SugarCRM is not a new company. It’s taken a number of years for them to build to their current level of commercial traction for this open-source CRM platform, but they’ve established a solid position in a market where it can be difficult to differentiate. (As a separate note, I also believe they focus too much on the open-source aspect of their software and not enough on the benefits to marketers — an opportunity for them to really re-align their marketing programs and, eventually, to reposition their technology brand … but I digress.)
Over the past year, in particular, they’ve done some pretty impressive things with their platform — things that have made it much more valuable to a marketer.
So what caught my attention?
One of the greatest hurdles to rolling out marketing programs and to building out marketing technology infrastructure for a B2B-focused company — where much of my professional experience as a marketing leader lies — is aligning marketing objectives, interests and capabilities with one’s salesforce. What can we do to get our channel onboard and working as a team in building a brand and rolling out marketing campaigns? Some of SugarCRM’s new features can help marketers move closer to this goal of an integrated marketing and sales organization.
As quick background, SugarCRM is a vendor of enterprise-grade software that helps marketing organizations ‘automate’ key processes and tasks, ranging from customer relationship management to lead generation and marketing-campaign analytics. This includes support for and interaction with a mobile sales force. SugarCRM is also a company that is built on ‘open-source’ software – i.e., it’s source code is open to inspection and contributions by outside developers.
To be clear, SugarCRM is not free software. There are three ‘grades’ – one of which is a no-cost Community edition – and for access to more robust features, a customer must upgrade to a commercial license. But the company nonetheless works in a collaborative fashion with its open-source developer community, especially its customers, to propel co-creation of its product. This leads to both incremental and radical innovation over time and ensures that the evolution of the software’s underlying architecture and key features are driven by customer need.
An interesting approach, which is articulately captured by this statement from the founders on the company’s website:
The Sugar Open Source Project and Community are at the heart of our mission. Creating an ‘architecture of participation’ where users from around the world can help to build a higher quality, more useful product is a superior form of development than the traditional Silicon Valley model of a few product managers dictating what features the world needs. The open source model embraces the world outside of Silicon Valley instead of keeping it at arm’s length.
I’d argue, though, that as marketers we don’t care so much about open source; instead, we care about how SugarCRM can be a strategic part of our marketing technology infrastructure.
The good news is that in that department they’re doing some pretty innovative things as of late.
Marketing Technology Innovation
One of the things with their new version that really caught my attention is the robust approach SugarCRM is taking to making its platform mobile. It’s no secret that sales guys a.) don’t like to sit at a terminal entering data and b.) need tools that can be with them out in the field where it matters and when it counts. And from the standpoint of building marketing technology infrastructure that they will actually use, having it be multi-platform is a huge advantage. I think SugarCRM gets this, and it appears they tried to find a ‘better approach’ for their overall strategy — including upgrading their application so that it automatically detects a mobile user and optimizes the interface for the type of device, including BlackBerry and iPhone.
To be fair and balanced here, it is worth noting that SalesForce.com has recently launched iPhone access via a partner on AppExchange, in addition to BlackBerry access; Pivotal also has existing BlackBerry access that works in both a connected and disconnected mode. So do many of the other key competitors listed above. I am nonetheless impressed with SugarCRM’s mobile efforts.
Another feature — also part of the 5.1 upgrade — that impressed me is the features that help sales management improve the overall performance of their sales force. The platform now encourages more collaboration through shared information and analytics that look at whether a sales team is using SugarCRM to its fullest capabilities. From a strategic standpoint this is critical. My grandfather used to say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Same goes with sales organizations. You can provide a robust marketing infrastructure with sales force management tools, but are they really ‘drinking.’ It’s critical to know so that as marketing leaders we can make sure we’re doing the right things with our technology infrastructure — so that it is both optimal and optimally used!
Our goal as marketers is to build a strategy and set of processes that will define, promote and perpetuate a brand throughout our sales channels and to the end customer. The sales force is often the embodiment of that brand and its critical purveyor. If we expect sales team members to be onboard with building toward our brand vision, we must work in a collaborative partnership in our organizations. That means building marketing technology infrastructure that not only supports our brand and marketing objectives but that also benefits the whole team, at all levels.
I’m glad to see that SugarCRM’s latest upgrades move closer toward this goal.
Results from the Field
Is your organization running SugarCRM? Do you have any thoughts or feedback on their technology or on related technology from any of the key competitors, above? Please share your ‘results from the field.’