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2 weeks ago I came across a tweet promoting the CRM Madness competition.  A fun spoof on the annual NCAA March Madness basketball competition.  Capterra, online destination for business software buyers, put the 64 most popular CRM applications in a March Madness like tournament and created the CRMMadness competition.    All it took was one tweet and I was hooked…

This was not just a popularity contest, the marketing team at Capterra was using the CRM Madness competition to do real competitive research as they explained on their blog introducing the competition.

Over the next 2 weeks, SugarCRM was matched up against the cream of the crop of CRM competitors.  In a classic use case of social media, we used facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and the Sugar forums to get the word out to our Community.  And the results were very clear. In round 2 we beat Sage CRM, in round 3 (sweet 16) Oracle Siebel come up short, in round 4 (elite 8) SAP CRM could not stand the heat and then in round 5 (final four) we beat salesforce.com.  And we beat them fair and square with 30x the number of votes.

That put us in the championship round against PegaSystems who themselves among others beat Sage SalesLogix  and Microsoft Dynamics CRM to get to the final match up.

During the championship round, the Sugar Community showed up and voted in large numbers for SugarCRM.  We owe you a profound THANK YOU.

Editor’s Note: The Sapient Salesman began as a series of internally-focused sales coaching pieces written by SugarCRM team member Erin Fetsko. While initially focused on “selling Sugar,” Erin’s advice and wisdom have proven useful to Sugar partners, and well, anyone in the business of sales. Thus, we are happy to add her insight to the Sugar corporate blog. You can read all of Erin’s musings at The Sapient Salesman.

I arrived in Mexico to do a training last week and checked into the hotel just before sundown. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem, but it appeared that all but two of the light bulbs in my room were burnt out, and neither of the functioning fixtures resided in the bathroom. Having severely underestimated the English fluency of Mexico City, instead of trying to invent a gesticulation for light bulb, I attempted to resolve this myself. Luckily for me no one nailed down the desk lamp, and, much to my delight, the outlet in the bathroom produced power. I deemed this solution “good enough” for three days and went to dinner. Following some sarcastic remark on my part, the new guy, of all people, admitted he thought his lights were broken too, but he called the front desk who clued him into this secret magic slot in which you place your key to release the power to the lights. This particularly amused me because I sized up this mysterious 80s car pullout ashtray looking slot thing for a solid two minutes, and dismissed it after I determined it wasn’t going to budge and was most certainly not a button!

This “damn I’m a stubborn idiot” moment made me wonder how many customer have a similar experience when trialing software. You see, my lamp relocation initiative did illuminate the important spaces in my room, and while a little unconventional, it got the job done. But if I wasn’t one of those people that snarkily remarks about random things all the time, I would have left this trip with an unjustified negative opinion on my accommodations. Considering the different approaches in play: asking for help vs. figuring it out yourself, where both parties would answer “yes” when asked if they can see in their room, how do you decipher the truly successful from the apathetic achievers?

In my experience people will deliver the polite response the first two times you inquire. Unveiling the truth requires you look past this empathy driven auto-reply and dig into the three levels of “really?”. No one wants to burden you with their baggage, but if you poke hard enough that phrase at the tip of their tongue will slip out. It might go something like:

How’s your room? “Fine”

So, everything okay? “Yup”

What do you think of the hotel? “Well I think they should seriously consider investing in light bulbs!!”

… and voila, an adaptation of the three levels of “why?” proves useful once again.

So this week, try to identify flailing customers before they drown. Use pointed questions to help better understand how they use the application today; not only will you then improve your appreciation for their needs and how Sugar may address them, but you’ll poise yourself to politely snatch away the shovel before they dig themselves an inescapable ditch.

Great news for SugarCRM from Down Under.

iTnews, Australia’s leading source of enterprise IT and telecoms news, just published ‘Which Clouds Play Nice‘, a 44-page technical study of the integration and extension options offered by the largest 20 software-as-a-service vendors serving the Australian enterprise market.  Brett Winterford, editor of iTnews, writes that this “groundbreaking study asks a series of essential questions for any organisation considering adoption of cloud solutions offered by Atlassian, Financial Force, Google, IBM/Lotus, Microsoft, MYOB, NetSuite, Oracle, Paycycle, Quicken, RightNow, Saasu, Salesforce.com, SuccessFactors, SugarCRM, Taleo and Xero.  Namely:

  1. Can I get my data in and out freely?
  2. Does it integrate natively with other systems?
  3. What third-party integrations are available?
  4. Can I write code to integrate with it?”

