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When I think of great customer relationship management (CRM), I think first of customer service. In a global marketplace that brings you incredible brands like Amazon.com and Coca Cola or fantastic products like the iPhone and Lexus GS (I own them both), your products alone don’t set you apart from your competitors any more. The way you treat your customers, the relationship you build with your customers is what sets you apart from your competition. In today’s information overload world, customer service is marketing. Just ask Zappos or Rackspace. It’s in their logo!

In the early 90’s I studied for a year at the University of Heidelberg. My lifeline back to home in California was the local Deutsche Bank office where my parents wired me funds every month. I remember that bank office fondly, not just because that was where I picked up my bar money each month. I remember how friendly the bank tellers and the bank manager were. Even though as a university student I had very little money, they always treated me like their most important client. From greeting me by name at the door (it was a small branch), to thanking me for my business that day to wishing me well as I left, great customer service was clearly the mantra of that branch office.

Years later after starting my own business, I have learned that great customer service doesn’t just happen by accident. It’s a philosophy that must be part of a company’s culture. Managers must be relentless in demanding it, employees need to be enthusiastic in delivering it and your customers will quietly smile and come to expect it.

I have found that the philosophy behind great customer service is a simple one. I call it the “Golden Rule of Customer Service”. Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated.

We all enjoy and appreciate it when we are treated well and get the product we are looking for. Certainly if a company can deliver great service with a smile, it will earn my continued business quickly. If the company can consistently deliver high quality service and high quality products, I will become that company’s loyal fan and recommend them to everybody I know.

At this year’s SugarCon on April 23-24 in San Francisco, you will learn all of the latest tips, tricks, techniques and tools for treating customers they way you would like to be treated and how to create a legion of loyal fans. Join us for the fun and you will walk away with the knowledge you need to accelerate and grow your business.

–Clint

Why Open Source?

Clint Oram —  April 18, 2012 — Leave a comment

I’m often asked why we chose to build a commercial open source company. “Why open source?” is a frequent question as customers and partners seek to find out what makes SugarCRM tick. The answer is that we didn’t choose “open source”, rather we chose “open”.

In 2004, when we started, you may remember that there was a massive customer backlash in the software world to closed, proprietary, dishonest software company practices that locked customers into expensive solutions that didn’t really solve their problems. We wanted to build a different type of software company.

Open source projects were radically changing the face of software development at the time. Open source projects build products hand-in-hand with users around easy-to-evolve source code in a free, open, transparent, hyper-collaborative way. Today that’s called crowdsourcing. In the past, it was called open source. At SugarCRM, we wanted to create a company that embraced the same ideals and techniques of open source projects. We wanted to build an open company that builds open source software and collaborates with its customers and partners in an open way.

So the real question in there is not “Why open source?”, but rather “Why open?” And the answer to that question is at the core of SugarCRM. The purpose of SugarCRM as a company is to create wildly successful customers. The way you create customers is to solve their problems. Now, solving a customer’s problems can be a tricky business. You have to know your customer well. You have to build a relationship with your customer. In fact, what you really want is to build a partnership with your customer. A partnership is the most productive, trusting and valuable type of customer relationship achievable.

At SugarCRM, we believe the best way to build a partnership is to be transparent, accountable and collaborative. In one word, to be open.  Here’s the simple formula behind why we chose “open” as the founding principle of SugarCRM.

Openness drives accountability.  Accountability builds trust. Trust is the foundation of a relationship.

An open, accountable and trusting customer/vendor relationship creates a true partnership.

That’s why we chose open. To be the best possible partner to you, our customer.

–Clint

When we started SugarCRM in 2004, our vision was simple…to help every business in the world make the connections that matter. We do this by delivering the most open, flexible and intuitive relationship management solutions, giving every business the ability to treat their customers the way they would like to be treated and thereby create loyal fans.

Eight years later, that simple vision of helping companies make the connections that matter has turned SugarCRM into the world’s fastest growing customer relationship management company, delivering software that empowers people to track and manage customer conversations through an intuitive, flexible business application that people love to use.

