Building a lean B2B startup growth stack

Growing a B2B business is becoming increasingly complex. The market is inundated with products thanks to the explosion of SaaS, it’s getting harder to leverage ad platforms and email, and identity management is Byzantine.

Today, a prospect is a lot harder to understand than a user. Tracing the thread connecting an ad impression to a website visitor, their business identity and a record in a CRM is really, really difficult.

It’s not easy to go to market as a B2B company, but it is easy to think that a new tool or platform will help you “fix” things. It turns out that the cost of implementing and managing a new platform often outweighs the cost of using what you have to better effect. It’s critical to implement tools according to the stage of a business.

I’ve spent years trying to understand which tools give you the most bang for your buck and which are just not worth the overhead. In the guide below, we’ll cover tools in four major categories that startups need based on their stage of growth:

  • CRM and data warehouse (your source of truth): A CRM is where you store data and records on people and the company, and take action. A data warehouse is where you aggregate all your data to perform analyses.
  • Third-party data sources (how you find/target people).
  • Analytics (how you measure your impact).
  • Engagement platforms (how you reach your audience).

We will not be covering:

We shouldn’t have to call it the “lean” B2B growth stack; it should just be the B2B growth stack.

  • Task management and productivity tools.
  • Team composition/communication tools.
  • Website, SEO and creative tools.
  • CDPs (because there is no good B2B CDP).
  • PLG specific tools (All of the tools below are relevant to PLG companies, but there will be other tools they’ll need that we aren’t covering).

Early stage (seed to Series A)

What should be in your stack

  • CRM: Hubspot
  • Data source:
  • Ad Platforms: LinkedIn Ads, Google AdWords
  • Analytics: Google Analytics
  • Other: Outbound email domain management (e.g., Lightmeter)

What shouldn’t

  • Salesforce: The Hubspot CRM has come a long way. It’s less customizable than Salesforce, but that’s a good thing because you shouldn’t waste your time on too much customization at this stage.
  • ZoomInfo: Go with Apollo. It’s cheaper and will let you access data to test outbound. Their new enrichment product allows you to do inbound enrichment as well. Caveat: If your target market is not digitally native, e.g., electrical contractors, ZoomInfo has significantly better coverage than Apollo.

Biggest early-stage mistake

Overinvesting in tools that correspond to a specific acquisition strategy without understanding if that strategy actually works yet.

For example, people spend $36,000 a year on Zoominfo because they’ve hired a head of Sales who says they need it. But you might realize six months later that it’s too premature to start building an outbound engine and you’re stuck with a hefty annual subscription.

Always test your way into things. In this case, it would mean starting off with a cheaper data provider like Apollo.

Midstage (Series B to Series C)

What should be in your stack

  • CRM: Salesforce + Hubspot
  • Data warehouse: Build your own
  • Data sources: Multiple
  • Analytics: Google Analytics + Looker or Tableau
  • Ad Platforms: LinkedIn, Meta (FB and IG can work for B2B) and paid search
  • Other: LeanData or Syncari; or Salesloft; and Lightmeter

What shouldn’t

  • Marketo: Marketo’s “Smart Campaigns” aren’t all that much better than the dynamic lists in Hubspot. People often drastically underestimate the monetary and time costs of switching and implementing Marketo. Don’t make this investment prematurely.

This is the right time to add Salesforce to your stack. You’ve hit the point where your sales team has grown and your business rules have evolved enough that you’ll need to add custom objects, track territories, manage lead assignment, etc. In the same vein, you should add or Salesloft to help your sales team manage prospect engagement.

Since you’ll be trying to scale lead volume, you’ll also need help with routing and deduplication, for which you can use tools like LeanData or Syncari.

You’ll also need more than one data provider to help gather data points specific to your target market. For example, you might want to add a broad-based database like Zoominfo on top of Apollo to get a more exhaustive list of accounts and contacts. You can even add Crunchbase to get funding information or G2 for intent data. You can buy these data sources individually and jerry-rig them together through spreadsheets/Salesforce connectors or you can buy a targeting platform to help consolidate them.

Consider setting up a marketing data warehouse. With eight or more marketing and sales tools, how are you supposed to aggregate insights? Trying to push everything into Salesforce is like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. Instead, set up a data warehouse like BigQuery, use an open-source ETL tool like Airbyte to bring together everything from Google, Linkedin, Salesforce, Outreach and Hubspot into one source of truth, and then put Looker on top to build reports.

It sounds like a lot but it creates a scalable foundation. This will become your customer data platform.

Biggest midstage mistake

Overcomplicating and over-customizing. Resist the temptation to add fields to Salesforce that won’t get used or to buy an overly flexible tool like Marketo that will be difficult to maintain.

Late stage (Series D+)

What should be in your stack

  • CRM: Salesforce + Marketo
  • Data warehouse: Build your own
  • Data sources: Multiple + 6sense or other ABM tool
  • Analytics: Google Analytics + Tableau or Looker
  • Ad Platforms: LinkedIn, Meta, Display and the long tail of ad networks (e.g., Reddit)
  • Other: Ringlead or Leandata; Madkudu or homegrown lead scoring;; and Direct Mail like Sendoso.

Now is the time for Marketo because you’ll need to execute complex lead-nurturing campaigns and the triggers/workflows in Hubspot won’t cut it anymore.

What shouldn’t be in your stack

At this point, your business has evolved such that you’ll need a lot more customization. However, you still need to stay disciplined and validate your needs before implementing tools since the upkeep and maintenance can get costly.

Biggest late-stage mistake

By the time you’re at the late stage, if you haven’t centralized your source of truth inside a data warehouse, you’ll have a very challenging time moving fast and effectively. Too often, a team will invest in an ABM platform, not tie it into their CRM/data warehouse and will find they have great data but a very limited way of activating it.

Or, they’ll run an ad campaign on a new platform, not set up the analytics to push to their CRM/data warehouse, and won’t be able to attribute it. Say “sayonara” to that $30,000 of ad spending. Observability and activation are enormously difficult with a rat’s nest of 1:1 integrations (Salesforce to Outreach, Outreach to Zoominfo, etc.).

The discipline that comes from making deliberate decisions, trying to extract more value from existing tools, and centralizing data into a single source of truth pays enormous dividends. The current budget-constrained environment should be seen as a net positive by marketers. It will force teams to think deeply about what’s absolutely necessary, which tools will add efficiency (or subtract from it), and how to maximize ROI.

It will lead to doing more with less and to the realization that you need less than you think. We shouldn’t have to call it the “lean” B2B growth stack; it should just be the B2B growth stack.