Sales Intelligence: What to Expect When You’re Prospecting

Business leaders understand that data is the critical heart of growth and expansion. It’s the genesis of thousands of downstream processes and millions of actions.

But there’s data, and then there’s data.

It’s not hard to find data: a company name and phone number, employee count, revenue, maybe direct dial numbers and email addresses, job titles. But long, complicated sales cycles need more than just names and numbers.

What Is Sales Intelligence?

Sales intelligence is the use of data collection and software to aid salespeople in lead generation, creating an ideal customer profile, data quality management, and more.

Marketing and sales intelligence data is dynamic, which is to say frequently and continuously refreshed. It includes context like decision-makers, organizational reporting structure, financials, budgets, year-over-year growth, company initiatives, personnel moves, installed technologies (the “tech stack”), and predictive features – all in near real-time.

This is data too. But B2B intelligence gets more intelligent by the day (that would be machine learning, predictive intelligence, and other dimensions) – in addition to simply growing the database. But a lot of marketing, sales, and recruiting professionals don’t know how much data has changed over the past few years!

Why Sales Intelligence? And Why Now?

Up until recently, B2B organizations viewed data as a means to execute (contact data) and then understand how to improve performance. Sales intelligence eliminates the need for a “wait and see approach.” 

Consequently, measuring sales productivity is predicated on whether a business development team operated at the epicenter of effectiveness and efficiency while prospecting. But when used strategically, data can drive insights into who, how, when, and why people make buying decisions. The more information business development teams know about prospects, the better they can tactically craft outreach that cuts through the noise and conveys true value. 

But complex B2B sales cycles need more than just names and numbers. Staying on top of an ever-changing addressable market requires proactive intelligence that is frequently and continuously refreshed and brings prospects directly to a sales team’s workflow. 

This is where sales intelligence comes in. Instead of having the data to execute and then retroactively finding areas for improvement, sales intelligence combines advanced prospect data with real-time buying signals that empower business development teams to connect with the right buyer, at the right time. 

We commissioned Forrester Research to find out more. In the subsequent report, B2B Sales And Marketing Intelligence Solutions Drive Improved Business Outcomes, Forrester’s study found companies that had implemented a B2B sales and marketing intelligence solution reported that they realized 35% more leads in their pipeline and 45% higher-quality leads leading to higher revenue and growth.

More leads? Yep! More pipeline? Yes, you read that right too. Let’s dive deeper into everything Sales Intelligence.

Read on to see how data has evolved to drive specific business functions and drive revenue in three main areas.

Data Quality & Management

You just acquired a list of names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Time to plan your next marketing campaign or start prospecting into your top accounts!

JUST KIDDING. You’ve been in sales and marketing long enough to know it’s never quite that easy.

You know a lot of those phone numbers are probably wrong, that many of those email addresses will likely bounce because people change jobs so frequently. You know a lot of target prospects don’t really have those job titles. The horrors of bad lead lists are endless.

The struggle is real.

Are you new to sales and marketing intelligence… or not sure why you should care?

Our first stop on we’ll take a deep dive into next-level data quality and management.

How Do You Measure Data Quality?

We like DAMA UK’s six parameters for data quality:

  • Completeness: Is the company, contact, or prospect record as complete as possible?
  • Uniqueness: Are there duplicate records? Can records be combined?
  • Timeliness: Is the data fresh? Has it been recently confirmed?
  • Validity: Does the data conform to a common syntax? (e.g. “ave.” vs. “avenue”)
  • Accuracy: Is the information correct?
  • Consistency: Is the data presented in a way that is the same as similar records?

While ensuring data quality is the responsibility of a good data provider, ultimately the end user is affected – plus everyone involved downstream, such as prospects.

At the very least, sales and marketers need to know whom to call and how to reach them.

Even more valuable are insights into potential opportunities, such as planned projects, purchase initiatives, and predictive insights about topics or solutions of interest that tell you who is ready to buy, and when.

What Is Data Quality, and Why Is It Important For Sales and Marketing?

You may think that a motivated sales team can easily conduct manual data mining by searching job titles and company info via Google or LinkedIn.

This is a valiant undertaking; however, it is ultimately extremely time-consuming for anyone who’s primary objective is booking demos or closing business.

A. Sloppy Databases Are a Waste of Time

How many contacts, notes, and valuable pieces of information are in your CRM or marketing automation tool? (If you’re not sure, just check your bill: Most CRM companies charge by the record.)

