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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.

The SugarCRM alliances team is coming off a very productive few days in Orlando, Florida last week as part of our participation at IBM Connect 2014. Among the highlights of the week, SugarCRM was named as a finalist for IBM’s 2014 Collaboration Solutions Award in the “Best of Show and Chief Technology Officer (CTO)” category during the event.

The combined Best of Show/CTO Award recognizes visionary IBM business partners who use cross-IBM Software Group (SWG) capabilities in innovative, customer-focused ways. SugarCRM was named a top award contender after demonstrating how the Sugar-IBM solution helps customers maximize and improve social business efforts and increase bottom-line results.

The SugarCRM-IBM solution includes SugarCRM’s integrations to IBM SmartCloud for Social Business, IBM Notes and IBM Connections. In addition, SugarCRM’s integrations to IBM Campaign and IBM Interact further extends the IBM Smarter Commerce solution and brings the power of IBM Enterprise Marketing Management to customer-facing sales, support and marketing individuals. SugarCRM also runs on IBM DB2, IBM SmartCloud, IBM SoftLayer, IBM PureSystems and IBM PowerLinux.

The good news is, customers benefit the most from the SugarCRM-IBM connection. For example, SugarCRM customer Tollpost Globe, one of the Nordic region’s leading logistic companies, needed a platform that would increase internal efficiency as well as customer satisfaction. Since implementing SugarCRM and IBM Collaboration, Tollpost Globe has already seen a 70 percent increase in sales, a 40 percent increase boost in sales efficiency and a 30 percent rise in customer satisfaction numbers.

We are in a new era of CRM – one that is more intuitive, personalized and social, and our partnership with IBM underscores SugarCRM’s commitment to delivering solutions that enable our customers to engage in highly innovative social selling.  The SugarCRM and IBM relationship is gaining impressive momentum and underscores our commitment to further extending our social business solutions to new markets, products and customers around the globe. This recognition by IBM is an exciting and telling testament to that fact.

To learn more about how you can harness the power of Sugar and IBM technology visit sugarcrm.com/ibm

cal“Am I what!?”, you’re probably saying.  “But it’s only August.  2014 is five months away!”

Yep, and it’s time to start planning for next year.  We are in a global recovery and you need to be thinking about growth and taking full advantage of the economic recovery.  Here at SugarCRM Inc., our company has tripled in size since 2010.  We have three times the number of people and three times the amount of business.  We are barreling forward on this growth curve going into 2014.  Is your company growing too?  Are you figuring out now how to hit those growth goals?

At SugarCRM, we serve “Growth Companies” like yours everyday.  We talk to hundreds of companies every day who are enjoying great growth themselves.  As a result, their sales quotas are going up and management demands for visibility into the sales pipeline are also going up.  While the past few years were all about tightening the corporate belt, 2014 is going to be all about managing growth to full effectiveness.

The first question you have to ask yourself is, “Are you ready?”  Do your sales people have the tools they need to be more effective than the competition?  Have you built a sales strategy for maximizing growth?  Can your sales people qualify leads, manage sales cycles and close deals quickly and effectively?  Have you aligned your teams, processes and tools with that sales strategy?  Do you know what you need to hit your goals?

If not, talk to a SugarCRM solution expert today about how you can get ready for growth in 2014.

The global markets are rebounding and companies like yours are focused on growth again. But achieving and sustaining double-digit growth quarter to quarter is hard. Building your company for rapid scale is challenging. And doing that while keeping those close, personal customer relationships you’re known for can be even more challenging. You’re in the process of upgrading all of your business automation to manage this next stage of growth. This is where SugarCRM comes in.

SugarCRM has a global portfolio of over 6,500 customers who look just like you; mid-sized companies growing rapidly into small- to mid-sized enterprises. You’re looking for how to move from manual processes mastered by a few heroes in your company to standardized and automated processes across a whole legion of sales professionals. This may even be your first CRM purchase. Microsoft Excel just not working for you anymore? SugarCRM provides the perfect solutions for managing your customer-facing operations. Whether it’s keeping in touch with your customers or passing leads to your field personnel or answering questions in the call center, SugarCRM provides market-leading innovation at one, simple price.

