Marketing Insights

2021 Marketing Trends: How to Utilize Account-Based Marketing and Buyer Signals

Joe Boswell

Joe Boswell
Jan 13, 2021

B2B Marketing Trends Graphic

Changes in consumer trends will continue to impact how you do business in the new year. B2B marketers and sellers have to be smart about acquiring and keeping customers. Many strategic marketers are turning to account-based marketing (ABM) and improving their ability to collect and act upon buyer signals.

Evolving buyer habits and privacy issues are forcing the issue. Plus, buyers expect their B2B purchase experiences to mirror the B2C purchase experiences they're used to in their personal lives.

Factors that impact the B2B buying process

Millennials — who increasingly make B2B buying decisions — grew up as digital consumers. They prefer independent online research to face-to-face interaction with sales representatives.

New privacy legislation and the pending demise of third-party cookies will impact interactions. This means that all companies must make greater use of first-party data. Marketers will also have to identify vendor solutions best suited to weather these changes.

Trade shows, cold calls, and “contact us” forms are no longer enough. The new landscape requires a shift in thinking, resources, and investment.

The B2B buyer’s journey is anonymous

It can be difficult to connect with buyers because they spend most of the time in the “anonymous phase.” According to Demand Gen Report, B2B buyers progress more than 70% through the decision-making process before ever engaging with a sales representative. Research from Demandbase showed that only 2% of buyers complete B2B lead generation forms. Marketers can’t wait for prospects to provide their contact information. 

Buyers also prefer self-service channels across every stage of the customer journey. They complete as much product research as possible before speaking to sales. According to research from McKinsey & Company, more than three-quarters of B2B buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital, self-serve, and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions. B2B peer-to-peer review sites, such as G2 and Trust Radius, have further enabled self-service research in software. It is only a matter of time before similar sites rise to serve the needs of buyers and vendors in other industries.

Finally, leads from traditional demand generation efforts don’t convert at high rates. According to Sirius Decisions, fewer than 1% of inquiries convert to close/won business. This insight exposes waste in traditional marketing and sales approaches. It suggests that companies should not focus on lead volume. Instead, they should concentrate on how to reach, engage, and convert qualified prospects.

Utilizing account-based marketing and buyer signals

There is an alternative to waiting for contact inquiries through website forms. Marketing and sales can determine the accounts to focus on together. Then they can support their buyer journey with timely, relevant information. Focusing on a set of mutually identified target accounts is account-based marketing.

More and more B2B companies are engaging in ABM and going beyond traditional targeting methods based on firmographic fit (e.g., industry, geography, annual revenue). These companies are also taking advantage of a variety of buyer signals to help them identify, prioritize, and personalize their outreach with qualified prospect accounts.

Buyer signals exist through first-, second-, or third-party sources. These signals can help unmask anonymous prospects who exhibit relevant interests and in-market behaviors while providing valuable insights.

This blog highlights two types of behavioral signals.

First-Party Behavioral Signal — Website Engagement

Leveraging first-party data is a great place to start uncovering buyer signals. Install visitor tracking software on your website. This de-anonymizes website traffic by identifying the visitor's IP address. It lets you know which accounts are already visiting your website and what pages and content they view. That allows you to prioritize and personalize outreach. The data can also provide insight into where accounts are in the buying cycle. The signals help marketing and sales teams measure their ability to drive engagement among target accounts and move them closer to a sale.

Website tracking software continues to be successful. This is true even as more people work from home. Top providers combine proprietary company IP matching data with individual cookie data as well as email ID and company domain. That enables providers to maintain match rates and accuracy to identify companies. In some cases, it could even increase success.

But taking advantage of website engagement signals isn’t as simple as installing a piece of code. Your website has to help the increasing number of buyers who want to self-serve anonymously. It needs to make information easy to find and let visitors compare options and get quick answers. The infrastructure also needs to be in place to collect and determine the information contained in these signals.

The Sirius Decisions Buyer Framework refers to these as “Sensors.” Sirius Decisions reminds us that detailed, consistent asset tagging improves the signals an organization receives. Marketers need to ensure that content assets, landing page forms, URLs, and content metadata are all engineered to optimize the information we receive when prospects interact with them.

Third-Party Behavioral Signal — Intent Data

You can combine third-party intent data with your first-party data. This helps paint a more complete picture of target account activity and interests and will help scale your efforts. According to Gartner, by the end of 2022 more than 70% of B2B marketers will use third-party intent data to target prospects or engage groups of buyers in selected accounts.

Intent data is behavioral information collected about online activities on third-party websites. You can tie it back to that person’s company IP address. Buyer intent is captured through search behavior, content consumption, and even postings and comments. For example, when you search for something or visit a website, you express an interest in that topic or a need to learn more about that topic. Further connecting that activity to the person searching (e.g., an executive or an engineering role) provides greater insight into the context of that interest.

Intent is a complex signal, so it can be a process to get to the right terms (e.g., what category, how broad, how deep). Consider including competitive names and terms. Avoid broad categories, terms that have many meanings, or terms that get too granular. Over time, you can fine-tune the terms used. This will help to get to the right categories and data stream that predicts in-market buyers.

Like website engagement signals, intent data can be used to identify early buyer interest, score and prioritize accounts, and inform content/messaging strategy. Doing this helps personalize the experience through more relevant content.

Intent data is collected through publisher co-ops, stand-alone publishers, and Bidstream. Stand-alone publishers and co-ops are made up of first-party data and can require opt-in and consent to meet new GDPR and CCPA regulations to continue to thrive after the demise of third-party cookies. However, Bidstream data is user behavior captured by an ad pixel shared through ad exchanges, and there are some growing concerns over Bidstream’s incompatibility with GDPR.

Find a catalyst and commit to doing things differently

Launching a product or expanding into a new market segment can be a good time to start marketing differently. But remember, executing account-based marketing while leveraging buying signals requires changes in behavior. The work requires strong collaboration between marketing, sales, IT, and outside partners. You’ll need to change performance measurement, shifting the focus from quantity metrics to quality metrics. The focus is no longer on the number of leads or website visitors generated. It is now on the ability of marketing and sales to identify, reach, engage, and convert a set of qualified accounts.

Top B2B data providers and ABM platforms offer annual subscriptions to products to collect, analyze, and act upon buyer signals. Providers such as Dun & Bradstreet, ZoomInfo, Demandbase, and Terminus provide solutions related to account/contact data, intent data, website personalization and visitor tracking, and much more.

Along with investing in platform subscriptions, invest in the personnel resources needed to manage the platforms, analyze and optimize the data flows, and provide actionable recommendations to stakeholders.

Ready to use buyer signals?

If the answer is yes, let’s chat. We’d love to help you understand how you can implement an account-based-marketing strategy and use buying signals to improve your efforts. 


Joe Boswell
Get to know Joe

As a marketing strategy director at Two Rivers Marketing, Joe has a passion for helping clients translate business objectives into impactful marketing initiatives. Reach out to Joe to pick his brain about strategic planning or where to find the best bike trails.