Making a dent in industries dominated by powerful, well-established businesses is never easy. For every company that redefines the landscape, dozens of others fail to crack the ceiling put in place by the titans in the market.

If you want to take a piece of someone else's pie, you need more than a good idea and determination. Smaller challengers need to use a blend of strategy, innovation and tenacity to get a seat at the table. To take customers and market share from the biggest businesses in your industry, you must embrace your role as David and hit Goliath where it hurts.

As a business coach, I've watched dozens of businesses try to knock established veterans off their throne. Many failed, but a few succeeded by taking my advice to stop trying to keep up with what their competitors were doing. Instead, they had to use their agility and novelty to take on the giants and beat them at their own game.

1. Compete through cooperation.

Crowded spaces often result in races to the lowest price. Because market leaders can survive the deepest cuts, smaller players need to cooperate if they want to compete.

Take the internet service provider space. Rather than face the AT&Ts and Mediacoms of the world alone, Armstrong, the nation's 10th largest provider of broadband, partnered with Plume, a smart home services company. Armstrong subscribers gained access to Plume's Adaptive Wi-Fi service and HomePass network management platform. Not only did Armstrong gain a differentiator, but it also paved a new path to revenue in the process. 

2. Preach the gospel of customer success.

Not many big companies retain a reputation for stellar customer service. Industry giants have time and money on their side, but growth often comes with a price.

Project management software company Asana went up against titans like Microsoft and succeeded by creating a smart, intuitive product thousands of companies desperately needed. The market niche alone didn't drive Asana's success, though. Asana's leadership insisted on a philosophy of customer service, which helped the small business endear itself to its customers and generate positive word-of-mouth marketing.

"Make customer support part of your DNA," says Brian Boroff, head of customer success and user operations at Asana. "Everyone in your company -- from the CEO to the receptionist -- should play an important role in helping customers."

3. Upend traditional inconveniences.

Small companies make their names by improving on something people didn't realize companies could fix. Get to the root of a problem by saving people time, money or hassle, and you could quickly gain ground while established players scramble to keep up.

Impossible Foods did just that. There's long been demand for vegetarian and vegan meat products that taste just like the real thing, and Impossible Foods founder Patrick O. Brown devoted himself to finding just the right recipe. By developing plant-based burgers that provide consumers' anticipated taste, Impossible Foods created a new market for people looking to clean up their diet without altering their lifestyle.

People deal with thousands of inconveniences they would love to ditch if they had better options. Provide those options in an easy, non-interruptive way, and the masses will toss aside existing solutions in favor of your smarter method.

4. Find a string, and keep pulling.

To maintain a competitive edge, smaller companies need to bring something special to that table. What's not always easy, however, is figuring out what that something special should be. 

Limit your focus to one innovation at a time. When that innovation doesn't take off, make a note of the experiment and move on to the next. When something works, invest a little more money and keep pulling. If the extra budget doesn't produce extra results, pull back, but if you see more success, keep pulling the string. You may be surprised by how much people like what you create.

If you've bought something at an independent store or restaurant recently, there's a high chance you used Square to make the purchase. While Square has since moved into all types of payment services, it started by perfecting its digital card reading system and moved from there. Creating and perfecting a specialty protects your business from encroachment by larger companies.

If taking on big businesses and winning were easy, everyone would do it. Successful startups earn their reputations because they achieve the improbable. You can overcome the odds and establish your business in the face of stiff competition. To do so, however, you need innovative tenacity and an idea worth your unconditional commitment.

Published on: Aug 13, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.