by Michele Nachum
Published on 6 February 2012
Pipeline Manager founder, Michael Bonner loves to mentor, providing you with not just the details, but with perspective.
I say this because that is what I believe Pipeline is all about. It has the innovative touch of someone who saw a need in the marketplace and wanted to do something about it.
And while Bonner did not use the word "perspective" much in our conversations, I do believe that is what he is trying (and succeeding) with Pipeline Manager. Taking his knowledge of sales and the CRM space, Bonner and his team have come up with a product that puts other CRM Apps to the test.
Pipeline Manager, a web-based CRM application that lives inside Salesforce.com, attempts wrap together business coaching, best practices and basic contact information all in one solution in a way that is helpful and can truly increase sales. Sounds too good to be true? Read on and you can then decide.
Beyond CRM, a decision making tool
"What if you wanted to better understand customer intentions? What fields show the customer's needs? Interests? Their understanding that your company can meet their needs?" Bonner asks. In your current CRM program do you know who the actual decision maker is - or are you just dealing with the first line of defense, so to speak? If you can't find these tools in your current CRM tool, well, then Bonner wants you to check out Pipeline Manager because it helps you capture that information so that you have all the basics and then some to make wise decisions about your next steps.
Pipeline Manager is not for quick sales, by the way. Instead Pipeline is a B2B solution - so if your company sells to industry clients for instance wherethe sales process may take months or years the Pipeline Manager can really help so you more strategically ascertain where your sales are going and set a course to close them more often.
You might say that Pipeline Manager is about helping a sales team to ask the right questions and put in the right information so that there is better total understanding of their sales pipeline.
What Does it Look Like?
In order to use Pipeline, you will need to sign up for Salesforce.com since the Pipeline app will live inside your Salesforce.com subscription as a salesforce tab that you can easily access. The idea is that Pipeline Manager augments Salesforce.com and allows you to capture data in a few keystrokes that normally takes more time to find in the robust Salesforce.com. Once you click on Pipeline Manager, you will see the Pipeline - a colorful shape that tracks and offers an overview of your selling process. (See graphic below.) You can click on each of the boxes to drill down into the weeds and get pertinent client information.
Once in the Pipeline, you can also go into a spreadsheet-like interface that allows you to add in new sales opportunities and filter client data sales by product for instance. This helps if your sales team is not so hot on entering information (or remembering to enter it at all - which is totally plausible for a busy group of people). Bonner and his team have made the solution user-friendly so you can quickly enter in strategic information without being pre trained to think strategically. Imagine that.
As stated previously, Pipeline Manager is about offering any member of the sales team or management an overview of your sales pipeline overlaying important data that will help your team review and then set their sales strategy. From the sky-high view you can see colorful shapes that represent how your sales are progressing. The shape of your pipeline will change over time as you add in more details and opportunities that move your customers from one stage to the next. But the Pipeline Manager eco-system wraps in business coaching, client information, sales stages and a lot of other good information so you have a good sense of how to progress.
The Pipeline in Pipeline Manager is your interface that you will use everyday to assess the current state of your customers and figure out their intentions, what is going on, the stage of the sale, who are the right decision-makers and more. The Pipeline is represented in colors (the colors actually do not mean a thing - rather they are there to literally look nice, Bonner says) at the high level and as you drill down into the little boxes you get more information about your clients. The Pipeline allows you to assess the interest your customers have in your solution and helps you to understand if your company can meet your customer's needs. Within the Pipeline, whenever you decide to add in new opportunities or edit and update opportunities, the Pipeline opens up into a spreadsheet. This is where you can basically check out all of your opportunities and then add in new information as necessary. You don't have to go back and forth to Salesforce.com - this allows you to enter in most of the information you need.
As you will see from the graphic just below, the Opportunity box asks questions to help you get to the bottom of the deal. What kind of customer are they? What is the priority (some customers may be high priorities, some not so high). Bonner feels strongly that understanding who the decision maker is paramount and as you will see, there is a box to check if you have the big honcho's name or just the names of some mid-level managers who cannot make any decisions other than what to have for lunch.
