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How To Run Your Pipeline Engine To Drive Growth

close up of man with his chin resting on his fist: Salesforce on Salesforce, pipeline to drive growth
Salesforce's Eric Stahl explains how pipeline helps drive forecast accuracy and accountability by product, geography, and segment.

Sales pipeline should be your biggest driver for growth. Here’s how Salesforce’s Sales and Marketing departments align to make it happen.

People often ask me how Salesforce drives revenue growth the way we do. Salesforce’s revenue has been on a firm upward trajectory for years, and every year we see terrific growth. How do we do it? I’ll let you in on a secret. The magic is our maniacal focus on pipeline, which is the total dollar value of all the deals our sales team is working on.

Why pipeline? Because it’s the greatest indicator of future sales bookings, or annual contract value (ACV). This keeps our focus on continued growth. 

Pipeline is the glue between the marketing and sales departments. It’s what helps drive forecast accuracy, and it’s how we drive accountability by product, geography, and segment. It’s something an entire team can rally around.

This blog will look at strategies and tactics for creating, managing, and measuring pipeline with a focus on how our team at Salesforce does it.

How Salesforce manages pipeline

At Salesforce, every potential deal is recorded as an opportunity in the Salesforce CRM (customer relationship management platform). This is where sales teams manage all the details, like contacts at the account, what products the customer is interested in, the size of the deal, next steps, deal status, and when the opportunity is projected to close.

Tip 1: The sales organization needs to have a very high level of discipline and rigor when it comes to inputting and keeping this data up to date. Sales managers need to review every opportunity so the data rolls up correctly in the platform. If this isn’t happening, the rest of the process won’t work. App rigor is foundational to pipeline accuracy.

How to build a pipeline engine

Your pipeline engine needs to have all cylinders firing. At Salesforce, the cylinders of pipeline generation include multiple sales roles:

  • Account Executives (AE) create more than half of the pipeline at Salesforce. They are considered the quarterback and are responsible for creating new opportunities, closing deals, and managing customer relationships.
  • Business Development Representatives (BDR) create about a quarter of the pipeline. They focus on outbound prospecting and are responsible for making calls to leads and then passing them to AEs who drive them to closure.
  • Sales Development Reps (SDR) focus on inbound lead qualification, following up on opportunities that come through the website, chat, and calls. SDRs also pass opportunities to AEs and are critical for our small business sales teams.
  • Enterprise Corporate Specialists (ECS) manage smaller deals within large Enterprise accounts so that AEs can focus on larger ones. They focus on new business.
  • Cloud Sales are dedicated to a specific product (for example, Salesforce Service or Platform). They mostly work on existing deals but do represent a small percentage of the pipeline creation.

Tip 2: Understand each of the functions that make up your pipe engine. What’s their capacity? How do they operate day to day? What do they care about? And is each area getting the support it needs? This will help you equip them with the best resources they need to generate pipeline.

Develop a great strategy for pipeline 

Salesforce’s Eric Stahl explains how to build a pipeline engine.

How marketing fuels pipeline

Salesforce’s large Marketing Department has one goal: to help the AEs, BDRs, SDRs, ECSs, and Cloud Sales drive high-quality pipeline generation. This includes:

  • Brand awareness. This drives new audience growth by helping prospects and customers understand who we are and what we do. It’s a key step in building credible and trusting relationships. For example, you may have seen our brand campaign that featured Matthew McConaughey during the Super Bowl.
  • Demand generation. These include paid social and display, gated ebooks and research reports, content syndication, third-party emails, and webinars. At Salesforce, we run demand generation campaigns that market products to specific industries and regions.
  • Events. This serves as a direct connection to peers, industry leaders, and the community. For example, events like Salesforce World Tours, Dreamforce, Trailblazer DX, and Connections drive massive pipeline for Salesforce. These experiences are in-person, livestreamed in real time, and available on demand afterward.
  • Account-Based Marketing (ABM). This is our white-glove service. Teams deliver specific content, campaigns, experiences, and programs to help increase relevance and engagement with our top accounts. That in turn helps drum up more pipeline and ACV. 
  • Digital. Our website includes Trailhead, Community, AppExchange, and more. This is where we engage customers and present them with offers like Trailhead links and product demos. Each of these turns into a lead that goes to the SDRs and BDRs. We drive more traffic to our website with paid media, email marketing, social media, and awareness campaigns.
  • Enablement. This is arming our sales teams with the right tools to sell and win deals. For example, we equip BDRs with emails, call scripts, and one pagers with use cases. We provide AEs with deal-acceleration tools like ROI (return on investment) calculators, competitive analysis, and playbooks to create and close deals.

Tip 3: Drive a healthy mix of marketing tactics to support pipeline creation, maturation, and close. Make sure everything Marketing does, including every headcount and dollar, has a direct line to pipeline and ACV.

How to measure and analyze pipeline progress

Since we use the Salesforce platform, our sales and marketing teams can view pipeline data in real-time reports and dashboards. And our sales operations team can do a deeper pipeline analysis with Tableau.

At Salesforce, we have a high-level framework called the APM (accountability performance matrix). It’s a series of tables that show the pipeline data cut by product, region, segment, and source.

For example, on the product APM, we can see a row for each product with columns for:

  • Forecast
  • Closed Business (ACV)
  • Open Pipeline
  • Pipeline generation
  • Pipe Coverage Ratios

We analyze the dollar amount and year-over-year comparison for each.

Tip 4: Setting up a good measuring framework helps to identify and fix problem spots. Measure your pipeline by product, region, and source. 

Drive action with pipeline councils

Every week, Salesforce brings together its sales, product, marketing, and operations leaders to review the APM. It’s forward-looking, meaning we know what percentage we are into the fiscal quarter and what percentage of our target we have reached. This allows us to color-code each cell as red (need to address now), yellow (looking okay), or green (on track).

Where things are red or yellow, context is shared and then actions are assigned. For example, you can deploy a SPIFF (sales performance incentive fund), more enablement, a dinner series for prospects, more paid-media budget, or whatever is needed to get that cell back to green.

Tip 5: Commit to weekly pipeline councils. Make sure you have cross-functional representation in the room so you can make decisions and act on them quickly.

As you can see, it takes a village to make this all work: cross-functional teams, data, reporting, and real-time adjustments to the strategy and execution. That’s how Salesforce aligns our sales and marketing teams around pipeline to drive growth. We hope what we’ve learned can help you, too.

Learn the basics of building pipeline

Visit our Trailhead page to get started on your strategy.

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