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(Editor’s note: this post was originally published on CMSWire.com)

Have you been Ubered? Has technology reshuffled the deck in your industry? Are you about to become obsolete as some new (or renewed) competitor steals all of your hard-won, seemingly loyal customers?

Digital disruption is the new buzzword in the business transformation consulting circles, and for good reason. We are watching business model after business model being disrupted by ridiculously fast evolution in mobile tech, new marketplaces are popping up all over the place and faster and faster communication keeps connecting buyers and sellers in new ways. Technology has truly punched the accelerator on business digital transformation in industry after industry.

But what’s the one immutable fact through all of this? Customers are king. Today’s customer expects immediate answers and instant gratification. You may have a fantastic product or service, but if you don’t put an outstanding customer experience at the center of all your business planning, you will lose. This means the most impactful digital transformation strategy for your business must be around transforming your customers’ experience with your company. In short: Make it easy. Make it awesome.

That’s where modern CRM comes in. With a thoughtful investment in CRM technology, you can impress your customers by putting all the answers and insights they could ever need, right at their fingertips. Regardless of the channel, from classic retail (like your nearest mall) to modern mobile marketplaces (like Uber), CRM technology puts immediate, relevant answers in front of your customer. Sounds like lots of moving parts though, right?

Taking a step back for a moment, it is worth reflecting upon the fantastic evolution that CRM technology has gone through. Thirty years ago, Customer Relationship Management software meant call center software for tracking trouble tickets. With the advent of laptops in the early 90’s, sales force automation became the hot new CRM topic for helping companies accurately forecast their sales pipelines. And then in the late 90’s, outbound emailing became Marketing Automation software. But what truly transformed the CRM software industry was when companies stopped looking to CRM software just as a way to gain efficiencies from their employees. Instead, when companies began looking to CRM software to orchestrate a set of interactions between the company and their customers, that’s when CRM transformed from a cost reduction investment to a growth acceleration investment.

However, many organizations are often stuck in their old habits, using their legacy CRM technology to support separate, siloed business functions. By looking forward, the opportunity exists to use modern CRM as the backbone of a digital, customer-first strategy. Here are your four steps to CRM transformation:

  1. Transform Initiatives – Align your business initiatives with customer needs. If a customer-first strategy is at the center of your business, it makes sense, then, that your CRM must follow suit. An organization evolving to meet the new demands of the customer — in fact, building infrastructure around the sole purpose of serving them — recognizes the customer’s power, and will ultimately succeed.
  1. Transform Individuals – Empower individual employees. Your CRM platform must be designed with the individual employee and the customer in mind. As CRM has evolved to meet customer demands, organizations must remember that helping their own people get their job done is equally important. The right CRM helps salespeople sell and helps customer service agents deliver an extraordinary customer experience by providing the right information to the right person at the right time — even before they ask.
  1. Transform Interactions – Orchestrate customer interactions across the customer journey. Doing so brings a customer focus to everything and orchestrates consistent and informed interactions throughout the entire customer journey and at each human and digital touch point across departments, processes and systems.
  1. Transform Information – Deliver insight with a single view of customer information. Today’s customer is more informed, thanks to smart phones, social media and the rise of the digital economy. A Modern CRM gathers and organizes information about the customer across all internal and external data sources.

If a customer-first strategy is at the center of your business, congratulations. You’re squarely on your way to fostering a customer-first strategy. Your next goal should be to ensure your CRM supports this strategy and positions you to win in this era of digital transformation.

 

If you’re like us, you’ve spent the last several hours digesting the UK’s Brexit Leave vote. While we recognize this is an economic and political story before a tech story, here’s our take on what the vote means.

A UK exit from the EU impacts not just physical borders, but digital borders as well. Data sovereignty, the concept that data is subject to the laws of the country in which it is located, will likely require companies to change systems and processes for managing customer data.

Why? The UK is part of the EU data regime. The vote to leave the EU could create a new UK data regime where companies need to manage CRM system data crossing the new digital border between the UK and the rest of the world. Storing EU customer data in the UK will no longer satisfy EU data laws. Likewise, UK customer data stored in EU countries will have had to comply with separate UK data laws. Changing processes and systems to comply with the new legal landscape around customer data takes both time and money.

How can business protect themselves against the likely forthcoming changes in tech policy? For one, it’s vital to have flexibility in cloud options and can adapt solutions to suit the particular needs of their customers and comply with data sovereignty laws. Modern SaaS companies leverage multiple infrastructure service providers in different countries so that customer data can reside wherever legal requirements force a business to store that data. In contrast, legacy SaaS providers operate a single, vendor-specific cloud putting all of their customers’ data at risk under the umbrella of that vendor. In this next generation of SaaS, technology companies operate both their own cloud and also enable other service providers to deliver that SaaS service on their clouds, either private or public. For example, with SugarCRM, businesses have a CRM system that is ready for a world with multiple clouds and many data sovereignty regimes.

Looking further ahead, the issue of data residency is not exclusive to the EU, but is part of a global trend with similar discussions currently taking place in countries like Russia and Canada. I see this trend continuing with more and more countries moving towards security and privacy laws that require their data to be kept within national boundaries.

