This year, many marketers worldwide have been forced to adjust their plans to support sales and drive demand-gen in a completely virtual environment. Udi Ledergor, CMO of Gong, a revenue intelligence platform, has embraced this challenge and is using it as an opportunity to take a new, outside-of-the-box approach to marketing strategy. As a result, instead of struggling like many companies have done in the new normal, Gong has more than doubled its revenue thus far in 2020 and even recently raised $200 million in additional funding. The Product Marketing Community’s Megan Heuer sat down with Udi to uncover the secret to his success and get his advice for marketing executives as we move toward 2021.
Megan: Can you tell me a little about what you’ve experienced over the past year and the role you see Gong playing in the “new normal” moving forward?
Udi: As we've seen in the last six months, field sales has changed forever. The days of salespeople flying out four times a week to visit customers are over. On top of that, most tech companies are talking about being out of offices for the next year and some have decided to never go back. This results in thousands of salespeople, who are used to working a certain way, having their lives changed essentially overnight. Plus, we’re now in a situation where tolerance for underperformance is at an all-time low. Companies are tightening their belts and part of that may be keeping only their top performers. This puts a lot of salespeople between a rock and a hard place. They want to quickly transform in order to keep their jobs, but they may not have all the resources or the tools to do so. We believe that Gong’s revenue intelligence will be a key part of this new winner’s tech stack and that we are uniquely situated to serve the needs of salespeople who are now selling remotely and virtually.
Megan: Given that we’re no longer traveling, how are you now approaching virtual events you may have previously done in person? How are you revisiting the way you handle customer roundtables, for instance?
Udi: We’ve been doing really well with virtual events and have been experimenting with several different formats over the past six months with a lot of success. The most intimate of our virtual events are our customer roundtables of which there are two main flavors: mainly for our customers or only for our customers. To start with a virtual customer roundtable, you have to be disciplined and pick one persona and one content track. You should also keep the number of people manageable. The persona group – for instance, sales leaders, sales enablement or sales op – has to be made up of people that see each other as peers and share the same problem. With regard to size, we’ve found that 20 or so is the number you want to hit. With too many people, it’s hard to have an interactive conversation and two few is not productive. For the events that are exclusively for our customers, we let them do most of the talking. While they are coming to hear about our product roadmap, what's coming up next, and some of the best practices that we can share, our customers are way better speakers then we are on what's working for them right now. They can show their integrations, hacks and workflows using Gong, but these events can also serve as a great opportunity to learn all kinds of things from each other. These types of events have been so valuable to our customers that we’re seeing over 90% of people who attend them commit to attending the next one.
Megan: What about the second flavor of customer roundtable you mentioned? How does that typically work?
Udi: Our “mainly customers” style of roundtable is typically made up of 75 percent prospects and 25 percent customers. This serves as more of a demand gen event where we can get an intimate group of like-minded people with the same sort of buyer persona or industry together to hear Gong customer success stories. Having Gong users, who are usually raving fans, in the room drives excitement and more organic interest. It's not just the vendor pitching to prospects – it’s prospects getting a chance to ask real Gong users about their experience. Hearing from customers that have used Gong to change their life and their business is way more powerful than anything I could pay for with my marketing dollars.
"Hearing from customers that have used Gong to change their life and their business is way more powerful than anything I could pay for with my marketing dollars."
Megan: How have you approached broader, larger scale events virtually?
Udi: With virtual webinars, it's really all about the content. You can use all the promotion tricks in the book, but if you don't have interesting speakers, it's not an interesting topic or it's not relevant to your audience, it’s not going to work. We make sure to partner with other vendors, analysts or customers to present a relevant story in an interesting way to our audience and, in doing so, get hundreds to thousands of people registered. Finally, the largest format virtual event that we've done twice now – with an upcoming event October 14 – is our #celebrate event series. We did five of them in San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Chicago, and New York before we had to go into shelter-in-place. Then, in March, when everyone moved to working from home, we transitioned within two weeks and launched our first virtual event in April with the second in July. The July event had nearly 5,000 people sign up and about 2,000 attend.
"You can use all the promotion tricks in the book, but if you don't have interesting speakers, it's not an interesting topic or it's not relevant to your audience, it’s not going to work."
Megan: Wow. That’s incredible! What have you done to make the #celebration event a success, even virtually?
Udi: First, it’s simply the power of the brand that we’ve built. Anyone who has ever been to a Gong event knows we pull off events like no one else and that we won’t be wasting their time. The second thing goes back to content. For a virtual event that’s not just a one-hour webinar, you have to really think about the attendee experience. We try to create a mix where it's not entirely about Gong. I mean, sure, there's one or two sessions that are Gong-centric like our CEO keynote, or our Chief Product Officer talking about product updates that people actually want to hear about. But most of the day is not about Gong. In our last conference, we brought in Kim Scott. She's the best-selling author of “Radical Candor,” a speaker and a thought leader. She blew everyone away… and that was only the first session of the day. People couldn’t believe we had only just started. Then we ended the day with Arianna Huffington who talked about how to lift ourselves up against obstacles at this time and how to manage rejections, which are both things that people really need to know right now.
