A Masterclass on Brand, Competition and Category Creation w. Chief Evangelist at Gong
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The quick backstory from Max:
“Venture Capital is a product. A product founders buy and pay for with their equity. They choose who they work with based on who can fill their needs, and if they’re lucky (RE: very good), they have many choices.
Traditionally, the product has been money - with the potential added value of a good partner, a relevant network, market signaling of the brand, or capital extension.
Over time, capital has been commoditized leaving VCs to figure out how to create more value and serve up a product founders want to “buy” over the competition.
When we first launched the GTMfund in January of 2021, the whole thing was one big MVP. Our first 50 LPs were GTM leader friends of mine. But since day 0, our focus was always on the positioning and evolution of our product. Our platform.
Our first website was built on Webflow using an Upworker and a $500 budget. The logo? It was typed, by me, into our first deck. I used the font that came up when you opened a new Canva presentation. I typed GTMfund and then put a period in front of it to make it feel like a proper logo.
Both of these assets lasted us until yesterday. ~2.5 years and ~$XXm in funds raised later.
Our MVP era of running this as a Rolling Fund and part-time is over. Our proof of concept has been definitively proven.
When doing these branding exercises, I like to start with our mission.
Yes, we are venture capitalists and make investments and cash-on-cash returns are ultimately the core metric we are judged on. But how we get there is a wildly different value-add than your typical VC firm.
We are a full-fledged platform - Fund, Media, and Community. But breaking them out separately is not the way to think about it.
We must operate by blurring these lines, creating a seamless experience across the platform. Our flywheel is fully baked into the scalable infrastructure in which we provide our value.
350+ GTM leader LPs act as nodes. A scout network entrenched in the best of SaaS, baked in expert diligence (like having our own internal GLG network), a candidate sourcing network that recruiting firms would kill for, and proven been-there done-that playbooks that unlock even more opportunities for our LPs within the portfolio.
It’s created the ultimate win-win-win-win across our portfolio companies, our GTM leader LPs, our institutional LPs, and us.
With the new site, we wanted to emphasize our value add across the platform as much as possible. We wanted to show people how much we can help with the most important aspect of their company, GTM. We are leaning into our differentiation by showcasing our product through our website more like a SaaS company than a VC firm.
And yes, the color scheme is the same as the album cover art for Dr. Dre’s 2001 classic hit, “The Next Episode” which was fitting for us as we move into the next evolution of the fund.”
It’s a big week and fitting that we’d do a newsletter on branding this week.
Anyway, let’s get into it.
A Masterclass on Brand, Competition and Category Creation w. Udi Ledergor, Chief Evangelist at Gong
This is from an internal GTM session I did with Udi Ledergor, former CMO turned Chief Evangelist at Gong.
Let’s just dive in head first, what are the highest impact items that a founder can work on when it comes to marketing/brand?
There's a great quote that I keep forgetting who to attribute it to that says that “brand is way too important to leave it to marketing”. Brand is not the colors of the logo. It's not the funky illustrations on the website. Brand is who you are. It's not what you say on the website. It's not your snazzy tagline. It's not the explainer video. It's what people say about you when they talk about your company. What do you want that to be? Now, let's reverse engineer how you go and create that. That's where the founder comes in.
I can share our experience at Gong and how we thought about this. The first thing that we did was literally my first day. August 1, 2016. I walk into a tiny WeWork office. I meet our co-founder and CEO, and I sitting down to discuss how are we going to build a content strategy that will provide a ton of value to our customers. Amit was a CMO for most of his career before turning into a co-founder and CEO. So it's the best CEO I've ever had. I've worked with him at three different companies on and off for the past 24 years.
So on day one, that was the question, what content strategy are we going to build that people will want to hear more from us? People pay for content, right? Spotify Pandora, YouTube, Netflix, Disney, plus, We all pay for content.
How can we create content so good that people will want to pay for it? But even though we don't take money for it, we do get indications that it's working. Every couple of months, we'll get an email from a VP of enablement at some company who came across our content and wants to use it to train all their onboarding classes, and she'll ask us what would cost her to license our content. When we get those emails, we celebrate because we just got another proof point that we're creating content so good that people want to pay for it.
