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Demystifying the Dark Funnel: How Anonymity Becomes Identifiable

4 min
Fixing Gaps

Picture the main street of a freshly powdered ski resort downtown, the kind of wintry wonderland where folks hop from shop to diner to bar — not necessarily in that order.

As they go about their ways, they unwittingly leave snow tracks behind. These are little clues that most folks ignore, but can be very telling of whereabouts, interests, and behaviors.

We all leave “footprints in the snow” as we traverse the web to shop, research, socialize, and more. Most of us don’t recognize just what or how much data about our interests and intentions we leave in our wake. We’re inclined to think of our steps as anonymous. But to the right sleuths, these tracks might be the next big sale.

We refer to this world of anonymous buyer intent data as the Dark Funnel™. We talk to B2B revenue teams a lot about how matching traditionally unidentified Dark Funnel clues to known accounts is the new key to chauffeuring buyers through the sales funnel.

Clueing Into Buying Teams

Where this data pairing is even more powerful is in the context of B2B purchases driven by buying teams, i.e. when lots of similar footprints head in a common direction. In fact, without these invaluable digital breadcrumbs, B2B sellers have to work exponentially harder. 

Consider that: 

  • 70% of today’s buying process occurs undercover without engaging sales 
  • Purchase decisions are made en masse with buying committees now averaging 11 members
  • Users who fill out online forms, the main method of ID’ing anonymous buyers, often represent less than 5% of a website’s total visitors

The Match Game

So how does this matching happen? What does this anonymous information consist of, and what does the process of “lighting up” the Dark Funnel look like? Furthermore, how can revenue-minded organizations use it to their gain?

Let’s start unpacking those questions.

What is Dark Funnel Data?

The data in the Dark Funnel consists of various information “signals” pertinent to buying intent and activity. The identifying information originates from users’:

  • IP Addresses
  • Device IDs
  • Cookies

These traces are found in a multitude of external and internal data sources including:

  • Online news outlets
  • Blogs
  • Social networks 
  • Industry solution providers
  • Your own website
  • Your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system
  • Your Marketing Automation Platform (MAP)

When the above identifiers reveal themselves in the right venues at statistically significant rates, they produce meaningful insights. B2B sellers want to know, for example, when multiple people within their current accounts simultaneously start researching competitors. 

How is Dark Funnel Data Matched?

Seeing something and knowing someone are two different things. 

So how does the appearance of “IP address of” reveal itself as “Acme Industries’ comptroller” if nobody explicitly raises their hand on your website?

The Big List

Dark Funnel data marriages are made with the help of world-class account engagement platforms (like 6sense) that have an embedded and integrated Customer Data Platform.

The CDP is a massive, core set of business account information that keeps tabs on who organizations are, where they are, and what they’re like. It’s the big list that can merge with additional data silos a seller might possess, or in the case of the Dark Funnel, make the anonymous identifiable.

Importantly, all of the data that a CDP combines, cleanses, and organizes is managed by privacy-compliant methods via partnerships with:

  • Governmental organizations
  • Third-party data collectors
  • Regulatory agencies
  • Financial reporting agencies
  • And more

Savvy RevOps teams know that the size, quality, and capabilities of any given ABM platform’s CDP are tremendously important, as is the core application of AI. For instance, 6sense has AI ingrained deeply into our CDP, so it’s constantly absorbing new data and learning from it.

Determinant vs. Probabilistic Matching 

Some ABM Platforms use determinant matching, a static decision tree of if/then syllogisms that gives a basic “yes” or “no” for whether anonymous data can be matched to a known account. If the connection can’t be fully proven, no match is made. 

Other platforms — like 6sense — instead employ probabilistic matching. Our AI shows matches according to levels of confidence that consequently brings much more data to the conversation. 

We saw this attribute become very significant in Spring 2020 when many companies moved their workforces from shared offices to home environments out of concern for COVID-19. With algorithms constantly churning new data, the confidence levels associated with our matchmaking dramatically rose week-by-week.

How Can Revenue Teams Best Leverage the Dark Funnel?

Now that we’ve addressed where anonymous data originates and how it gets uncovered, let’s touch on the ways RevOps can tap into its power.

When he was SVP at Forrester, Kerry Cunningham (who has since joined 6sense) noted that 95% of companies’ marketing budgets tried to drive anonymous engagement to websites. That’s a lot of money on something that’s fundamentally unknown!

With data science and predictive analytics leading the way, B2B sellers can use Dark Funnel data to get much more out of their investments and understand their customers far better. Specifically they can learn:

  • The buying journey duration 
  • The buying team size
  • The destinations that a buying team gets information
  • And other insights

Using 6sense’s Buyer Readiness Signals 

To illustrate this concept, we’ll cite an example from our own solution. 6sense customers can gain some additional, stand-out insights in the form of:

  • Market Intelligence Signals — The internal company performance factors and external economic and compliance dynamics at work
  • Technographic Signals — The technical and technological infrastructures inherent to the organization
  • Psychographic Signals — The specific interests and attitudes of the buying organization as a whole and its individual roles

Equipped with all of these special insights, B2B sellers can return the favor to buyers by creating personalized experiences suited to observed needs and interests each step through the journey.

Buyers essentially get white-glove service — exactly what they need and when they need it, not a moment sooner.


If you’re an account-based seller who’s interested in seeing which account engagement platforms do the best job matching accounts, here’s a good way to test their mettle. Simply share a list of account IP addresses you already know and ask the company to verify them. 

The vendor that delivers the most accurate results is the one worth talking to.

Account deanonymization is the future of marketing and selling, and the technologies are well within grasp today. Further, AI is getting smarter and more customer-oriented by the day. If you haven’t already, consider today all the ways you can supercharge buyer experiences simply by picking up their tracks.

The 6sense Team

6sense helps B2B organizations achieve predictable revenue growth by putting the power of AI, big data, and machine learning behind every member of the revenue team.

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