Decoding Intent Signals with Angelica Ismailos (Vercel)

Learn how Angelica thinks about intent, signals, and marketing’s role in building pipeline.

Meredith McManus
July 2, 2024
Decoding Intent Signals with Angelica Ismailos (Vercel)

The team at Pocus regularly hosts “Ask Me Anything” sessions with GTM experts to share best practices, frameworks, and insights on this emerging category. These AMAs are an opportunity to ask leaders any question — ranging from hiring to sales compensation to tech stack — in a low-key, casual environment.

The AMAs are for members of the Pocus Go-To-Market Community, the place to learn, discuss, and connect with go-to-market (GTM) leaders at product-led companies. The goal of the community is to bring together the most thoughtful and innovative GTM leaders to build the next generation of sales together.

Interested in joining? Request an invite here.

Meet Angelica Ismailos, Head of Demand Generation at Vercel 👋

Angelica Ismailos started her career in sales at HPE and Neo4j before shifting her career focus to marketing. She joined Vercel as an early marketing hire tasked with building out their early PLG flows, started the company’s first Marketing Ops team, and is now the Head of Demand Generation. Tasked with driving pipeline, building partnerships across GTM, and owning auto-outbound, Angelica’s early start in sales gives her a unique viewpoint when building and executing revenue marketing programs.

We sat down with Angelica for a Pocus community AMA to learn more about how she thinks about intent, signals, and marketing’s role in building pipeline. In our AMA we covered:

  • The difference between declared and implied intent, and how to use both
  • How Vercel uses both 1st and 3rd party signals to create GTM playbooks
  • A framework for experimenting with intent signals

Declared vs. inferred intent

Modern GTM teams have the advantage of more data than ever, but all of this information can be overwhelming. Angelica recommends that teams keep it simple: focus on intent signals that help you identify potential buyers. But what exactly is an intent signal?

At their most basic, intent signals are any data points that tell you an account is interested in your solution. They can be based on different data sources, from 1st party (like website visits or product usage data) to 3rd party (like job changes, social engagement, and review site activity). Each individual data source is a signal, and multiple signals aggregated together can help you understand the level of intent or interest a buyer has. 

It can be challenging to decipher what signals actually matter, so Angelica uses a helpful framework to segment signals: 

  1. Declared intent: This is the loudest signal showing a buyer has intent. This can be a ‘hand raiser’ who requests a demo, wants to talk to sales, or signed up for a free trial. 
  2. Inferred intent: Everything else that isn’t a clear declaration falls into the inferred intent category and should be treated differently. These signals are often best layered rather than used in silos. Often a single point of inferred intent is not enough to indicate buying intent. 

(You can read even more about 1st and 3rd party signals, as well as how Pocus can help you use them to power your GTM playbooks, here.)

“There can be a big difference between the level of intent somebody is showing with their signals. Someone who likes a LinkedIn post has a very different level of intent from somebody who visited your pricing page.”

Building intent-specific playbooks

When thinking about conversion strategy, Angelica’s team uses a prospect’s level of intent (among other factors) to determine which playbook to run. Any buyers with declared intent enter a completely separate funnel with a direct track to sales due to the strong and urgent nature of their signals. Inferred intent, however, often implies lower intent, so Angelica’s team leans into automated outbound, and Product-Led Sales plays to build warmth.

If you’re ready to start incorporating more intent signals into your playbooks, both Angelica and our team at Pocus recommend taking a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach. (We’ve covered our take on this strategy in a past blog post!) Put simply, build your strategy over time, and don’t try to do too much too soon.

Start with the most obvious signals. For example, if you see that known enterprise ICPs are visiting your pricing page, that’s a great intent signal that you should reach out. Angelica’s top recommendation is to create outreach sequences that offer helpful information or additional resources that are relevant to the signals you’ve received. So, that enterprise ICP might be entered into a sequence with more information around pricing tiers and which exclusive features and benefits are unlocked at the enterprise level. Lean on your cross-functional partners, like product marketing and SDRs, to understand what a prospect may be interested in learning more about.

