We are in the era of digital disruption and it’s not just about companies like Uber and Airbnb. Organizations in every industry, because of the ridiculously fast pace of technology innovation, are dealing with disruption. They must develop digital transformation strategies that focus on utilizing new technologies and business models to more effectively engage with customers at every touchpoint.

Furthermore, there is clear evidence that companies that embrace digital transformation and offer a superior customer experiences are outperforming their competition in terms of attaining and retaining customers.

Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with a number of our software partners to get their perspective on how they are reacting to and taking advantage of this era of disruption. In part two of this series, SugarCRM’s Martin Schneider talks with Guillaume Seynhaeve, vice president of marketing and business development at 3CLogic. The two discussed 3CLogic’s next-generation call center platform and how they are working with SugarCRM to drive disruption in the marketplace.

Want to hear more partners talk about disruption? Head over to the Sugar Community to view all the disruption series videos.

Last week, a survey by a company out of the UK came back with an interesting headline, “Only 17% of customer relationship managers believe their CRM is generating revenue.”

Hmmm…really? Though those results surprise me, the data is based on a poll of 500 CRM managers. As they say, “you can’t argue with the people.” So, for the 83% who are struggling to understand how to generate revenue from their CRM. Here are five ways a sound CRM investment drives revenue:

CRM increases sales rep productivity – Some industry data suggests salespeople spend only one-third of their time actually selling. The rest is spent on administrative work like qualifying leads, and data entry. CRM will streamline and cut down that time, so reps can spend more time selling. The more time selling, the faster deals can close.

CRM help reps prioritize – If configured correctly, CRM helps reps prioritize their time by focusing on the deals that are more likely to close so they don’t chase low percentage opportunities.

CRM helps with retention – By making sure customer service professionals have access to the CRM to review the details about the customer’s journey with your company including, purchase history and account status, your customers will be less frustrated and less likely to leave. Customers that feel like they are a priority lead to upsell opportunities and solid growth.

Integrated marketing and sales activities – A modern CRM allows not only the sales team, but also the marketing team to stay plugged into leads at every stage in the process. This enables marketing to be part of the sales cycle and helps prevent leads from falling through the cracks. 

Automating post-sales processes – By using your CRM to automate and speed up everything that happens after the contract is signed, activities like user onboarding and the billing process, improves time to revenue and increases available cash flow for an organization.

If you are not seeing revenue from your CRM, you should ask yourself: 1) are my daily users getting the most out of our CRM 2) is it tailored my specific business processes 3) am I partnering with the correct vendor who cares about my business success and considers me a priority?crm

We are in the era of digital disruption and it’s not just about companies like Uber and Airbnb. Organizations in every industry, because of the ridiculously fast pace of technology innovation, are dealing with disruption. They must come up with digital transformation strategies that focus on utilizing new technologies and business models to more effectively engage with customers at every touchpoint.

Furthermore, there is clear evidence that companies that embrace digital transformation and offer a superior customer experiences are outperforming their competition in terms of attaining and retaining customers.

Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with a number of our software partners to get their perspective on how they are reacting to and taking advantage of this era of disruption. In the first of our disruption series, SugarCRM’s Martin Schneider talks with Peter Fogelsanger, the vice president of partner enablement at Thunderhead. The two discussed how Thunderhead’s One Engagement Hub is driving digital transformation by helping customers visualize a real time view of their customer journey.

 

Want to hear more partners talk about disruption? Head over to the Sugar Community to view all the disruption series videos.

 

(Editor’s Note: The following post originally appeared on IBM’s Built With Watson Blog).

In our world of high expectations and ever expanding data on individuals and brands, mastering this data and transforming it into valuable insights to inspire our human connections has become essential for brands.

Take a minute and think about this: How do your customers perceive your brand? Is your brand “shy” online and only speaks when spoken to? Or is your brand overly enthusiastic and always waving its hands in your customers’ inboxes and social feeds? Is your brand a captivating conversationalist that encourages interaction or one that’s a little socially awkward or a little too forced? Are you the tiresome talker that is always extolling your own virtues or one that expresses genuine interest in your customers and what they actually care about? Does your brand need a little coaching in the “delighting customers” department?

Real-time insights can drive meaningful conversations

Although we all seek to be that fascinating brand as we engage with customers, such mastery requires the ability to identify and collect all available and relevant intelligence and distill it down into meaningful insights that can define meaningful conversations.

Meaningful insights that are actually actionable can be attained by a variety of methods. Many data-savvy brands employ big data and predictive analytics to help identify the next-best action based on customer segments and transactional patterns, which only represents about 20% of known information about customers for most brands. Some leading brands take it a step further and use machine learning along with Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology like IBM Watson’s APIs to collect, connect and make sense of the other 80% of the unstructured data such as tweets, Facebook posts, emails, call center audio recordings and other observable customer behaviors, likes and preferences and combine it with their transactional customer data. This approach provides visibility into richer, more comprehensive behavior patterns by customer segment that offers the potential to make your exchanges more interesting, personalized, and if you are really good, even memorable.

