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With social CRM a well-established concept, increasing numbers of businesses are looking at social media as a source of customer information, a tool for collaboration on new product ideas and a source for sales leads. But getting to those goals means first listening to what is said in social media – and how do you do that?

To get started, we suggest attending the session “Smarter Social Monitoring with SugarCRM” at SugarCon 2013. The presenter is SugarCRM’s own Simon Chapman, who’s been eyeing this space for several years and, at the same time, paying attention to the ways that a good CRM application can help you pay attention to your customers.

Simon promises to share ways to use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to drive greater value from your CRM efforts. We decided to give you a sneak peek at the contents of his session with a few questions:

SugarCRM: LinkedIn is a natural tool for networking – around jobs, around knowledge within groups, etc. But how can salespeople use it in generating or qualifying leads?

Simon: LinkedIn is all about who you know and who they know – that’s the key. By using LinkedIn to effectively mine your network, sales professionals can potentially get introductions or get connected with the key influencers. Qualifying people is even better with LinkedIn in that not only can you put a face to a name, you can also see whether they’re the right person you need to be speaking to or whether someone in their network would be more beneficial to speak with. The average well-connected LinkedIn user has at least 750,000 people in their network, as a first-, second- or third-degree connection. Just think of how many leads could be generated by mining your LinkedIn network better?

SugarCRM: How do you get information from social networks into your CRM customer records – and how does Sugar do this better than other CRM applications?

Simon: Sugar allows you to automatically search for social network information without the need to keep two or three windows open at once. On an account level, maybe you want to do business with a particular company but don’t know who you potentially know. With Sugar, you can embed this information on the account or opportunity level, and by just knowing what the company name is, drill down into the connections you could potentially make. Because all of these elements can be embedded quickly and easily into all aspects of the system, Sugar’s strength is exactly that – its flexibility.

SugarCRM: Brand reputation is a scary idea for businesses, now that customers own the conversation. What can businesses do to protect themselves – especially when things are going awry?

Simon: Sugar can take information from Twitter, for example, and allow not only lead generation activities from when someone simply sends you a tweet, but also to instantly respond to someone who has an issue – protecting brand reputation. This is important as marketing managers or social media monitors will be keen to make sure that any issue or negative statement isn’t allowed to proliferate. Sugar can put that information directly on the homepage, rolling in the latest Tweets or Facebook posts with the ability to instantly respond.

SugarCRM: Some salespeople – and business leaders, in general – are leery of social media; what do you say to motivate them to go from doubt and fear to results?

Simon: This is a question that’s often asked when we speak to potential customers and existing customers alike. Our view is that it’s better to be informed than not, and embracing social media, developing relationships and managing messaging, good and bad, helps to create brand and company awareness. Developing clear messaging and setting clear targets on what you want to get out of each target social media network, as well changing that messaging to match the types of people that frequent that network, is something that I would personally recommend. Aimless communication may be viewed negatively rather than clearly outlining your social media strategy with carefully-worded messaging.

SugarCRM: Are there sales talents that social media replaces, or is it a case where social media amplifies sales talents?

Simon: Social media can only amplify sales ability. It’s all about communication and managing that communication, that stage presence, well online. Twitter forces you to think in clever ways about how to get your message into a set number of characters and sometimes this can be beneficial – get the most important words in there first. Social media can also provide that reach which you may not get from your existing networks. Maybe someone finds your tweet and thinks that you’re someone they can do business with and decides to follow you.

See Simon’s session at SugarCon 2013 April 9 at 1 p.m. For more details on the SugarCon agenda, visit the event page.

The past week has seen SugarCRM grabbing headlines literally all over the world. Here are some of the more unusual, noteworthy and significant stories that SugarCRM has been a part of over the last week or so:

ARN: InsightfulCRM inks $2m contract with Macquarie University

SugarCRM partner InsightfulCRM has been working with Macquarie University in Australia for more than two years; last week, the two organizations signed a four-year, $2 million contract that will see InsightfulCRM extend SugarCRM campus-wide. Since Sugar was built with openness in mind, the system will integrate with Macquarie’s open-source back-end systems.