And what’s more important, we get you. At SugarCRM, we ourselves are a growth company. We understand what it means to grow like you in today’s challenging market conditions. SugarCRM has already doubled its business in just the past couple years and is preparing to do it again. With the assistance of our global network of local channel partners, we can help you build and plan for success.

If your company has 100 – 4,000 employees and is planning on rapid growth in the coming upturn, Sugar is the right CRM solution for you. With thousands of customers across the financial services, insurance, professional services, manufacturing and technology sectors, SugarCRM delivers CRM success for Growth Companies just like you.

Building a company is fun.  I still remember sitting at my kitchen table with some friends and kicking around ideas on how to change the world by putting CRM on the desktop of everybody who ever works with a customer.  Then we took the plunge, quit our day jobs and focused every ounce of energy on starting a new kind of software company with nothing but a few laptops and the conviction that we could do it.  Exciting times.  Fast forward nine years and now SugarCRM is a global company with over 400 employees and hundreds of business partners helping our customers build better relationships with their customers.  Even more exciting times.

But translating a vision into a real business comes with its own challenges. It’s sounds like a simple recipe at a high level.  Step 1: Define your goals and objectives.  Step 2: Hire the right people to make it all happen. Step 3: Align those people around simple, yet effective processes to get the job done.  Now for the secret sauce.  Add in a dash of the right technology at the right point to accelerate the pace.

Voila!  Instant success!  Yeah, right.

Getting that perfect mix of operational execution is the challenge that all first time entrepreneurs as well as seasoned executives are faced with every day.  Am I building something people want to buy? How do I find great people?  How much process is too much process?  What do I automate first?

Here is what I see as the fatal flaw in that recipe I just outlined. I talked about adding in technology last after you have built your strategy, teams and processes.  That’s what most companies do today.  They graft on technology to manual processes in the hope that technology will help them accelerate a specific process, like distributing leads from marketing to salespeople or sending out invoices to customers.  But putting roller skates on your dog in order to speed up the nightly walks won’t necessarily work out the way you might have hoped.

A few months back Capgemini and MIT released a report called The Digital Advantage: How digital leaders outperform their peers in every industry that describes how successful companies today are putting digital technology, from software to smartphones, at the beginning of their business planning, rather than at the end.  These companies recognize the power of digital technology in solving old, complex problems in new, simple ways.  By building strategies and processes from the ground up around digital technology, companies will outperform those that don’t.  Little did I know that SugarCRM has been part of the “digitrati” from the beginning.

This is where IT typically fails for a company.  What happens too often is that a company that wasn’t built around a digital mindset gets stuck on the change management problem.  People are creatures of habit.  They are adverse to change.  How often have you heard, “But that’s not the way we’ve done it before!”  Deploying technology to accelerate a process not designed for today’s modern, digital business is not necessarily the right idea.  Even worse, designing a process that simplifies your employees’ lives and ignores today’s modern, digital customer is even worse.

For instance, should you deploy an invoicing solution that automatically puts invoices in the post?  After all, stuffing envelopes is a pain for your finance department.  Or should you rather set up a billing solution that allows your customers to set up automatic payment by credit card.  Which is better?

Another example.  Should you get your sales people to move their customer spreadsheets out of MS Excel up to Google Drive for easier sharing?  Or should you deploy a CRM solution that allows your sales department, service department and customers to collaborate together on answering the customer’s questions together?

And this is when the IT department becomes so often the enemy in the business instead of the strategic accelerator that the CEO envisioned.  Putting lipstick on a pig and automating old processes one step at a time can easily frustrate everybody, from your employees to your customers.

It’s time to rethink how you approach technology in your business.  Your employees want it, your customers are demanding it.

The shift from transactional selling to solution selling has turned business people into something akin to therapists. Today’s best sales people need to immerse themselves in their customers’ problems and create customized, long-term solutions to these challenges. They can’t just take orders for what they have on the shelf, but rather map their products to their customers’ pain points and unlock the value of their solution.

