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We have just returned from a bit of a whirlwind week of events: the trio of CRM Evolution/SpeechTek/Customer Service Experience shows in Washington D.C. and thecrossrdGartner Customer Strategies & Technologies Summit in London. Throughout the week, we heard a LOT of insightful and innovative ideas from analysts, practitioners and other industry experts around the present and future of customer engagement and customer relationship management in general.

One item that stuck out in my mind was Gartner analyst Ed Thompson’s keynote, which focused on the “defining moments” that shape our personal lives as well as the world around us. Note, these are very different than “moments of truth,” those small, but far more frequent interaction points that can make or break your relationships with customers. Defining moments, as Thompson explains, are far more infrequent, think of a major breakthrough such as the market availability of the first digital camera (or even the first camera phone), and have far more profound and lasting impacts.

These moments affect not just the way individuals see the world, but also shape the way businesses (and really, the world in general) operate.

When I look at the industry in which SugarCRM operates, that of front office software, it is easy to see several defining moments. These monumental shifts have been both in the way the customer relationship has evolved, and also about the nature of the technology we create and use in business. And of course, these two are inextricably linked.

A few examples of defining moments that have shaped CRM: the introduction of email into the customer relationship, the emergence of SaaS delivery of apps (and the eventual evolution into cloud software), the iPhone making mobile CRM apps a must-have, Facebook and Twitter becoming de-facto customer conversation channels, etc.

Looking at these defining moments, a few observations become clear. One, the pace and breadth of defining moments in our world is increasing, due mainly to the insanely rapid pace of technology innovation. Second, those that refuse or simply fail to take advantage of the changes pushed forward from these moments do so at their own peril.

We talk a lot about “disruption” and “digital transformation” – but in the light of defining moments these should not be considered single “projects” or a one-time transformation endeavor. Rather, the pace of innovation and the onslaught of more customer channels, data points, and expectations means that businesses must be in a constant state of development, with total openness to change. Sure, change is hard, but you need to aggressively embrace new business models.

One great example is SugarCRM customer CitySprint (who just happened to co-present their transformation story on stage at the Gartner event). While CitySprint is a leader in its space as a last mile delivery and logistics provider in the UK, they saw the disruption curve coming – from new digital technologies like Uber, Amazon Prime, etc. Rather than risk getting left behind, CitySprint is incubating its own startup to shift its business from simple delivery into providing technology, solutions and tools for businesses across the UK to create more effective customer experiences. (CitySprint will be telling more about this story at SugarCon in June FYI.)

So, no matter what your industry, one thing is clear: disruption is coming in some form or another. And, it is going to keep coming. Those who embrace the pace of change and respond accordingly will win. Those who do not will face steeper and steeper uphill climbs in an increasingly competitive marketplace. On which side of this equation would you rather be?

As a precursor to their annual Salesforce Automation (SFA) Magic Quadrant, several Gartner analysts ran a survey polling key decision makers at enterprises around the world about what they look for in an ideal SFA/CRM system. The results were published on Gartner’s site (note: subscription required) this week, and the results are not surprising.

Well, not surprising to us over here at SugarCRM. That is because the key areas that IT decision makers saw as important focus areas are the exact areas where we have built out the Sugar product and platform the most over the past few years.

So, according to the survey, what is most valued by IT leaders?

  • Intuitive Mobile Solutions
  • Mastery of Core Functionality
  • Ease of Integration

On the topic of mobility – I think we as an industry are finally coming to understand that mobile CRM does not mean “shrinking a CRM system down to a phone screen UI.” Rather, we are building more device and purpose-driven applications of CRM – and it is great that IT Decision makers also get this, meaning they are looking to optimize the real-life mobile usage scenarios customer-facing employees require every day. I am excited about the direction our mobile team is going, and we will have lots of cool announcements as 2016 unfolds.

When it comes to “core functionality” – we at SugarCRM have seen more and more companies select Sugar not by our “latest and greatest” or “edge functionality” but rather by Sugar providing absolutely mature and intuitive core SFA features on top of the most solid, extensible and scalable platform. In today’s world, IT leaders know they can develop and build features on a platform, but a solid and well-designed user experience must be there in order to start off on the right foot.

