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Welcome to our roundup of customer relationship management (CRM) industry news from across the web. This week’s roundup will focus on mobile and its impact on the customer experience. We’re hunting the ‘net for the latest and greatest, and bringing them to you here, in one convenient weekly post.

Leveraging Mobile to Increase Customer Engagement
“Even when well-planned email campaigns are structured around richly sourced CRM intelligence, they can only achieve limited customer engagement if they’re carried out as conventional one-way interactions.” – Jose Santa Ana

Jose puts into perspective the current state of CRM and highlights how many CRM systems in place today were created for the customer of 10 years ago. He offers some food for thought when considering mobile and fostering two-way conversations when interacting with your customers.
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Mobile: The New Heart Of Digital Customer Experience
Michael Hinshaw introduces the four initial and critical steps to follow when considering the mobile customer journey.

“The question isn’t whether or not mobile is important; it’s how ready you are to deliver the mobile experiences your customers demand.” – Michael Hinshaw
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Digital Ad Spend Quickly Shifting To Mobile: Are You Ready
By 2014, mobile internet usage should overtake desktop internet usage (source). eMarketer reports the opportunity of advertising to the global smartphone audience as its surpassed the 1.75 billion user mark in 2014. “The opportunity for tapping into this vast, highly-engaged consumer base is so huge it’s impossible to ignore.” – Lionel White
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Got ideas for other great articles we should include in future CRM Roundup posts? Let us know in the comments below!

I had a great talk this week with the always enlightening Esteban Kolsky. I was briefing him about Sugar’s latest and greatest,101007_curve_sign and our evolving messaging, and he brought up a really nice point: SugarCRM acts as a “change agent” inside our customer companies.

So, what does this mean?

To explain, let’s assume that the majority of organizations out there have constant goals: acquiring customers, supporting customers, retaining customers, driving revenue, controlling costs, etc.  However, the path to those goals changes constantly. Macro-level trends, such as the economy, the explosion of social as a channel, the emergence of mobile as a preferred communication channel, etc. affect how your organization reaches its goals. On a more micro-level, executive management changes, enhancements to internal processes, reactions to customer demands, etc. also force change inside your organization.

The question becomes, then, how do we remain focused on our goals and work towards meeting them – without being either bewildered or bogged down amidst such rapid change at all levels? Many organizations rely on internal “change agents” to help see the proverbial curve in the upcoming road. These individuals are visionaries and usually go above and beyond in helping companies adapt to changes.

But – can a change agent be a thing, and not a person?

Esteban and I outlined how SugarCRM has been a change agent for a lot of our customers. Their goals, as stated above, were constant and solid. But the method for attaining them became more and more difficult. However, rather than get “stuck” trying to achieve their sales, marketing and support goals, many were able to adapt because their CRM technology was forward thinking, “future proof,” or in other words ultimately flexible.

Now, other products might offer “modern” CRM tools (think: social, mobile, cloud) – but very few offer the strategic advantage of being so deeply flexible and channel-agnostic that companies can adapt to the changing tide BEFORE the vendor releases packaged features to address these issues. Our customers, in a lot of areas, are adapting faster than our roadmap – because that’s the luxury deploying Sugar affords them.

And when you combine that flexibility with the kind of strong TCO Sugar provides – the combination makes Sugar an even more attractive change agent. Sure, many products can be customized or altered to fit changing needs, but at what cost? And on whose terms? Adapting to change is one thing, doing so in a strategic and cost-effective manner is another.

So, when thinking about deploying or upgrading your CRM, think about the state of change. And think about how you can adapt to changes with the tools you have, or are thinking to deploy. Again, goals stay the same, the path constantly changes. Is your CRM going to be a change agent seeing the curves far ahead in the road, or a road block on the path to CRM success?

A few things got me thinking this morning about how we at SugarCRM define ourselves, and how we fit in the broader market in general. Yesterday analyst and all around instigator Esteban Kolsky made some interesting points in scrutinizing a leading analyst firm’s increasingly broad definition of what vendors fit into the CRM landscape.

In my days an an analyst I covered call center tools, sales automation software, marketing and demand generation technology, analytics, e-commerce and even ERP – all in the name of “customer facing/touching technology.” And these are, in all fairness, all part of a customer acquisition or retention strategy.

But while some companies offer a lot of these components (and I am sure a few might argue they offer them all) – no single PRODUCT covers all of these bases in a seamless and unified manner. They just don’t.