The recent battles between the EU and US over the “safe-harbour” legislation are an example of what a thorny issue cloud-based data storage continues to be. The problem is that there’s a fundamental contradiction between the cloud and national borders; information has no respect for lines on a map and tech companies thrive when their solutions are systems that have maximum flexibility. The more legislation that occurs, and I think that this is inevitable post Brexit, the bigger the headache for SaaS companies as they are forced to navigate different legalities in different markets.

I am certain that this debate, this tension between data storage and national security interests, will continue for many more years to come.

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published on destinationCRM.com)

Cloud-based SaaS solutions offer some great benefits, but be careful. Getting trapped in a proprietary cloud solution can lead to a loss of control—of your data, your security, and maybe even your career.

The cloud is certainly having its day in the sun. Social, mobile, and now the cloud have taken turns topping IT priority lists for large enterprises. This notion was underscored when a recent Bitglass survey of 92 CIOs and IT leaders revealed that 55 percent of respondents said their companies embrace a “cloud-first” strategy. Such reverence is hardly surprising. The cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) model offers a lot of advantages for many enterprise solutions. Rapid deployment of off-the-shelf software systems can be affordable, present a low barrier to adoption, and provide an excellent way to prove new ideas quickly. This has certainly made it easy for many companies to implement new software, but there are pitfalls that must be watched for and avoided.

Most cloud solutions are available only in proprietary, multitenant, shared-infrastructure, single-cloud configurations—a big black box in the sky. There is little or no opportunity for companies to decide where they want their applications and data to reside. Public cloud of your own choice? Private cloud? Within your own country’s borders? On premises? A hybrid combination of these? In some cases, all these options are off the table. The only choice is the vendor’s proprietary cloud—a model that just doesn’t work for everyone.

Security concerns, regulatory requirements, and enterprise integration strategies should be carefully considered before deciding to “lock in” with a solution that’s limited to a single vendor’s proprietary, public, shared-infrastructure cloud.

It’s interesting to note that a recent Gartner study, Market Share Analysis: Customer Relationship Management Software, Worldwide, 2014, states that 47 percent of CRM software revenue was generated from SaaS-based CRM applications in 2014. But that means the other half of CRM revenue was generated from private cloud, managed hosted, and on-premises solutions. The more sophisticated multinational companies with intense data integration and data security needs are turning away from the public cloud and choosing the private cloud for their CRM needs.

I recently met with representatives of a large company in the financial sector about a new CRM deployment. Without hesitation, they said, “There is no way we are putting our customer data in a public cloud environment where we lose control.” This is an understandable reaction: Around the world, companies in highly regulated industries like financial services, healthcare, and the federal government must comply with strict regulations that govern the handling of personal information and sensitive data. An out-of-the-box shared infrastructure cloud CRM offering will not meet these strict regulatory requirements.

Compliance is becoming an even greater challenge outside the United States. Many countries have strict rules governing the collection and storage of customer data. This has led to an increasing drive for data localization. For example, Germany requires that data about German users must be stored within the country’s borders. Recent court rulings against the USA-EU Safe Harbor framework and the proposed “Safe Harbor 2.0” data transfer rules will lead to many companies deciding the best way to stay compliant is to keep customer data stored within the same continent and same country, if possible.Cloud Portability Image

In addition to compliance issues, data security concerns have caused many CIOs to delay shared-infrastructure, public-cloud deployments. One of the main concerns for organizations is that information stored in the public cloud is beyond its control. Imagine investing in the best security tools and having the most sophisticated authentication protocols, but still being at the mercy of your cloud vendor’s security mechanisms for managing your most precious asset, your customer data. Your top-notch information security team has no visibility into those security controls, and you have no way to move to another CRM cloud vendor if those security mechanisms are challenged or, worse, fail. It’s not a comfortable feeling. Couple the loss of control with the media’s constant reporting of embarrassing high-profile data breaches such as happened with Anthem InsuranceAT&T, and even Ashley Madison, and the unease about having customer data exposed grows—which is understandable, given the obvious consequences: compromised reputation, lost business, and fines levied for regulatory violations.

Another large multinational electronics manufacturing company I recently worked with reviewed all of the public-cloud CRM solutions available and determined that moving its large volumes of customer data across multiple public cloud vendors was not only potentially unsecure, but too costly. With tens of millions of customers around the world connecting with it across a variety of brick-and-mortar and online channels, the dollar costs of storing that data in a public cloud service and the costs of accessing its own data for reporting and integration purposes via that cloud service did not work out. Global enterprises find the very size and complexity of their customer data challenging to manage and integrate in the public cloud. All of these cost and control issues melt away when the CRM solution is managed in a private cloud, often by one of a variety of different expert-managed cloud service providers.

Organizations should have the freedom to implement the systems and architectures that best address their needs for security, regulatory compliance, and data integration. The cloud is a great option. But getting there shouldn’t force you into an environment that puts your data, your business, or your career at risk.