What I have enjoyed the most these past eight years is meeting all the great people around the world who have come to rely on SugarCRM for their business.  Over 1 million people in over 150 countries now run their businesses on SugarCRM.  Wow!  That’s a lot of people treating their customers the way they themselves want to be treated.

One thing we knew when starting SugarCRM is that technology by itself does not automatically make a company more responsive and more in touch with their customers.  Building a customer relationship management strategy takes a combination of people, processes and technology all working together to accomplish clearly defined and measurable goals.  This is where the SugarCRM value-added reseller ecosystem comes into play.

Our reseller partners around the world help companies like yours build your CRM strategy.  They will show you how to deliver fantastic customer service through software and business processes that make doing business with you easy for your customers. In my travels around the globe, I have had the honor to work with some of the best and the brightest CRM strategists in the industry.  I am continuously impressed with how much hard-earned CRM knowledge our business partners can bring to companies like yours.

When you come to SugarCon this April 23-24 in beautiful San Francisco, I encourage you to come meet our partners.  Ask for advice.  Exchange ideas.  Learn from the best.  You will walk away with at least three great ideas to take back to your colleagues and improve your business.

See you at SugarCon!

–Clint

SugarCon 2011 (#scon11) is here and it is the place to be.  If you couldn’t make the annual pilgrimage to San Francisco, I’d like to share with you the ideas and direction the Sugar team is discussing this week with our fantastic community of users, customers and partners.  This series of blog posts over the week of SugarCon will give you insight into the ideas shaping our product roadmap, community focus and the direction we are taking the SugarCRM business.

If there is one thing that has become abundantly clear past year, getting business done as we know it today is going through a transformational, “once in a generation” shift.  Powered by open source software and brought to the forefront of our daily lives by social collaboration tools like Twitter and Facebook, we are living through, right now, profound changes in the way companies and customers interact with each other.

We call this the social business, an “always on” dialogue taking place with and around a company using every social collaboration tool imaginable from social network providers like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, Yelp, IBM LotusLive and more.  This social dialogue about your business covers every topic possible.  Your new customers are comparing notes with other customers.  Your prospects are asking existing customers why they should buy from you and not your competitor.  Your employees are discussing with customers on how to improve your business.  And of course, your customers are letting you know in no uncertain terms what they think of you and your business.

Paul Greenberg, a luminary in the world of customer relationship management and the author of CRM At the Speed of Light, describes the impact of this very public and very transparent dialogue as putting the customer finally in full control of their relationship with you, their vendor of choice.  Remember, you no longer control the customer experience.  Your customers control the customer experience.  The Internet is their stage and everybody is their audience.  Social collaboration tools make social business happen.

With the evolution of the social business, we at SugarCRM clearly see a massive opportunity in front of us to put the focus of the social business on building productive, meaningful relationships that help your customers solve their business problems.  Communication and trust are the foundation of a relationship.

Social collaboration tools deliver the communication part of that foundation.  But how do you build that trust?  That will be the focus of the next article in this blog series.

In the first post in this CRM Adoption Curve series, we discussed the challenges companies encounter before investing in their CRM processes and tools.  In the second post, we covered the benefits of centralizing your customer information into one system and defining repeatable processes for interacting with your customers.  The next stage in adopting your CRM strategy and driving company growth is  “Step 3: the Defined Stage”.  This is where your hard work really starts paying off.

At this stage, the customer-centric processes that you began defining in the Managed Stage are now battle-tested and you are ready to automate them via Sugar Workflow.  Leads are automatically passed to the right sales person.  Stalled inquiries are automatically identified for management review.  Hand-offs across teams are tracked and audited so that you never lose track of your customer when moving that customer from one department to another.  Your CRM professionals are collaborating within, and across, teams because they now have access to the same data.  Management has clear visibility into the processes via well-defined Sugar Reports and has begun predicting future success with accuracy.  Your company is more responsive than ever to prospects and customers and your customer acquisition and retention rates have grown.

Keep in mind, it can easily take six to twelve months to move from the Managed Stage to the Defined Stage.  Progress doesn’t just magically happen.  It takes focus and dedication.  This is where the vast network of local SugarCRM implementation partners can make a big impact on your CRM adoption success and help you accelerate your customer growth plans.