And this is a good thing. More and more, consumers of these technology components are taking a “best of breed” approach, in order to get the best features, benefits and the most attractive return on invested dollars. On the vendor side, a diverse market of providers fosters innovation and healthy competition that benefits the customer.

So, where does SugarCRM fit in? Well, for one we believe in the best of breed approach to CRM and the adjacent technologies that support a successful CRM initiative. For example, we work with lots of great demand generation providers like Act-On, Hubspot and Marketo to enable seamless lead flow into our core CRM system. Second, all we focus on is that “core CRM” and not infrastructure or business intelligence or other technology. In a world where M&A and other drivers has made nearly every CRM player also a seller of other IT stuff – we remain the CRM specialists. These may be valuable tools (and lucrative to sell) but they are not our focus.

Our focus, then, is what I’ve been calling the “Nexus of Engagement:” that point where an internal person/employee/user, etc. interacts with a customer/lead/partner, etc. (Akin to what I talked about a while back in bringing the “R” back into CRM.) We are the system that supports the user in delivering the right information, at the right time. We help sales, marketing and support professionals see the “next best step” in a process, or the best person to interact with next. We are the home base, as it were – supporting the process of turing “CRM users” into “Customer Experts.”

Don’t get me wrong – we don’t do it alone. Like I noted above in the demand generation ecosystem we support – there are lots of potential data inputs, integrated tools, apps, widgets, etc. – that make for the most successful creations of this “Nexus of Engagement.” But I would argue that the unlimited flexibility of Sugar’s architecture, it’s easily customized user-first design, and the broad pre-existing technology and data ecosystem around Sugar – makes us unique in our ability to support any user in becoming a customer expert.

A Case for cRm.

Martin Schneider —  June 6, 2013 — 3 Comments

The technology that supports the interactions between a customer and a business have gone through all sorts of changes over r-blogthe past several decades. Advancements in technology, buyer behavior, high-level phenomenon like social media, etc. have all left their mark on CRM technology.

One could argue that in different phases of its evolution, each of the three initials of C-R-M have been the focus. For example, when application software was a nascent market, the simple fact of managing the data around a sales person’s activities (the”M” in CRM) was the focus. Prior to early CRM systems, pen and paper, and early unwieldy databases were the status quo. In short, there was very little focus on the customer and the relationship – just managing and trying to standardize processes and capturing actions. And to keep the “management” conceit going, most early CRM systems benefitted managers more than actual users. Users were forced to enter data, which benefitted management reports around company performance, rather than actually helping users do their jobs better.

As the web, service oriented architectures, the cloud and social media became commonplace, CRM started to become more about customer data. The addition of “the customer” (or the “C” in CRM) sounds ironic, but it was a novel change. Most CRM systems, as noted above, focused on the sales or support agent’s activities and workflow process management, management-level reports, etc. – NOT on optimizing the insights around customer histories to create meaningful experiences at every touch point. Adding the C is a great evolutionary step.

So that brings us to the “R” in CRM. As an industry we have mastered the management of data, and have gotten much better at including rich customer insights into processes and interactions. Evolving further, I think we are starting to actually focus better on the relationships customer have with businesses. That means more of a focus on the point of engagement, not on post-call data entry, or on batch-level rollup reports that tell us nothing in true detail.

Focusing on the relationship benefits both the customer and the actual front line users of a CRM system. The customer benefits because we have the previous addition of their data in the equation, and a focus on solving their problems and generally better meeting their needs right at the point of any engagement, across any channel. That’s good stuff. And by empowering users with the tools they need to better provide that level of service not later, not through 17 screens – but in a single, intuitive user panel that is accessible on any device – sales, marketing and support professionals can do their jobs better and with less stress and manual efforts. Also good stuff.

So, I argue that we are in the era of cRm: focusing on the Relationship aspect of customer interactions. Wether it is a one-time interaction, or a lifelong bond between a buyer and a brand – SugarCRM is looking to help organizations of all sizes optimize those relationships, wherever and whenever.

To learn more about how you can enhance relationships with CRM and related tools, join us for a webinar with Aberdeen Research’s Peter Ostrow titled Amplify the “R” in your CRM on Thursday, June 13th.

Editor’s Note: As we get closer to SugarCon, we wanted to introduce all of the contestants to this year’s App Throwdown, sponsored by SugarOutfitters. Over the next 2 weeks, we’ll have interviews from each of them on what they are showing for the Throwdown, helping you learn a bit more about it.