The ‘Which Clouds Play Nice‘ analysis has a wealth of information and is a must read for any IT decision maker, anywhere in the world, looking at implementing cloud services and more specifically cloud-based CRM services.  We were humbled and pleased to learn that SugarCRM came out on top of the CRM Scorecard, when compared to salesforce, Oracle on Demand, Microsoft Dynamics, RightNow and NetSuite.

You can download this exclusive research from the iTnews portal here.

When I read GigaOM’s Mike Jones’s great contribution to the growing discussions on the future of SaaS, one thought kept going through my mind. Who’s taking the customer side in this discussion? So far the SaaS vs. XaaS discussion is mostly a technical and infrastructure discussion. “Acronyms as a Service” is a great idea, but really, shouldn’t it come down to giving customers choices?

It’s not up to our industry to dictate what solution customers should use. It’s up to us to create the solutions that enable customers to choose the right deployment model that meets their specific requirements. For some customers that will be SaaS, for others that will be IaaS or PaaS.

So to add to the discussion and focus it a bit more on CRM, what customers need is choice:

  • The choice to freely move their data between different clouds;
  • The choice to where they want to deploy their CRM instance;
  • The choice to integrate with any open social platform;
  • The choice to access their CRM solution from any mobile platform;
  • The choice to change their CRM when they run against the limitations that come with legacy CRM solutions; both on-premise as well as SaaS.

And for that CRM needs to be open. Today, SugarCRM is the only solution in the market that is open and built for the cloud. This flexibility offers customers choice.

For those of you who follow the CRM space, last week provided for some real drama. Here’s a quick recap courtesy of TechCrunch

Oct 4: Larry Ellison Cancels Marc Benioff’s Keynote at Oracle’s OpenWorld
Oct 5: After A Cancelled Keynote, Benioff Strikes Back; Talks Future Of The Cloud
Oct 6: Ellison Reveals Oracle’s Public Cloud; Calls Salesforce The ‘Roach Motel’ Of Cloud Services

I don’t want to dwell on this cloud spat, but the one thing I do want to talk about is one of the points that Larry Ellison raises.  He warned customers: “Beware of false clouds“, and further goes on to state that salesforce.com “is a proprietary cloud, the ultimate vendor lock-in”.  It really delights me to see that Larry Ellison is now saying what we’ve been saying all along.  Salesforce.com is not cloud computing.  Salesforce.com is a 10 year old multi-tenant hosting technology.

True cloud computing allows customers to freely move their data between different clouds;
True cloud computing gives customers the choice where they want to deploy their CRM instance;
True cloud computing is open;
SugarCRM is the only CRM solution in the market today that is truly build for the cloud.

On Oct 12, we announced added support for IBM SmartCloud Enterprise to the set of public clouds that customers can deploy Sugar on.  In addition to the IBM SmartCloud, Sugar runs on Amazon EC2, Rackspace Cloud and Windows Azure.  Customers can also choose to deploy Sugar in the Sugar Cloud, in one of our partner clouds or in their own private cloud.  To learn more about the benefits of REAL cloud computing, take a look at the following:

By Andy Monshaw, General Manager, IBM Midmarket

Customer is king. Seems like a simple premise, but for most businesses, managing customer relationships is a means to an end – a way to reduce costs while increasing profitability. Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, allows businesses to solidify customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. Today’s challenge is how fast the right information can be put into the hands of those who need to know and know right now.

Today, cloud computing is creating new business opportunities in the world of CRM.  In fact, AMI Partners forecasts that in the U.S. alone, the SMB Cloud CRM market is set to triple by 2015.  Additionally, the global CRM applications market is expected to continue on this trajectory in 2011 with revenue approaching $18 billion on 7.6 percent year-over-year growth.

Through IBM SmartCloud, SugarCRM is making CRM on the cloud a reality for businesses of all sizes so clients can readily take advantage of these advanced capabilities in a matter of minutes and bring new efficiencies into their businesses.