Business Insider: LinkedIn is a Reason Startups Raise More Money, Angel Investor Says

Julie Bort says the trend toward angel investors sinking money into enterprise startups is driven by LinkedIn’s success – and she’s not asking you to take her word for it. She drew her conclusion based on an interview with SugarCRM Larry Augustin, who said huge rounds of funding are driven by “Social networks like LinkedIn… because it’s become so much easier to find angels or stay in touch with the ones you know.”

Enterprise Efficiency: Building a Digital Company: When IT is Too Late

“Most companies think of bringing in technology at exactly the wrong time,” writes SugarCRM CTO Clint Oram in this commentary on how to make your business vision match up with technology. Of course, you need a strategy and a vision first – but don’t wait too long to make the technology part of the equation, Clint warns. “By building strategies and processes from the ground up around digital technology, companies will outperform those that don’t.”

The numbers for 2012 are in, and they revealed that SugarCRM isn’t just maintaining its momentum –it’s picking up steam. Off a remarkable 2011, SugarCRM showed total revenue growth of 60 percent over the previous year, subscriber seats doubled in number and annual recurring revenue in the enterprise space leaped by 250 percent.

That last figure is one of the things that makes Sugar such an interesting CRM platform. Enormous companies find that it scales to suit their needs – in fact, a major multinational technology and consulting corporation went live with the first 7,000 seats of a 69,000-seat company wide deployment in the third quarter. At the same time, SugarCRM continues to gain smaller companies as customers at a blistering rate.

Reaching those smaller customers and enabling them to take advantage of Sugar’s flexibility depends on our 400 reseller partners. In Q4 2012, Sugar welcomed 21 partners, making 130 new partners added in 2012 serving customer of all sizes.

Sugar also boosted its technology partnership efforts in 2012. In Q4 2012, SugarCRM expanded its relationship with Box, and announce a new partnership with DocuSign to help users close deals more quickly by automating the signature and contract tracking process. Sugar also announced integrations in Q4 with VMWare, Act-On Software, Next Principles, Alteva, Lucid Imagination, Entrinsik and many more.

Want the entire scoop on SugarCRM’s outstanding year and evolving set of partnerships? Check out the full press release here.

Have you ever read something in the newspaper or seen it on the evening news and though, “well, heck! Why is this news? I knew that!”

We kind of felt that way when we read that SugarCRM was among the “25 Enterprise Startups to Bet Your Career On” in Business Insider. But, of course, we here have some inside information.

Not to blow our own horns… Well, okay. We’re going to blow our own horns. With a growing list of partners, an ever expanding galaxy of customers and an engineering team that’s focused on delivering on the idea of CRM for everyone, we’re doing important work in making CRM a tool for the entire business instead of a point solution for sales or support. And, by building a platform that integrates easily with other applications, we’re giving customers the freedom to build their own software ecosystems and the ability to make it work with a minimum of cost and hassle.

The companies on this list is impressive and include and Good Data – which already integrate with Sugar, giving us another leg up.

Want to join the team? Take a peek at Sugar’s career page  and see how you can place your bet on SugarCRM.

Every year, Paul Greenberg compiles his Watch List, which collects the companies Paul thinks will have the biggest impact that year. Paul’s criteria include:

  1. A breakout product
  2. Seizing thought leadership in some related area
  3. Market impact
  4. The company’s sheer size and continued long term existence guarantees them impact pretty much regardless of who they are and how well they do.
  5. A major initiative that will change the way the market works.
  6. Continued really good performance year over year with an expectation that they will be seen and recognized for that in 2012
  7. Fabulous customer achievements but to the level of setting an industry standard
  8. Impact in a particular distinguishable geographic market
  9. Faith that they will do something worthy of public recognition (that’s the subjective part).
  10. All of the above
  11. Other things he didn’t mention

Essentially, Paul has outlined the characteristics of a heavy-hitter or a game-changer in the CRM space (and he’s provided himself with room for a bit of interpretation, too).

