly led me to what I actually wanted? This is what intent-based targeting is all about.

Intent-based targeting

The truth is that while general trends can be predicted, B2B buying is very situational and needs-based. As a consumer I can buy the latest sneaker because I want it so badly – and because Jack in the IT department, who is always “with it,” just bought a pair. As a business, I buy something because of the unique situation my business and I are in. The question is how do B2B sellers know what my situation is? This is where tracking comes in. Let’s say my team is facing a challenge getting our senior leadership to advocate our branded content on social networks. Someone on my team searches Google for “tool to automate and simplify sharing of branded content” and reads a couple of articles about it on reputed media sites. What has happened here is that my team has implicitly “advertised” their intent to engage in a discussion about social amplification tools. 

Intent-based targeting platforms inform subscribers of interest in relevant topics, i.e. “There seems to be a high intent for purchasing social amplification software from users in the domain.” If this mechanism is set up well, my team would start receiving LinkedIn invites and emails to discuss social amplification. And this time, I won’t send those emails to the junk folder, simply because these emails and conversations help me with my business situation.  So, rather than getting 100 emails on every kind of marketing tool on the planet, I would be happy to receive 10 on exactly what I want. 

Final thoughts

This kind of tracking raises a lot of questions around privacy, and for folks who take this seriously it might be a step too far. But I think if managed well, an intent-based tracking mechanism is being respectful of peoples’ needs. As a prospective customer, I always have the option of replying in the negative or hitting unsubscribe. But as a marketer, I have the confidence that there is a high chance I am not spamming my prospects but providing them with information that is being sought.

Intent-based targeting has the potential of revolutionizing ABM. It puts an end to traditional spray-and-pray role-based targeting approaches, saves money, reduces spam, and, most importantly, is respectful of customers’ needs.


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