You rely on it to pull lists, look up contacts, track opportunities, and more. But 30% of that data goes bad each year. If your intel isn’t up to par, it will sabotage your processes and results – and you’re paying for it anyway.

The single failure in an otherwise successful sales or marketing approach is often bad data.

This is a huge problem for businesses of all shapes and sizes. We’re talking high bounce rates, irrelevant messaging, and time wasted calling wrong numbers or contacts who no longer work with the company. No matter how great your copy or elevator pitch may be, it’s worthless if you can’t reach anyone.

Bad data is a slippery slope to multiple points of failure:

ROI numbers become skewed. That’s bad news for marketing decision-makers who increasingly track marketing-contributed ROI as a primary KPI.

Content has misaligned messaging, distributed to the incorrect audience (or no audience at all). A proven method of ruining bounce-rate KPIs is getting blacklisted, and earning notoriety as a sender of irrelevant SPAM.

Sales calls the wrong people or reaches a gatekeeper, where they will ultimately get turned away or begin the tedious process of calling up the chain.

B. Burned by Churn

Data is what data does, and solid business intelligence provides ensures you don’t get burned by churn.

“Churn” – or high employee turnover – is a part of life in the technology and services space. Part of data quality and management is keeping records updated, so that when employees quit and move around, as they do – you can still email and dial with confidence.

Not only do you have to worry about the churn at your target accounts, you need to worry about internal churn. If your team of marketers or salespeople are working with bad data and constantly hitting dead ends, how long do you think they will continue to be excited about what they are doing?

They will get burnt out on using crap data, in turn, not helping them realize their actual potential in setting quality meetings or generating qualified leads. It’s a vicious cycle that never moves beyond cleaning up bad data.

C. Data Quality Vs. Quantity

When you are trying to make a sale or influence someone to consider your product or service, who do you want to reach? An account executive or a CRO? A marketing coordinator or a CMO?

Consistent, accurate data can be segmented to a level of detail that allows you to create a specific, personalized message – for prospects who can make purchase decisions. Intelligence helps you weed through the names and target the decision maker, effectively shortening the sales process.

A huge volume of names in a database doesn’t mean much if those contacts don’t have purchasing power. They’re just contributing to a larger haystack – and make the needles harder to find.

Four C-level contacts are more valuable than 12 individual contributors.

D. Systematizing Database Hygiene

Your data needs more than to sit in a database collecting dust. It needs to be dynamic. It should flow in and out of sales and marketing systems, forming a data feedback loop. It needs to fuel, not hinder, your efforts.

Many intelligence platforms integrate with other tools in your sales technology stack – your CRM, marketing automation, sales development, applicant tracking systems, and more – making the handling of your data more efficient and synergistic.

Look for tools that automatically sync, append, enrich, and de-dupe your data as new information becomes available and your database grows. Automating these functions ensures a clean, quality baseline and saves a lot of time.

A Data-Based Ideal Customer Profile

Marketing and sales intelligence also shapes an accurate ideal customer profile – key piece of business development.

For many companies, the ideal customer profile (ICP) is anecdotal, or based on the opinion of the leader.

If you ask a sales leader who they sell to, they’ll offer a few key titles, maybe a couple of industries. They might have a company size in mind. You’ll get different answers from different people across the team, because the idea of a “target buyer” is inconsistent, nebulous, and often based on hunches and feelings – not data.

Intelligence allows you to finding companies that look like your ICP in order to quantify your total addressable market. Then you can focus your sales and marketing efforts where it will matter.

Account-Based Strategy Requires a Solid ICP

Any sales and marketing-aligned account-based play is going to require a good ideal customer profile.

Indeed, the first step in account-based plays is to identify target accounts: understand who you’re targeting, both in terms of accounts and contacts. You can then have a deliberate, thoughtful approach to prospecting into those accounts and contacts.

The ICP can generally refer to both the ideal company and the ideal buyer:

A traditional ICP (standard CRM fields)

  • Department
  • Level
  • Function
  • Industry
  • Size
  • Location

Sales intelligence layers in:

Generally, the opportunity for account-based strategy arises once a company reaches a certain level of maturity.

Many startups and small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) don’t know enough about their target market to know where their niche is and strengths are. At some point, they decide they need to know more about their buyers.

It’s impossible to do that without having meaningful data to prioritize those efforts.

