In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
War is often likened to business. Much like war, business endeavors demand deep introspection, and extensive examinations of the battleground, the competition, and the circumstances. And yet, very often, generals and leaders still make decisions rooted in 'gut', 'belief', and 'bold assumptions' - intuition.
And intuition is often wrong.
Being driven purely by intuition can end you in both business and war. Perfectly good businesses have become obsolete by not keeping up with the trends and forecasting a future that is abysmally removed from the reality of the milieu.
In 2015, two Israeli men set out to remove this 'guesswork' out of a company's revenue capabilities and predictability. Meet Gong.io.
Their war-cry? "Goodbye Opinions. Hello Reality."
⚡️ Gong: Curiosity doesn’t always kill the Cat 😼
The 1970’s: The golden era of Rock. “Stairway to Heaven” is playing on radio stations and CD players worldwide. Amit Bendov, a young boy growing up in a humble Israeli home with dreams of becoming the next Jimmy Page takes up his first job as a Sales Manager at a guitar store.
He finds himself playing with the computer keyboard more than the 1959 Gibson Les Paul in the corner.
He follows his instinct and takes up Computer Science at Tel Aviv University; laying the foundations of what would later be an illustrious career in Tech.
The 2010s: In his 40s now, Amit has enjoyed a long, successful career spanning Product, Marketing, and Sales. He is CEO of SiSense, a Business Intelligence Software company that helps companies make sense of and analyze all kinds of data.
“A quarter from hell” as he calls it made him take a long, hard look at Sales-as-a-function. His Sales Team was constantly losing deals. Having crunched the numbers and checked the CRM, he figured that the metrics were fine. A more than healthy pipeline with high-intent, qualified leads.
🗣 "So why aren't you all closing?" Amit questioned his sales teams.
The replies were both vague and lackluster:
"No urgency with the clients, it’s just not their priority right now.”
”The competition seems to be a lot cheaper.”
”Oh, I followed the process of 3 follow-up calls and 5 emails - and the lead seems to be lost.”
A whole lot of conjecture later, Amit still had no clear picture of why they weren’t closing. Just lots and lots of opinions.
He wished for a tool that could lean in on these customer conversations and take the subjectivity out— a solution that would not just process all the qualitative information available but also understand them and provide actionable insights.
He quickly spoke with Eilon Reshef, his Engineer friend back from Tel Aviv, who as it turns out, was on a sabbatical and taking a deep learning and machine learning course at that time. The two hypothesized that it was a problem worth solving, and that AI could just be the answer.
In 2014, Eilon and Amit developed an MVP, having raised a seed round of USD 3M owing to their strong credibility and network. A basic tool that worked with Webex, recording and transcribing sales conversations, highlighting the key portions, and giving a “report” that one could come back and analyze. Called “Honeyfy” back then - the software helped eliminate interpretation from sales calls and record insights in real-time.
Amit knew that they were solving a huge pain point for sales teams across the globe.
And soon, others did too.
In December 2016, Amit and Eilon emerged from stealth mode with their B2B Sales Conversation Intelligence software, now called “Gong.io” and announced their Series A round of USD 6M backed by Norwest Partners and Check Point Co-Founder, Shlomo Kramer.
The founding team was determined, having found early product-market fit with loyal customers.
“We believe Gong’s technology is the most significant invention for sales since the invention of CRM” - Amit Bendov
Along comes gong 👋
Unlike other functions that have been transformed by technology, Sales has largely been an elusive art form—characterized more by chutzpah and charm, than process. And unfortunately, both are qualities that are hard to come by.
What Sales teams need is enablement - to handle customer questions, know when to perform which action, and recommendations that all lead to the two magic words: Deal Won. Kaching. 💰
And that’s exactly what Gong does. Today, the product has evolved to provide Deal Intelligence with features like “Deal Warning” for when inactivity is seen and “Engagement Map” to effectively get reps to talk to the right people and the right time. Gong can read emails, decipher calls, and provide actionable directives to reps and a “reality landscape” to the leadership team.
Revenue leaders no longer spend precious time talking with hundreds of reps and instead get quantitative insights directly from Gong.
So, has Gong been able to transform a chaotic art into a well-ordered science? If their customers and investors are anything to go by - the answer is a big resounding YES.
Today, Gong boasts of 2,000+ customers, including Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, Slack, Hubspot, Autodesk, and GE. Over 65,000+ sales reps use their software regularly.
With net revenue retention upwards of 140% and almost zero churn, Gong has been able to raise its latest Series E round of USD 250M (in June 2021) at a whopping valuation of ~USD 7.25B.
Backed by Tiger Global Management, Thrive Capital, Sequoia Capital, Coatue Management, Salesforce Ventures, and Franklin Templeton Investments, Amit and team have both the vision and the runway to ignite the "Reality Revolution" among revenue teams worldwide.