It’s the difference between saying, “Would you like to super size your French fries?,” and asking, “So you need French fries. Tell us more about the current lack of fries in your organization. Have you considered Belgian fries? If you had better fries, would you be better positioned to hit your goals?” Customer problems are far more complex these days, which means it’s your job to think through the in-depth answers.

Social selling tools, or “social CRM,” can help businesses understand these new and complex problems, and address them (and solve them) even before their customers can properly articulate them. By staying social with customers, you can identify and squash problems before they affect a business – something for which your customers may never stop thanking you.

Unfortunately, not enough companies make it possible for their employees to talk to each other in this manner, much less talk to customers: A recent study from IABC and Prescient Digital Media notes that 39 percent of companies don’t have any social tools on their intranets. On the other hand, research is showing that the benefits of this social interaction are real: An ongoing McKinsey & Company study is clocking such outcomes as increased market share and reduced time to market.

Social tools are a big help in gaining benefits like faster time to market and higher customer satisfaction, but they need to work in concert with each other to have any real impact. Random tweets and off-the-cuff blog posts that are not part of a larger customer relationship strategy will just become noise. Here’s a more cohesive, five step approach to creating an ongoing dialogue with customers and showcasing the good work that you do to ensure satisfaction.

Social CRM building block #1: Your social profile. If you haven’t done it already, create your LinkedIn or Xing (in Europe) profiles.  This is where you list your industry experience and tell the world why you enjoy selling what you sell.  You will be amazed at how often your prospects and customers look at your LinkedIn profile to see who you are, what you look like, where you went to school, how long you have been in the industry.  They want to know what makes you tick.  Why?  Because people buy from people.

Social CRM building block #2: Your blog. This is where you expand on the ideas you have been posting to Twitter and LinkedIn. Think of the blog as the online equivalent of giving a keynote speech at an event. You’ll profess your position on issues most important to your customers, and see if you can generate any interest (in this case, via comments on blog posts). Posting at least once a week will help your audience get into the habit of turning to your blog for guidance.  Starting your personal blog at wordpress.com is easy and free.  Figuring out what to post can be harder.  This is where you should focus more on being conversational than pontific and let your natural voice that you use with your customers come out.  What do you talk about with your prospects every day?  Well, write it up in a series of short blog posts.

Social CRM building block #3: Dialogue in the Forums. If your company doesn’t have a corporate forums site, it’s easy to start a Group in LinkedIn about your company or just your industry. Think of this as the Q&A session that follows your keynote speech. This is where the conversation really starts. Ideally, you and your team start these conversations with provocative questions, like: Why do we even need XYZ product? Why can’t anyone seem to solve such-and-such a problem? Then listen to the answers, and keep the dialogue going. Don’t waste everyone’s time with “soft” questions – you need to hear the dirt if you’re really going to uncover the customer problems you need to solve. For key members of the sales team, I’d suggest spending at least one hour a day on reading, developing, and responding to such questions.

Social CRM building block #4: Twitter: Here’s where you start getting the word out about the insightful conversations you’re having in the discussion forums, and the thought leadership that appears on your blog. Tweet out the best nuggets from the forums, engage in skirmishes (hopefully, polite ones) among the subject-matter experts and begin attracting attention for the community you are building. Posting at least once a day will entice your audience to connect and follow your online commentary. I suggest using HootSuite, a free social media tool, to help you monitor your social activity streams and quickly post to your social outlets.  I also like Paper.li for automatically tweeting content on a daily basis that I find interesting.

Social CRM building block #5: Internal social networks: This step doesn’t involve direct communication with customers, but it does help you disseminate the knowledge you’ve gained to the rest of our team. And by the “team,” I don’t just mean sales. When customers aren’t happy, it’s not just the sales people who should be getting nervous – it’s everyone from the CEO on down. Therefore, when you think about connecting with customers and understanding what makes them tick, you need to think about giving everyone access to these conversations. You can use internal social networks like IBM Connections or Jive to make sure that your colleagues have a way to share customer interactions in an always-on environment.

The end result of these social CRM building blocks is that you can uncover more effective ways to connect people with problems (that’s your customers) to the people with solutions (that’s you). It’s also the best way to cut through much of the noise surrounding customer needs, and let discussions bubble up about the real challenges that need to get addressed – and that will drive your business success.

