Companies have always needed to manage customer data to track their clients. The demand for a tool to simplify this process isn’t new, but CRM as we know it today has started developing in the last fifteen years.
The concepts of “try before you buy”, open-source, and Software as a Service (SaaS) were gaining ground as enterprise software fell flat with empty promises during the dot-com bubble burst.
Today, the SaaS industry is all about being honest with your customers since you must earn and maintain their trust every year if you want to keep them as customers.
We based SugarCRM on similar concepts: to empower customers and place them in control.
Understanding the Business Needs
Working for my father had put me in the software industry at a very young age when many people didn’t even know it existed. I was testing software, and then, when I grew older, I went to trade shows doing demos. When my father’s company went bankrupt, I was old enough to learn two important lessons that guided me over the years:
- Don’t be afraid to pivot your business: When technology changes, you’ll have to change with it. Do not resist change—take advantage and adapt.
- Check your ego at the door: Surround yourself with great people—even better than you are—and build a worthy team. Your job is to have the vision, while their job is to execute on it.
Finding Business Success
Back in 2004, millions of people were looking for free open-source software. We launched Sugar in a freemium model: We offered the software for free and had a paid version with more features. That was our entire marketing machine and it took us through our first $50 million dollars in sales.
It’s much easier if you plug into an idea that’s already captured the marketplace, and our strategy was to become the most mentioned commercial open-source company. Open-source had captured the attention of journalists and business people around the world. We wanted to attach our name to the trend as the business application software, so when people thought of open-source, they thought of SugarCRM.
At Sugar, our focus today is solely on delivering the best customer experience tools. Our job is to help make the hard things in CX easy for our customers. With the Sugar platform, our customers have the tools they need to manage their customers’ journey.
I get to talk with many of our customers, and it’s amazing how similar the challenges are for companies of all industries and all sizes and all regions: To deliver an exceptional customer experience that is easy, effective and puts smiles on their customers’ faces. And that’s what we do—we help them manage that process every step of the way.
Retaining Paying Customers and Reducing Churn
I have a bit of a controversial view on customer churn: In the world of SaaS, customer success has become a well-known discipline. Everyone understands that you need to continuously engage with your customers once you sign them up, to make sure they’re using and getting value out of your software and services.
The number one reason for churn is getting your customers started. The core of customer success is continuously communicating value to the customer through onboarding, training, and providing customer support.
And who is best at communicating value to a customer, in my opinion? A customer success manager who is both a product expert and carries a renewal quota; essentially a salesperson. Instead of just checking in with customers to see if they’re using the platform, ask what other problems you can help solve. Have your customer success managers think ahead and identify the next problem they can solve for your customers and offer them a tailored solution.
One of the customers we signed in the first week of sales at SugarCRM in 2004 is still with us. They have been a valued customer for 17 years. Like any relationship, it has been a two-way street. We deliver on our commitment to them, and they continue as a loyal customer. What brought us here is the focus on our mission. As Jim Collins detailed in his book, “Good to Great”, it’s essential to know your core “hedgehog” concept, the thing that sets you apart. At SugarCRM, we have a maniacal focus on helping mid-market companies scale through easy and effective customer experience tools.
The key to success is to communicate your vision at scale with clarity, conviction, passion and build on top of frameworks—structuring your messaging and positioning.