🎯 Founder-led Sales
Gong's early adopters came from the founders tapping into their networks. Friends and family loved the product, and so it was now time to sell to strangers.
A huge fan of founder-led sales for early-stage software companies. Amit led sales as a one-man-army. By May 2016, they had their first 10 paying customers and about 100K ARR. He soon hired an SDR to help him qualify leads. These were leads that went through the entire funnel; problem unaware to closed-won.
Overwhelmed by the positive word of mouth and inbound requests, Amit delegated the smaller deals (less than 20 seats) to his SDR who ended up closing 2 deals in 2 weeks.
He also took Gong on the road, attending and networking at trade shows across the US. Although trade shows weren’t very effective for acquisition, Amit thought it a great way to gauge market sentiment and speak with key decision-makers directly.
"Founders should do sales, even if they’re not a great salesman because the level of commitment and passion can make up for experience" - Amit Bendov
His strategy was “being brutally honest” in a way only a founder can. He met a huge potential customer but told them that their product wasn’t ready to serve them. One year later, he reached back, and voila! Deal won.
Today they own 75% of the category they created, leaving Chorus, Wingman, and other competitors far behind. This initial thrust was further catapulted by their excellent content strategy, which truly is their biggest moat.
By 2019, Gong served over 700 customers including legacy brands like Hubspot, LinkedIn, and Slack. They were now 200 Gong-ers strong and had raised over USD 68M in total.
If you think they got this far by direct selling, think again. Gong’s superpower lies in its marketing. More specifically, content marketing.
By disregarding the archaic practices, Gong has rewritten the rules of success for B2B Content Marketing.
A true testament to the adage “Go Bold or Go Home,” Gong's content truly makes you stand up and take note.
Their approach is multi-pronged creating authority, providing value, and building awareness in equal parts.
Here's how they did it:
Phase One: Establishing Authority 🤝
Gong Labs was set up in 2016 as their proprietary research lab. It generates data-backed insights and reports akin to a McKinsey report but tailored to Sales and Marketing. Articles are promoted on LinkedIn as that’s where their audience is. To catch the reader's attention, they use bold graphics.
Phase Two: Building Brand and Winning Trust 🙌
Gong understands that readers won’t swap their email addresses for an e-book from a brand they’ve never even heard of and do not trust. In order to build trust, they leveraged research from Gong Labs to create data-backed content. This was in contrast to a lot of opinion-driven, sales tips/resources available online.
These reports were thoroughly researched and provided actionable insights based directly on Gong’s learnings having listened to and analyzed millions of sales calls. Gong was able to slowly build an engaged audience who not only knew of them but also trusted them.
It is important to note that almost none of their initial content spoke specifically about Gong or its features. The primary objective was to provide value to ALL stakeholders and create a distinct voice.
And boy, did it work!
Gong’s Content is hyper-targeted. If you are a CMO, they’ve got articles like “Seven Budget Planning Tips Every CMO Needs to Know.” For Sales and Account Executives, they’ve got “Impact of cursing on Sales” or “Rejection Handling Cheat Sheet.”
By targeting different personas and mapping out their specific problems, Gong is able to create valuable content for all.
Once they built trust, Gong leveraged that trust by getting users to share their email behind a gated wall. This also helped them differentiate intent and further personalize content for their readers.
The more content they generated - the more they learned about their users’ pain points, and created more content to address those concerns, creating a content engagement loop - most companies can only dream of!
For example, in one of the webinars conducted, Udi Ledergor, Gong’s legendary CMO uncovered how getting approvals was the number one issue for sales and teams worldwide.
Next thing you know, they’ve published a gated email template called The cheat code to unfreeze the budget and get approval. Within 72 hours, this became one of Gong’s most downloaded content assets.
Phase three: Category Creation 👑
One can’t talk about Gong without talking about how they’ve created a category for themselves that is almost synonymous with Gong.
After building a brand people trust, Gong coined their own category "Revenue Intelligence."
The launchpad for this new category was an offline event, the first-of-its-kind called “CELEBRATE: The Revenue Intelligence Summit”, celebrating revenue professionals all over. Full of thought leaders, sales superstars, leaders, and entertaining events; they even wowed prospects and validated clients.
With their podcast “Revenue Intelligence” - an interview-style podcast where they speak to the world’s leading revenue leaders; which also acts as their customer education and awareness tool.
Further repurposing this content on social, email, and blogs - Gong has managed to successfully create a category and a content engine that fuels itself, thus solidifying its position as the undisputed leader.
📲 A legendary LinkedIn Presence
Gong’s content marketing strategy cannot be studied as a whole, without singling out LinkedIn.
With LinkedIn, they have truly found content-market-fit. Gong’s marketing team understands that their audience is on LinkedIn and wants data-driven insights, tips, and useful content to really succeed in their career. And they know exactly how to deliver this content.
LinkedIn Marketing at Gong - really starts at the top and trickles all the way down and across.
