By Clint Oram, Co-founder and CTO at SugarCRM

Think you know who in your organization is part of your customer service team? Think again. The fact is that almost every employee is potentially customer facing in today’s social era, compliments of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, to name a few.

Fifteen years ago the customer relationship management dynamic was entirely different and much more finite. Back then employees in just a handful of departments engaged with customers through traditional channels — email, phone, chat or face to face. But the landscape evolved and direct lines of communication to customers have been extended to everyone in an organization — even back-office or “invisible” employees — via social channels. (Here at SugarCRM, for example, several of our engineers might blog for us, and these blogs are read and commented on by our customers.) This practice is not unique to SugarCRM. Many companies encourage their employees to responsibly engage with customers via Google+, Twitter or another social channels.

Unfettered access to a range of employees is a major benefit to customers who want to consocial-customer-care-1nect with company representatives apart from those in the marketing, sales or customer service departments. Today’s customer wants to make a human connection with “regular people,” and know, like and trust those they do business with. Social media facilitates this type of connection. But the challenge is ensuring customer engagement is consistent and effective across the company regardless of which communication channel is used. It’s also important to provide value to the customer in each interaction, so having critical, up-to-date customer information at hand is critical throughout the customer journey.

In a recent article on ZDNet, best-selling author, Paul Greenberg, argues that customer’s voices, amplified by social media these days, makes them feel entitled to an amazing customer experience at the speed of light and woe to companies that don’t give it to them. He also goes on to say that if companies want to provide an amazing experience, they really need to understand, and be in close contact with, their customers. They need to be engaged with their customers. What a concept!

So, how do you stay ahead of this challenge and create a customer-centric culture at your company? Here’s a start:

  • Choose a CRM system that extends across the organization to all employees. With traditional CRM systems, we see that they are typically relegated to users in marketing, sales and support. If CRM was extended to everyone in the organization, imagine the customer relationships that could be nurtured and imagine the level of customer satisfaction that could be achieved.
  • Pick a CRM that is social-ready with an advanced user experience. Sugar helps you manage all social interactions with collaboration tools and contextual intelligence within a single dashboard.  This turns every individual into a customer expert by uniquely personalizing their interactions, creating a 360-degree customer view and driving true customer loyalty.
  • Recognize that great customer service is not solved by technology, but rather supported by it. Truly becoming customer-centric may require significant cultural changes inside an organization. Invest in this initiative. By getting every potential customer-facing employee to understand the value that they bring to the organization as a brand ambassador, and equipping them with the tools and information to facilitate superior customer experiences, the results will be overwhelmingly positive.

In our hyper-connected world, it’s imperative that all employees have the same access to customer information to deliver a consistent experience and avoid appearing fragmented and siloed. In essence, all employees can/should evolve into “customer experts.” This is how you ensure customer experience integrity is maintained in the 21st century.

This mission has guided SugarCRM throughout its decade-long history — well before the social media wave hit our shores. The company was, after all, founded on the idea that customer relationship management is more than marketing, sales or customer support automation. We have always inherently championed the individual, and emphasized that each customer-facing employee (these days that means everyone with a Twitter handle or Facebook profile) should be empowered to create extraordinary customer relationships.

By Laurence Leong, Senior Director, IBM Alliance, SugarCRM

Both Analytics and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) have been around for a long time, and provide value on their own. But organizations can gain more value when analytics is embedded into, and presented in context of, CRM.

In fact, at SugarCRM, our view is that CRM is not just about tracking sales opportunities or service cases for management; our view is that a CRM system should make every customer-facing individual, such as a sales or service agent, more effective and productive. SugarCRM CTO and Co-founder, Clint Oram, said it best when he said “A CRM system should tell sellers and service people something they don’t already know.” Analytics, embedded directly into CRM, are a big piece of this.

Imagine a sales person going into their CRM system and not only seeing their list of opportunities – but seeing which opportunities have highest propensity to buy, and which opportunities have highest propensity to close.