You can’t “boil the ocean.” You have to start somewhere. An ICP is that starting point.

During our first account-based experiment, we turned the camera on ourselves! Watch our 4-part true story of Account-Based Everything:

When, Where, and Who Your Prospect Wants to Buy

Once you’ve identified the “who,” if you have good data, the rest of the processes falls in place: Who is this customer, and what do they need to hear from me, the vendor? What’s the best format for this messaging? When should I reach out?

Skip the tedious research, and skip the guesswork:

  • You know what is on their radar:
    • A problem that needs a solution
  • You know who to call:
    • The decision maker and associated influencers
  • You know how to reach them:
    • Their direct dial or email address
  • You know what to say:
    • Address their pain point or problem.

If your prospect could benefit from a little more nurturing, marketing can send messaging or collateral that is on-point and relevant to whatever challenge the prospect faces.

Now when sales takes the reins, that cold call will suddenly be a whole lot warmer.

Sales Intelligence in Lead Generation

Acquiring new business and company growth go hand in hand. Many companies and organizations have entire teams dedicated to uncovering insights for new business prospects.

While there are many different kinds of lead generation – content marketing, advertising, SEO, email campaigns, cold calling, list-buying, hosting events, and attending trade shows, just to name a few – a sales and marketing intelligence tool is great for discovering new, quality leads, quickly, as well as enhancing your other lead-gen efforts.

This comes in handy when trying to maintain a pipeline of leads all year long! Sales intelligence is critical for a consistent pipeline of leads.

Turn Events into a Lead-Gen Opportunity

A business cannot solely rely on inbound leads to grow and thrive. Sales must get on the phones, attend events, and find leads the “outbound” way as well.

At trade shows and events, some sales professionals collect as much contact information as possible. The more names, titles, and companies they’ve logged, the better.

More information isn’t necessarily a bad thing (except when it is), but it’s not really possible to determine the strength of a lead, or whether the account is worth the time to follow up and win, without some kind of intelligence tool.

How to Prospect at a Trade Show with Sales Intelligence

Trade shows one a very effective way to find a lot of leads – fast. It’s also arguably one of the most expensive. Good business intelligence is critical in this high-stakes function.

The ZoomInfo event team leverages intelligence before, during, and after the trade show or other event – and they see a very high rate of return.

Here are a few ways sales and marketing intelligence contribute to lead generation at events:

The trade show or conference itself may be the central hub of activity – but the demand-gen team uses it as an opportunity to drum up business.

Say, for example, you’re sponsoring a sales development conference in San Francisco. Some potential lead gen opportunities could include:

  1. Host a related event: Start by looking at the conference roster and at social media to see who else will be there – PLUS companies who have a nearby office and aren’t going to the conference. Then invite them to attend the conference or offer an on-site office visit from one of your reps.
  2. Create and target a list of good fits: Consider which sales reps are they likely to send – probably an SDR Manager who’s local to the event – then segment the list by area of responsibility, by the rep’s geolocation (not the headquarter location). From there, build targeted contact list and craft a super-specific message, written just for them. Be sure to reach out to these clients and prospects before the show.

At this point, you don’t have to hope your message will resonate. You know it will.

You can also line up pre-show and post-show activities: happy hours, on-site visits, dinners, coffee, follow-up meetings with prospects and clients alike. Since you invested in the cost of the event, plus the cost of sending our sales rep there, you’ll want to take advantage of every opportunity.

After the show, it’s time to address that stack of business cards that the sales rep brought back. Scan the names and email addresses into Excel, then use a sales intelligence platform to match email domains to companies in our database.

In ZoomInfo, you can see where that contact fits into the larger organization and see if there’s a better contact to prospect to.

You now have a very clear picture of who to engage with, and how to engage with them!

Follow the Org Chart to the Right Leads

Sales intelligence often includes an org chart: A visual map of a company’s reporting structure. This lets sales teams see the one person with whom they spoke for 30 seconds at an event, AND the entire department of peers – as well as their role and hierarchy within the organization!

Graphic depicting ZoomInfo's org charts.
Example of an org chart in ZoomInfo.

Think of that stack of business cards you brought back from your latest event. Are the people you spoke with decision-makers or budget holders? Probably not … but how do you connect the dots?

Why is this important? If one event lead goes dark, it’s not a dead-end; sales can follow the reporting structure to pursue those who have the signing authority.

