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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.

I’m new to SugarCRM, coming over in the iExtensions acquisition from iEnterprises, Inc. to become Sugar’s VP of Product Strategy, Collaboration Services. With all the recent announcements, I think it’s important to provide more details on the benefits of the acquisition that brought me to Sugar and what it means to the Sugar community, including both customers and partners. Here’s a brief summary of what Sugar has acquired:

1. iExtensions CRM: This is the leading Lotus Notes-based CRM product. It’s similar to SugarCRM in features and functions but it operates entirely inside IBM Lotus Notes. Although iEnterprises will continue to provide level-one support for iExtensions, it’s now owned and developed by SugarCRM. If you use iExtensions you’ll be pleased to know that Sugar is committing much deeper resources to the ongoing development of iExtensions CRM and you will see great product enhancements in the near future.

2. Lotus Notes Connector (plugin): The Sugar plugin for Lotus Notes has been licensed by Sugar from iEnterprises: both iEnterprises and Sugar will share ongoing development efforts. The plugin allows you to use SugarCRM from inside your Lotus Notes in-box and calendar. Its features are very similar to the Outlook plugin but it provides better enterprise mass-deployment options than the Outlook connector. If you use Lotus Notes, you’ll find this plugin a very useful add-on.

3. Offline Mobile Client: A new mobile client for BlackBerry, iPad, and iPhone is the second technology licensed from iEnterprises. This new mobile technology provides support for BlackBerry and iPad in the Sugar 6.2 release and will greatly extend the features and benefits offered by Sugar’s existing mobile technology. Perhaps the most important of these is the capability to pre-load data and work in offline mode. In offline mode, users can access account data stored locally on their mobile device, allowing them to be productive on airplanes and in areas with bad or non-existent cellular network connections. Both iEnterprises and Sugar will continue developing this technology, expanding it to Android and other platforms in the future.

Strategically, this all means that Sugar will now have deeper integration into IBM technology, thus facilitating greater adoption in the enterprise. In addition, the offline mobile client for tablets and smartphones will strengthen Sugar’s leadership in mobile CRM.

What does this mean if you’re an iExtensions CRM customer? The short answer is that Sugar will continue iExtensions development, bringing additional resources to bear to make iExtensions better than ever.

If you’re a SugarCRM customer, you’ll immediately see deeper integration into IBM technologies. In addition, the top-notch offline mobile client will allow your teams to be more productive wherever they are.

SugarCRM partners will also see tangible benefits. The new integration with IBM technologies will open doors to enterprise customers, thus allowing partners to extend their business more effectively to the high end of the marketplace. In addition, the new mobile technology will allow partners to compete on a differentiated level with SugarCRM.

What else does the future hold? It’s likely that we will innovate hybrid Lotus Notes/SugarCRM offerings and mobile technologies that have never before been seen in the marketplace, thus allowing Sugar to continue playing a leadership role in the CRM space while benefitting the entire Sugar community.

Thank You!
John Carini
VP of Product Strategy, Collaboration Services
SugarCRM
Jcarini@sugarcrm.com
+1 408.454.6930 – Office

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.

It wasn’t until college that I realized I, in fact, had an accent. Turns out, like most Chicagoans, I tend to pronounce my A’s as in the word “at” even when the preferred pronunciation called for a softer a-sound. Listening to all the different dialects of the English language really made me realize how much I took some Midwestern-isms for granted. How confusing it must have been for all the international folks trying to discern why I kept dangling prepositions when I’d ask if they “want to come with?” During my recent trip to Jamaica, however, I got a taste of what it’s like on the receiving end of grammatically questionable verbiage. Patois is an English-lexified creole language with West African influences spoken primarily in Jamaica. If you aren’t familiar, patios sounds like what would happen if the micro-machine man read your kids text messages word for word… with a Jamaican accent; it’s certainly English, yet remarkably difficult to understand.

All this variety in English vernacular left me pondering: Is there more value in a language pack than we might give credit? And for that matter, how often do companies with international markets run into roadblocks with their software because it can’t support the necessary character sets?

Most of us sell primarily in one or two languages, to companies with offices using a single linguistic footprint, but how often do those same offices employ some foreign staffers? Would allowing employees to navigate Sugar in their native language save them money on training and increase the overall productivity of their staff? I’d say so!