We knew that our initial product was going to be for sales professionals and sales leaders. Now, if you open up Amazon and search for books on sales, there are more than 100,000 books on sales you can get on Amazon. The vast majority of those books on sales are based on someone's experience, right? What we saw that was missing was books that were based on actual hard data of what actually works and doesn't work in sales.
And that's when we had the penny drop moment and we said, this is what Gong is going to do. We are going to publish regularly, very easily consumable, snack size content pieces on what actually works and doesn't work in sales. We're going to put an end to the debate on how you should start an email and how you should end a call, and how long you should be talking and how many questions you should be asking. Chris Orlob was my first hire, and he sat down and took those ugly charts and turned them into really simple story that in 600 words or less, anyone could consume in five minutes.
What's some Gong content you're particularly proud of?
I think there are two pieces that I love going back to. One of them is the different sales patterns of men versus women. We did like three or four in that series. So here's a spoiler alert. Women actually do better on practically every single measure of sales because they are better listeners, they have more patience, they interrupt their customers less, and they should just be given a lot more opportunities than they are. Sales is not a male profession. It should not be. So we found lots of data supporting that and we love it. By the way, if you look at Gong, large part of our sales leadership and salespeople are women, which goes to show that we drink our own champagne.
Another one was about using curses and swears during your sales calls. What we found was that using swear words as a mirroring technique improves your win rates by 8%. Imagine if you could increase your win rates by 8%. That's a lot. So we found that here's the ten second version of it. If your prospect on a call is giving you clues that they will drop an F bomb or use the S word or any form of I'll call it street communications or a street language like that. If you mirror that technique and start using that same language, you will create better rapport and you have a much higher chance of closing that deal. And I love that data because it's so counterintuitive. And it created a huge shit storm on LinkedIn when we published it because we've got thousands of people chiming in, the vast majority of them saying like, yeah, that's the shit. And that's what I've been saying. And I've been doing this all the time.
And others completely appalled. I can't believe Gong would recommend that you swear on a sales call. So unprofessional. And we're just sitting back having our popcorn. This is fantastic because this is what you want to create. You want to create a conversation.
Let’s go back to the early days. How did you embed that in the DNA from the get go? So you mentioned onboarding, you hammer it home, but how does that come to be? It's you, it's Amit (the founder). You both have this feeling but how do you spread that feeling to an entire company?
It absolutely starts with the founders, then goes to the executive team, which was four of us in the early days, was Amit and Elon, our co-founders, our CEO and Chief Product officer. And then we had Eran Aloni, who is now our EVP - Ecosystem and Business Development. He had a different role then, and myself. So it starts with the founders. The entire executive staff agrees that this is what we're going to do, and then we trickle that down into everyone and everything that we do. So when Amit gives his back then it was a weekly. Now it's a monthly all hands. He'll talk about the upcoming product features and how they're going to create raving fans. We'll surface these testimonials that customers are writing in our NPS surveys and on social media and responding to emails, and we'll showcase to the entire company the behaviors that we're looking to reward. When you do this enough, it becomes our nature.
So we had, two weeks ago, our first in person event after two years. The team was thinking, oh, what could be a fun thing? So they decided to create the Gong Letters in these, like, six foot high structures of gong. So people would come and take their selfies in them and sit inside the letters. They created a Raving Fan experience at the booth before we even opened up.
You mentioned decentralized decision as a key to your success but requires a lot of trust, and requires the right people. Talk me through your first few marketing hires that you made, why you made them, how you attracted them because it's hard out there right now to attract that top 1% talent.
A lot of founders are torn between, should I get someone senior? But what if they don't want to get their hands dirty or they're too expensive or I can't even attract them at this point? And then they end up settling for someone who's very junior, who is easier to hire. But then they find that that junior person doesn't really know what to do because they've always been very tactical and had a professional mentor telling them what to do next in marketing. And most founders are not marketers. So here's what worked like at Gong, and frankly, at most of the other companies I work for and I've seen most often work, you should try to hire someone over qualified. And it's probably true for almost every position, but especially for a position like this that is going to be leadership. You want someone who's been either a number one or a number two in a marketing organization.
They have to have seen and been part of the decision making on what do we build next? How should we balance between events and digital? What does organizing an event look like? What does good content marketing look like? How do we manage the website? How do we do experiments? How do we work on conversion rate?