True CRM brings together information from numerous data sources to give one, holistic view of customers. Also, methods for reaching customers are changing as social media channels are becoming more widely used by consumers. With the emergence of social business, consumers are empowered in more ways than ever before to access information that helps them make informed decisions on the products and services they choose to buy. As a result, organizations are rethinking the way they approach CRM and looking to the cloud to gain faster access to sales reports and data, as well as analytical tools to evaluate sales performance that would help deliver better consumer insight.

For any business looking to improve its customer relationship management, implementing a CRM system through the cloud is both efficient and cost effective. A CRM running in the cloud helps a company track data, such as orders, discounts, references, competitors and much more, without having to worry about any potential limitations of the underlying technology. The sky’s the limit!

Today’s small and medium-sized businesses are looking to the cloud to find answers about their customers. CRM running in the cloud makes it that much easier because at the end of the day, clients want innovative yet affordable technologies to make their business hum.

First off, let me introduce myself. My name is John Mertic and I have been newly minted as the Community Manager (or as known in community management circles, Chief Cat Herder). I come to this from the more technical side of the house, with deep engineering experience in SugarCRM, especially for using it as a platform for building applications for your organization (and written two books on the subject). For me personally it’s a very exciting opportunity, as I have a passion for helping people solve their problem and interacting with various communities, making it a great fit for both myself and Sugar.

So now that I’m officially on the “products” side of the house (with deep hooks into both my former peeps in engineering as well as our excellent marketing team ) and somewhat new to the SugarCRM community as a whole, I feel my first task is to define the community. Those of you who have been around awhile will be well-aware of our rather “indifferent” stance towards community (and many will argue I’m being too kind there). For me being more of a community guy, and especially as one who is tasked with managing it, it makes perfect sense to define what this encompasses and what it means to be a part of the Sugar community.

With that last statement I’ve actually split this into two tasks; the first is to define what encompasses the community. Is it just those people using the open source edition of Sugar? Maybe those building or developing on Sugar? Or could it be the folks with projects and add-ons at SugarForge or SugarExchange? I would say yes to all of them, but I’d make the pool much bigger, including these folks as well:

  • People who use SugarCRM as an end-user in their daily life
  • The vast network of partners, consultants, system integrators, and brother’s-nephew’s-cousin-who-knows-how-t0-use-computers who have (or tried to) install and administer Sugar.
  • All those cloud and other shared hosting providers who offer the option to install SugarCRM easily on their hosting platform.
  • That lonely developer who has been tasked building an app for his organization to use internally, and is looking for a great platform to build upon.
  • The sales person (or person in charge of sales people) who is fed up with his or her current CRM selection (or lack thereof ) and wants something different.

In a nutshell, it’s pretty much anyone who’s ever dealt with us or heard of us before. Sounds like a lot of cats to herd…

So what does it mean to be part of this vast group of people? Looking for common ground, I find there’s one thing that binds us together: the need to solve a problem. Whether that problem is just having a virtualized Rolodex, automating business processes, or integrating third-party tools together, we just are looking for ways to make life easier without boundaries. What are those boundaries? Think proprietary and locked-down applications with limited customization options. Think data that is not free to push and pull out of the system. Think lack of freedom where to deploy your application. All of these are boundaries that do little to help you, and serve more as a giant pain in an unspecified but widely-known body part.

When I look at the Sugar community, I see a vast group of pragmatic do-ers, wanting to make their lives and the lives of everyone around them easier. And that’s who I am here to serve.

In the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.”

John

This week’s Dreamforce event saw a lot of announcements – everything from an on-premise storage option for critical data to a development tool to allow customizations for Salesforce.com applications to work on touch-screen smart phones to a move toward ERP in the cloud. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t completely hang together, which is a shame; if Salesforce is great at anything, it’s telling a story, but at this point the story is so sprawling and so interconnected that it’s becoming hard to articulate the answer to the question “why.” Part of this is a result of Salesforce.com’s attempt to become an all-things-to-many-people platform, which is difficult at best, but part of it is a matter of “vision” outstripping concrete development efforts. Vision is great, but it’s no match for vision matched with results.