Bio ( Yours and the Organization you are representing ):

Endeavor:  Sugar’s only CPQ (Configure Price Quote) Partner.  We help companies sell more products and services by making the quote to order process fast, easy and accurate.  Formed in 2000 and located in Dallas Texas.

Sean Myers:  CoFounder & CEO

Vince Puente:  Sales Executive

What are you presenting at the App Throwdown?

Endeavor is presenting a CPQ process highlighting Mobility, Integration and Cloud.  In order to compete and win, sales people must respond quickly in all areas of the sales cycle.  With EndeavorCPQ, Sugar customers can be assured that their sales people and partners will deliver perfect quotes, no matter how complex, within 5 minutes of getting the request.   Because EndeavorCPQ is integrated with Sugar, Opportunities are updated and Forecasting is on demand and accurate.

What about your application do you feel brings something unique or different to the Sugar ecosystem?

Endeavor is the only CPQ company that has a direct integration with Sugar.  With its cloud based offerings and mobile delivery, Sugar customers can now provide all sales agents, resellers and partners a quoting portal that they need to sell more stuff.

What is the biggest takeaway you hope the audience takes away from your presentation?

EndeavorCPQ will help you Sell More Stuff by becoming easier to do business with.

What is the most exciting aspect of being a part of the Sugar App Throwdown?

The opportunity to compete with other vendors to demonstrate what is possible with Sugar to drive more business value.  Also, the format of the Throwdown fosters a fun environment at the end of a great week.

Looking at the other App Throwdown submissions, which one looks the most interesting and why?

Colosa – EndeavorCPQ automates the quote to order process for companies producing significant ROI with revenue and productivity gains.  Colosa has two Process Management products that we can’t wait to learn more about and we envision working with them.

With all the news of Google’s continual purging of self determined ‘dead weight’ services such as Google Reader this week, I was brought back to thinking of a blog post I read late last year on the Web we’ve lost. Along came the natural response of the Web we gained, but the underlying tone was the same; the cost of innovation is a “natural selection” of sorts which sends what was once popular and cutting edge the way of the dodo.

Let’s look at the SaaS market. It’s starting to reach that sophomore phase where the solutions are becoming more mature and dependable, and people are flocking in droves to “the cloud” to get away from the headaches of dealing with self-hosted and self-managed solutions. While simplifying the road to implementing technology in an organization is a definite plus, it comes at a cost; you are putting control in someone else’s hands. Here’s the list of questions that immediately come to mind when I help determine if it’s best to leverage a SaaS service or not…

  • Where is this “cloud” at? Yes this question does seem a bit odd, but this is probably one of the most overlooked concerns. Is down the street from me, a few hundred miles away, or on an entire other continent? This can make huge impacts on performance and reliability.
  • Who has access to the SaaS application and data? What data encryption and protection policies are in place? Does the facility and application comply with some of the better privacy and security measures? Can I apply my policies cleanly to it? And it’s not just a matter of avoiding the “Mom and Pop” cloud providers; even the big guys have had their struggles.
  • Am I OK with loosing control of my upgrade cycle? SaaS based applications generally have a pretty fluid upgrade cycle, which is great for consumers wanting the “latest and greatest”, but a 5,000 person organization needing to retrain their entire team every 30 days can mean lots of lost productivity.
  • Can I get my data out of “the cloud”? What if SaaS doesn’t work out that great for your team; can you easily move out and not loose the data you’ve built up?

Let’s bring Google Reader here into full focus and run it thru this gauntlet. We know Google is good about keeping your data realitively close to you, having data centers in most regions of the world. They have recently added two-pass authentication, making your data even more secure. While there has been one major upgrade to Google Reader in the years I’ve been using it, by and large it’s a pretty constant experience. And via Google Takeout, you can get all your data out whenever you like. Seems like a winner.

But there’s one question that hasn’t been addressed which is…

  • Will I be OK if the service goes away entirely? Or, am I so wed to the SaaS application that if I lose it, I lose my business.

This concept is really now starting to hit the forefront, especially with apps that have built upon Google Reader. You have no choice on the matter; the app you know and love will be gone. And it won’t be the last one either.

You at the business level need to make sure you are comfortable with the tradeoffs that come with this territory. SaaS is changing the landscape of technology in new and exciting ways, but just like the “paperless office” it’s not the full answer either.

