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How to make customers for life

How to make customers for life; photo by Thomas Wieberneit

On November 10, 2022, SugarCRM held its annual analyst day in the beautiful Chaminade resort in Santa Cruz. In attendance was an elusive crowd of 14 analysts and six customer representatives, along with the SugarCRM executives.

We gathered to inform ourselves about what is going on, what will be going on, and of course, to listen and talk to customers about how they solve their business challenges with SugarCRM. All of this in plenum- and individual formats along with good space for informal talks.

The event

Apart from the very important social activities that enabled SugarCRM executives, customers, partner representatives and analysts to mingle and talk, the event consisted of several informative briefings that ranged from strategy and roadmap sessions across the platform to all-important customer interviews. The last session was an open question and answer with the executive team.

The customers in attendance have been very diverse, including (for profit) social business, a jet charter and service business, educational, medical businesses, and a governmental organization. Some of them are fairly new Sugar customers, some of them are with SugarCRM for a long time. What all of them have in common is that they have non-run-off-the-mill businesses and processes and that they use at least two of SugarCRM’s solutions. Some key insights that they shared were that they are often able to adapt their systems to changing needs by themselves and that, whenever they needed the support, it was readily available. Two of the stories brought very notable points. One business explained its ability to merge twenty plus acquisitions in less than two years into their system, so that their sellers could sell more efficiently.

One of the medical companies essentially managed to cut all slack activities out of their providers schedules so that they can concentrate on treatments. To put this in perspective, this company was able to triple the patient time of their personnel by automating necessary administrative and billing processes and/or making them more efficient by smartly using the SugarCRM platform.

The customer interviews also didn’t shy away from looking into the bumps that the implementations, and hence the partnerships, did overcome. Nor did the customers shy away from asking the one or other hard question, too.

Another very notable session was about partnership with a focus on and especially the ISV relationship with Triblio that brings more account-based marketing ABM into SugarCRM – with SugarCRM being the first one to use this integration themselves. The excitement about this partnership is clearly visible, culminating in a story about a head of sales calling a prospect about an RFP, inquiring whether the interest is legit as the vendor doesn’t see prospect personnel researching their website – a fact that changed in an instant and caused the return question: How do you know?

The answer was: Because I use SugarCRM – and yes, the head of sales was SugarCRM’s GM Americas.

The official part concluded with an open Q and A with the executive team that showed quite a cohesion.

The bigger picture

The market with the biggest opportunity is the market of midsized companies, whereas midsized can be quite a broad range. This is one aspect that makes it interesting. The second one is that it allows for a mix of indirect and direct engagements which helps vendors scale and serve the development of specific functionality that a vendor alone would not be able to deliver. Third, it is where projects become bigger, i.e., where the cost of acquisition of any individual customer vs. the potential revenue goes down.

Why not the enterprise market then? Because the enterprise market is mostly saturated. There are only so many fortune 5,000 companies. Additionally, this market is dominated by a smaller number of big vendors, most notably Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and SAP when it comes to business software, or bigger niche players, looking at marketing technology or e-commerce, or other adjacent markets.

However, most of these players have one thing in common: They have a hard time scaling down and creating offerings – and offers – that are appealing to and affordable for the vast number of midsized companies.

This is similar for companies that focus on the midmarket but then there are so many more potential customers that the risk of being disrupted from below is significant smaller; and it can be mitigated further by defining the lower end of midmarket low enough.

To be successful in the midmarket, it essentially requires a few things

  • An appealing set of products with sufficient functional breadth and depth, that make users’ lives easier, integrate well and are easy and fast to implement.
  • As a corollary, these products should be built on one common technology base (aka technology platform).
  • Productivity capabilities that boost collaboration and make the system valuable for the users by helping them to work more efficiently.
  • An ecosystem with resellers, system integrators, and ISVs that enrich the vendor-delivered solutions, sell them, and implement them.
  • A strong messaging that shows differentiation and resonates with the market.

The middle four points you will recognize as the components of the experience platform flower.

The experience platform flower

My point of view and analysis

The event was organized as a presence event. One interviewed customer was participating via Zoom, which immediately showed how difficult hybrid engagement is. It is a laudable to do, still, unluckily the customer representative did not get the attention that she and her story deserved.

Amongst the vendors that I include in the Clash of Titans, SugarCRM is a smaller one, albeit growing faster than the competition. The ambition is to double revenues in the next year. SugarCRM clearly has right mix of people and attitude to achieve this in an organic and inorganic way.

SugarCRM targets the mid-market which the company defines as businesses with 100 – 2500 employees, regardless of revenues. The team knows that their strength is the sales force automation software; hence SugarCRM is working hard on closing existing gaps, including some functional gaps in the sales force automation area (nobody is perfect). There is a clear view on what is needed – and a strategy to get it.

Looking into the success criteria I mentioned above, SugarCRM has achieved a lot in terms of providing the users with solutions that have sufficient functional breadth and depth to make their lives easier. The solutions integrate well and are quite easy and fast to implement. SugarCRM also put considerable effort in putting its applications on one platform and, where they are not – e.g., the acquisitions – make them appear to be from a single cast. This will be even strengthened by an upcoming release. So, the technology platform is clearly in place.

The acquisition of Node and partnerships like the one with Triblio have strongly increased the insight part of the house. There are an increasing number of machine-learning based prediction capabilities, which will bolster this. Does SugarCRM has the strongest analytical capabilities in the market as one executive claimed for Sugar Market? Maybe not, still the ability to surface and deliver insight is clearly there, from marketing through customer service.

These insight capabilities as well as some underlying AWS capabilities that SugarCRM leverages, also help to increase user productivity, whereas I count collaboration and “office-like” functionality in this category, too. This includes mail and meetings. Thanks to own capabilities, using AWS and other partners, many of these capabilities are technically there and some are ingrained in the applications. This also includes making the services of the system available without forcing the user to log in to the system. Sugar Connect is a good example for this.

Still, I see a chance here, considering what Salesforce is doing with Slack, Microsoft with Teams, or Zoho with its set of solutions. These companies make their business solutions available through communications and collaboration solutions. Plus, people are increasingly turning to conversational UIs, especially on devices, which supports these roadmaps.

A vibrant ecosystem is a cornerstone for fast growth. With more than 150 ISV partners and more than 200 channel partners, SugarCRM clearly has an ecosystem to fuel growth. Channel partners include resellers as well as solution partners, e.g., systems integrators. The acquisition of Outfitters strengthened the marketplace capabilities. Supporting the resellers via a small network of strong distributors was a smart move that can further help with scaling. Enabling more partners to not only resell but to also add (industry) functionality and to implement SugarCRM, will be of crucial importance going forward. This is where tuck-in acquisitions like W-Systems or Loaded Technologies are incredibly helpful. They enable significant credible own implementation capabilities and can help in enabling partners to become better. I am keen to see how the partner network evolves.

The last criterion is the messaging. SugarCRM’s tagline is “let the platform do the work”. This gets underpinned by “automate anything”, “accelerate everything” and “predict what’s next”. This messaging is about giving value to the user, which is a strong message. Along with “I am a CX vendor”, “platform” is also probably the most used term in the industry. Plus, the underpinning – strong – messages are rather technical messages. Given the emotionality that the SugarCRM team shows, it might be a good idea to connect the brand and brand messaging of SugarCRM to strong positive emotions. Sugar, as a term, surely invites to do this.

To sum it up, if people and culture, followed by products & services and growth technology are the foundations for success, SugarCRM is clearly on a good way.

Let the mojo rise further.

Full disclosure: SugarCRM paid for my travel and accommodation, attending the event


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