CRM for the “Digital” Age: how well does Sugar fit the bill?

In a recent blog, Ernst & Young’s Laurence Buchanan quite astutely pointed out that we are entering a new age of CRM. For want of better terms, he defined the age we’re leaving as the “analog” age and the age we’re entering as the “digital” age, primarily because the penetration of digital technology has had a change in the way businesses reach customers and vice versa.

Laurence delivered a tremendous keynote at SugarCon 2011 that touched on these topics (you can see it on SlideShare)  but this blog expands on these ideas, and it led Laurence to these set of characteristics of a “digital age” CRM application:

  • Designed for Customers and front line customer-facing staff, not just for management
  • Focused on speed to value and positive internal momentum
  • Designed with a core foundation (e.g. data, processes) but able to embrace change at the front-end of customer interaction (i.e. devices, apps, social networks etc.)
  • Delivered in an iterative fashion with constant business involvement
  • Open and integratable in nature (often made up of a collection of services rather than a single package)
  • Cross-functional in nature, busting through internal silos
  • Paid for based on value delivered to the business

It’s always great to see a respected thinker independently assert ideas that you hold dear, and that’s what Laurence has done here. He wasn’t talking specifically about Sugar, but he articulated many of the ideas that SugarCRM has used to build its platform. Here are a couple ways that Sugar achieves that:

“Designed for Customers and front-line customer-facing staff, not just for management:” This is the heart of SugarCRM’s “user first” philosophy. There’s no point in designing an application that caters to management and focuses on reporting if the people who feed data into the system (the front-line customer-facing staff) don’t use it. Sugar’s constant focus on the front-line user means that managers get better, more accurate data to work from, and the users clearly how using the application makes their jobs easier, makes them more in commissions, allows them to market better, or enables them to provide better support. A CRM application should make everyone better at his or her job, not just the sales manager.

“Focused on speed to value and positive internal momentum:” This is such a vital consideration we created a white paper about this very subject.  It’s critical that you take this into account, not just at the time of the initial deployment but as new features are added. The paper suggests that you ask yourself, ”from the time you begin deployment of a CRM solution, how long did it take before the solution delivered real business value as measured by criteria that you defined? We believe that with the right approach, you can achieve measurable business value from CRM in as little as 30 days.”

Of course, deployment time can be affected by outside influences, like the quality of the data you start with. But when the application is designed with this notion of speed to value as a critical attribute, you’re far more likely to see a return on investment – not just a faster ROI, but ROI in general, since delays can harm your ability to gain user buy-in and the universal adoption that leads to a truly effective CRM system.

“Designed with a core foundation (e.g. data, processes) but able to embrace change at the front-end of customer interaction (i.e. devices, apps, social networks etc.).” Sugar’s basic functionality is solid, but there’s a lot more to it than just the basics. As you get beyond the core sales force automation features you’ll see not only built-in support for mobility  (and that means mobility on all major devices) and for social media input (via activity streams), but also an unparalleled ability to integrate with the applications that are key to running your business.  Which leads directly to…

“Open and integratable in nature (often made up of a collection of services rather than a single package).” That doesn’t mean applications or services from a specific technology stack, as in the case with other major CRM vendors. That means the applications you select because they’re the right choices for your business. Because flexibility and integration are two more basic tenets in the Sugar design philosophy, and because SugarCRM works with over 400 resellers worldwide to deliver the application, it’s far easier and far les expensive to maintain that control over your business software systems. The vendor doesn’t dictate which applications you will use; you decide what’s best for you.

Laurence wasn’t describing SugarCRM in his blog post, but we’re exceedingly pleased that his choice of words fits us so well!


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