How Gong Got Their First Customers- With CEO Amit Bendov

The Rundown

  1. Intro to Gong.io

  2. Founder-led Sales with Gong CEO Amit Bendov

  3. Amit’s early stage start-up advice

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Real Quick! With everything Tom Brady has accomplished, he continues to remind us that we know ourselves better than anyone. Don’t let “experts”, your managers, or anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. Let the doubt fuel you.

Tom Brady’s draft report out of college:


1. Intro to Gong

Fresh off Gong’s Super Bowl Commercial, Gong seems to be doing everything right.

Gong’s content is A+, and their growth doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. Gong was founded in 2015 by CEO Amit Bendov, and has recently been valued at $2.2 billion (August 2020).

With success like this, I love learning where it started and the leadership behind the decisions. Last week, I listened to Amit Bendov on the StartUp Sales Podcast with Adam Springer and he spoke about the early days of Gong. Below is a summary of Gong early on and Amit’s advice for start-ups:

What is Gong?

Gong is a Revenue Intelligence platform. In Amit’s words, they help companies get better visibility into what their customer facing employees are doing. 

They make an impact in 3 areas:

  1. Help sales and customer support get better.

  2. Help salespeople close.

  3. Help companies understand their competitive market.

Gong does this by utilizing AI to monitor conversations between salespeople and customers. It takes all the information and provides analysis on how sales reps can get better by asking better questions.


2. Founder-Led Sales with CEO Amit Bendov

How long did it take Gong to get their first 10 clients

5 months. In January 2016, Amit pre-launched an alpha of Gong. From that launch to May/June, they had acquired 10 customers by tapping into their network, friends, and family. 

They got a total of 12 companies to test out their Alpha. During this trial, Amit was surprised to see that the companies were engaged with the product the whole time. Because of this, Amit ended the trial.

He decided to test a trial close (ask for money), so he reached out to those customers and said “hey, beta is over, time to buy”. Out of those twelve, 11/12 said yes, and eventually the 12th eventually paid. This led to their first $100K ARR.

When did Gong hire their first salesperson?

As soon as Amit got 10+ out of network customers, he hired an SDR. These aren’t the customers from his initial alpha launch, but customers that they took through the entire funnel, unaware to closed-won.

This showed him that they can sell to people that aren’t familiar to Gong. Amit mentioned the next challenge was to train people that “aren’t me ”. His big question was “can I bring them in, hire them, and give them an environment where they can be successful?”

Yes, he could.

The first people to close deals were Amit and his good friend Brendon Cassidy. If you don’t know who Brendon Cassidy is, I highly suggest you give him a follow on LinkedIn. His resume is impressive. He was the 1st Head of Sales for LinkedIn (acquired by Microsoft for $26 billion), former VP Sales at EchoSign (acquired by Adobe), former VP Sales for Talkdesk (currently valued at $2 billion), and most recently launched his new venture, CoSell.io, where he is Co-founder and Co-CEO. He gives a great talk on what to look for when you’re hiring a VP Sales here.

With Amit and Brendon closing initial deals, and most of their leads coming inbound, their first hire was an SDR to help qualify and screen inbound leads for quality.

Amit was doing everything on his own and getting bombarded with leads. Once his calendar was too full, he had his SDR start to sell and close any lead less than 10 seats. His SDR closed 2 deals within 2 weeks, so he started handling companies that have anything less than 20 seats, while Amit focused on larger deals.

Sales cycles early on and trade shows

Small companies were almost as fast as a 1 call close and larger ($100K+) were 6-9 months. Most early deals closed within 30 days.

Their first out of network customer came from a trade show in Chicago. Trade shows weren’t a huge part of the acquisition strategy but Amit found it was worth it early on to get the brand awareness.

One thing I liked about this was Amit talking about his “brutal honesty strategy”. Start-ups are stressful. Whenever you get outside interest, your instincts take you to “sell them!’ but instead Amit told the truth. He met a big customer at the trade show and he told him they weren’t ready for him. The person appreciated Amit telling the truth and when Amit reached back out a year later when they were ready, they bought right away.

What was Gong’s Go-To-Market strategy?

Multi pronged approach with a great marketing team. For sales, outbound and inbound. Rely heavily on content marketing, which has been a big reason for success. Instead of typical sales content, which is sharing opinions on sales best practices, they have the benefit of using their Gong data from actual sales conversations, and converting that to actionable insights.

Did Gong ever discount early on?

Amit refused to give discounts at the beginning. He wanted to sell it for something substantial to test the market. He said it wasn’t the money but it was the learning experience of knowing early on if people were NOT willing to pay. Because if they weren’t willing to pay, he wanted to know WHY so they could take the feedback and add to the product. Fortunately, most companies were more than willing to pay after they implemented Gong.

