S. Sterling Company of Atlanta, Georgia is a sales and distribution firm representing electrical component suppliers to U.S. vehicle and equipment manufacturers throughout a 14-state region including the South, Southeast, and Midwest. The company represents highly engineered products to vehicle manufacturers from recreational to heavy-duty. Clients include Airstream, Volvo Construction Equipment, Blue Bird Body Co., and Club Car, to name a few.
From its beginnings in a single Michigan sales office 20 years ago, the company is now headquartered in an Atlanta home office and 10,000-square-foot warehouse facility, with remote sales reps in each territory.
How Pipeliner CRM Fits Into Sales
Pipeliner CRM is the S. Sterling’s central application for the monitoring and controlling of opportunities, from lead to close.
“Before Pipeliner, we didn’t have a single place where one person could watch over what’s happening throughout all the territories,” says Eric McDowell, National Sales Manager.
“Now I perform administration duties here in the main office, and the individual territory managers contribute to their pipelines for their locations and for their own specific set of accounts and opportunities. I can fire up my computer, take a look at all the pipelines, and if there’s anything that’s flagged as being past-due in any of the sales sections, I can bring that up as a source of question or comment to our individual sales managers.”
S. Sterling has a very specific set of pipeline steps that focus strictly on moving opportunities from lead to close. McDowell explains each:
“At the front end, we have sections that are just Leads. These are customers that we’ve had no contact with, either we found them in a publication or you see them at a trade show, and you know, ‘We need to call on this customer.’
“Column #1 is the initial contact with the customer. Either we’ve called somebody or we’ve emailed; we’ve reached out to them and we’re waiting on something to happen.”
“Column 2 is a meeting, which can be in the form of a face-to-face meeting or it can be over the phone. But you actually have a conversation with someone and establish the relationship.”
“The 3rd column is action. So coming out of that meeting, the assumption is, there should be something we have to do. Either the customer needs a sample, you’ve got to provide specifications on a part, you have to respond to the customer with some sort of an action.”
“Column number 4 is ‘Quoted.’ Keep in mind we are a sales company, so in order to get to a PO you have to have something to close, which for us is a quote. In concert with the customer, we’ve qualified the correct part(s) for their application and provided pricing for their production.
“Then stage 5 is ‘PO Placed.’ That’s all the way through. That’s the ‘win’ stage.”
The Search for the Right CRM Solution
McDowell’s search for an efficient CRM application began when he realized that there was a major situation in his company regarding opportunities.
“I found that opportunities were kind of dying on the vine,” McDowell explains.
“We were spending so much time servicing existing clients via email, we needed something to help us focus on opportunities that were hanging out there. Once a customer places a PO, we still take care of them, we still service them, we keep in touch with them—but prior to this we had no central method of tracking opportunities.”
In fact prior to Pipeliner email was the only method of tracking sales. “Everything was done manually, through correspondence in emails,” McDowell says. “It worked well for 19 years, but in order to manage our current rate of growth I couldn’t see us going forward and not having something like Pipeliner.”
The Test Drives
McDowell spent considerable time finding the right CRM. “I spent like about 6 to 8 months test driving a lot of the CRMs you hear of,” McDowell relates.
“Everything from ACT! to Salesforce to Sugar CRM to Insightly. I tried to give myself a span of everything from the established big players all the way down to the new ones that were free.”
“I found that a lot of the established players, like Salesforce gave you tons of features but, number one, it was a lot more expensive than what we needed. Number 2 is that it was very rigid, and we needed something very flexible because our business model is a bit unique. We needed flexibility.”
On the other end of the scale—freeware—McDowell found that creating an efficient CRM was too much work. “For the Insightlys and what-have-you, the stuff that’s for free—you had to put in a lot of effort to make it resemble anything that’s workable.
“I was looking for the balance of something that was kind of in the middle, something that had a good backbone to it, had a good outline to the system, but something that we could tweak and make it work within our company.”
McDowell found Pipeliner through a web search. “I think the thing that got me to evaluate it was the reviews,” he says. “I had read some online reviews that were pretty favorable. Then the test drive was very easy—getting into it just to try it out.”
He was also very impressed with the support he got long before he even purchased
“I tell you what, the sales folks, the support folks—even before the sale, and afterwards—have been absolutely wonderful to work with.”
As McDowell was testing various CRM solutions, he had specific criteria he was using to evaluate. “It had to be something that wasn’t cumbersome,” he relates. “ I allowed myself 30 days to test-drive a system. If I found myself after a couple days thinking, ‘Argh! Now I have to work in the CRM system again” — that right there was the red flag for me that. I knew if I didn’t like it, our salespeople were definitely not going to like it.”
“I didn’t find that with Pipeliner. I found that I was getting excited about the possibilities, the flexibility and the ability to customize the various stages in the sales pipeline, and being able to make it our own without having to pay a lot of programming fees and what-have-you to truly create our own system.”
What finally decided McDowell on Pipeliner as S. Sterling’s CRM? “The ease of the customization was one of the biggest factors,” he answers. “We’re a small company so we don’t have an in-house IT person, so it was going to come down to me to make this thing work. If I could get into it knee-deep, figure it out and be able to explain it to the other sales guys, and I was able to get to that point in very short order, then it became a no-brainer for us.”
McDowell was pleasantly surprised by how easily and rapidly he was able to get up and running with Pipeliner.
“We got the licenses, and we basically brought the guys in for a 1-day training seminar. Within that 1 day were able to explain the benefits, the features, and how it works. We got the system loaded into their own individual laptops, and they were off and running.”
Reaction from salespeople has been great.
“So far response from salespeople has been very, very positive,” McDowell says. “I think they have seen that taking a few minutes to create the opportunity on the front end makes your job a whole lot easier as you’re carrying it through the sales process.”
McDowell also discovered quickly how much of a benefit Pipeliner’s flexibility can be. “We’ve actually been able to tweak a few things on the run,” he says. “When we go into an opportunity, we need to be able to tie it back to a specific principal (the companies we sell for) or specific product group, so that later we can run management reports centered around those 2 main things.”
“We figured out about a month-and-a-half into it that the way that we were setting up our opportunities didn’t afford us that. It took me literally 15 minutes to make the needed changes to the system. Now we basically have drop down check-boxes that we can check, that let me go back in and run reports based on how they’ve set up an opportunity.”
Change to Company
McDowell makes a very simple statement of the positive change Pipeliner CRM has brought to S. Sterling Company. “The biggest change is visibility,” he says. “Right behind that would be accountability.”
“It’s really the ease of use—I don’t know how else to put it. It’s very user-friendly the way that you set up an Opportunity, add the contacts to the Opportunity, and then start managing that Opportunity within your activity calendar. Everything ties together very nice. It’s not cumbersome in the least.”
Recommending Pipeliner to Others
McDowell has ended up highly recommending Pipeliner as part of his job. “Part of the benefit Pipeliner has brought is that I’ve been able to go to the companies that we sell for—our principals—and show them the Pipeliner system that we have implemented. I can show them that it’s a value scenario, that we’ve invested in a CRM system such as Pipeliner, that’s going to benefit them in the long run. So I’ll say, ‘Let’s spend 10, 15 minutes. Let me show you what we’ve done.’”
“Inevitably I get the same questions. Number 1, they want to know ‘How expensive is it?’ When I explain to them that it’s not expensive, they’re surprised. Right behind that is, ‘How easy is it to customize?’ I show them examples of how easy it is to customize. Then when I show them the reporting that’s available out of the system, that’s the benefit to them; that I can accurately report to them what we’re doing for them.”