At SugarCRM, we have embraced an open culture since day one. The reason why we chose to build Sugar as an open source product was because we fundamentally believe in the ideals of the open source way. Openness allows companies to more readily connect and build a relationship with their customers. While building a killer app may put the gleam in our developers’ eyes, solving our customers’ problems is what keeps the people at SugarCRM focused and driven.

After all, the purpose of a company is to create customers. And companies do this by connecting people with problems (customers) to people with solutions (employees). And our employees (we call them Sugas) really like to solve customer relationship problems.

So how does openness help build a better CRM solution? In three simple ways.

1) Focus on Users First. From the beginning, we designed the Sugar app first for the end users of the application. 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. sales management. By embracing an open dialogue with our end users through the Sugar Forums, the SugarCRM development team is tightly connected with our end users and able to focus on solving their business problems. 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, sales managers can then rely on the forecast, pipeline and issue resolution insight coming out of their Sugar application.

2) Built for the Open Cloud. The Open Cloud Manifesto is dedicated to the belief that the cloud should be open. The core tenets of the Open Cloud are that open standards and portability of applications across cloud platforms gives customers control and choice. Our customers demand control of their mission critical applications and data and require choice of their cloud platforms. From Sugar On Demand, a fully managed Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application to running Sugar on Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud platforms like IBM SmartCloud Enterprise and Amazon AWS, organizations in over 80 countries around the world choose SugarCRM for the flexibility of deployment options. Control and choice means all companies can design a CRM strategy without having to make any compromises in their IT strategy.

3) Leveraging an Open Ecosystem. Today’s most vibrant technology companies are those that get the power of ecosystems. The amplification effect of a large ecosystem of partners gives companies like SugarCRM, Google, Apple, Amazon and others a massive boost in delivering value to customers. However, we are seeing two types of ecosystems emerging: closed ecosystems and open ecosystems. The mobile phone market is a perfect example of this. Apple has built a “walled garden” ecosystem with iOS. Google however has built an open ecosystem with Android. You will find a similar duality in the CRM world with Salesforce.com creating a closed ecosystem and SugarCRM creating an open ecosystem. With an open ecosystem, our customers have more choices. From a wider and more varied choice of implementation partners to the power of SugarForge.org, the largest collection of open source CRM solutions on the Web, SugarCRM customers enjoy the benefits of choice and control not only in their cloud options but also in their ecosystem options.

A culture of openness here at SugarCRM has led to better CRM solutions, solutions better aligned to your needs and better aligned to driving your CRM success.

–Clint

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.

I really like talking with CRM journalist and all around smart guy Chris Bucholtz. Whenever we have an interview – it always beings around one topic and very quickly tangents off into a great conversation about what we as an industry could be doing better (as well as some side stops discussing WWII aircraft and strategy).

I especially enjoyed Chris’ take on one of the roadblocks to CRM success – Executive Fear – that he describes in his CRM Buyer piece. These are all great ideas. The notion that too many executives are afraid to take chances is a scary, but all too often true, situation. In a shaky economy, I believe this problem gets amplified, as top-level execs are too frightened to lose positions etc. – and simply go the “safe” route.

So – in your organization are you a CRM leader, follower…or just in the way?

As Chris so eloquently notes in his article – “Best practices are made, not born.” I love this statement. The sales and marketing leaders in your organization have to know what is important (lead generation, pipeline, the bottom line etc.) but cannot be afraid to shake things up a little. Instead of “if it ain’t broke, don;t fix it” mentality, a great CRM initiative should always foster a “how can we continually make this better?” mentality.

There are very few “turnkey machines” in the business world. More often than not, we are not in an organization with the luxury of ubiquity or near total market share – what I’m saying is that we are not all Google basically.

It is not always bad to “follow the leader” in terms of taking on proven CRM best practices. Startups and entrepreneurs can learn from larger, successful organizations while finding their identity. But, once found, companies need to differentiate and create their own killer experiences for their customers, develop new ways to pull in new leads, etc.

In the past, the technology supporting a CRM initiative was expensive and time consuming to deploy, configure and change over time. So, it made sense that a conservative approach won out more often than not. However, with today’s less expensive, ultra-flexible web and cloud-based CRM tools – there is far less excuse to take the safe route.

The tools are here now to better align the imagination of sales, marketing and customer service leaders with the actual technology solutions in place to make it happen.