How long did it take to get to $1 Million ARR?

 Within 1 year, Gong hit $1 Million ARR and in 2 years, they had over 400 customers.


3. Amit’s Early Stage Start-Up Advice

When launching a company, who should be doing the initial sales?

The founder(s). Amit says that even if they are not great sales people, a mediocre founder can be more successful than a great sales person because there’s a level of commitment, knowledge, and passion that can make up in areas they lack. If they are not good, then they should hire a phenomenal sales person. Not junior or average, but a great salesperson because the initial sales are hard.

You can’t expect a good sales person to figure out things that you (CEO) haven’t. The most critical thing is product market fit. Do you have a product where people are willing to pay a (large) amount for and is the market big enough? No salesperson can fix this.

According to Amit, this is the goal for a start-up:

Create a product so good that just “ok” sales people can sell it, and if you do hire the best, don’t go cheap or junior. You don’t want to go 6 months with no sales and start to question if they’re the right hire. Whereas, the other side is if you hire someone very good and they can’t sell, your problem could lie in the product.

What are some insights you’ve learned that people would be surprised about?

Amit said to “burn your playbook”. People spend time crafting a playbook based on anecdotes, but just because that playbook worked somewhere else, doesn’t mean it will work for the next company. There’s different people, different skills, etc. The best thing is to match the playbook with the capabilities of the people. Fine tune the pitches to people’s different capabilities.

As the founder, is it hard to pass off responsibility?

Amit said no, because there is a joy in seeing someone else succeed. He said his role isn’t to be the #1 salesperson. As the Founder/CEO, his job is to help others succeed. It’s more rewarding to see someone succeed than personally close a deal.

When hiring, besides looking at a CV, how do you know they’re good?

Amit says to try to recruit the unrecruitable. Don’t go for someone who has been killing their quota at a big company. You want someone with an early stage company and has been successful in a number of companies in different fields. For example, according to Amit, someone who has been successful in CRM, security, and life sciences is better than someone who has just succeeded in security. And ideally someone senior. That’s who you want.

What is your hiring advice for founders?

If you’re an engineer founder, hire a VP sales early. But, if you’re someone like Amit, who can function as a VP of Sales, don’t. You want the VP of Sales to figure out how to sell the product themselves and then build out the team. It doesn’t matter where they’re coming from, it’s the attitude. For example, if the first thing they’re going to do is hire 6 people, that’s not the VP that you want. You want the VP that is willing to pick up the phone, figure out the pitch, the product, how to sell, who’s the buyer, and writing the playbook. That’s your person.

At what point do you bring on a manager? 

When you, as a founder, don’t have the capacity to manage the people. Amit suggested when you have 2 people that are successfully selling, that would be a good time to bring in a VP.

What Is Gong doing different in the hiring process?

First, they weren’t focused on hiring first. They focused on the product. Make it easy to sell. Amit said they had an idea of how to sell it before we brought on the people (Jamison Young, first VP Sales). Their own product has helped them coach, learn, and help the team get better.

“We wouldn’t be Gong without Gong”

Hire great people, provide them with direction, and the means to do their job. There’s no sales technique, tactical thing to fix your problem, or silver bullet answer. Hire great people.


Psychology in Sales

The Law of Consistency

From Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, the law of consistency and commitment refers to the principle that people like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done.

Once an individual has made a commitment of any kind, they have a need to stay consistent with that commitment, making it more likely for them to follow through.

For example:

To use this principle in early stage sales, try to get small “belief” commitments. If you’re selling a product that is “net new” to the market, you’ll not only need to educate why the market needs your product, but you’ll need a certain type of customer and company. You’re going to need forward thinking, progressive, early adopter-type customers and companies. You want them to to agree that this is them for 2 reasons:

  1. Because if it isn’t, you quickly know they may not be a good fit for you.

  2. You want them to confirm out loud that they’re progressive and forward thinking.

At the beginning of a conversation, you can say something like:

“Do you look at yourself and {insert company} as a progressive, forward thinking company? The only reason I ask is because with what we’re building and solving, we’ve seen this to be a common theme with the companies we’re working and having success with (provides context)”

If they say yes and confirm this out loud, then this will set up your ask at the end of a conversation (“you mentioned you’re progressive thinking…), whether that’s another meeting, getting them to test a beta, or to close a deal.

*Important to note that your tone and providing context are keys to these types of questions so they don’t come off as aggressive.


Next Issue:

{Part 1 of 3} STRATEGIC NARRATIVE: The Foundation of a Start Up in 2021

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