SugarCRM and the importance of customer relations

Nell Walker
- Leadership - Jun 09, 2017

IT is not a subject that will ever go out of fashion. Technology evolves constantly, and the need for businesses to have stable platforms has never been higher.

Customer relationship management (CRM) company, SugarCRM, understands the need for software which is both simple-to-use and bursting with information, allowing customization and the best possible user experience. Larry Augustin, Sugar’s CEO, also knows the importance of familiarizing oneself with the digital landscape in this age of disruption; he speaks to Business Review USA & Canada about how to combat the fact that – as the company’s website states – ‘CRM has become too damn complicated’, and Sugar’s impact on the industry.

Firstly, tell me about your career background and key responsibilities within Sugar.

“I joined Sugar in 2005 as a board member and outside director and, four years later I assumed the role of CEO, a position I have been in for the last eight years. In this role, I am responsible for the company's strategic direction and execution; this focuses around helping our clients to build a unique customer experience through great customer relationships.

“Prior to SugarCRM, I spent five years as an angel investor and advisor to early stage technology companies including JBoss (acquired by Red Hat), XenSource (acquired by Citrix), and SpringSource (acquired by VMWare). In my early career, I helped found and was heavily involved with the open source community.

“Outside the world of work, my education background is actually in electrical engineering. I have Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University, and a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Notre Dame.”

How is Sugar able to tailor its products to customers, ensuring their individual needs are met?

“No business is the same, so no business should be subject to a generic rigid CRM platform. We work closely with our customers to allow them to define CRM in their own way. We want to give businesses the tools to easily and quickly morph a blank canvas into their own masterpiece, and one which enables everyone across their entire organization to become a customer expert and make a difference.

“The customizations available to Sugar customers varies from custom fields, custom modules, to third party plug-ins. Simply, SugarCRM provides you with various tools to make Sugar your own and, allows you to continue to evolve in an ever-changing business landscape.”

In what ways has the company simplified CRM?

“We were keen not to play “feature wars” with our competitors and overwhelm users with a ton of bells and whistles they may (or may not) really need. Instead, we focused on creating a highly intuitive platform for building applications the way a business wants to. 75 percent of all CRM deployments fail because of adoption. Most CRM users hate their CRM system and won’t gain productivity and insights if that’s the case. This is why we focus on the core CRM features which users will get the most value from and that matter to them.

“As a result of this, we provide a simple and straightforward pricing structure. Usually, when it comes to CRM, the sticker price is only the beginning. For far too long, enterprise software vendors have gotten away with complex pricing models that make it very difficult to know how much your CRM is really going to cost. Our simple straightforward pricing means businesses can make their CRM initiative a strategic differentiator at a cost that works for them. Organizations should be able to make as many API calls as they want, store as much data as they want, and never be surprised by unexpected fees.”

What have been SugarCRM’s biggest achievements over the past 12-18 months? What challenges have you faced in this time?

“The last year and half has seen a lot of change for us. For one we’ve continued to bring in some great talent with Rich Green at Chief Product Officer and Karen Willem at Chief Financial Officer. Rich previously ran software at Sun Microsystems where he brought technologies such as Java to market.  He also ran Enterprise Products at Nuance where he created the technology behind Siri, and he was the CTO at Nokia. We’ve significantly accelerated innovation velocity under Rich and you’ll continue to see us invest more there. 

“Karen Willem brings immense experience and leadership to us in the CFO role having held that position at multiple public companies including iPass, OpenWave and Brio where she lead the IPO.”

What technological advancements have you had to make in order to remain a popular choice for some of the biggest businesses in the world?

“Sugar is a unique combination of leading relationship capabilities combined with a highly flexible platform. With version 7 of our product we moved to a full Javascript front-end driven by a REST API back-end. That led the industry and makes us the fastest and easiest to use application on desktop browser or mobile. We’ve also continued to build on leading web-scale and big data Open Source technologies like Elastic, Backbone and PHP 7 that bring all of that scale and power to our customers. We’re not stuck on older proprietary technologies like some of our competitors.”

How are customer needs changing in the current climate of digital disruption?

“The digital revolution is driving a shift in how companies deliver a customer experience, as well as inventing new ways to connect with and deliver value to customers. Today, customers expect the same level of service from their banks as they do their shops, restaurants and couriers. No longer do customers discriminate, they form their expectations through comparing and contrasting brands – irrespective of the industry. This means the banking customer experience is pitched against the greats of services from the likes of Amazon and Starbucks.

“Also, customers are now more connected and knowledgeable than ever before, using an array of different digital channels to contact companies with questions and complaints. A report by Frost & Sullivan found that almost half of financial services customers use three or more channels in a year. Whether it’s websites, mobile apps, email, social media or in-person encounters, customers now have multiple channels available to them. Each one brings a further expectation from the customer to assume that the same level of service and experience will be provided through each.

“Simply, the days of a one-dimensional customer approach are gone. Businesses now need to be able to deliver experiences that feel personal, unified and memorable if they are to stand out from the crowd. This gives the companies a double challenge: growing their customer base in the first place, and then finding the correct solutions to meet the needs of their current customers who are more empowered, educated and connected than ever before.”

What do you believe businesses need to do in order to stay ahead of the curve?

“The companies that win in this era of empowered customers do so because they create better relationships with their customers. How do they do this? They understand the customer journey inside out, they are responsive, they are social and they provide a human touch.

“With customers engaging with businesses across multiple channels, each provides a different kind of interaction and a piece of a customer’s history. Businesses must make sure they have the systems and tools in place in to capture all the relevant information that is available across these platforms.

“By doing so, teams across a business can have all the information they need at their fingertips to build a complete picture of the situation and the customer they are dealing with. Important details like what the customer has bought from you previously and what posts they have liked on your Facebook page or what their last interaction with the company was, empowers businesses to respond and handle complaints effectively and efficiently. Simply, access to the right information about each customer, in the right context, at the right time will empower a business to innovate, and not only meet but, surpass customer expectations.”

What is your vision for the next 3-5 years, both for SugarCRM and the industry in general?

“CRM is evolving from a system of record to a system of engagement. What I mean by that is historically CRM systems were a data store; they were the database where customer data was consolidated. They were more about data in than insight. And they were more about command and control than helping the user connect with the customer.

“Where we have evolved, and the industry needs to go, is a system that gives you a lot of insight back and demands little from you in the way of data in. The system automatically pulls in data from systems both internal and external to your business. Using that data it helps your employees better understand the customer.

“Imagine a world where every time one of your employees talks to a customer the customer gets value out of that conversation and appreciates it. They are not annoying the customer with questions they should already know. They are sharing information that the customer cares about.  They add value, and your customers appreciate that.  And your employees get that insight without needing to spend their time doing data entry. That’s the world we’re creating.”

In your own words, what sets SugarCRM apart from competitors?

“At SugarCRM, we aim to be a company that our customers enjoy doing business with – that is why Sugar has the highest Net Promoter Scores in the industry. We believe in an open, accountable and long-term relationship with our customers that creates trust. We put a lot of resources and energy into being that true partner. In fact, it is a key to what sets us apart from our chief rival and the others within the CRM industry.”

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