They've built and they've managed beyond what you need today. And they know how to solve problems that you can't help them solve right now. But this person has to be ready to roll up their sleeves and love building things and getting their hands dirty. For the first few months at Gong, I did everything from installing Marketo, sending out email campaigns, building my landing pages, writing the copy, creating the presentations, creating my ads, and running them on LinkedIn and Google. And then I gradually started bringing people in to take over.
If you're in B2B marketing that is not primarily product led, content is going to be crucial. So the content person would be my first hire. And on that content person, you know why I think Chris Orlob and then after him, Devin Reed and others have been so successful? Because they are domain experts. Chris Orlob was a sales leader at insidesales.com before he came to Gong. Devin Reed was a salesperson at Eventbrite and then at Gong for two years before he transferred to marketing. I gave those people their first marketing jobs ever, but they brought with them invaluable domain expertise that I didn't have because they had been salespeople. They speak the language, they know what salespeople use and say in their one on ones in their team meetings which jokes they will get. And that's why the memes that you see on the emails and the Gong page actually work because it's ex-salespeople who are writing them. I couldn't write that — I was not a salesperson. Everyone can smell bullshit from a mile away. If you are writing for a persona that you don't truly understand, the content will not get through to them.
My second hire was a marketing automation specialist. I was still doing events and advertising and other stuff but I found that a really big part of my day (and lots of people underestimate the amount of time that it takes to get this right was going on running our automation systems). I'm like, okay, this can't be the best use of my time as the Head of Marketing. And so I got a marketing automation person. She was so excited about tearing apart everything I built and rebuilding it the right way and she did a phenomenal job. So marketing automation is going to save you a ton of time and invest in that hire early.
So looking back and I think everyone can agree, thought leadership and brand for Gong was everything. But in the early days, what were the KPIs that you held yourself to? What is the power of brand? Walk me through how you measured that in the early days.
We didn't have any tool that gave us the type of measurement that we found useful. So we made up our own, and we actually used an agency to do the clicks and counts for us. When I started, we had zero followers on LinkedIn, nobody on our email list, and we wanted to make sure that Gong is dominating the conversation around the space that back then, we called Conversation Intelligence. We identified three companies that we considered competitors, and we gave our agency the following instructions. We said, I want you to look every week at these four companies, so Gong, plus three competitors, look at their company page and look at their top three or four executives that are posting on LinkedIn.
We wanted to count not how many posts these pages and executives were posting, but how much engagement all those posts were getting. How many likes, comments, and shares are all of this company's posts and all their executives' posts getting per week? And we counted that over time. And our goal was we want to dominate the Conversation Intelligence discussions at a ratio of at least two to one, which means people responding and commenting and engaging with Gong's posts should do so at least double the amount that they're doing it for everyone else combined.
And then when they tallied up the number of comments, likes, and shares consistently, Gong showed up as dominating between 70 and 85% of all the social media discussions around Conversation Intelligence. And we did this for, like, 18 months. By then, it became boring because we had never dropped below 70% of the conversations in the space. So we put a big green checkmark on it, said, okay, we've reached our goal. We have dominated the social media discussions around conversation intelligence.
Gong today has 200,000 followers on LinkedIn. Our nearest competitor has about half that, and the others fall way behind. And we didn't buy a single one of those followers. These are 100% people who click the follow Gong button because they want to read more of the content that we publish. They want to be part of this conversation.
That's super helpful. I wanted to talk more about competition. Infamously, Gong and Chorus came out around the same time, and then you clearly ended up winning. How did you handle the competitive intel and competitive positioning before that was the case?
Chorus was actually founded, I think four or five months before Gong. The similarities between the two companies were striking. They both had Israeli founders or half Israeli founders. They founded their engineering team in Tel Aviv. They founded their go to market teams in San Francisco, and within a couple of months of each other raised their seed A, B and C rounds, which were also pretty similar amounts until some point. So you could say that the company started from almost a level playing field. We never obsessed about competitive intelligence. To put it in the words of one of our board members, Carl Eschenbach from Sequoia, he says, Gong, you continue to be obsessed with your customers and aware of your competitors, and you will continue to win. Companies who obsess about their competitors and are just aware at best of their customers don't make it.
