AI has automated the fundamental challenge of sales: “knowing your customer.” B2B and B2C sellers are increasing revenue by analyzing data and accurately predicting what customers will buy with AI. However, AI is only as good as the data that feeds it. In this article, I’ll explain how distributors can use intent data to supercharge sales and win the data race.

Distributors need to collect data fast. If distributors can compile lots of data quickly, they’ll be able to provide AI-enhanced customer service and draw customers away from competitors. However, if distributors are slow to aggregate data, the competition (i.e. other distributors, or online-only players like Amazon) will claim their customers first.

This data race has extremely high stakes. Amazon’s data-driven personalization drives 35% of its sales revenue, some $2.5 billion annually. In addition, 5% of B2B salespeople using AI expect a double-digit revenue increase within the next two years. And B2B e-commerce sales, which are increasingly driven by AI and data, are predicted to reach $4.5 trillion by 2021.

In short, data is extremely valuable. Distributors need to capture and use lots of it, and they need to do so now.

One way distributors can capture more data is by harvesting information from all their sales channels. Customer service reps, e-commerce platforms, sales reps and marketing campaigns are all great potential sources of data.

However, distributors should not just collect transactional data from those sources. Transactional data basically includes what each customer purchases and when. This type of information is useful because what customers have bought in the past has bearing on what they are likely to buy in the future. But, distributors will not win the data race with transactional data alone. If distributors really want to increase sales by predicting what customers intend to buy, they will need to collect intent data.

Intent data is extremely valuable to businesses because accurately this data informs what customers intend to buy, and grows 10x faster than traditional business data. Intent data traditionally describes a buyer’s footprint and can include things like website visits, time spent on different websites, online subscriptions, product reviews, white paper downloads and so on.

Even when buyers don’t make purchases, they still signal their interest in specific items that they might buy later. If you’ve ever had that experience of browsing for something online, not purchasing it, and then buying it a few days later because it was marketed directly to you, then you know what intent data can do.

Distributors deal with accounts in many interactions and across multiple channels. This structure tends to obscure a singular view of the customer. But with intent data, distributors can turn each interaction into a learning opportunity.

Distributors should not only track what customers are doing online; they can also follow signaled interests through reps and on email. When customers consider buying something from a rep, or click on certain promotional links in emails, for example, they signal their intent to buy. Distributors must methodically track this intent and use it in a coordinated sales strategy.

For example, if Benco Dental (my family’s dental distribution business) tracked intent data and found that one local dentist spent a lot of time viewing electric toothbrushes online, it would be smart to send that dentist a marketing email promoting a Sonic electric brush, or have a sales rep call to promote a Philips. Likewise, if a sales rep noted that a dentist was interested in Crest floss but didn’t make a purchase, a good AI would promote alternate brands of floss to that customer on the company website.

Distributors have been striving to understand customer intent and pitch items that are likely to sell since time immemorial. However, they have never before had the power to automatically collect intent data, aggregate that information in one place and use it in a multi-channel sales strategy.

Distributors have a chance to delight customers and increase sales like never before. However, it is still very much a race. As Forbes notes, only early movers will enjoy the tremendous value created by AI in B2B sales. The prevalence of AI today means that distributors are faced with a new challenge. They must not only know their customers, but they must know their customers before their competitors. It’s a tough challenge. Fortunately, intent data is a powerful solution.