Gong-ers are seen sporting similar pictures with the Gong colors on their LinkedIn. They post often and are almost always either being helpful or elevating the brand.
60% of B2B decision-makers today are “millennials” and Gong knows that. Their leaders post anecdotes, tips, and personal experiences on LinkedIn, making them entirely approachable and even, friendly.
Gong also understands the formats and styles that are most likely to get their audience to click on that elusive “see more” and engage. They are tuned in to the pain points of their audience and reel them in with the very first sentence. Using data-driven insights derived directly from Gong’s learnings and quirky graphics to present them, they establish authority, and voila, you have a formula that works! Over and over again!
Using hard-to-ignore images with pop culture references and addressing taboo topics, Gong knows how to catch your attention and sustain it. With 140k followers and 80% of all traffic through social coming from LinkedIn, it’s clearly working.
In an attention economy, where all the other B2B players are playing it safe, Gong would rather be controversial than forgettable.
🔎 You reap what you SEO
Characteristic of its DNA, Gong’s SEO strategy takes a contrarian approach. Around August 2018, Gong optimized for longtail keywords with lower search volumes such as “opening lines for salespeople” and “sales techniques overcoming objections.” These low-hanging fruits helped them climb the search results fairly fast.
Gradually, Gong moved on to bid for keywords with mid to high volumes; cold calling techniques (~ 600 monthly searches), and eventually even broader keywords like “sales tips” (~ 1000). In less than a year, they were able to rank on the first page for ‘cold calling tips’ which has a high volume and a very high keyword difficulty score.
By sowing the SEO seeds in smaller, less competitive grounds, Gong slowly moved upwards. Today, they dominate the rankings for almost every branded keyword such as ‘cold calling’ and ‘sales interview questions.'
By gunning for relevance and intent over volume, Gong made quick SEO gains. This coupled with their thought leadership and content marketing efforts (interlinking within blogs and robust content clusters) ensured it a secure place in Search Results Haven.
It’s also interesting to note that Gong has created a new product category “Revenue Intelligence” and owned this keyword for which they still rank #1.
👩🏾🤝👩🏽 Community is a feeling, not a product
With over 2,500 members, Gong’s community hub is a high-value resource for its customers.
Led by Nisha Baxi, the community creates its own content with the sole purpose of engaging with and benefitting its members. With exclusive events, webinars, white papers, and the Gong Academy - members are constantly incentivized to share best case practices, how they use gong, give and receive feedback, and a lot more.
It is a safe space for customers to engage and add value to the community, and derive value in return.
For Gong, the community helps in user-generated content, testing out new features, and propels their advocacy through referral programs.
“Community is a tool at Gong that helps empower our customers. Instead of reading several articles on how to integrate Salesforce with Gong, the community hub allows them to speak to others who’ve been there and done that.” - Nisha Baxi
While still in its nascent stage, Gong is determined to integrate the feeling of community into its DNA.
🙋🏽 ABC = Always be Closing!
While Gong’s content strategy helps them get highly qualified leads, it is the sales team that ultimately gets them to pay. Priced at ~1400$/user/year, Gong is more expensive than Chorus and other competitors.
The narrative is what makes them win: Gong is not a cheaper product; it’s a better product.
After leading sales for nearly two years, Amit decided that it was time to build a sales team.
In 2018, he roped in Ryan Longfield as Gong’s Chief Revenue Officer. Ryan has had a smashing record building high-performing sales teams and was extremely successful during his stint with LinkedIn. Under him, Gong’s revenue has skyrocketed from <10M ARR to 40M+ ARR in 2019. Today, they’ve crossed USD 120M in ARR.
His strategy? Hire the best reps. And give them the best-in-class coaching to help them succeed. He looks for grit and coachability. His reps get coached on sales skills, conversational skills, objection handling, and speaking with conviction.
Today, Gong prides itself in having a winning sales team. About 32% of their employees work in Sales (~400). With 75% of sales reps consistently hitting their quota and many smashing it out of the park, Gong has one of the best B2B sales teams in the world.
With learnings and insights from Gong itself - their sales team has all the ingredients to always be closing.
👑 Next up? King Gong.
Gong understands that Sales reps LOATHE feeding data into multiple excel sheets, forecasting reports, or CRM.
They’d rather be closing. 💰
They recently announced the product roadmap for 2022, and it reflects their innate understanding of their users’ painpoint - better than any competitor.
With Gong Assist, sales reps can automate task management and increase productivity. Gong Collective helps leaders gain holistic insights based on data from multiple critical revenue systems. Reality-Based Forecasting streamlines sales forecasting and trend prediction. Without having to use multiple applications of spreadsheets, sales reps will be able to add reality-based contextual information to generate automated reports.
With exciting integrations with DocuSign to read sales contracts and Slack Connect to read cross-team sales conversations: we can’t help but wonder “Can Gong never be Wrong?”
Having left all competition far behind, it certainly does seem like it.