Each year, he increases the rigor for selecting the Watchlist; this year he worked to get questionnaire submissions from vendors that would inform his choices, and that questionnaire was not insignificant in size.

Those criteria and that rigor are the reason we at SugarCRM are pleased to report that we’re CRM Watchlist winners (as we were in 2012). It’s not just that Paul likes us as people – Paul likes a lot of people in the CRM industry, and the feeling is largely mutual, but not everyone’s a Watchlist winner. He likes what we’re doing, and he spells out what we need to do in the future.

One of the more incisive observations he makes is that even as SugarCRM takes aim on attracting larger customers, it’s building its messaging around the idea of the user first – or, as Paul phrases it, taking aim on a market of one. “How do you appeal to a company needing thousands of seats when your target is the individual user without being lost in a morass of homogenous faces?” Paul asks.

We have plans for doing this – and our customers are already showing us concrete examples of how helping the individual user get the most from CRM maximizes the value of CRM for the entire organization.

Some of our customers will be sharing those examples at SugarCon in April – and event that will also show how we’re taking the “user-first” concept to new levels in upcoming releases that are more social, more mobile and more powerful in their ability to make front-line users’ jobs easier and more productive.

We couldn’t be more pleased that Paul selected us for the Watchlist – and we’re equally pleased that Paul will deliver the SugarCon keynote address on April 9. He’ll be the first in a long series of important CRM thinkers, analysts and observers who are coming to the show to speak or conduct sessions – a Watchlist of CRM influencers, if you will.

Thanks to Paul for his kind words and his challenge to Sugar for 2013. We’re looking forward to living up to his expectations – and those of our customers – and to making the list again in 2014!

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” sang John Lennon. He was talking about life in general – and in specific the future life of his son Sean in the song “Beautiful Boy” – but the sentiment is applicable to all kinds of situations – including CRM.

All successful CRM implementations start with planning – and plenty of it, the precise amount determined by the size and organizational complexity of the business in question. Those plans take into consideration what’s going on now and what is likely to happen in the near future. The result is a solution that, if implemented quickly, makes it easier to manage customer data (with the associated increase in revenue, customer loyalty and new sales) now and for a time of undetermined length after that.

But you want to assure yourself that the investment you’re making in CRM is not just for a brief future whose end will be determined by outside influences. For example, if your business sees an opportunity in a regulated industry like health care, insurance or human resources, you don’t want to be in a position where you have to weigh that opportunity against the costs of abandoning a cloud-based CRM application in favor of an on-site CRM application. Similarly, if you discover new lead management or a sales alerting software that’s a perfect fit for your organization, you don’t want to be in a position where you have to weigh its value against the high costs of integration.

You could also find that local data storage laws change. That could force you to move to an on-site option. Or, you could decide that economic conditions make a switch to the cloud the best option for your business.

What you want is a CRM application that “future proofs” the company around these kinds of choices. That means a range of deployment options that permits you to transition between delivery models as circumstances and resources require. If your CRM is provided in one flavor – on-site only, or just in the cloud – you may be stuck when business needs dictate a change. It may be possible to alter the delivery approach on a one-off basis, but that carries with it significant expense.

Liberation from a technology stack is also a way to future proof your company. Most large CRM vendors have gathered a set of ancillary software solutions and integrate them with the CRM product, which is great – if your needs are served precisely by all those solutions. But innovation does not often come from the big vendors; it comes from smaller companies, and it usually isn’t part of a large vendor’s technology stack. If you want to be agile and able to employ the latest technology when it’s the best fit for your business, you need a CRM application that’s more flexible and designed to integrate easily with any software, not just those stamped with the same brand as the CRM application.