Moving from data to insights with AI

If you are truly looking to break away from the herd and into the lead, your CRM and automated marketing platform will need to include AI and cognitive APIs. With AI, the dream can move beyond customer segments and reach down to the individual level by providing the power and speed to make sense of the enormous amount of data out there and surface true insights allowing for individual action, at scale. As the hot new brand coach, AI can lead the way to enhance the human-to-human connection for your brand by understanding the experiences your customers want.

To make your brand truly delight and engage customers, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Stop putting energy into old email marketing practices that don’t deliver and focus only on including the high-value information that is worthy of your customer’s time and attention. If frequent messaging or notifications are important to your core value proposition, only do so based upon explicit customer preference.
  • Be very selective in the type of metrics you choose to run your business. Diligently focus on the ones that are truly your key performance indicators versus trying to distill insight from low value information.
  • Invest in a CRM system with embedded AI that tells you something you don’t already know about your customers by combining behavioral data from both your backend systems and available external and publicly available data sources.
  • Get an automated marketing platform that is synchronized with your CRM system and employs AI so that it allows you to better plan interaction flows, communicate consistently across channels and recommend next best action.

To learn more about how you can truly supercharge your brand’s marketing and customer engagement efforts, download the IBM and SugarCRM white paper: “Becoming a Brilliant Brand Conversationalist.”

robocopRemember when SaaS CRM companies needed to build their own multi-tenant architectures to bring their CRM to market? And how they needed to maintain expensive and unwieldy architectures that took focus away from actual product development? And how the cost and complexity of said proprietary architectures was passed along to the customer to maintain revenue goals?

Oh wait. That’s still going on with companies like Salesforce.

But, even Salesforce has finally admitted that CRM vendors should not also be cloud infrastructure providers anymore. The company’s recent partnership announcement with Amazon tells us all we need to know. Salesforce needs to focus on innovation, since its core product is old and the cost of maintaining the underlying delivery and development infrastructure itself is proving costly.

So, why is Salesforce potentially repeating past mistakes by trying to create a proprietary AI product for CRM?

Let me explain. What I see brewing with Salesforce’s Einstein concept is a hodge-podge of Wave analytics, generic machine learning (pieced together by several small pocket acquisitions), SalesforceIQ, and elements of Data.com – all components of Salesforce’s portfolio. In short, Salesforce is building yet another proprietary stack in AI.

By “owning” the entire stack, one could argue the profits (as noted, something perennially eluding Salesforce) can be much higher. But at what cost? By instead focusing on integrating industry standards and expert-AI platforms into its tools – a CRM provider can have more flexibility and be able to keep up with the rapid pace of change.

Today, companies like IBM with Watson, and Amazon with its AI platforms are opening these up to software manufacturers as a service. These companies have both the deep pockets and expertise to offer broad and even focused AI-tools for CRM usage scenarios – without CRM vendors having to do much if any heavy lifting.

Here at SugarCRM, we are taking a “best of breed” approach for a number of reasons. One, it will speed our time to market to leverage pre-built, highly scalable and proven AI toolsets and platforms. And, of course, the cost to bring AI-powered CRM offerings to our prospects and customers will be lower, which we can pass on to the user and remain a value-driver for our partners and customers.

And again, by leveraging larger platforms and standards, we will be more nimble than those building hulking masses of analytics engines, giant data warehouses, etc. We will be able to quickly hone our offerings to adhere to market demands, without having to re-architect massive purpose-driven AI stacks.

In short, it is becoming clear to me that AI is an arms race – and categories like CRM should not be trying to reinvent the wheel. Just as with cloud delivery – when you integrate and build upon expert, proven strategies – you can cut costs, speed time to market, and focus on building exceptional customer experiences.

 

(Editor’s Note: the following is a guest blog post from Sarah Friedlander Garcia, the director of marketing at W-Systems. It originally appeared on the W-Systems blog. For more blog articles from W-Systems visit the company’s SugarCRM Blog.).

Silo mentality has become a major problem in organizations across the globe. Today, the lines between sales and marketing teams have become blurred. Marketing teams are often tasked with converting new leads from social media interactions, emails and website visits into customers –  traditionally a sales role. Meanwhile, many sales reps are using these same vehicles to gain insight into a customer’s buying behavior – traditionally the marketer’s job. Organizations must do a better job at clearly defining the roles of sales and marketing, where marketing generates leads and sales closes them.