 

 

 

 

 

From the very beginning with Sugar 1.0 eight years ago, we have always designed the Sugar app first and foremost for the end users of the application. Simply put, the Sugar app needs to help our users get their job done.  From working with customers to monitoring key performance metrics, the purpose of Sugar is to help companies make the connections that matter.

“Users first” is our primary design focus because CRM applications have a long history of failed implementations due to a lack of adoption by the end users. Why is this? Because legacy CRM applications like Siebel and Salesforce.com have been traditionally designed for the buyer first, i.e.  management. We think this is the wrong approach and has led to frustrated users.  Our first design use case is around a customer representative getting ready to contact a customer and needing to prepare for the call, meeting or tweet. By ensuring the Sugar application is highly useful and useable for their end users,  managers can then rely on the forecast, pipeline and issue resolution insight coming out of their Sugar application.

Sugar 6.5 User Experience
Brand New UISugar 6.5 became GA (generally available) last week for all of our customers and partners.  As the latest update to Sugar 6, the 6.5 release brings a continued focus on updating the Sugar user experience.  The Sugar 6.5 release brings us three major improvements in this area:

  1. Fresh Look w/ New Navigation Bar
  2. Fast and Simple Search
  3. Sub-Second Screens with More AJAX

But frankly this is just the beginning.  This past year has been an exciting one as we have planned out a series of updates to the Sugar UX over the next several releases.  Many of our customers and partners had the opportunity to meet our UX team at SugarCon 2012 and get to know Wes Moran and Omair Ali.  These two guys are currently leading a major redesign of the Sugar user experience and the 6.5 release is the first release where their latest and greatest ideas have started to really take shape.  If you had the chance to participate in the SugarCon UX Lab, you will have seen the exciting direction we are going with Sugar in the future.

One of the things I am most excited about is the fanatic focus on user-centered design that these guys have brought to Sugar.  Wes and Omair are reaching out to the Sugar Community and engaging key stakeholders in a dialogue about “who are the users of Sugar?”, “what are their expectations and requirements?”, “how can they be more productive?”.  These interviews are then translated into a series of interactive prototypes that then guide our developers through the development process.  With the 6.5 release, this design/build process really kicked into gear.

Meet Omair
Sugar 6.5 brought one of the first major contributions from our new lead Interaction Designer at SugarCRM, Omair Ali.  Omair joined us last fall and took on the redesign of the Sugar Navigation Bar as his first major project.

Here are Omair’s thoughts about this project:

After some initial observations of users late last year, one common usability issue kept repeating itself: too much scrolling. Our usability labs found our users constantly scrolling to find relevant data. Prime real-estate was not being used in the best possible way.

Learning from these observations, we focused first on the navigation bar. A prime strip of screen real estate was given to the quick create icons, but rarely utilized. Users had to traverse across two separate navigation bars and lost even more precious screen real estate.  This was the first thing I wanted to change (and get right). The navigation bar is the most crucial element in working in any application. It shouldn’t be a task or take months to master!

Since Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, etc were impacting so much of our users’ perceptions on how an interface functions, I had to take this into consideration when coming up with a design solution for the updated 6.5 Navigation. The goal was to combine three navigation bars into one.

By introducing layered menus, we were able to trim 3 inches of fat from the top. The end result was a much more lean, functional navigation bar. 100% of our UX survey (54 partners and customers) preferred the 6.5 bar compared to the previous one. The new navigation bar also enabled primary functions to stay in focus even when scrolling on a long page.

Search and Faster Screens Round off the Release

In addition, an entirely new Search engine has been introduced in Sugar 6.5 built on the Lucene open source project.  This new full text search capability will deliver even more accurate searches that can scan across more data than ever before.  Simplifying search will make your users happier than ever with their Sugar.

And of course, the performance improvements made in Sugar 6.5 will put a smile on every user’s face.  With performance optimizations at both the UI and database layers, 6.5 is fast, fast, fast.

We are excited to bring you all of these exciting improvements and more in the Sugar 6.5 release.  Watch the Sugar 6.5 Demo and see what Sugar can do for you today.