A sales intelligence tool like ZoomInfo can take the name or email address of the person you met and find additional contacts at that same company who should be on your radar – plus other information from the database to enrich the lead.

Nothing beats face to face interaction, and when you can leverage those new relationships to get in front of the budget holders at target accounts it helps boost your credibility.

The Role of AI in Sales Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) aids immensely in the sales process. Machine learning tools help salespeople boost lead volume, quality, and close rates, and can automate and augment much of the sales process — giving sales reps the time to focus on closing deals. 

Let’s start off with the basics, though — what is AI and how exactly does it help with the sales process?

AI can be hard to define because it incorporates so many different functionalities, and it works more as an umbrella term that covers a host of different technologies including machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, and deep learning. Ultimately, we can think of AI as helping machines perform specific cognitive tasks. 

It’s not unthinkable that this kind of technology can be useful in the sales process — in fact, top-performing sales teams are four times more likely to use predictive analytics and AI to augment how they sell. Below are some key ways that AI is used in the sales process. 

  • Building a pipeline: AI tools can find new leads within a database.
  • Lead scoring: AI tools can rank leads as well as plan personalized engagements.
  • Automate and augment tasks: data capture and sales call analysis can be automated and augmented with AI, allowing salespeople to focus on more important, lead nurturing tasks.
  • Predictive forecasting: AI is incredibly useful for predicting outcomes using historical data as a way to inform future results. Some things that can be determined using predictive forecasting are 1) deals or prospects most likely to close, 2) deals or prospects to target next, and 3) new customers that may be interested in the product/service.
  • Expert Recommendations: AI systems can actually recommend certain sales actions based on historical data, and can advise sales teams on which actions make the most sense.

Competitive Intelligence at the Right Time

In real estate, the mantra is location, location, location.

Sales and marketing professionals know this well. The perfect solution and access to the perfect prospect means nothing if the timing isn’t also perfect.

We may not know exactly what keep an individual target prospect up at night.

But if we know that her company’s Director of IT Infrastructure recently left; that she declined to renew a contact with their current cloud storage provider; that the #1 web search at her company is for “information security” … Well, we can make an educated guess!

Intent data can also alert you when a competitive contract is about to expire. Intent data often includes a certain measure of machine learning and/or artificial intelligence that may include an analysis of historical or other data to provide context and more accurate predictions.

This information is gold. Financial timelines are a key factor in winning deals.

Sales intelligence is simply an abundance of accurate, curated data that integrates well with other systems. It helps B2B sales, marketing, and recruiting professionals make an informed, well-timed approach to solve a real buyer problem.

At the end of the day, sales intelligence is really just human intelligence.

Sales Intelligence Must-Haves

What is the information that is actually going to help salespeople and marketers achieve the ultimate pipeline experience?

Real sales intelligence annotation should give you information both about an individual contact and their respective company. One without the other is like a car with no wheels—kind of pointless, and not likely to get you to where you need to go.

1. Prospect intelligence

At the very basic level, your sales intelligence needs to include accurate and updated information about potential customers, including:

  • Contact information
  • Job function
  • Management level
  • Organizational charts
  • Professional certification
  • Academic and employment history

2. Tech Stack Data

One of the most effective – and undervalued – ways of prioritizing sales accounts is using the sales technology stack: The tech stack is the combination of software products that comprise a company’s installed technologies.

The tech stack includes such basics as email platform and the operating system, as well as your database, apps, and programming languages. ZoomInfo includes integrated sales, marketing, and recruiting technologies such as Salesforce, Frontspin, Outreach, Bullhorn, and Marketo.

So why is tech stack data important to sales and marketing leaders? …And why the sooner the better in the sales cycle?

A. Identify Opportunity.

The answer is surprisingly simple: Many companies have no opportunity to sell into an account unless a specific technology is present.

For example, a salesperson could not sell on-premise data center technologies to someone who only uses AWS. You would not sell Apple accessories into a company that only uses Windows PCs.

Often, installed technologies – or lack thereof – make or break an opportunity.

B. Targeted Displacement Campaigns

Using competitive intelligence, marketing can direct targeted displacement campaigns toward decision makers:

  • Challenge thotation”>e effectiveness of the current competitor technology in place.
  • Invite decision makers and influencers to an event.
  • Differentiate your offering from your competition.
  • Start a targeted email drip campaign to keep your company top of mind.

