The humble ambition of Pipeline CRM

If you watched uHangout a few weeks ago, you'd be aware of Pipeline, a CRM for Umbraco published by my agency, GrowCreate. With use cases that span content personalisation and marketing automation, our ambition is to pitch Umbraco as a full-scale digital experience platform. In this article, I will tell the story behind the product, its use cases and philosophy.

 

Pipeline screenshot

A product is born

Like all good ideas, Pipeline was born in a proverbial garage, messing around with code outside office hours. I had created an address book section in Umbraco, which I thought I'd to hook up with our website contact form. Adam, my business partner, asked if we could use it to send automatic replies and add people to a newsletter list. We didn't call it by its name, but we were already working on our the first marketing automation use case.  

The idea gained traction in CodeGarden 2015 where I did a talk on Selling Umbraco (later transcribed as an article for Skrift). Early in the talk, I discuss how commercial CMSs have a broader focus, addressing the need to deliver in-depth, personalised user experiences. In another part of the talk, I presented a technique on how to neutralise Marketing directors, empowering  IT directors, Umbraco's natural allies, to make our case.

 

Long-term, we need to make as strong a case with marketing stakeholders as we do with technical ones. 

 

It did not escape my attention that this position displayed a lack of ambition: tactics aside, sidestepping marketers is not a strategy. Long-term, we need to make as strong a case with marketing stakeholders as we do with technical ones. Starting with CRM and moving to the wider experience domain, Pipeline is our bid to realise this ambition.  

Beyond content management

Pipeline aims to fit Umbraco with all the tools needed to execute a user-centric digital strategy, going beyond content management to deal with individuals, rather than audiences. To do this, Pipeline operates in three broad areas: conversions, personalisation and automation.  

Conversions to conversations

The most basic use case is to capture a form submission and shepherd it along to a successful outcome. Pipeline lets you create Opportunities, assign them to Contacts, track their progress and collaborate with shared Tasks. Dig deeper, and you can also:

  • Track abandoned shopping carts, and encourage completion
  • Help customers by answering support queries
  • Store longer-term leads and re-engage at later stage  

Content personalisation

Pipeline helps you collect intelligence about your users and improve your profiling and segmentation. Armed with this knowledge, you can personalise your content to improve inbound marketing and generate more conversions by:

  • Extend offers and incentives to returning users to re-engage
  • Show specific content to users based on their browsing history 
  • Customise the user's journey, by sending calls-to-action down different paths 

Marketing automation

Finally, Pipeline can be used to automate repetitive and error-prone tasks. Using the Event API, you can execute custom logic, integrate with Umbraco and share data with other systems. This API opens up a world of opportunities:

  • Power a portal by auto-creating Umbraco Members from new Contacts
  • Use dynamic segmentation and grouping, based on browser history 
  • Use Pipeline as a bridge, sending Opportunities to other CRMs, e.g. SalesForce or Dynamics

Built in Umbraco, for Umbraco builders

 

The success of a product depends on its implementation philosophy as much as its scope

 

Pipeline's wide range of use cases is our answer to the needs of modern digital marketing. However, the success of a product depends on its implementation philosophy as much as its scope. To make this work, we designed Pipeline to be an Umbraco developer's best friend, by following three rules:

1. Use the (Umbraco) force

Pipeline lives inside our favourite CMS, so we use Umbraco as much as possible. We've designed a UI that seamlessly fits in; we use Media section for file management; we use the document-type editor for custom properties, and Users and Members for security. 

2. Love packages

Extending the first rule, we will do our best to connect with as many Umbraco packages as possible. You can capture new Opportunities from Umbraco Forms, customise content using Personalisation Groups and track abandoned Merchello baskets.

3. APIs everywhere

Extending the second rule, we want to ensure developers never hit a brick wall when deploying Pipeline. Using the granular APIs, you can get  data in and out of Pipeline with ease. Take it further by hooking into the events API to override its rules - and add some of your own.

The road ahead 

Pipeline has been running on our website for over 6 months now, helping us improve our sales process noticably. We are on track to release a public v1.0 in January 2016. It will be free to use, although a commercial license will unlock all features and release all limits.

It is too early to commit to a specific roadmap, but our plans for 2016 include a number of releases, each aiming to make Pipeline more engaging and useful to clients and developers: 

  • A Reporting API for developers to create custom reports
  • An Event tracker, so users can create and track automated workflows
  • Integrations with popular services (Trello, Slack etc.) and Umbraco packages

 

It's time to take a few steps out of our technical comfort zone, and engage with the messy but rewarding world of experiential digital marketing.

 

We've decided to make a big deal out of Pipeline, because it can make an even bigger deal out of Umbraco. As developers, it's time to take a few steps out of our technical comfort zone, and engage with the messy but rewarding world of experiential digital marketing. Commercial CMSs have a lead on us, but in 2016 we take the fight to them. 

Theo Paraskevopoulos

Theo is on Twitter as