One SugarCRM customer – who happens to be IBM – does exactly this. By now you’ve probably heard the story and read the Ovum analyst report of how IBM uses Sugar for IBM’s 45,000+ sales people worldwide. What you may not know is that IBM also uses a set of rich predictive analytics tools – including its own analytics offerings – along with two years’ worth of account and industry information – to provide its sellers with an indication of the opportunities’ likelihood to both make a purchase, and to close a pending deal. This is not a simple lead score, but advanced predictive modeling. For IBM sellers are thus more effective and productive because their CRM system tells them something they don’t already know.

At the IBM Insight 2014 conference, I will be speaking on this topic along with Mike Padilla from the IBM CIO office – see details and materials here.

SugarCRM also partners extensively with IBM in a number of other analytics areas.

  • Sugar includes built-in reporting that provides Sugar uses with the ability to report on a wide variety of CRM data.
  • For customers that need more powerful analytics capabilities, we introduced an offering this year called “Sugar Analytics Powered by Cognos Business Intelligence” or “Sugar Analytics” for short. As the name implies, Sugar Analytics includes IBM Cognos Business Intelligence under the covers. We’re excited to be able to offer the industry-leading capabilities of Cognos, pre-integrated into Sugar and on a subscription basis. You can see a screenshot of Cognos reports embedded directly into the Sugar UI below. Find out more herePicture1
  • For customers that already have Cognos, Sugar provides a Sugar Connector for Cognos BI which extends those customers’ existing investment in Cognos and integrates it seamlessly into Sugar.
  • SugarCRM was also one of only three partners on stage at IBM’s September launch of Watson Analytics. We’re excited about the new capabilities of Watson Analytics including the built-in predictive model, the very compelling new user interface, the ability to ask questions in a natural language, and the freemium cloud pricing model. Look for more between Sugar and IBM Watson Analytics soon.
  • Speaking of Watson – how would you like to take advantage of the power of the supercomputer that won the game show Jeopardy! and combine that with your CRM? Findability Sciences, an IBM Watson Ecosystem partner as well as a SugarCRM partner, has done just that, with a solution called “Impact Measurement and Analysis” (IMA). 70% of non profits say at least half their funders demand impact measurements. Yet, determining that impact often involves time-consuming human perusal of thousands of pages of grant proposals and other lengthy reports. The IMA solution integrates Watson along with SugarCRM to provide a revolutionary way to measure and analyze impact for non-profits. See it in action here or see the screenshot below (note the “Ask Watson” button on the Sugar screen).
  • IMA

At SugarCRM, we’re excited about the possibilities of providing analysis and insight for customer-facing individuals like sales and service representatives, and we’re partnering with IBM to do so. Learn more at sugarcrm.com/ibm.

What are your thoughts on analytics and CRM? Contact the author at lleong@sugarcrm.com, or on @laurenceleong.

SugarCRM and its global partners gathered in Munich for the first annual Global Partner Summit. The successful two-day summit gave SugarCRM systems integrators, value-added resellers, and key technology partners a chance to share success stories, learn about the latest Sugar-powered technology and compare notes on how to help companies create extraordinary customer relationships.

Over the course of the two-day event, a few themes emerged. One, as evidenced by CEO Larry Augustin, is that CRM is still a “large, under-penetrated market.” While CRM is a mature technology, there are a number of factors that continue to drive opportunity and innovation in this sector. And CRM has never been hotter in the social era! The ever-expanding mid-market segment and their increased understanding of the need for CRM is also helping to fuel the market. Additionally, the replacement market for older products is opening up large opportunity for SugarCRM and its partners as well.

In addition to the overall opportunity, a few high-level technology and business trends are working in the SugarCRM partner network’s favor. On the larrygpstechnology side, the prevailing item is the fact that organizations are beginning to evolve their take on what “the cloud” truly means and how it can facilitate their customer-facing initiatives. First and foremost, companies of all types are getting smarter about cloud and are looking for more flexible solutions that help them leverage cloud tools—but without the harsh limitations of older SaaS offerings.