Now I’m not suggesting you further complicate your discovery process with a deep inquiry into the heritage of each of the prospective users, but with 6.1 entering the spotlight it might be time to give language packs another look. So this week if you have cause to believe Sugar’s teed up for use in a bilingual office point out the value added by our internationalization efforts.

We’ve all received an email or document from someone that contained characters, or encoding, or some other bizarre excuse Windows assigned to why we couldn’t open it properly, and these kinds of road blocks throw a wrench in your productivity. Even if your prospects don’t see the need today, they can certainly relate to the time-suck that accompanies restrictive regional software. Remind them that should their business one day expand internationally or even inter-culturally, Sugar will accommodate their CRM needs and grow with them every step of the way.

Today at JasperWorld in San Francisco, SugarCRM and Jaspersoft are announcing an enhanced alliance that will help bring even greater business intelligence (BI) solutions to our customers around the world.

From a technology perspective, this makes a lot of sense. CRM data is some of the most critical information in any enterprise. Adding the ability to perform even deeper analysis of CRM data, and to couple that data with other business data – is a no-brainer in terms of the insight and predictability it can give a business.

But I think it is important to note how well SugarCRM and Jaspersoft are aligned in terms of how we see the business technology world evolving. I had the chance to listen to Jaspersoft CEP Brian Gentile this morning as he kicked off the JasperWorld 2011 conference. Brian outlined four basic tenets of how technology solutions at the top of the stack are evolving. He noted that modern business tools need to have the following attributes (I am paraphrasing here):

  • Ubiquitous Access
  • A Pleasing, Simple User Experience
  • Powerful Customization
  • User-Generated Collaboration

When I heard this, all of the work we put in to enhancing our partnership made even more sense. While SugarCRM is focusing on the sales, marketing, support etc. side of business users and Jaspersoft focuses on the more generic data analysis side of things – we could not be in deeper agreement or more aligned in our vision.

First off, when it comes to ubiquitous access – Sugar is all over that. With the iPhone app and upcoming tools for other mobile platforms, it is now easier to access CRM data and analysis anytime, anywhere.

I think the amazing work the Sugar engineering team put into making Sugar 6 the most intuitive and modern user interface on the market speaks volumes about the importance we place on user experience.

Also, when it comes to powerful yet simple customization and personalization – no other CRM tool comes close to matching Sugar. From powerful yet simple UI changes, to building custom purpose-built applications with Module Builder and Sugar logic – there is no better platform for application customization than Sugar.

Finally, user-generated collaboration can mean a lot of things. Sugar has worked hard to foster a collaborative environment for our users. Between the Sugar feeds, integrations with web 2.0 tools like Box.net Twitter and LinkedIn, and our new IBM Lotus Live integration that powers online meetings and real-time document sharing, Sugar users can collaborate internally and externally in ways no other CRM can accommodate.

It is great to see that there are technology providers out there that really “get it” when it comes to the knowledge worker of tomorrow. For a generation that grew up online, the tools they use at work need to be powerful yet intuitive, connected and collaborative. We are proud to be able to offer not only that ability in Sugar but also in combined solutions with some great partners.

For people marketing some CRM tools, the job is easy. Well, easier, because most of the established CRM tools were purpose built around what we thought it meant to empower sales, marketing and support agents.

In a lot of ways, this made sense. We tried to hit as many business needs out of the box, and the rest was up to expensive consulting engagements and professional services projects to make a reality.

This is, pardon my French, a really crappy way of building software.

Here at SugarCRM, we have learned from the past mistakes of the application software industry in a lot of ways. Instead of playing “feature wars” with our competitors and thus overwhelming users with a ton of bells and whistles they may (or may not) really need – we are instead creating a highly intuitive platform for building applications they way YOU want to.

This is, really, a fundamental change. Out of the box software was very feature-driven in the past. Now, we want to give businesses tools to easily and quickly morph a blank canvas into a masterpiece of automation and information for their users.

I was reminded of this vision by a great example of how Sugar can be used for virtually anything. Barrett Powell uses Sugar to manage his Real Estate business – not his sales agents or contact center reps. Powell has flexed the Sugar platform to meet his unique processes, and integrated data and features from other systems, creating a very specialized deployment of Sugar that fits his needs perfectly.

For some users, straight SFA features will be perfect. For others, taking the tools we provide and quickly creating a new interaction platform is what makes sense. The best part is that regardless of the project – Sugar offers real value and benefits for the most simple, to the most sophisticated application deployment.