“We take people who are in our ICP fit displaying intent signals and add them automatically into an outreach sequence. The whole idea is that we want to capitalize on that exact moment when you're thinking about our product and displaying that intent. We're reaching out to you right away with something helpful.”

Leveling up with experimentation

Ready to take your intent playbooks up a level? Run some analysis on your closed-won accounts to understand what they have in common. Notice any patterns that indicate a propensity to buy. Once you’ve identified some key signals, Angelica recommends testing them as part of your playbook strategy.

If you’re just getting started with experimentation, we recommend using a simple 5-step process:

  1. Choose your goals. With automated outbound your primary goal is usually building and closing pipeline, but some playbooks may be focused on account expansion, account consolidation, or defending against churn.
  2. Build your playbook. Identify the signal(s) you’ll use and the actions you’ll take to drive towards your end goal.
  3. Roll out to a tiger team. Put together a small, agile group of reps to start using this initial set of playbooks and test results. You can expand to the larger team once you’ve validated your strategy.
  4. Review playbook performance data regularly. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to confirm that your playbook is achieving the original goal you aligned it with: earning or protecting revenue.
  5. Run incremental tests. Don’t try to change too much, too fast when experimenting. Decide which variables might make the biggest, most immediate impact if tested.

As you experiment with signals, don’t forget to gather feedback from the field. Angelica recommends asking reps and SDRs how they’re finding their best prospects and if there are any intent signals they’d like to suggest the demand gen team build automated outbound playbooks for. Tapping product and engineering partners for suggestions on key in-product behaviors can also be a great way to uncover hidden intent signals. 

Angelica’s biggest tip is don’t be afraid; just ask for internal knowledge. Angelica’s team frequently solicits feedback from cross-functional partners on what they’re hearing in the field. Her team also uses these feedback loops as a way to share insights into what they’re learning via experimentation so partner teams feel bought in and brought along on the journey.

Finally, when experimenting with signals, don’t overcomplicate it. When you have a lot of data it can feel important to be very scientific and quantitative. If you’re a small team or just getting started, don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. Pick the most obvious opportunities, build a hypothesis, and experiment. 

Automated outbound without the spam

One of the risks of automating outbound is losing the personal touch and having your messages sound spammy. Angelica has learned from her time at Vercel that the best way to avoid having your auto-outbound feel too generic is to get hyper-targeted so your message can be specific. 

Here’s the 3-point framework her team uses to make their automated outreach feel personal:

  1. Build your precise list. Think through a buyer’s stage, job role, industry, and what actions they may have taken before arriving on your site. All of these factors can help you create hyper-targeted outreach that feels highly relevant.
  2. Craft the perfect message. Partner with product marketing to craft content that your prospects will find helpful. Angelica’s team has historically seen great success with messages like “Other people who are [specific intent signal] tend to ask me about [2-3 bullet points with linked resources].”
  3. Analyze and iterate. While creating these specific segments and dialing in your messaging will improve the conversion rate of your automated outbound, look for the inflection point where you start to hit diminishing returns with specificity versus volume. 

If you’re stuck on how to make your messaging feel even more relevant, check out our blog on the W.A.R.M. outbound approach. 

Angelica’s framework has helped Vercel build a successful automated outbound motion that allows demand gen to experiment and warm up leads while sales focuses on the highest intent hand raisers. 

Key takeaways for implementing intent

When any team starts implementing intent signals and automated outbound, Angelica offers three key pieces of advice:

  • Don’t overcomplicate it or overthink it. Start with the easiest-to-identify intent signals and build from there. 
  • Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Imagine that you are the target ICP, looking for the solution your company offers: what actions are you taking? What information would you want or need to know during your research and evaluation process?
  • Bring cross-functional partners along on the journey. Keep your key partners — especially sales — involved and informed so you have a direct line of feedback while rolling out your new playbooks.

Learn more about implementing signal-based playbooks

Interested in learning more about how other marketers are using signals to power their GTM playbooks?

There’s no better place to rub elbows with leaders from OpenView, Slack, Notion, Asana, Atlassian, and more than in the Pocus community. Request to join today.

About the author
Meredith McManus
Content + Product Marketing at Pocus
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