Another important part of this is to really understand what pipeline you are in: Miner, Hopper, Primary and Turbine. Each of these terms represent major sections of the sales process - Miner being the Leads. As you progress, your opportunity will go into the Hopper, then to Primary and ultimately the Turbine (which means "existing clients" or "Account Management" in Pipeline Manager language). You can enter this information here in the Opportunity box and you can also go to the Miner, Hopper, Primary and Turbine buttons at the top right hand of the spreadsheet screen, click on those to see how each of your customers have been labeled as well as to garner important information about them.
Stages of the Sales Process: The Miner/Hopper/ Primary and Turbine:
As mentioned above, one of the great tools that Pipeline Manager provides is the ability to better understand where you are in each of the sales stages and keep track of lots of information that you can pull and filter as necessary. The Miner phase is the just the "business card you got at the trade show", and making contact with the right people, not to mention tracking as much information about the customer as you possibly can. Once you get your customer to talk to you, you can then easily "convert" it to the Hopper and from there, you can then capture the full conversation from your clients. The Hopper is where your clients who have graduated above the "lead" stage but are not yet at the contract stage…
I will spend a few minutes on the Turbine - because it is another whole dimension to Pipeline. Bonner believes that CRM apps often focus on generating sales but doesn't put enough emphasis on actually nurturing existing clients. He says often there are no tools to help with the contract phase or making sure the account reps are managing their customer campaigns well and in a manner that is more than satisfactory to the client. So the Turbine allows you to customize or use the Pipeline templates to create an additional Pipeline to help your team keep track of projects, campaigns as well as record meetings, best practices and more.
Sales Processor :
Sales Processor helps you create a series of steps that guide the team. They capture your best reps' "best practices" and helpful notes to guide your colleagues so they are briefed and know how to deal with various customers. For example, if one type of clients tends to have a short attention span, instead of demoing your product in a meeting room, take the potential client to lunch where eating and talking might be more productive. This is the granularity in which you can add steps and help into the Sales Processor.
Tabs outline each stage of the sales opportunity . When you add actions that say what should happen in each stage, you consistently assess where your sales team is with each of their clients. You can have a master template that sales team can fill out or you can add in special unique actions that are customized to each process.
You can add many Processes if you want and ensure that you can save days or weeks moving your opportunities as quickly as possible through the Pipeline.
The Work Processor helps the rep manage their day better than a calendar and it helps a manager better understand where his or her team stands, who is doing what, where and when - not to mention "how much?"
According to Bonner the Work Processor helps you answer the following:
Other manager tools include an org chart of sorts that displays the actual shape every team and rep Pipeline.
Is it for you?
The long and the short of Pipeline Manager is that it forces you to ask smart questions and helps you see both the big picture as well as the weeds to help your sales team do the best job possible.
What I liked about Pipeline Manager is that a sales team can truly get a better understanding about the stage of the sale as well as more insight into their clients' needs. Best of all, it doesn't take weeks of practice to learn how to populate the Pipeline - only a couple of half-hour training sessions.
The actual product is easy to use and getting the hang of it is not difficult. You will find taking some time to enter in the information will allow you in the long run to save a lot of time learning about your customers not to mention briefing your sales team.
Like other online CRM programs, Pipeline automates the process - but does so in a way that not just "actions" but "intentions" and "results" are recorded.
Pipeline Manager is about sales, not marketing - however it gives sales and marketing a totally new way to work with each other. So while other CRM apps can help you implement social marketing campaigns - Pipeline Manager strives to really help your marketers understand what's going on in sales so that they can make the most of their social campaigns. As they improve their social campaigns they can also add actions on the process that focuses reps on what marketing has already shown the clients and, so keep marketing and sales on the same track.
My advice is to take a demo of the product, understand what you might use this for. Overall, it's a good product for sales teams that need a bit more than just "contact information."
Ratings: ease of use 4/5, features 5/5, value 5/5 and ease of deployment 4/5