The Safe Harbor Framework that permits the transfer of data between the United States and Europe is in jeopardy.

Last week, the Advocate General, a legal advisor to the European Court of Justice (the European Union’s top court), released his opinion on the EU-US the Safe Harbor framework, which he said is invalid. He said the agreement does not do enough to protect EU citizens’ personal information when it reaches the United States.

The Safe Harbor agreement has been around since the year 2000. More than 4,400 companies are Safe Harbor certified. U.S. and European companies rely on the EU–US Safe Harbor framework to permit the lawful transfer of personal data from the EU to the U.S.

The ruling is not yet final, and the EU court’s judges will issue a final ruling in the coming months.  If they follow the Advocate General’s recommendation, which they often do, this will cause significant headaches for U.S. companies that serve customers in the EU.

A reflection of increased digital privacy concerns in wake of the NSA scandal and Edward Snowden leaks, the ruling has the potential to impact thousands of U.S. and European companies. It presents serious challenges for U.S. SaaS providers who have built their businesses under the framework of the Safe Harbor agreement.

Without the Safe Harbor agreement in place, data that originates in Europe may need to stay strictly in Europe. This includes everything from payroll to customer data. Some large enterprises have tried to stay ahead of the issue by investing in data centers in Europe.  However it should be noted the local data centers don’t fully solve the issue.

While this ruling does present challenges for SugarCRM, the company is better equipped than “SaaS only” solutions that lack local or on-premise deployment options. SugarCRM offers multiple deployment options and can continue to provide viable alternatives for EU customers, including:

  • Local hosting through various partners including “in country” hosting by T-Systems
  • On-site deployment options that require simple instance migration, meaning customers do not need to transfer their data to Sugar

Other SaaS/premise mix providers may be hard pressed to keep their customers, as SugarCRM is one of the only multiple deployment CRM providers offering a single code base across all deployment options.

SugarCRM has customers in more than 120 countries. We realize companies around the world are subject to many different laws and regulations. Legal requirements in one country may be inconsistent with legal requirements applicable elsewhere. Hence, we offer a multi-tenant cloud service, a private instance in the cloud, and also allow customers to deploy on their own internal clouds. A flexible deployment approach allows our customers to more easily comply with international data security and privacy laws.

channel-cheifs-2015-400.jpgAnyone familiar with CRN’s “50 Most Influential Channel Chiefs” list knows it’s a distinction of honor. So when the announcement came this week that my name was among the most highly accomplished channel executives, I was proud beyond measure for both our channels team and our channel partners. We have a top-notch channel program at SugarCRM and the success our partners are enjoying illustrates how well that program is working.

SugarCRM has a long history of being a channel publisher (that’s “inside baseball” jargon for being a company that sells through channel partners). We started the company 10 years ago and within days of releasing our first version of Sugar in July 2004, a CRM consulting firm named Synolia in France reached out to ask about our channel program. That was the beginning of a very powerful set of partnerships between SugarCRM and over 200 CRM consulting and reselling companies around the world.

Over the course of the last two year years, I and my team have worked diligently to up-level the channel program and add significant new structure to enhance it. We brought our value added resellers (VARs), system integrators (SIs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and independent software vendors (ISVs) under one department and executive leader. This means every partner who represents SugarCRM, embeds Sugar in their own products or integrates with Sugar is now managed by one, fully integrated department. In that time we have also rolled out partner scorecards so each partner can continuously measure their success, established an OEM program and team to work with other software companies that want to embed Sugar in their products, and launched a revamped reseller program with program tiers based on training certification minimums and sales attainment. We also moved our channel partner program up-market, focusing on larger customers and larger partners.

The results speak for themselves. Now, over 60 percent of SugarCRM’s recurring revenue comes from our global channel partners and almost every customer leverages one of our partners, whether a reseller, SI, ISV or OEM partner. We have more than 200 VARs in over 30 countries around the world. We have expanded our channel program to include an OEM partner offering for regional- and vertical-specific solutions with partners like Project Pipeline. And, we’re on track to grow our channel partner program even more this year.

For me, the Channel Chiefs title is validation that the SugarCRM ecosystem of partners continues to be a significant component of the company’s success and our customer’s CRM success.. The implications are just as important for the CRM marketplace itself. Of course, SugarCRM has already proven its mettle as a disruptive player in the CRM market by virtue of its focus on the individual as key in creating extraordinary customer relationships. But just as important, every company that uses CRM must look closely at what differentiates them and implement the right CRM solution that enhances and illustrates those differentiators to their customers. That’s what our partners do for our customers.

From starting the company in 2004 to driving CRM success through our partner ecosystem today, I love every day here at SugarCRM. From the product to the people, SugarCRM is in a league of its own, bucking yesterday’s technology and setting new standards in the industry. This Channel Chiefs accolade is indeed testament to the great success the SugarCRM team and our channel have achieved due to perseverance, innovative thinking and a singular focus on highlighting the customer experience as what’s really important in CRM. I’m proud to share my title of “Influential Channel Chief” with the entire team at SugarCRM and our channel partners, and look forward to our continued success.

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 other 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 customers want 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