On the business front, opportunity abounds for SugarCRM and its partners as all kinds of businesses look to alter their CRM strategy in “the age of the customer.” Previous perspectives on CRM were both internally focused on the company and applications focused on management. Modern CRM tools, deployed by CRM expert partners, can help organizations better understand their customers throughout the customer journey, and also delight internal users with far more useful tools than the CRM offerings of yesterday could ever provide. That’s a massive win-win.

Of course, it was not all work in Munich (and how could it be during Oktoberfest?) – as it is well known that SugarCRM has some of the most fun loving, energetic partners on the planet. Evening events, such as a traditional Bavarian feast at the Hacker-Pschorr brewery in the heart of Munich (which turned more into a modern disco by night’s end) helped bring every partner even closer. TMI…let’s move on!

When dancingwe consider the millions of potential users of Sugar – and the fact that these users will span the world and every conceivable industry – SugarCRM’s global partner network is an integral link in the success chain. Our partners are local experts with the CRM knowledge needed to help companies maximize their ROI and drive transformative change across their organizations. Our partners ensure that every deployment is a winner.

A huge thank you to every partner in attendance, as so much of our continued success is due to their efforts. And for those who missed what partners called SugarCRM’s “best Partner Summit ever” –we’ll save you a spot next year! We look forward bringing the entire partner ecosystem back together again for SugarCon 2015 next April in San Francisco, and are excited to build on the success for next year’s Global Partner Summit!

Note: The following is a guest post from Thomas Shields, Vice President, Marketing Program Delivery, BancVue.

An Empathic Challenge To Your Customer Journey!

All of us want to delight our customers, engage their interest and drive true customer loyalty. However, many of us are fighting an uphill battle and significant challenges stand in our way. The problem becomes particularly pronounced as we focus on growth.

The root cause lies in our perspective. There is a flaw in the way we conceptualize our customer and the value we bring them. shieldsWe almost always start by defining their journey by OUR milestones — simply because that is what we know. “We worked so hard on delivering the most brilliant, innovative product ever known to the industry. It truly defines perfection… why wouldn’t they want to hear about it right now?” Right?

The key to an effortless and truly graceful customer journey lies in our orientation, our ability to truly walk in our customers’ shoes and see our company, and our offerings, through their eyes. Let’s call it Empathic B2B. That perspective is totally unnatural for us because we are human and, in that way, are inherently biased by our own perspective.

Great companies know how to walk in their customers’ shoes and they build themselves around that. It sounds so obvious when you hear it – but do a quick gap analysis on how well you execute the theory.

  • Do you have a customer journey document that accurately captures the customer’s perspective?
  • Does the customer perspective lead and guide all your B2B efforts?
  • Are your customer onboarding processes written in words your customer would use, not your internal jargon?
  • Does your customer have the same milestones as you do in your sales documentation?

If you start to really peel back the layers you realize that we as leaders are sending conflicting messages to our troops. The primary message is “think on behalf of the customer,” but yet we fail to truly reinforce that at any point within the cultural and operational infrastructure we build. Too often, everything we build and say is “about them through our eyes” instead of being “about them through their eyes.”

So, how do you make this shift within your organization? Here are some tips:

  1. Go through an exercise and document your client journey from their perspective.
  2. Really challenge yourself to think like the client and forget your internal bias toward yourself.
  3. Include clients early and often. Choose some of your best clients (not necessarily those that love you the most) and talk to them. Validate that you have accurately captured their perspective and look for that sigh of relief or exclamation of excitement from them telling you that you “got it”.
  4. Don’t flatter yourself into thinking that you already know best because of your past experiences.
  5. Enlist internal champions to help you celebrate the transformation as a company priority and to make it a sustainable reality.