While Integration has certainly come a long way in the age of the cloud, we often forget than many of the large enterprises out there are still stifled by legacy applications. These products have older, proprietary back ends – making integration challenging. Sugar offers a wider range of integration options making it easier to integrate legacy enterprise applications with Sugar than with other CRM systems out there. And as integration becomes easier and easier, we are seeing even more innovative combinations of enterprise and Web data merged with Sugar data to create more highly informed users.

Again, these survey results are not surprising when you consider where we are at in terms of CRM trends. Large enterprises are moving away from legacy systems and the large giant incumbent software vendors, and midsize companies are entering the “strategic” phase of their CRM journeys. It all combines for what we see as an exciting era in CRM history, one that bodes very well for SugarCRM and our vision for the market.

I just read a recent blog post on Cloud CRM deployments by Gartner’s Michael Maoz and I think he hits on a very important point – while also missing a very important point.

Michael is absolutely correct that many of what he calls enterprise “cloud CRM” deploymeappsorangsnts have failed to handle the kind of complexity that even the Siebel Systems-era, on-premise deployments managed. However, I think he is not using the right terminology here. When he says “cloud CRM” in terms of these limited scope deployments – I believe a better term is “SaaS CRM.”

To be clear, when I talk about “SaaS CRM,” I mean a CRM tool or set of apps delivered ONLY via the Internet. And, that app is being hosted ONLY by the vendor that develops that software. Now, “cloud CRM” means a set of CRM tools or a platform that can be run in multiple cloud permutations: hosted and managed by the user on a public cloud like Amazon, hosted by a reseller or VAR partner, managed by the user on a private cloud stack, etc. In short, “cloud CRM” has a far more flexible definition – and provides the user far greater levels of ownership and power of choice.

A truly cloud-based deployment can, and does, offer the kind of flexibility and ownership of code and runtime that allows for the management of complex problems a la Siebel circa 2000. However, limited multi-tenant SaaS products (and even some SaaS platforms) must, by nature, limit individual deployments to insure performance and availability for the masses.

Every day, we see more companies with complex, cross departmental process-oriented approaches to CRM look at us because we offer that level of ownership, flexibility, scale, etc. – while also being “in the cloud.” When you look at large organizations like IBM, or even mid-market companies like Sennheiser – they are not simply using Sugar for case or opportunity management, they are looking to transform their business, their approach to IT and and their application development. We are helping companies take on agile, and devOps IT models. This is a concept that is limited with the SaaS model where the vendor absolutely owns the delivery of software.

Michael asked people to prove him wrong, but I think it is less about being wrong in his assumptions, and instead more accurate in his description of the types of CRM deployments and the level of complexity each deployment offers.

It’s that time again. In addition to shopping for gifts and attending holiday parties, December is also prediction season. Here are five CRM predictions that we think we’ll see in 2016.

Do you have a prediction of your own? We’d love to hear it. Please post in the comments section below.

1. UX will be big in 2016: Companies that focus on differentiating themselves by providing a fantastic customer experience will thrive. While the “improving customer experience” concept has been a major initiative in the CRM space for some time, what really drives great customer experiences is customer-facing employees having the right information and tools to best serve the customer at exactly the right time. Traditional CRM has fallen short in this area. In 2016, CRM users will have access to enhanced, modern interfaces that incorporate social and mobile customer data to empower the employee to drive extraordinary customer relationships. A fantastic user experience will mean more intelligent CRM practices, which will make it much easier to execute a seamless customer journey from awareness and purchase to retention and advocacy.

2. Personalized Analytics: Predictive analytics will be the next big data trend, and soon salespeople and marketers will use predictive analytics to forecast the impact of their activity and provide more personalized pitches or content to individual customers. Modern CRM applications are beginning to provide greater analytics for the individual user. Nimble, and consumable tools will be embedded into CRM and provide sales, marketing and support professionals with customer preferences and history, helping them engage throughout the customer journey. CRM is moving toward “systems of engagement” that use predictive analytics to cut through the big data noise to uncover actionable customer insights.

