7 Lessons for Tech Leaders from ZoomInfo’s CEO

There have been many eye-opening moments for ZoomInfo founder and CEO Henry Schuck during the company’s 14-year journey from startup to public company. Schuck has bootstrapped a data business, built a go-to-market team, gone through an IPO, and acquired other companies.

On a recent episode of the Business Breakdowns podcast, Schuck talked about lessons from ZoomInfo’s mergers and acquisitions, discussed how data influences today’s sales teams, and offered advice to aspiring business builders. Check out these seven key points from Schuck:

M&A Can Grow Your Company In Serendipitous Ways

Despite Schuck’s success in starting and growing his own software-as-a-service company (originally called DiscoverOrg) there was one problem he struggled with: He couldn’t build a strong engineering team. 

“I have all sorts of excuses for why, but I couldn’t do it,” he said on Business Breakdowns. “And I tried really hard. I would write a vision for what I wanted our platform to do, and it would just sit in my Google Docs and get cobwebs on it.”

But then in 2019, DiscoverOrg acquired ZoomInfo to expand the business. That move came with an internal surprise: Schuck suddenly found himself with a “world-class engineering team.” So, he dusted off his old vision document and asked the new engineers if what he wanted was too hard. Instead, they told him they could have it built in three months.

“What you see in ZoomInfo today is a lot of the vision that I had for DiscoverOrg in 2015, 2016, but I never built a good enough engineering and product team to make that vision come to life,” Schuck said. “That’s a huge inflection point for the business.”

If a Product is Too Niche, Think Twice About an Acquisition

When it comes to acquiring rock-solid companies that could serve ZoomInfo’s customer base, Schuck primarily evaluates two things:

  • How much of our customer base will an acquisition serve? 
  • How complicated or technical is the product?

No matter how great the solution is, if it is only applicable to a small portion of the market, or if it is too technologically complex for sales teams to sell, he likely will pass on the opportunity.

“I want to be able to sell into the largest swath of [our] 20,000 customers as I can,” Schuck said. “I’ll say no to a solution that only plays in a small segment of the customer base.”

The Digitization of Sales Has Made Data Essential

Before the sales world became digitized, building a pipeline was a process mostly rooted in geography: salespeople would often find their next customer by driving past nearby office buildings.

Today, much of the sales cycle can be performed over the phone or through email, — augmented by an avalanche of data points about prospects. Sorting through this data manually is nearly impossible.

“There’s so much happening within a business that you’re trying to sell to: CEO changes, CIO changes, new locations opening, new funding rounds, new technologies being added to a company’s stack,” Schuck said. “And you can’t keep track of that on five accounts, much less 200 accounts.” 

Data insight services, like ZoomInfo, can deliver information, help customers analyze it, and set up automated workflows. By doing so, the sales process becomes not only quicker, but smarter. 

Training and Promoting New Sales Reps Helps Everyone

In his early days, Schuck was adamant about hiring fewer new salespeople and investing most of his resources into his core staff. 

“The next person who comes in here is going to be way less efficient than our core people,” he thought. 

But Schuck got a different perspective when Chris Hays, now ZoomInfo’s chief operating officer, joined the company. Hays had data that showed the model of overloading great sales reps would eventually break. Bringing in novice, less efficient reps who could ramp up over time would give the veterans a chance to focus on closing important opportunities.

“It was really just getting smart about it with data and understanding I wasn’t doing myself any favors by not adding the next seller,” Schuck said.

If Software is ‘Tangible,’ it’s Quicker to Sell

This advice might seem unusual. After all, software is just a bunch of digital code.

But Schuck insists there is an aspect of software that users can almost touch, which he defines as easy-to-see value. Not all platforms enjoy this advantage — an enterprise resource planning suite, for example, is complicated to purchase, install, and use.

“It just doesn’t have that … easy understanding of the value that it provides,” he said. 

He views ZoomInfo on the opposite end of the spectrum: “Our average sale cycles are sub-30 days. It’s an easy implementation. It’s as close to something tangible in software as you can [get].” 

For any tech vendor, being able to show value quickly can translate to more sales.

Go Big on Data Privacy

Like many B2B services, ZoomInfo collects the type of data about professionals that you find on a business card. However, the tumult surrounding data privacy presents a good opportunity for B2B software sellers to take extra steps to make their customers more comfortable.

In response to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, ZoomInfo introduced data privacy options for all of its customers globally.

“We’ve sent communication to every person we’ve collected information on telling them we’ve collected their information,” Schuck said. “We do it in near-real time now when we collect a new piece of information, and we give them that opportunity to have it removed or updated from our platform.”

New Business Builders Should Get Experience in Sales

Business builders — leaders who can move a business forward — should strive to be sellers at some point early in their career. There’s no better way to get a closer view of the benefits and drawbacks of a product.

“I don’t think it’s enough to listen to [sales] calls that are recorded when you’re a builder,” Schuck said. “Being in the shoes of a seller, actually selling your product to customers — and then hearing their feedback, mainly negative — gives you clarity of thought and clarity of strategy in a way that being a passive participant in that moment doesn’t.”