Gong, an AI-based language tool to help sales and customer service reps, nabs $20M

As artificial intelligence continues its spread into all aspects of computing, many believe that it will be the next big frontier in CRM. Today a startup called Gong.io underscores that trend: the Israeli startup, which has built a tool that uses natural language processing and machine learning to help train and suggest information to sales people and other customer service reps, has raised $20 million in funding.

The Series A1 round, which brings the total raised by Gong.io to date to just over $26 million — was led by previous investors Norwest Venture Partners and Shlomo Kramer, the co-founder of CheckPoint Software. New investors Wing Venture Capital and NextWorld Capital are also in the round.

Amit Bendov, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eilon Reshef (both have track records growing, selling and IPOing startups), said in an interview that the new funding will be used for sales development and bringing on more talent to keep building the product.

The company has been doubling revenues for the last four quarters (he wouldn’t disclose the size of those revenues, however) and claims its AI-based solution has contributed to a collective $1 billion in revenues among its customer base, which includes Act-On, SalesLoft, Sisense, Greenhouse, and Zywave.

“We’re having a great run so far,” Bendov said. “We recognise a lot of opportunity ahead and will use it to widen the gap and invest more in the product and additional areas.” He says that Gong.io is hiring dozens of researchers and engineers in speech, NLP and related areas — “The focus is on improving user experience and data science.”

Gong.io may have its roots in sales — the “Gong” in its name is a reference to those gongs that you often hear about or see on sales floors, which get hit whenever someone closes a deal — but Bendov tells me that the product already being used in a variety of scenarios where you have customer service agents talking with people over voice or video calls. About 30 percent of Gong.io’s business today comes from outside straight sales and in other areas of CRM. The idea is not to replace salespeople and others, Bendov added, but to help them do their jobs better.

There are a number of tools already out in the market that help salespeople and others in CRM (which includes things as diverse as IT support to people who man beleaguered Twitter accounts) and no shortage of those who are also tapping into the developments in artificial intelligence to improve how they do this.

Gong.io’s approach is that it’s providing multiple levels of help to its users.

There is a real-time processor that is listening to and “reading” all the audio from interactions as they take place. Then it uses language processing and speech recognition to make suggestions on the fly to help steer the conversation. There is also a secondary analytical service that processes the call, along with many others, to parse the conversation and figure out what is going on later for more detailed training and reports.

Both are focused on keywords that they use to calculate likely outcomes from conversations — and if you follow AI you will know that this is one of the key and most interesting aspects of the field, since it perhaps highlights most importantly how computers can not only think like humans but can do it faster and potentially more reliably when the ‘right’ answer is the one you need.

The platform also is able to measure more than just keywords: it also has the ability to pick up on emotions in a conversation, to help steer people away from what might end up being sticky situations.

Fun fact: Gong.io went to the Bible of sticky situations to train its platform. Bendov tells me that the team fed in the full run of Seinfeld to teach the platform about awkward conversations, sarcasm, humor and rising tension. “Maybe I should call Larry David the next time we’re fundraising,” Bendov suggested. Serenity now!

For the moment, it’s getting a lot of interest from more traditional investors keen on getting into more of the AI trend.

“We have been very impressed with Gong.io’s rapid growth and stellar execution of their original vision and we are thrilled to increase our investment,” said Dror Nahumi, General Partner at Norwest Venture Partners, in a statement. “Gong.io is taking a strong lead in a whitespace category that will grow.”

“The conversations a company has with its customers are strategic data assets that have been untapped for far too long,” said Peter Wagner, Founding Partner of Wing Venture Capital, who joins the board with this around along with Ben Fu of NextWorld. “For the first time, Gong.io turns these customer conversations into productive intelligence resources with profound implications across the enterprise.”