By Peter Larkin
True Influence Chief Revenue Officer
Asking a potential customer if they have a budget in place for a project is one of the most challenging steps in the B2B sales journey. It’s an often uncomfortable moment for both the sales person and the customer, but at some point you’re going to have to ask about dollars and cents.
You just don’t have to go in blind.
Using intent data analysis to pinpoint which individuals within an organization are conducting purchase research is a great tool for evaluating if a project is real and if a budget is in place. Based on the buying group role of active contacts, you can make an intelligent guess about budget status for the initiative and coordinate your sales and marketing efforts accordingly.
Don’t get me wrong – at some point you’ll have to ask the budget question. But with intent data as a key component of your ABM and sales prospecting strategy, you’ll cut down on surprises and be ready to respond to whatever answer you get.
B2B budgets are controlled by buying groups
First off, let me clarify a key point. Knowing what topics an individual contact within an account is researching is obviously valuable. But to gain precise insights, like probable budget status, you need to view individual intent within the context of buying groups.
Simply put, a buying group is a collection of personas within an organization that researches and ultimately makes a purchase decision. These individuals range from line of business managers who initially push for a new solution; to IT and infrastructure pros who do detailed features and requirements research; and executives who must approve the final purchase. The engagement level of each of these personas is a powerful indicator of the account’s purchase journey status – and if there’s a budget.
Buying groups aren’t a new concept. In fact, research from Sirius Decisions indicates that more than 60 percent of B2B purchases are made by buying groups, which tend to have five or more members (and they are growing all the time). Sirius Decisions and other consultancies have adopted buying groups as a core tenant of their sales and marketing methodologies, and we here at True Influence have built buying group modeling into our True Influence Marketing Cloud and data services.
So, the buying group is a concept you might need to incorporate in your sales and marketing strategy, if you haven’t already.
Intent eliminates the guesswork
If there’s one important buying group persona to keep a close eye on, it’s the intent activity of C-level executives. They are the ones who green light a budget and eventually sign on the bottom line.Their behavior often signals a budget is in place
But again, as with all data-based sales and marketing, it’s all about patterns and context. You have to surround the entire buying group with your message and track how each persona acts as part of the team. It’s true that buying groups with budget in place typically do show intent activity from the C-suite. But by itself, that one peice of data can always be misleading.
If you see intent from a CEO but only the CEO, you’re probably looking at an executive who’s looking nine months out and evaluating how various solutions fit into a broad strategy. There may or may not be an outline of a project at this point.
If you’re seeing operational or line managers researching your solution, but the CEO is not engaged, there’s a good chance you’re seeing general interest or maybe professional development.
But, if you see an active CEO surrounded by infrastructure and line-of-business managers who are also actively researching, you’re probably looking at a buying group that’s under orders to actively solve a problem. So, you can assume there’s at least a project outline and probably a budget attached.
Typically, the more folks doing research, the greater the chance there’s a project going on at some stage. Of course, the content they are engaged in as also a huge tip off to their purchase journey stage and budget status.
Intent + Interest = Insight
B2B buyers consume a lot of content – about 13 pieces on average, according to a recent survey. And they never stop reading until the purchase is final. So understanding the context of the content CEO’s and other team members are consuming is critical.
Our CMO Kay Kienast wrote a great post about what topics, and even the type of search terms being used, can tell you about the funnel stage of an account. I strongly suggest you check it out. (Pro tip: If you see that a CEO is searching on category language that’s specific to your product or solution, another buying group member probably tipped them off to the term and there’s almost certainly a budget in place.)
On the other hand, if a CEO is reading thought leadership and general trends material, and the rest of the buying group is inactive or also reading very high-funnel content, the initiative is likely in the very early planning stages.
If various buying group members are scanning capabilities documents or vendor comparisons, not only is the budget likely aligned, the account is getting close to vendor selection and you may have already missed your best opportunity to connect.
That’s why it’s critical for marketing to get in early, as the buyer is beginning to define the project, to help inform the process and build a relationship. (I’ll come back to this critical point later). You don’t want Sales to be left with nothing to lean on but price point when they do make that outreach call.
More market intelligence
I’ve talked a lot about intent in this post, and of course intent plays a huge role in everything we do here at True Influence. But intent is not a crystal ball that’s going to tell you everything you need to know about an account’s budget status.
It’s a layer of behavioral data that provides a real-time indicator about whether other research and assumptions you’ve made about your taet accounts are correct. It’s let you activate that data to drive effective, efficient campaigns.
So, sales still has a lot of additional homework to do to find those project budgets. Fortunately, you’ve already been gathering this data for years now, and the standard sources are still a vital part of the mix.
Your team still needs to be carefully monitoring news about your named accounts. Company websites, press releases, events and, yes, even the trade press are still invaluable sources of information. A strong Q1 may mean that they are ready to plan for a major infrastructure spend in Q4 – or maybe it means they are just fine with a solution they onboarded last year.
The above is a perfect example of how intent can elevate this kind of intel into real-time action. Previously, sales had to make assumptions that what a company has done in the past is directly relevant to what they are doing now. They bought this type of solution; maybe they’ll go down this road again? Intent gives you a much better picture of how that history is impacting their business today.
Firmographic data services
Data providers like Hoovers and Dun & Bradstreet have actually upped their game in recent years to ensure that their information is up-to-date. Still, you should have processes in place to validate any data you take on from them. Social media data providers, such as LinkedIn, have also emerged as a critical part of the mix.
Your own marketing team
We’ve been talking about this for what seems like a decade or more, but sales and marketing teams don’t cooperate as closely as they should. In the era of ABM and data-driven sales, that’s unacceptable.
Marketing needs to be enveloping accounts with multiple pieces of content that appeal to every persona in the buying group. Marketing’s escalation paths and workflows need to include flags for “budget in place,” based on the criterias I’ve discussed, and sales needs to be notified immediately.
More importantly, sales and marketing need to talk about what’s going on in key accounts. Our client Imprivata has found enormous success with a fully integrated ABM and sales approach, with intent and first-party response as key building blocks. Such a formal approach may not be the best fit for everybody, but sales and marketing definitely need to be sharing information.
Sharing data and insights help both sides of revenue ops make educated assumptions. And the earlier you get in, the better your opportunity to be one of those final three to bid on the project and move forward.
Time to make the call
Monitoring the exact source of intent within a buying group informs only when to call, but also who should be doing the calling. Typically, after multiple contacts express mid-funnel interest, it’s time to trigger a call from inside sales.
I am not an advocate of inside sales calling the CEO, even if they are doing a lot of research. SDRs are a better fit, both in terms of skill set and your own brand exposure, for reaching out to mid-level contacts, and that’s usually the best place to start asking about budget.
If you do see an extremely high level of intent from the whole buying group, including the CEO, it probably indicates that conversion needs to be broader and you need to loop in your field sales team.
But at that point, you’re already playing catch-up. Which makes adding intent to your sales and marketing strategy so critical.
Find and win budgets with intent
Intent data and other market intelligence won’t tell you an exact budget. People don’t tend to search on “what’s the budget for this project.” They have a budget in mind, even if they don’t have line-itemed yet, when they start the project.
When the time is right, someone in sales is going to have to ask the budget question directly. With the right research in place, you’ll know when to call and what kind of questions you need to ask.