In the next post, we will describe what happens when you move from the Defined Stage to “Step 4: the Optimized Stage“.

A couple years back, Psychology Today had an article that analyzes why developers participate in open source communities.  I blogged on this topic then, but I recently had a discussion with an open source pundit on this topic and thought I’d revisit some of the lessons I’ve learned about motivating open source developers.  Simply put, I think the developers’ motivations go a bit deeper than just street cred, self-actualization and altruism … they go right to the wallet.

Let’s start with taking the “street cred” idea a bit further.

First, there’s street cred: People want to garner approval from their peers and build their reputation.

What I’ve seen in the SugarCRM community is that independent consultants and system integration firms can turn “street cred” into “business cred” (or marketability) and make some money. Simply put, companies hire you for projects if you are a credible SugarCRM community member. Also, IT developers NEED to have open source experience on their resumes these days to get the best jobs. Hiring somebody who actually contributes code to an open source project gives companies real competitive advantage for their business.

So being a prominent member of the SugarCRM community turns into actual dollars (Euros, kroners, Linden dollars, whatever). That’s a VERY powerful concept that is glossed over with the ticky tacky term “street cred”.

Now let’s take the “self-actualization” idea.

Second, there’s self-actualization: Working on these projects is enjoyable in and of itself, and it also provides the opportunities to practice your skills, collect feedback, and grow as a geek.

Yeah, coders code because they like to code. Coding is cool. Believe it or not, one of my favorite ways of relaxing is to fix bugs in Sugar. Now call me wacko (my wife calls me other things), but Sugar is my baby and I want to see her not just be good, but be friggen great! So I certainly agree with the point on “self-actualization.”

However, the ability for a company, a project manager and/or a developer implementing SugarCRM to take control of their own destiny around the Sugar app is HUGE. I’ve project managed implementations of proprietary CRM systems in past lives. There’s nothing better at blowing up your project schedule than a showstopper bug or unexpected limitation in an API.

With open source, a company can fix the problem themselves if needed or extend an API to meet their needs. Now SugarCRM works very hard as a company to respond to all of our customer’s reported issues in a timely manner, but when your go-live date is looming ahead of you and the CEO demands no delays, there is nothing better than having the ability to fix any issues yourself and not be tied to the responsiveness of your vendor. And if you are an independent consultant or system integration firm, time = money.  Again, control is a very powerful aspect which drives developers to open source that goes way beyond “self-actualization” or even “altruism”. It drives sanity for the developer and bottom-line value for the business.

Personally, I think these two ideas of marketability and control should have been included in the Psychology Today article as these are the motivations I hear about everyday from SugarCRM community members.  Marketability is about putting money in your wallet and control is about keeping money from flowing out of your wallet.

–Clint

In the last post, we explored where every company starts with their CRM efforts.  The first step, the “Manual Stage”, is typically defined by customer data locked up in spreadsheets, misplaced emails, uncertain next steps and all too often, unhappy customers.  You’re ready to pull yourself out of the chaos and get your company organized.

This is where you turn to SugarCRM and move to the second stage, “Step 2: the Managed Stage”.  After first implementing Sugar Professional, your company has taken a huge step out of the chaos and put all of your customer data into a single, managed system of record for customer information. This is the single biggest value you will realize with your first step up the CRM Adoption Curve.  Everybody now knows where to go to get customer data.  Tasks are tracked.  Emails are quickly shared.  Notes are no longer lost.

With this single view of your customer data, you are now able to start defining repeatable customer interaction processes and start training your people on a common approach to working with prospects and customers.  Your CRM processes are maturing, though many are still manual – which is OK.  Repeatable processes will lead to better automation in the next stage, even if everything is not integrated right now.

But there are still gaps in your CRM success.  You have identified customer-centric goals (e.g. responding to prospect inquiries within one hour, following up on every quote within two business days, keeping your support case backlog under a certain threshold), but measuring progress isn’t always complete or accurate.  Some of your teams are hitting their objectives, but not consistently.  You are better at being responsive to customers than in the Manual Stage, but manual process are still inconsistently executed at times.  In short, you are beginning to chart a course towards CRM success but you still have work ahead of you.

