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July 8, 2024

How Startups Can Defeat B2B Data Giants: 5 Proven Strategies

For the past 10 years, we've been on the frontlines of the B2B data wars, witnessing firsthand how smaller, nimble startups can disrupt and eventually overtake industry giants. Here are the five strategies that can help your startup outmaneuver larger incumbents in the battle for market share:

1. Capture Attention Better Than Your Competition

In the crowded B2B data space, cutting through the noise is essential for success. There are likely dozens of teams offering similar solutions, so how do you stand out?

  • Lower the Search Cost for the Buyer: Make it easy for potential customers to find and choose you.
  • Nurture a Community: Engage with your audience through social media, forums, and other platforms.
  • Develop a Memorable Brand: Invest in branding that resonates with your target market.
  • Think About Market Virality: Create buzz-worthy content and campaigns that encourage sharing.
  • Invest in an Inbound Flywheel: Focus on creating valuable content that draws in customers organically.

In my time at ZoomInfo, we successfully outflanked D&B by focusing on the SMB market, capturing their attention with tailored solutions and aggressive marketing.

2. Just Be Different

Innovation doesn't always mean a groundbreaking product; it can also be about how you go to market or package your offering.

  • Packaging Innovation: When ZoomInfo entered the market, we offered a self-serve tool at a fraction of the cost of traditional data dumps. Similarly, Apollo took this further with a low-cost, user-based pricing model for SMBs.
  • GTM Innovation: ZoomInfo's efficient inside sales team was a stark contrast to D&B’s field sales approach. Apollo's product-led growth (PLG) strategy further differentiated them from ZoomInfo’s sales-driven model.

The lesson? There’s always room to innovate in how you deliver your product or service.

3. Refuse to Copy Your Dominant Competitor

Respecting your competition is important, but don’t fall into the trap of simply trying to catch up.

  • Craft Your Own Path: Instead of mimicking your competitor’s features, find an underserved audience and tailor your roadmap to meet their needs.
  • Feature Parity Is a Trap: By the time you replicate a competitor’s feature, they’ll have introduced new ones, leaving you perpetually behind.

Charting your own course will make you stand out and attract a loyal customer base.

4. Relentless Focus on Optimizing the Low End of the Market

Disruption often begins at the low end of the market. Startups can gain a foothold by serving this segment more effectively than larger competitors.

  • Target SMBs: ZoomInfo targeted SMBs that D&B overlooked, and as we grew, Apollo swooped in to serve the SMBs we began to neglect.
  • Move Upstream Strategically: As your business scales, it’s natural to move upstream, but always remember that there will be another startup ready to serve the market segment you leave behind.

Staying focused on the low end can provide a strong foundation for growth.

5. Be the Best at Something and Don't Try to Be Good at Everything

Every company has its strengths. The key to success is identifying and doubling down on these superpowers.

  • Identify Your Superpowers: Whether it’s product development, sales, marketing, or customer support, know what you’re best at.
  • Double Down: Focus on excelling in your area of strength rather than spreading yourself too thin.
  • Create a Competitive Edge: By being the best in a specific area, you’ll build a reputation and a loyal customer base.


  1. Capture Attention: Lower search costs, build a community, and develop a strong brand.
  2. Be Different: Innovate in packaging and go-to-market strategies.
  3. Don't Copy: Forge your own path and focus on underserved markets.
  4. Optimize the Low End: Target SMBs and move upstream strategically.
  5. Be the Best: Identify and double down on your strengths.

By following these strategies, your startup can not only compete with but also surpass larger incumbents in the B2B data market. The nature of the beast is ever-changing, but with agility, innovation, and a relentless focus on your strengths, you can carve out your own path to success.

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