3. Data Privacy Concerns will Affect SaaS CRM Deployments: Today’s online privacy concerns and dispersed data landscape have sparked legislation mandating how and where companies store customer data. A well-designed and tightly-integrated CRM is imperative to any organization’s security and compliance efforts. However, the “cookie cutter” model of multi-tenant, proprietary public cloud offerings is not always sufficient for global business. Companies in highly regulated industries, and those who operate globally must address data privacy laws and mandates. In 2016, more companies will opt to deploy CRM with cloud agility, meaning they can maintain security and control of customer data, choose the best public, private or hybrid cloud deployment model (as well as on-premise) for their business, and ensure regulatory compliance. The good news with modern CRM is there are many options for those that are feeling the effects of these changing regulations around the world.

4. Mobile CRM will get even better: Mobile is, and will continue to be a rising focus for the CRM space. One of the great benefits of CRM is that it allows businesses to organize themselves more effectively. However, as the workforce is dispersed and people spend time out of the office, a mobile CRM app is crucial so those valuable interactions while on the road aren’t left behind. In the past, many mobile CRM apps have had limited functionality. As we move forward, mobile platforms will become more powerful. You’ll see smart phones display the latest analytics and dashlets via their CRM.  In addition, users will be able to better customize their mobile experience to get the data they want and transform that data into actionable tasks to address customer needs in real-time.

5. CRM and IoT will become intertwined: Smart companies want to stay a step ahead of their customers so they can provide information before the customer even knows they need it. Smart devices can offer new ways to deliver on that promise. The potential of harnessing the data of billions of connected devices and integrating that data within the CRM to create extraordinary customer relationships is very exciting. CRM platforms will evolve to work with the data that is being generated, make sense of that data and communicate to the people who can benefit from the analysis so they can perform real actions to help the customer. Many innovative organizations have already embraced the potential of smart devices to deepen all types of relationships. Check out our Vetadvisor case study to learn how the organization has integrated Fitbit bands into its SugarCRM deployment.

While we often lump sales & marketing together – the truth is that all too often there are significant gaps in terms of how companies manage the process of turning a B2B prospect into a qualified lead, and passing that lead successfully to the right sales rep. Many factors can come into play that can cause sales and marketing disconnects – however, the good news is that by following a few simple rules, organizations can get sales & marketing teams in sync and keep them that way.

So, here are a few sure fire methods for driving more alignment in your sales & marketing organizations as well as driving more revenue out of every qualified lead:

Agree on Terminology

It seems basic – but without mutually agreed upon definitions of what is – and what is not – a qualified lead, sales can suffer. Many marketing organizations are measured on metrics like lead volume, not lead quality. But by understanding that quality leads are what matters most – sales and marketing staff can come to common terms around lead status (such as a marketing qualified lead versus a sales qualified lead) and adjust marketing activity and expectations accordingly.

Use Data from Sales to Improve Lead Quality

Many times marketing is seen as a one-way street. The marketing team generates leads, throws them “over the wall” to sales, and that’s it. However, it is important to for marketing to both capture post-conversion behavior in addition to demographic and other telling data points. By creating a rich set of data after the lead is qualified, marketing can learn even more about what makes some leads more likely to close, and refine and re-tune marketing efforts to increase effectiveness and reduce overall spend, driving ROI and revenue.

Integrate Marketing and Sales Tools

When performing CRM deployments at even the largest and most sophisticated organizations, we’re often surprised at the lack of cohesion between the tools generating leads and the software sales reps use every day to close those leads. Fortunately, today integration technologies and the design of modern software tools make it easier than ever to create tight-knit, bi-directional integration. This allows marketing to better nurture and re-nurture leads that take time to close, and gives sales better insights into the behavior and information gathering lead go through before engaging in a sales interaction.

Deeply integrated marketing and sales tools, as seen here with data from IBM Silverpop seamlessly embedded into Sugar’s SFA UI, can build bridges between sales and marketing to drive enhanced conversion and close rates.

Deeply integrated marketing and sales tools, as seen here with data from IBM Silverpop seamlessly embedded into Sugar’s SFA UI, can build bridges between sales and marketing to drive enhanced conversion and close rates.

