Success is often boiled down to a single phrase, offered up in the form of well-intentioned advice: “It’s all about who you know.”

Some might argue that this phrase, once intended to stress the importance of personal connections, no longer carries the same weight it used to.  

In business, people have become contacts and companies have become accounts— just a growing list of names and phone numbers in your CRM. And, because contact and account data is a high-value form of currency in the corporate world, it often feels like the human element of B2B is gone. It’s as if, today, it’s less about who you know and all about how much you know.

But, the rapid influx of available data seems to be shifting businesses back to the basics and back to the who of it all. We’re learning that although data is an incredibly necessary resource, information overload is a real thing. We’re starting to realize that data quantity doesn’t matter if you can’t pinpoint the precise information that makes a contact, well, human.

Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the B2B data landscape to help you understand the changes happening in data and the ways in which you can better connect with the humans behind the numbers. Let’s get into it!

The Difference Between Data and Intelligence.

In sales and marketing, the way we refer to data changes regularly. We’ve seen this firsthand at ZoomInfo in the way customers and sales prospects talk about our services. One day we’re a B2B data provider, the next we’re a sales intelligence platform. But, is there a difference between data and intelligence? We say, yes— there absolutely is a difference. 

Let’s start at the beginning. Before sales intelligence and data providers were common terms in the B2B space, there were list brokers and lead sellers— the questionable precursors to what companies like ZoomInfo have come to be today. 

List brokers used dubious tactics to gather data and offered limited customization. This left organizations with little control over the types of contact and company information they purchased. Because of this, many companies chose quantity over quality, buying as much data as they could access in an attempt to reach more potential customers— a process akin to throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks.

Due to data privacy regulations and technological advancements, the modern world of B2B data looks drastically different than it did back then. Although data quantity continues to matter, it has taken a backseat to data quality.

Companies want a lot of accurate information about the prospects and buyers most likely to do business with them. The difference is subtle but important— which brings us back to the topic at hand— data providers vs. business intelligence.

Let us be clear about the distinction between the two. Data is readily available to anyone with access to the internet. Intelligence, however, is the same information but aggregated, manipulated, and processed in a way that adds necessary context, thus making it accurate and actionable. Data is quantity. Intelligence is data quantity plus data quality.

How to Transform Data Into Intelligence.

There are several factors that contribute to how actionable and accurate any given data set is— these are as follows:


We won’t spend too much time here, since we’ve covered data sources extensively in the past. But, we will leave you with a few pointers. When purchasing information from a third party company, look for a provider that not only knows where their data comes from, but can speak to the value of each of their data sources in detail. Every source of data has its pros and cons. Therefore, working with a company that has a wide and diverse range of data collection processes will yield the best results. 

We get into the value of data source more here: The Sales Manager’s Guide to Selecting a Data Provider.


The average sales or marketing professional works with a large amount of data on a regular basis— far too large an amount for the human brain to make sense of. Technology, therefore, plays a crucial role in turning static data into actionable business intelligence. 

The right technology can automate data hygiene, identify contacts and companies most likely to buy, analyze your current customers to pin down an accurate set of buyer personas, and so much more.


Data without context is often fairly useless. This is particularly true when it comes to more advanced data points that are used to signify intent— online behavior, purchase history, technology usage, etc. Context is one of the more tricky aspects of business intelligence to gain access to, often because it requires more of a human touch. 

Let’s look at an example: Say you work in sales for a security and compliance organization. You receive information that tells you one of your target accounts is looking into a new CRM. At face value, this information doesn’t mean anything to you. But, by using a platform like ZoomInfo that provides human-verified information, you learn that the CRM initiative is a direct result of a data breach they recently experienced. This context reveals a critical pain point and intent to buy that you otherwise would have missed.

Diverse data sources lead to diverse data sets. Innovative technology leads to innovative data. And, detailed context leads to detailed data. The struggle for sales and marketing teams is that, until recently, it’s been nearly impossible to find all three within the same platform and workflows.

Now, excuse the blatant self-promotion for a second, but with ZoomInfo powered by DiscoverOrg,  your team no longer has to rely on disparate data sources, incomplete information, and sub-par technologies to access the business intelligence you need. 

We’ve seen firsthand how our platform has the power to transform your go-to-market strategy— with the most company and contact information, best-in-class technology, and high-value, human-verified context. 

Information without innovation is truly, just data.

The Future of Business Intelligence

We’ve gone from an era of one-size-fits-all business strategies to an era of hyper-personalization, where the sheer quantity of data available to us renders that data meaningless without the right context or technology. So, where does that leave us and what’s coming next? 

No one can predict where technology will take us or how data privacy regulations will impact business as we know it. But, there’s no denying that a shift is occurring. In terms of running a successful business, the amount of data you have access to no longer matters in the same way.

Instead of relying on quantity, businesses must consider the depth of their data, how actionable it is, and the technologies they need to transform their data into actual human beings— human beings who have pain points, budget constraints, bad habits, personal preferences, and so much more. 

If you’re ready to explore all that our new, combined platform has to offer, contact our sales team today. ZoomInfo is more than just a B2B contact database, it’s an entire go-to-market operating system.

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About the author

Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is a content marketing director at ZoomInfo, the leading B2B contact data solution.

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