Software as a Barrier

Technology now serves as another reason for silos between sales and marketing teams. If sales reps are using a CRM platform to manage their customer relationships and marketing is using a marketing automation platform to manage their leads and these two systems aren’t sharing information, it’s a recipe for disaster. A disconnect between sales and marketing can lead to lost opportunities and lost revenue. Then sales and marketing teams are left pointing the finger at each other.

Better Together

Successful organizations need to utilize both CRM and marketing automation systems. However, these two systems must have the ability to share data. By connecting these two systems together, organizations can fully realize the value in each.  Marketing automation is worthless if salespeople aren’t closing deals from the leads provided.  Likewise, CRM is a useless prospecting tool if it is not being fed quality leads from marketing.

The Dynamic Duo

In many cases, you’ll find CRM and marketing automation platforms on the market that offer integration on a very basic level. Unfortunately, basic integration yields basic results. And world class sales organizations need to be much more than basic to compete in the current hyper-competitive landscape.

Marketing automation solution Act-On integrates deeply and seamlessly with Sugar CRM, providing a complete, closed-loop system for multi-channel lead generation, management, and revenue contribution. Act-On features a native, out-of-the-box integration with Sugar, allowing sales and marketing teams to set up automatic bi-directional synchronization between the two platforms.

Synergy at Work

This deep integration allows marketing to deliver highly qualified leads to the sales team, while allowing sales to access those leads and activity histories, personalizing their sales pitch to the individual, in real-time. This is powerful stuff. A sales rep that knows a prospect’s preferences, behaviors and activity history before the call, changes a cold call into a warm call, makes the call more satisfying for the prospect and has a better shot at making the sale.

Studies show that when both sales and marketing teams are in sync, companies become 67% better at closing deals. Therefore, an integration of the technologies used between sales and marketing teams are imperative to breaking down the information silos that exist between them, opening the door to realizing the ultimate goal of both teams – increased sales and revenue.

Artificial Intelligence is all the rage right now, and it seems companies in every industry are talking about how the magic of AI will change everything. And, when I say every industry, I mean every industry.

Here’s the thing, the potential of AI has been something that data scientists have been touting since the 1970s. This time though, it does feel different. It feels like we are on the verge of AI changing the world forever.

I recently caught up with SugarCRM’s chief product officer Rich Green, a man who has lived through many technology crazes, to get his thoughts on what is different this time around.

Q: What’s Different About AI Movement This Time Around?

Rich: The biggest difference this time: the people who are leading innovation in AI are the same people who are using AI every day. Instead of a university of governmental lab working on AI, you have companies like Facebook and Google who have the deepest pockets, largest data sets and best data scientists. They are the ones working to improve AI and they have the easiest path to integrate what they are working on into today’s world.

There are a couple other big differences. For one, AI related techniques like machine learning get better with more data to interpret. Nowadays, the pool of data is so large that you can expand AI beyond narrow uses cases and do more interesting things, and the statistical accuracy if far greater due to big data. Secondly, the computing power required to do AI has caught up. We have cracked the “AI speed barrier” with hardware and algorithms. AI used to be clumsy and obtrusive, it’s now transparent and can be transparent to people, not having to internalize that many of their connected experiences is powered by AI technology.

Q: I think the industry is still debating what’s really AI and what isn’t. Where do technologies like machine learning, deep learning, neural nets fit into the AI category?

Rich: As you note, AI is a category, not a specific technology. Machine learning, deep learning and neural networks and many other technologies are all part of the AI category. The industry likes to debate what is AI and what isn’t. I argue the sum of technologies fundamentally required to create an evolving intelligent digital assistant, self-learning, self-driving cars and chatbots that incrementally improve their accuracy all fall into the AI category.  Tools like Google Translate  now use machine learning AI to rapidly improve and provide remarkably accurate translations. In fact in that particular case, the system did something particularly remarkable.

Q: In the past, many people working at the edge of AI technologies have grown disillusioned, and this has stalled progress. Do you think this will happen again?

Rich: That’s highly unlikely. Many of the world’s best AI researchers are no longer confined to pure research in academia. Instead they are spending some or all of their time with Facebook, Google, Amazon and others and are able to leverage the breadth of resources, data and access to accelerate their work. And while that is happening, they can test and validate their work using the largest data and computing engines in the world. With such access and the freedom to experiment and deliver, the pace of innovation is accelerating at an unprecedented pace.

Until recently, there used to be a significant delay in moving research to advanced development and ultimately delivering innovation to a wide range of users. That delay is now compressed because of the tight cycle between research and availability.

Q: Are we currently at peak hype for AI?

Rich: ‘Hype’ is an interesting term. It typically implies that the commentary and the reality are disconnected. Today there is a great deal of discussion and visibility but unlike the past, most of it is either true or will be true quite sooner than most people are able or willing to believe. But we are just scratching the surface of actual capabilities and utility of AI technology. Unlike the 70s and 80s, we are on a very steep slope of growth. There is no logical impediment to this hype cycle.