Once you’ve taken the above into consideration, start with your CRM system. No system should more clearly reinforce your customer’s journey than your CRM software. Use it to improve those metrics that define and reinforce the customer perspective for your team. Use it to reduce your customer’s efforts BancVue Logoon their journey, not yours. At our company, we used SugarCRM to achieve this. We implemented Sugar as a true enterprise application, spanning Customer Service, Finance, Legal, Marketing Operations, Sales, Technical Operations and Training.

We found the platform especially ideal thanks to its flexibility. We could seamlessly assimilate our customer’s unique journey into the rhythm of our business. It’s a shift in thinking that leads to improved internal processes and external relationships. And, it has shown results at BancVue.

BancVue has tripled in size since 2006, and Sugar paces the growth with new uses, customizations and integrations. We’re experiencing another period of explosive growth right now, and I know we couldn’t be successful managing that without Sugar.

Want to learn more about how we delighted our customers at BancVue? Read our case study and watch the video here: http://www.sugarcrm.com/casestudy/case-study-bancvue

About the Author

Thomas Shields is a heavy lifter. As VP of Marketing Program Delivery for BancVue, he lifts revenue and results for community banks and credit unions across the nation by managing the deployment of internal applications and the development of BancVue’s enterprise process architecture.

It’s been a while, but here I am, taking my own CRM journey full circle. I wrote my first blog for SugarCRM five years ago and here I am, at it again. My perspective now is more focused, taking cues from front line experience and watching companies work to make sense of the sea change happening in the business world. As an industry, and as a discipline, we have made significant progress. We are not arguing about definitions and are much more focused as a practice (CRM practice, to be clear).

The historical perspective—the one where users of the system considered CRM only a management vehicle to watch, control, and measure their performance— is not yet eradicated. But dare I say this is no longer the majority viewpoint either. Empowering the individual user will always likely be a work in progress, but since I have hung my hat at the front door of SugarCRM, significant progress has been made.

From the individual contributor to the senior executive team, organizations have come to realize what a well-tuned CRM engine can do for their business, especially if we understand the needs of the user. Driving success is about answering the $64,000 question, “What’s in it for me?” The overall success of any CRM initiative can increase simply by answering that simple question. Know what you are asking your teams to do every hour of every day and ask how can you help them to do it better!

So…“What’s in it for me?”

The Sales Perspective: Ask a sales person what they think about CRM systems and the answer might be less than positive. But, whose issue is this, really? In the realm of carrot and stick, too much stick does not get the job done.

When we discuss the part of CRM that is used to drive sales, track leads and opportunities, as well as manage contacts, we often forget to include the discussion about helping the sales team close the deal. Many might argue that ‘closing the deal’ should be a non-event. If value to the business and the end users is clear, then signing a piece of paper is just one step in the process. Actually, by then, it should be the easy part. What we need to focus on is helping everyone to derive the value from the system that each user wants.

The Management Perspective: In answering the question “what’s in it for me?” we can’t forget management, as they too are individuals that are looking to extract personal value from a CRM initiative. The senior management team within all organizations does have the right to track progress, is that so wrong? The VP of Sales does have the right to understand how his or her sales team is using a system and how often reps connect or interact with customers or prospective customers. Finance has to plan the course of business, cash flow and production, staffing and other important business metrics. The marketing and demand teams need to know if their programs are designed correctly. In short, management is not the enemy.

The Customer Perspective: My lessons from the field during the past few years suggest that the cultural changes happening now are much more complex than the technological changes. Spend time actively listening to your customers and reward your sales teams who spend this time engaging and listening as well. Individual users of the system will very quickly see the benefits of a system that brings context to their discussions, and provides efficient means to share customer information. The conversation between the management team and sales teams should focus on the customer, not system tasks and made up numbers.

So, how can you start answering the “what’s in it for me?” question on a company-wide basis during a CRM implementation? A great start is to engage your teams and include them in the entire CRM deployment process and have a fundamental understanding of what they need. Your goal should be to align your organization around the needs of your customers. If your team, especially those on the front lines, believes you are an ally, in the trenches with them, the question “what’s in it for me?” will rarely ever need to be asked.

appsorangsThe title may be a bit confusing if you thought the words “customer” and “consumer” are the same, but I urge you to think again. There is a huge distinction in these two groups of people, especially as it applies to CRM. When we go to market as a CRM vendor, we essentially play both the “B2B” role of winning over decision-makers (“customers”), while also needing to win the war over user adoption (the true “consumers” of CRM). And oftentimes, the needs and goals of these two groups may seem different, if not diametrically opposed.

