Gerry Brown (my colleague who specialises in BI and Marketing solutions) wrote in a recent analysis piece of the damage that was done to the CRM market by vendors over-promising and under-delivering, and turning the original promise of CRM, a sustainable means of building lifetime value in one's customer base, and limiting it to become a quick and dirty sales cycle aide. These are sentiments which I share, and it has bred a widespread cynicism about CRM. It therefore came as a very pleasant surprise to be invited to look at Sugar CRM by one of their UK based partners, Bestoutcome. Sugar is an open source product, available at four price points offering increasing capability and storage facilities, available both for in-house installation or provision via the cloud. What immediately struck me was the clarity of the interface; everything was there that you would expect and all was readily identifiable, there was no hide and seek for your favourite function. The last time I saw something similar was a few years ago when I looked at RightNow CRM, a SaaS offering that, in a similar fashion, had all that you need but nothing that was obviously superfluous or confusing, and they have just been bought by Oracle, so this is a good endorsement that the Sugar people are setting about this in the right way.
So the problem with most so-called CRM solutions is that they are not about the long term relationship and managing prospects to customers and on to being supporters, they place to much emphasise on the short term and on the capture of leads and their conversion to a sale - not so with Sugar. Yes, it covers that process but it does a lot more to actually nurture the relationship and allow a long term mutually beneficial relationship to be developed. So Sugar is not just about sales, it also covers marketing and support. All of these functions are linked together by an underpinning workflow system. This is the key to any effective CRM system; if you want to actually have a relationship with a customer you need to both ensure that all channels touching the prospect or customer actually have all of the available knowledge about the person to hand so there is no starting from scratch at each point of contact, and each contact must result in the desired outcome without a constant need to be prompted to do the things which were promised by the supposed recipient of the services! Sugar does all of that elegantly and intuitively, so you do not have to undergo weeks of training to make this solution do what you want.
So, what you are getting is, of course, the ubiquitous Sales Force Automation piece. This offers facilities to track and share contacts and opportunities and goes on to manage quotes and contracts. All of this is integrated with email systems such as Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo or even Lotus Notes, so all actions are captured, tracked and logged against the contact record, enabling everyone to share a common view. When entering a new contact the system also gives you a head start because it can be integrated with Social Media such as Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter to bring up background about the person, and also news feeds etc. to identify valid news stories in the case of companies etc. There are dashboards to enable performance to be visually monitored and forecasts can be created, and reports are available to manage the whole process. So comprehensive, but not with functional overload that masks the essentials with things that might be used once in a very long period!
The marketing element allows campaigns to be created with their budgets and goals captured. The system then can identify target lists from the contacts in the system. The system can capture leads from website landing pages, and leads can be assigned to sales to close down. Again the loop is closed by management reports that allow performance, including campaign ROI, to be reported.
The support element allows customer cases to be handled quickly and effectively, with inbound communications being logged against the customer record, then workflow ensures that actions are taken to complete the handling of the request, and learning can be shared via the knowledgebase, and there is reporting to ensure that the responsiveness is monitored.
Another very exciting feature for all those of us who find being kept apart from our iPad a painful experience, is that Sugar supports not just the iPad but also Android, BlackBerry and iPhone platforms so you can access all of this capability on a smartphone or tablet - this is fast becoming an essential capability.
So there you have it in a quick skim, a very well thought out, highly functional, CRM solution, supported by a vibrant open source user community putting forward add-ons etc to make the tool highly configurable, brought to you at a price that makes it affordable to groups like SMEs and charities who really need a CRM solution but really cannot afford the price tag of the big enterprise solutions and, to my mind, I can see no glaring omissions in what Sugar can do and I really do encourage people to go the website and take a look at how clean the interface is and how intuitive it is to grasp how to drive this application. In a world in which the economy is fragile everyone needs to take care of their customers like never before and, with Sugar, that can now be achieved admirably at a price that will only come as a shock, because it is not as much as you would think, having seen what it buys.
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