So, these are just three tips and tricks any organization can make in order to better align sales & marketing teams. Ultimately, shared goals and well thought out approaches to process can lead to success, aided by the proper use of technology of course. To see even more tips on driving even more sales from your marketing efforts, check out our free eBook by clicking HERE.

expLast week SugarCRM was the lead sponsor of the Conference Board’s 11th Annual Customer Experience Conference held in downtown NYC. The conference brought together hundreds of cross-functional executives and thinkers responsible for the customer experience at organizations of all shapes and sizes.

In addition to some great keynotes from former Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and Overstock.com president Stormy Simon, SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin explained to the captive crowd the importance of using a modern CRM as the tool to unify the customer experience across both digital and human touch points.

Overall, the importance of focusing on the “human element,” especially when thinking about optimizing customer experience was a theme that ran throughout the event. During a panel I moderated with executives from Citi, Constant Contact and Sparks Grove – the overarching message was to think of the people at the heart of the equations: the individual customers and the employees trying to help them along their customer journey.

The event was a great way to talk to some business and individuals in various stages of a customer experience transformation. And the fact that so many businesses are considering CRM as a major lynch pin to the success of their customer experience initiatives was great to see.

So, a big “thank you” to the Conference Board for putting on such an exceptional event, and a huge thank you to all the attendees, for all the great interactions and conversations!

SugarCon is just around the corner – and that means it is also time for another round of the SugarCon App Throwdown! The App Throwdown – always an attendee favorite – is a showcase of some of the coolest, most useful, and most innovative extensions of the Sugar platform. The fun, sometimes manic, atmosphere of the final judging session at SugarCon not only promises to entertain, but also give Sugar users some great tools to advance their own CRM initiatives.

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While App Throwdown is always a blast – we wanted to make it even better this year. How? Well, for starters, we’ve opened up the submission eligibility to EVERYONE! That’s right – anyone who wants to submit an extension, connector, custom app integrated to Sugar, etc. can apply. Simply fill out this ONLINE FORM to be part of the processes.

Submissions will be accepted until March 27! So get your submission ready – all you need is a cool app/connector/customization, a short video of your app in action, and a completed form to enter!

Also, we have created some categories to help guide your submissions, and the category winners will be the ones to battle it out for “Best in Show” on the main SugarCon stage in April.

This years categories include:

Category Description
Mobile Help your customers see i2i, wherever they are. This category will be judged on the best mobile customization, or mobile extension of Sugar in marketing, field sales, field service or other customer-facing scenarios.
Best Seamless Integration Sugar provides virtually limitless ways of integrating with virtually limitless apps and data sources. This category will focus on applications that follow the best practices of our UI/UX and show creative use of the Intelligence Panel, Dashlets, Activity Streams, and other key areas of the Sugar UX best in class user interface.
Data, Information, & Analytics Getting the right information at the right time is a critical part of creating extraordinary customer relationships. Understanding business insights is an important tool for optimizing your selling and go-to-market strategy. Entries in this category will be judged on how they help Sugar users make better decisions and execute faster based on having better information at their fingertips.
Customer Experience and Engagement This category will look at integrations and customizations that optimize the customer experience and increase levels of engagement. These can include workflow-based customizations and extensions to better align with the customer journey; embedded call center or other real-time employee-to-customer communications; or tools to help agents close more deals or resolve more cases faster.
Beyond CRM The openness of the Sugar platform means that developers and users’ only limits are their imaginations.  Entries in this category will focus on the “edge cases” of CRM. So, if your application interfaces with the real world through the “Internet of Things”, or you’ve added game mechanics to motivate the right behavior, or tied into today’s powerful social tools, this category is for you!

The judging process this year will be a bit different as well. An all-star panel of SugarCRM staff and some special industry influencers and observers will judge all submissions to determine the category winners. These will be announced here on the blog in early April.

At SugarCon, the category winners will compete on stage for the “Best in Show” award – in front of an expert panel of SugarCRM executives including CEO Larry Augustin, and some guest industry influencers. But as in past years – the audience will vote on the category winner they think deserves to be Best in Show!

So, all you Sugar partners, developers, tech-savvy customers with a cool custom module or integration – we invite you to submit ASAP and join us in making the 2015 App Throwdown the best yet!