Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of the “sales trigger,” something I lump into a larger category I call “inferential data.” If you’re not familiar with the concept, what we are talking about is taking a fact, for example that a company has just moved, and drawing inferences from that fact. We can infer from a recent company move that the company in question is likely to imminently be in the market for a host of new vendors for a whole range of mundane but important office requirements. So if we learn about this company move right after it happens (or, ideally, right before it happens), we have an event that will trigger a number of sales opportunities, hence the name “sales trigger.” But as I noted above, sales triggers in my view are a subset of inferential data. I say that because sales triggers tend to be rather basic and obvious, while true inferential data can get extremely nuanced and powerful, especially when you start analyzing multiple facts and drawing conclusions from them. Tech-savvy folks refer to these multiple input streams as “signals.”

Let’s go back to our example above. The company has moved. That means they likely need a new coffee service and cleaning service, among others. That’s fine as far as it goes. But let’s go deeper. Let’s take the company’s old address and new address, and bounce them against a commercial property database. If the company is moving from $20/square foot space to $50/square foot space, chances are this company is doing well. At a minimum, this makes for a more interesting prospect for coffee service vendors. But it can also be the basis for assigning a company a “high growth” flag, making it interesting to a much broader range of vendors, many of whom will pay a premium to learn about such companies.

Or perhaps we know this company has changed addresses three times in five years. We could infer from this either extremely high growth or extreme financial distress. Since this relocation signal doesn’t give us enough clarity, we need to marry it with other signals such as number of employees during the same period, or the cost of the space or amount of square feet leased. Of course, signals go far beyond real estate. If the company had a new product launch or acquisition during that period, these signals would suggest the address changes signify rapid growth.

You can see the potential power in inferential data, as well as the complexity. That’s because in the business of signals, the more the better. Pretty soon, you’re in the world of Big Data, and you’ll also need the analytical horsepower to make sense of all these data signals, and to test your assumptions. It’s not a small job to get it right.

That’s why I was excited to learn a company called – what else – Infer. Infer collects and interprets signals to help score sales leads. And it sells this service to anyone who wants to integrate it with their existing applications. It’s essentially SaaS for lead scoring. Intriguingly, Infer licenses data from numerous data providers to get critical signals it needs.

Inferential data makes any data it is added to smarter, which in turn makes that data more valuable. Many publishers have latent inferential data they can make use of, but for others, watch out for those “signals in a box” products from what I suspect will be a growing number of vendors in this space. It’s the smart thing to do.