Megan: It sounds like you had some great content, but eight hours can be a long time. How did you keep people engaged for an entire event?
Udi: The challenge was really about how to fill the day in between content. People need bathroom breaks and they need to do things for their children. We needed to fill the day in a way that was engaging so that we didn’t lose them. So – we did things like bring in a DJ who was filling the gaps while people were taking breaks. We featured a live magician who did a 40-minute magic show with four audience members, and we hosted a mixology class from a great bar in New York. We had sent attendees packages ahead of time with ingredients and he gave them a live mixology class. We built a full day of excitement and people actually stayed for the full eight hours. They dedicated their entire day to this event, and I know that they’re going to come back again in October. In fact, we just did our pre-registration campaign a couple of weeks ago and – even though we haven’t even published our keynote speakers – we had 700 people say yes on the first day. That just shows you the power of what you can do when you really fret over every detail to create an exciting experience that both educates and entertains people and provides a networking opportunity. It takes a lot of work and thought, but it’s possible.
"That just shows you the power of what you can do when you really fret over every detail to create an exciting experience that both educates and entertains people and provides a networking opportunity."
Megan: Creating networking opportunities can be the hardest part of doing an event virtually. What’s your experience? Do you have any tips?
Udi: In events of size, we don’t use Zoom, we use a dedicated platform called Hopin. This allows us at least two ways of getting smaller groups to interact. The first way is through breakout sessions, where we try to get birds of a feather in the same room for discussions. We’ve done up to 14 concurrent break-out rooms and we bring in moderators to get the conversation started and keep it going. This allows us to keep groups small and the conversation relevant and valuable. The other way we approach it is to set aside two or three networking sessions a day. When you go to the networking area, it will pair you up based on your job title with someone else from a different company and it will give you five minutes for time to chat. For instance, if you and I have a similar job title and are available to chat now, it might pair us up. I meet like a dozen people every time I go into that area and I’ve talked with some really interesting people – investors, customers, other marketers, etc. It really replicates a lot of the lost experience of being at an actual field event, where you might leave a session and start talking to the person next to you. We’ve found that you can still achieve this online – which is really cool.
Megan: We’ve talked about category creation, taking on the future of field sales and maintaining the edge on creating the best in the business virtual experience. Is there another strategic imperative you’re working on going into next year?
Udi: Our main goal in marketing is to make sales easier. There are many ways to do that. One of the big ways is demand generation, of course. At Gong, 80% of our pipeline is created by marketing – that’s big. That means our numbers keep getting higher every quarter. Last year, we tripled our business in annual terms and this year, we’re on track to double our business and next year we want to double our business again. You can sense a pattern here. That means we can’t just keep doing more of the same. We have to break out into new verticals and new geographies – we’ll be setting up international offices next year. We’re going from a single product line to multiple products and we’ll be packaging, bundling and pricing those products. Also, partnerships will be really big for us next year. We’ve partnered with all the main consulting and training firms and we’ll be doing some big announcements with them as well. There’s so much happening right now – never a dull moment.
Megan: Clearly not! To close out our interview – I’d love to hear what advice you have you’re your fellow CMOs. Is there anything that should be on their radar that might not be currently?
Udi: From March until June, I was getting asked almost on a daily basis when I thought we’d be back to normal so that we could switch on our old campaigns we had shut off in March. But if someone is waiting for things to go back to how they were in March – they simply won’t. This is the new normal and it’s going to evolve faster than we’ve ever seen before. I know that many people are saying that we’ve only seen the first wave and that the deepest economic recession is still ahead of us. The honest truth is that we don’t know what will happen, but the winners in these situations are going to be those who act the fastest. We did that very quickly by rewriting our content calendar and pivoted our events from field to virtual. That’s how you win in a time like this. Be light on your feet and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. In the new normal, if you’re not working in an agile way where you can scrap change this week’s content with two days’ notice, you probably won’t survive.
If someone is waiting for things to go back to how they were in March – they simply won’t … the winners in these situations are going to be those who act the fastest.
Megan: What are some ways that marketers can adapt in this new age?
Udi: I still see B2B brands trying to communicate in this very buttoned up way with their audience through social media, emails and webinars, etc. Nobody wants to see your sweaty salesperson in a suit talking about how great the product is when they can get much more objective information from your current customers. Everyone is two clicks away from reading reviews on G2 or Capterra or actually getting on the phone with one of your customers. Let your customers tell them how great you are! My other advice would be to focus your brand on education and entertainment and do it in a way that is very human, conversational and approachable. Just be the friendly guy or gal that people go to for advice or to answer questions. And, don't confuse authoritative with boring. I think that's a common misconception. People think, nobody will take me seriously if I don't look like a Gartner report or an IBM document. They might take you seriously, but they'll also take you for boring and they won't stick around. They won't follow your social media posts and they won't open your emails. People want to be delighted. Don't be afraid of showing that human side. You can be an authority and approachable, conversational and friendly.
Megan: That is excellent advice, Udi. Thank you for sharing all of this valuable insight with us and we’ll definitely be excited to see all the good work you do with Gong in 2021.
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