SugarCRM’s objective is to be “future-proof;” not only do we keep all the options open for deployment models, we also keep your options open for the applications you can use to give your sales, marketing and support teams an edge over their competition.

By doing so, we think we can deliver a better ROI over the long term – and we can build better, longer and more fruitful relationships with our own customers by not limiting their choices.

Is there anything we can do to become more “future-proof?” Let us know in the comments!

In a recent blog, Ernst & Young’s Laurence Buchanan quite astutely pointed out that we are entering a new age of CRM. For want of better terms, he defined the age we’re leaving as the “analog” age and the age we’re entering as the “digital” age, primarily because the penetration of digital technology has had a change in the way businesses reach customers and vice versa.

Laurence delivered a tremendous keynote at SugarCon 2011 that touched on these topics (you can see it on SlideShare)  but this blog expands on these ideas, and it led Laurence to these set of characteristics of a “digital age” CRM application:

  • Designed for Customers and front line customer-facing staff, not just for management
  • Focused on speed to value and positive internal momentum
  • Designed with a core foundation (e.g. data, processes) but able to embrace change at the front-end of customer interaction (i.e. devices, apps, social networks etc.)
  • Delivered in an iterative fashion with constant business involvement
  • Open and integratable in nature (often made up of a collection of services rather than a single package)
  • Cross-functional in nature, busting through internal silos
  • Paid for based on value delivered to the business

It’s always great to see a respected thinker independently assert ideas that you hold dear, and that’s what Laurence has done here. He wasn’t talking specifically about Sugar, but he articulated many of the ideas that SugarCRM has used to build its platform. Here are a couple ways that Sugar achieves that:

“Designed for Customers and front-line customer-facing staff, not just for management:” This is the heart of SugarCRM’s “user first” philosophy. There’s no point in designing an application that caters to management and focuses on reporting if the people who feed data into the system (the front-line customer-facing staff) don’t use it. Sugar’s constant focus on the front-line user means that managers get better, more accurate data to work from, and the users clearly how using the application makes their jobs easier, makes them more in commissions, allows them to market better, or enables them to provide better support. A CRM application should make everyone better at his or her job, not just the sales manager.

“Focused on speed to value and positive internal momentum:” This is such a vital consideration we created a white paper about this very subject.  It’s critical that you take this into account, not just at the time of the initial deployment but as new features are added. The paper suggests that you ask yourself, ”from the time you begin deployment of a CRM solution, how long did it take before the solution delivered real business value as measured by criteria that you defined? We believe that with the right approach, you can achieve measurable business value from CRM in as little as 30 days.”

Of course, deployment time can be affected by outside influences, like the quality of the data you start with. But when the application is designed with this notion of speed to value as a critical attribute, you’re far more likely to see a return on investment – not just a faster ROI, but ROI in general, since delays can harm your ability to gain user buy-in and the universal adoption that leads to a truly effective CRM system.

“Designed with a core foundation (e.g. data, processes) but able to embrace change at the front-end of customer interaction (i.e. devices, apps, social networks etc.).” Sugar’s basic functionality is solid, but there’s a lot more to it than just the basics. As you get beyond the core sales force automation features you’ll see not only built-in support for mobility  (and that means mobility on all major devices) and for social media input (via activity streams), but also an unparalleled ability to integrate with the applications that are key to running your business.  Which leads directly to…

“Open and integratable in nature (often made up of a collection of services rather than a single package).” That doesn’t mean applications or services from a specific technology stack, as in the case with other major CRM vendors. That means the applications you select because they’re the right choices for your business. Because flexibility and integration are two more basic tenets in the Sugar design philosophy, and because SugarCRM works with over 400 resellers worldwide to deliver the application, it’s far easier and far les expensive to maintain that control over your business software systems. The vendor doesn’t dictate which applications you will use; you decide what’s best for you.

Laurence wasn’t describing SugarCRM in his blog post, but we’re exceedingly pleased that his choice of words fits us so well!