The SugarCRM roadshow came to town this week, as the vendor’s CRMAcceleration conference arrived in London as part of a triple-header European tour that also pitches up in Frankfurt and Paris.
For London, it’s back to business now after the delirious excitement surrounding the Olympics and Paralympics. And just as the theme of London 2012 message was about creating a legacy for the future, so SugarCRM was also keen to emphasise the importance of building for the future, and ensuring the right infrastructure is in place for business evolution.
Outlining his vision for CRM, CEO Larry Augustin says that the key element to this is an infrastructure that is ‘open’.
“Our vision is of a platform that is future-proof, that enables customers to be able to evolve their interest in social, mobile and Cloud, and other next-generation technologies in a way that they can control,” he explains. “Things are changing so fast and the technology changes so fast that you can’t simply come out and say ‘OK what I need is Twitter integration’ because that may be what is the social platform of today, but what you really need is the ability to integrate with whatever is the social platform of tomorrow, in addition to the sites of today.”
To demonstrate the pace of change, Augustin points to the dramatic changes in mobile devices in the past five years, and the rise to prominence of Cloud Computing since “turning up on people’s radar screens” in 2007. To keep pace with this, he insists that businesses must prioritise open platforms – something that he believes is an “easy one” for SugarCRM.
“We have the open source model and we are very open in terms of our technology - all of our customers can access the source code, we allow any of them to integrate easily with the platform,” he explains. “Look at some of the social integration that we have. Our first integration with Twitter was created by our community - of course we now have Twitter integration embedded in the product, but the point being the community could be there early, before at a corporate level we need to be there for example. And that is certainly true of the next generation of social platforms.
“We have customers that have built a whole front end with SugarCRM as a Facebook application, again just having an open platform that allows people to do that, so it doesn’t matter what is coming next. On the Cloud, it has the ability to run across all the multiple Cloud platforms so we support Amazon, Rackspace, IBM, even Microsoft Windows Azure. And whatever is the next Cloud platform, or whatever the new interface is or infrastructure developed there, we’ll be easily able to support it. That’s the power of the open platform.”
The benefits also extend to SugarCRM’s partner strategy, Augustin adds. “Partners are really enabled and powered by that open model - and you look at other CRM vendors that really put a black box around their offering and their technology and that doesn’t give partners the ability to add value, to configure, to extend.”
Up until fairly recently SugarCRM had focused on its open source nature as its key competitive differentiator, and only in the last couple of years has it acknowledged that the likes of sales directors don’t really care about open source. As such, Augustin is keen to make the distinction between the ‘open platform’ that is at the centre of his CRM, and open source.
“It is not so much about open source, as in just the source code, but a business model that is open and how it connects to the customer,” he elaborates. “Because regardless of the product, whether it is our open source product or our commercial licence product, customers still get access to the code and all the cases. I think the open model is more of a differentiator than just the fact that we publish the code. And it is easy to just publish the code, but not do that in a way where you listen and are a partner. And so we think of the broader relationship and how we add value to the customer in that relationship on a buyer basis in the open model and the code and open source is just a small piece of that broader relationship.”
The open user
Also central to his “open CRM” vision is the “open user” - the ability to enable everyone in the organisation to benefit from having information on the customer (“bringing CRM to everyone” he says).
Mobile, social and the internet have not only had implications for business infrastructure, but for the employees as well, as “everyone inside the company now touches the customer”. As such, the CEO believes it is incumbent on businesses to think about how they enable that – how they arm staff with the information and tools to better communicate with the customer. And it is this that has shaped how SugarCRM views its primary customers and users and how it seeks to support them.
“One of the historical challenges of CRM is adoption among the sales team and adoption among the workforce. We balance that problem by truly adding value to the seller, by giving the seller more information about the customer, giving them information that is relevant to them as they talk to the customer, giving them intelligence about the customer and the rest of the organisation, to help them in the sales process. If you really make it useful to that individual to talk to the customer, then you get better adoption among the sales team and that will ultimately help the company better understand the forecast and better understand what is happening in their sales team. But that only happens if you have the sales people as users.”
To that end, Augustin very much views SugarCRM as the antithesis of the Siebels of the CRM world. And while he’s unwilling and unable to discuss IBM’s decision to retire its Siebel system in favour of SugarCRM over the summer, which had been the largest Siebel implementation in the world, he will say that there is a “great opportunity” for his company in the “Siebel replacement market”.
“There are a lot of companies that have had a Siebel product installed for seven, ten or more years now, and as the product reaches end of life customers are trying to understand where to go. There have been some historical issues with Siebel, particularly in customer adoption, and also the ease at which it can be configured. It is a technology that has been around for a while, it is not very agile and the track record of adoption of the user base is not high. We offer a great alternative there and that is certainly some place where we see a lot of interest right now. A lot of interest.”
And Augustin concludes that the agility that SugarCRM’s open platform affords it, will allow his company to continue to cement its reputation as the world’s fastest growing CRM company, offering the tantalising prospect of a CRM system that businesses can grow with, instead of grow out of.
“We have a wonderful product and platform that we have built. It gives us a great deal of flexibility and it was built on a very open model so that means we have had lots of input lots of feedback, lots of partners and customers that have been able to tell us what we have done right or what we need to change or how we need to make it more agile, more flexible, and easier to use right away. That is one of the advantages of keeping your technology very open. People want to help you - your customers want to give you feedback, you just have to be willing to listen.
“You have to think of them not just as customers but as partners, especially in a business like ours, which is providing them with a piece of software or software as a service that potentially is a long-term part of their business. They don’t want to buy something that they have to turn out in five to seven years. They want to buy something that will evolve with them and the market and hopefully they never have to replace because it is constantly maturing and evolving. It is partnering with your customers and thinking of them as a partner and with that product you can create a much better relationship with the customer. It is not a vendor-buyer relationship, it’s more of a partnership - and we’re working together to create this solution that continues to grow over time.”what is