Before Dreamforce, we pondered the idea of questions we’d like to put to Marc Benioff in an ideal one-on-one situation. While getting that opportunity –and getting truly candid answers – is unlikely, a look at Dreamforce this year did provide answers to many of them:

1. Which of the CRM companies today would you say are giving you a run for your money?

Based on the new features introduced this year, Salesforce sees the market the way many do – as a battle between themselves, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SugarCRM. Things like Data Residency Option (DRO) – a feature that offers the ability to store sensitive data on premises and off of Salesforce’s datacenter – replicate the model that already exists for SugarCRM (although its flexible deployment models come without the management burden that DRO suggests) and is in the offing from Microsoft. In a Q&A with media and analysts, Benioff said that DRO was intended “only for specific large customers to withhold specific information,” and gave the example of large financial institutions.

2. What are the top three innovations of Salesforce.com this year, and how are they reflected in costs charged to customers?

This year’s major push was on the “social enterprise,” and several modifications were added to Chatter to allow the tool to be a little more sociable (like social analytics the ability to invite selected customers to conversations). No news was released around additional charges to Chatter. DRO was also announced without pricing. The third major announcement was Thursday’s unveiling of a marketing automation and ERP partnership with Infor and a manufacturing partnership with Kenandy. Again, no pricing information was made available.

3. Why do you penalize customers for being successful?

This question remains unanswered or unaddressed.  The crux of this question is this: as a customer grows, the amount charged by Salesforce increases disproportionately. It actually becomes more expensive to use when it succeeds. This is an unfortunate paradox that perhaps suggests a billing approach lost in time; it may have made sense when Salesforce was a champion of small businesses but it’s now obsolete – and it’s costing customers money.

4. When it comes to features, Salesforce offers an abundance. But why are the most valuable CRM features reserved for the more expensive editions?

Salesforce presents this costly billing issue as a matter of choice for their customers – if you can’t afford these features, you simply don’t have to pay for them. However, to paraphrase Orwell, some animals are more equal than others; at the show, Benioff introduced a “Social Enterprise License Agreement,” which includes access to Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Chatter, Radian6, Force.com, Heroku and Database.com for the entire enterprise. Benioff characterized this arrangement as  “the only way” that a company as large as Coca Cola could have become a Salesforce customer. Landing Coke was a big deal, but tacitly admitting that the Salesforce ecosystem of tools and applications was becoming prohibitively expensive was also a big deal.

5. You’ve said that enterprise software should be like Facebook. Can you provide examples of how Salesforce has been translating that into business results?

To their credit, Salesforce did illustrate how some major companies had implemented more social-like CRM approaches. These certainly paid off handsomely for Salesforce, but it was not clear what return Burberry’s three-week-old implementation or Toyota’s “friend your car” programs had yet delivered.

6. Salesforce.com is consistently one of the overvalued equities in the market. Are you contributing to the new bubble?

Perhaps. During the keynote, Benioff crowed about GroupOn as an example of a star Salesforce customer. GroupOn is the poster child of bubble companies: with an unsustainable 22,000 percent revenue growth last year, it currently owes its customers more money than it takes in annually, and its refusal of a $6 billion buy-out by Google earlier in the year may go down as one of the century’s worst business decisions. Not to be outdone, with costs rising and a second-quarter loss even as it raked in revenue at a $2 billion run rate, Salesforce itself looks poised to be a great Wall Street heartbreaker.

7. According to the Financial Times, you are one of the true masters of the art of sales pitching. Sell me on the higher cost of doing business with Salesforce.

We’re just going to imagine the answer to this one: no comment.

8. If social CRM is about customers, why is Chatter locked up behind the firewall?

In a fascinating response to the question of whether Chatter was social CRM or not, Benioff quite honestly responded that it was an “enterprise social network.” Although it has now added the much-needed ability to invite outsiders into Chatter conversations, these still take place within the firewall. This may appeal to businesses whose leaders fear losing control of discussions, but it’s still not true social CRM since it seeks to control customers and their participation in a manner dictated by the company.

9. What is preventing Salesforce from allowing a customer free access to its own data when it hosts their CRM solution with Salesforce.com?

Data access is still a sore spot with Salesforce. When Benioff was asked about “open data” today, he eluded questions around Salesforce’s obligation to its customers and instead chose to talk about how many potential Salesforce users were afraid of the idea of open data. This is unfortunate; although Salesforce has an impressive retention rate, customers often mention the obstacles placed between them and a useful, easily-migrated version of their data. Should Salesforce develop a more open means of providing customers with their data, they could develop a true measurement of the loyalty of their customers.