We have seen the types of issues than can befall firms that favor the “customer” over the consumer. In the smartphone world, Blackberry listened to the corporate IT “customer” while Apple favored the “consumer” and brought the iPhone to market – and we’ve seen how Apple’s fortunes have fared since 2007. Closer to home, we saw companies like Siebel Systems favor a complex, enterprise IT and CXO selling focus at the expense of the user experience. While some of the Siebel technology exists under Oracle, Siebel’s glory days are a distant memory in 2014.

At SugarCRM, we try to solve the “customer’s” issues (management-level decision makers) by meeting the “consumer’s” needs (the everyday end user) in new and innovative ways. By giving the front line, customer-facing employee tools they can actually use to do their job more effectively, a lot of benefits rise to the top. For example, with seamless and intuitive mobile tools, sales reps get a tool that gives them critical data when in front of clients. And, simple mobile tools ensure reps can add data when it is most fresh in their minds – not hours later. Therefore, data quality increases, as does revenue predictability – something management cares most about.

This is just one example of how designing for the consumer, and not simply the customer – makes sense. The symbiotic nature of “bottom’s up” design benefits everyone. When customer-facing employees actually want to use the system, management gains insight, predictability, while customer satisfaction and retention can increase (which means greater profit margins). I have seen sales teams that value the individual take this idea and run with it, to great success.

So, for those looking to begin or expand on a CRM initiative – it is important to ask yourself: Is the system I am evaluating designed for the decision-maker, or the everyday user? If it is the former, the long term benefits may not be as strong as you’d expect. But, if you choose a partner that designs with the consumer in mind, you are more than likely on the right track for higher adoption and more profound return on your CRM investment.

Gartner recently named SugarCRM as a Visionary for the second straight year in its Magic Quadrant for Sales Force mobile_combinedAutomation. Sugar’s innovative mobile user experience, and flexible deployment options were cited as reasons for the continued strong ranking.

Also, SugarCRM took home five awards as part of CRM Magazine’s annual Market Leader Awards thanks to the innovative nature of the software, as well as the way it empowers novel CRM deployments – such as Redglaze Group’s CRM Elite winning deployment.

All this recent recognition got me thinking: what does it truly mean to be a visionary when it comes to CRM? I think, in Sugar’s case, it comes down to three key differentiating points:

Innovative User Experience: Sugar has long been focused on user empowerment – making CRM a mission-critical tool for customer-facing employees, and not a simple data capture mechanism. Sugar’s ubiquitous, intuitive experience across all mobile and desktop touch points is a key differentiator.

Flexible Platform: Hands down, no other CRM provider offers such an open, extensible and scalable platform for CRM. The open nature of Sugar allows any user to customize and integrate with nearly any other data source or application.

Value: In a long-term CRM deployment, value comprises far more than just “what the system costs.” So again, when choosing a more open and extensible platform, the total cost over time is far less than a proprietary app or platform. The available talent around open, standards-based platforms is more abundant and less expensive, and the ease of extension given the lack of proprietary limitations generates greater lifetime value.

I believe that today, CRM is a market in transition. We are starting to see concepts like mobile, big data analytics and cross-departmental process automations shift from “nice to have” aspects of a CRM turn into “must haves.” In my opinion, only the most flexible, scalable, highly user-focused platforms, which provide the most value for the investment – will thrive in this new era of CRM.

Want to hear more about our visionary take on CRM? SugarCRM’s CMO Jennifer Stagnaro will be highlighting some great customer success stories aligned with our vision at Gartner’s Symposium IT Expo event in Orlando, Florida on October 7th.