Every SugarCRM customer quickly achieves this stage.  The challenge is to not stop here.  In the next post, we will describe what happens when you move from the Managed Stage to “Step 3: the Defined Stage“.

You’re ready to focus on creating more customers for your company. But before you can set your sights on where you want to go, you have to first identify where you are at.  To help you understand where you are at today and where you are going tomorrow, I’d like to tell you about the four stages of the CRM Adoption Curve.  This is a very useful model for understanding the evolution of your CRM practices and the challenges you are looking to overcome.

Since there are four stages, I will break this description of the CRM Adoption Curve into four posts.  In this  post, we are going to look at the first stage which is what we call “Step 1: the Manual Stage”.  Many people would probably rather call this the “Chaos Stage”.  This is where every company starts.  You likely know it well.

Your sales, marketing and customer support teams are just getting started and are doing whatever it takes to just get the job done, no matter what.  You likely find that every employee approaches the job in a different way with no standardized processes or training program in place.  Is your customer data trapped in email and spreadsheets on each person’s desktop?  Are customer communications falling through the cracks with lost emails and misplaced post-it notes?  As a result, is your management challenged with poor visibility into what is going on with customers?

Spreadsheets, no basic training, little consistency, success through the efforts of a few heroes.  Sound familiar?  This usually leads to a lot of effort spent on scrambling around, but no clear path to measurable success, little confidence in hitting goals, and a lot of unhappy customers. This is where companies like yours first turn to SugarCRM for help.

In the next installment in this CRM Adoption Curve series, we will explore the “Step 2: the Managed Stage” as you work your way up the CRM Adoption Curve.

Why does a company exist?

Clint Oram —  August 5, 2010 — 1 Comment

I admit it. I love building CRM applications.  It may sound goofy, but everybody has a passion.  Software is in my DNA.  And I find the CRM software category particularly rewarding because CRM applications have such a dramatic impact on driving the top line growth of companies.  That’s what I love to do…build great apps that help build great companies.  But is that what the company SugarCRM is all about?  Is that why SugarCRM exists?  To build great software applications?  Let’s explore that idea.

As you’re thinking about growing your company and how a CRM application can help you do that, I’d like to share a simple tenet that will put you on the path to success.

It’s all about your customers.

Sounds simple, right?  But let me ask you, where do your customers fit into your company strategy?  Yes, many people immediately say their customers are at the center of their company strategy. But really, do you and every employee in your company put the customer at the center of your focus every day?

Several years back, I had the opportunity to listen to Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of Selling Power magazine, talk about how CRM systems help drive sales for a company.  Gerhard is a very smart man who knows a lot about the art and science of selling.  When he started the discussion about why CRM is important, he started by posing the question to the audience, “What is the purpose of a company?”  We heard answers like “to create products” and “to make a lot of money” and “to create jobs for employees.”

Those were all the first answers that certainly came to my mind also.  After all, I enjoy building CRM products.  I enjoy making money.  I enjoy creating jobs.  That’s why I’m in business, right?  But as Gerhard pointed out, what you sell, how you make money and who you employ are byproducts of the true purpose of a company.

As Gerhard rightly said, companies exist to create customers.  It’s that simple. Without customers, companies don’t exist.  If a company listens to its customers, it will create the right products.  If a company listens to its customers, it will market and sell those products to its customers.  If a company listens to its customers, delivers the right products and markets and sells those products well, it will then make a lot of money.  And if the company is doing all that, then its certainly employing people.  So, the purpose of a company is simply to create customers…happy customers, new customers, many customers.

I bet you’re saying right now, “Wow, that’s a different way of looking at my business.”  You bet it is.  It’s all about putting the customer at the center of your thinking. However after decades of books, seminars, webinars, panels, white papers and countless hours of discourse dedicated to this topic, many companies still struggle with how to put the customer at the center of their business planning.

It’s this core concept, the purpose of a company is to create customers, which I’m going to use as the launchpad for a series of posts focused on CRM Success.  The next installment in this series will describe your roadmap for CRM Success…where you are at, where you are going and how you get there (spoiler alert!  SugarCRM is a big part of how you get there.)

–Clint