10.  How did Yammer inspire Chatter?

There was little discussion of this at the show – possibly because Yammer opted to capitalize on the earlier controversy with a campaign describing the two products as “friends with benefits.” Salesforce frequently pays the greatest form of flattery to its forerunners in other fields – Chatter also strongly resembles Facebook, for instance – and this is in keeping with the company’s remarkable effectiveness at taking concepts pioneered by others, adding them to its ecosystem with a Salesforce flavor and linking them with other tools to increase their usefulness. They may not always be original, but they often are the first to reach customers with new ideas.

The Oracle of San Francisco has spoken.  The Cloud is Passé.  The Cloud is Dead.  All hail to the Oracle.

Or maybe Marc Benioff is so eager to move away from the cloud and on to the next hot thing because he knows that Salesforce.com, as a first generation SaaS application, has become a “legacy application” in the new era of the cloud.” According to Mark Vizard, author of SaaS is Dead, Long Live the Cloud, we’re now in a new era “that is defined by an elasticity that gives IT organizations maximum flexibility in terms of choosing to deploy software on premise, in the cloud or both.”

According to Vizard, “one of the fundamental tenets of software-as-a-service (SaaS) is that the application is supposed to run as a single instance on top of a multi-tenant IT infrastructure. With Salesforce.com, for example, every customer has specific rights and privileges to a shared customer relationship management (CRM) application running on database servers managed by Salesforce.com. Given that model, there is no ‘software’ from the perspective of the end customer. The Salesforce.com business model, combined with the fact that the application was designed from the ground up to run on a specific multi-tenant architecture, means customers can’t run a version of the Salesforce application on their premise.”

In another article, Vizard makes the case that cloud computing “will stand in sharp contrast to the way Salesforce.com operates. In the case of Salesforce.com, there is only one source for the company’s software that runs on a couple of data centers managed by Salesforce.com.”  He adds that “software-as-a-service (SaaS) as we think about it today is moribund in the age of the cloud.”  Vizard makes the case that cloud-based CRM solutions like SugarCRM “are going to let customers run their software on premise or in any data center they choose, as opposed to requiring them to run their CRM software on a data center managed by a software vendor.”

I don’t believe that the cloud is dead.  From where I sit, I see customers very eager to board the cloud train.  Customers really believe in the promise that cloud computing is giving them choice – a choice to deploy their software applications where it makes sense for them: in their private cloud, in the vendor’s cloud, or in a public cloud.  And knowing that they have the option to change their deployment based on their changing market requirements.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said Charles Caleb Colton in 1820.  So we’re delighted to see that Salesforce.com is copying our Mobile, Social and Open messages to give some substance to their latest Cloudforce events.  It is nice to see that after we started promoting these capabilities more than a year ago, Salesforce.com is following our lead.

So why is the 800 lb. gorilla in the CRM industry doing this?  Are they running out of creative positioning ideas?  Is there more to this than meets the eye?

We compete and win against Salesforce.com everyday and from where I sit, it seems obvious that Salesforce.com is concerned that SugarCRM’s flexible, intuitive and open CRM platform gives customers a better Global, Mobile and Social CRM solution.  They are so concerned that they are unable to compete with Sugar’s flexibility or price that they resort to publishing a list of “considerations” for prospects who are evaluating SugarCRM. A list of considerations that is nothing more than a smokescreen of “FUD”: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

Thank you Salesforce.com.  We are grateful that you are confirming that SugarCRM is the best alternative to Salesforce.com for customers who are looking for a cost effective, flexible, intuitive and truly open solution.  A solution that raises the bar and sets a new standard in mobile CRM and a Social CRM solution where companies get to collaborate with their customers, not provide behind the firewall chatter.

Or in the words of a customer: “Salesforce.com has really evolved.  They offer all the warmth of Oracle and the flexibility of SAP.  Which is why we choose SugarCRM, a flexible, intuitive and open solution that adapts to our business needs.”

So if you are in the market for a new CRM solution and you would like to consider all the facts when choosing the right CRM solution for your organization, please read this overview of SugarCRM.  We’ve included an answer to all the “considerations” Salesforce.com recommends you ask us.  And as a bonus, we added a list of legitimate questions you should ask Salesforce.com.