C. A Timely Talking Point

Integration with a prospect’s tech stack is a great talking point. A competitor’s lack of integration is a also great talking point. The presence – or absence – of a technology is always an opportunity for a sale.

If your offering integrates with your prospect’s tech stack, it’s not a matter of whether a prospect can use a solution like yours: They can, and they do.

Knowing where your competition is installed creates an automatic prospect.

Sophisticated intelligence providers include data about the technology stack of target accounts. ZoomInfo has several integrations, proprietary technologies, and methods of collection that profile over 8 million technology pairings in the categories of Enterprise Applications, Hardware/OS/Systems Environment, Virtualization, Security, Networking, and many more.

True sales intelligence includes installed technology data.

3. Intent data:

Understanding prospects’ and competitors’ technology stack is important – but it’s intent data that prompts timely outreach.

If sales and marketing intelligence is a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, intent data is at the very tippy-top:

  1. Fit data is the primary, basic requirement: The right contact at the right company.
  2. Opportunity data means favorable conditions, such as a funding event or a new CXO.
  3. Intent data is near-realtime information about a prospect’s intent, such as a flurry of web searches, or multiple content downloads on a particular topic.

Intent and Opportunity data are hallmarks of sales intelligence, and they’re not part of a standard, raw data offering. Intent data is an interpretation of implied pain points, and it provides a stark advantage against a competitor: timing.

4. Real-time alerts: 

Unlike people, technology doesn’t need to take breaks and can monitor other contacts and companies in real-time. This means you can be informed about buying signals as soon as they happen, like product launches, funding rounds, changes to executive leadership, and much more. Since sales is all about timing, this kind of information can allow you to get to a prospect before someone else does. 

5. Robust integrations: 

Critical intelligence is only as good as to where — and how — it’s delivered. Sales intelligence is no different, providing key integrations into common sales applications (e.g. Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Sales Automation tools, etc) and prospecting environments (company websites, social media platforms, etc).

Frequently Asked Questions

A roundup of common question on the various types of sales intelligence and how to use them to improve your sales & marketing functions.

What is sales intelligence software?

There is a wide range of sales intelligence software to choose from, but they all serve the same purpose: integrating sales intelligence information in order to make it more accessible and convenient to salespeople.

The popular review site, G2, defines sales intelligence as software that “helps companies use internal and external data to increase and improve sales processes. Companies use sales intelligence software to improve the quality and quantity of sales leads by using data to find new opportunities and provide salespeople with the information they need to take advantage of them.”

What’s the best sales intelligence tool for B2B lead generation?

As of its latest rankings release, the G2 Grid for Sales Intelligence Software ranked ZoomInfo as its highest-rated solution currently available in the marketplace.

Per G2, scores related to products and vendors are “based on reviews gathered from our user community, as well as data aggregated from online sources and social networks. Together, these scores are mapped on our proprietary G2 Grid, which you can use to compare products, streamline the buying process, and quickly identify the best products based on the experiences of your peers.”

What is business intelligence?

There isn’t necessarily a clear line that divides business intelligence and sales intelligence. The two are connected and intertwined and ultimately geared towards resolving business issues, providing insights, and informing future decisions. And in a lot of ways, sales intelligence can be classified as a form of business intelligence.

So what exactly is business intelligence, and why is it so often conflated with sales intelligence? Business intelligence can be thought of as the combination of business analytics, data mining, data visualization, and other data tools. Essentially, business intelligence is when you have a comprehensive understanding of an organization’s data, and then using that data to drive change, or respond to market changes.

BI uses software and services to transform data into actionable intelligence that informs an organization’s strategic and tactical business decisions. They then present this data in things like reports, summaries, dashboards, graphs, charts, and maps to provide users with intelligence about the state of the business. Business Intelligence can be understood as being focused on real-time data and current insights. 

What are common buying signals sales intelligence provides?

  • Fit data: Fit data includes all the different ways of segmenting and scoring prospects and accounts, aka technographic and firmographic information. This kind of information includes things such as
    • Job level
    • Location
    • Tech stack
    • Size of company/revenue
    • Industry
    • Budget
  • Intent data: Online behavior-based activity across the internet and internal web properties that identify buyers and accounts through capturing consumption and interest.
  • Opportunity data: Opportunity data, like fit and intent, indicate favorable conditions within an organization that indicate it could potentially be in the market for a given solution. This includes information like new funding, moves, and shake-ups in the C-suite, mergers, and acquisitions, or even new office openings.