In our space at Gong, if you look at the way we're innovating, it is counterintuitive to what most of the market is doing. We keep inventing things that did not exist before. We're not trying to tweak something that's already out there. We're not trying to build a better CRM. We're not trying to build a better conversation intelligence or revenue intelligence system. We're thinking what problems are still out there that we can solve in a way that nobody has tried before. And that's why the product is so innovative and why the competitors are finding it so hard to keep up, because we already know how we're going to be solving for these problems in the next two years. They're going to have to wait to see what we launch and then scramble to catch up.
Yeah, what's super interesting about that and watching the journeys, you always force people to play your game. And this goes into category creation in a very real way, right? It was conversational intelligence. You drag everyone into this game that you create, and then you switch the game, and it's revenue intelligence. And now they have to come and play catch up again. Talk me through category creation because it can be used when done properly, as a tool to make people play the game you want to play instead of.
So first, here's the first myth. You don't have to create a category to succeed. Looking at the top SaaS companies, publicly traded, only 8% of them created a category. Most companies work within the boundaries of an existing category, and they do something either better or cheaper than everyone else. I often joke that you should avoid creating a category like you avoid the plague because it's costly, it's time consuming, it's darn hard, and the vast majority of companies who try to do this fail.
After all those disclaimers, if you're still crazy enough to go for creating a category, here's what drove us to do that and how we went about it. So, back in early 2019, we'd been like three years in the game, and we found that the category that we were in, conversation intelligence, was limiting us in a couple of important ways. One, all the other competitors were just talking about a call recording tool and how this can help surface some insights. We had a much, much farther reaching vision, both within the product that we already had, but definitely with where the product roadmap was going. We were seeing Gong helping not only sales team but everyone in the organization make the most important business decisions, not just around coaching salespeople, but how to save deals before they go sideways, how to make the most strategic motions in customer facing teams more effective with Gong. And nobody was talking about that. And we felt that by being associated with conversation intelligence, we were being pigeonholed into something much smaller than what we're really doing.
The other problem we wanted to solve was as we were going up market from SMB and mid market customers to enterprise and strategic accounts, we found that it's increasingly harder to get and keep the attention of senior sales leaders. I, as a CMO then, don't really evaluate any tools, let alone a CRO at Google or Amazon. We were thinking, how can we talk to the sales leader about something that she can't delegate down, something that she cares about deeply? And we thought that that thing would be revenue if we're selling to revenue leaders. Revenue leaders care about revenue, right? It sounds trivial now. And so we brought on Sheena Badani on my team, who led us through category creation.
In a few short months, we looked at half a dozen options, and we thought that without losing all the brand equity that we created in conversation intelligence, the next leap that we should make would be into revenue intelligence. We thought the word revenue would sound strategic enough to keep the attention of the revenue leader. We launched it on October 8, 2019, at our first Celebrate conference in San Francisco. We did the press release, we did everything. Nobody was talking about Revenue Intelligence in those days. Fast forward two and a half years later, there's a Gartner market report that came out in December titled Revenue Intelligence with Gong as a leader and a few other companies in it. Spoiler alert. Forrester is also releasing their first wave on revenue intelligence with Gong and Outreach and a couple of other great companies in the leader quadrant.
👀 More for your eyeballs:
Great article from our friends at Foundation Capital on the next wave of gen AI apps.
👂 More for your eardrums:
Julia Gilinets, Head of Sales at Pocus, and I had chat through: going all in on data, understanding products trends, discovery and the future of the SDR role.
A double dose this week featuring the legendary Paul Irving, our Principal and Platform Director on fund updates, his origin story and why we didn’t like each other when we first met…
🚀 Start-ups to watch:
Congrats to the team at Airspeed for announcing their 7.5M seed funding. Watch Doug Camplejohn and this team 👀
🔥Hottest GTM job of the week:
Head of Sales at UserEvidence, more details here.
See more top GTM jobs here.
I hope you enjoyed that interview as much as I did.
Udi is one of the best marketers to ever play the game.
Also if you’re a leader based in SF, we’re hosting a “AI & The Future of GTM” event next week with our partners at Citi Ventures and Alpha Square Group - shoot me a note if you’d like to join.
We’re continuing our May Giveaway this month. If you post your learnings from this newsletter on social and tag @ GTMfund - you’ll be entered to win a set of GTM airpod pros.
Have a great weekend.
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Awesome to see the inside baseball on how Gong not only changed the game but created it as they went.