In the late 1990s, CRM systems were launched to help organizations become customer-centric, to manage customer relationships from end to end, through marketing to sales to customer service, and to provide a “360-degree view of the customer.” For a variety of reasons (overselling, lack of proper adoption, missing functionality), they never lived up to many companies’ expectations, and so CRM got a poor reputation. I recently wrote that customer experience management has undergone significant change in the last 18 months, taking over the role of helping organizations become customer-centric, and that CRM vendors have played a part in these changes. Some of the larger ones have, in my view, taken a backward step by breaking CRM into three components to support marketing, sales and customer service; this makes it harder to support the end-to-end customer life cycle.
SugarCRM is not one of them. It has remained true to the original concept and provides a single product to manage the complete cycle of customer relations. Staying the course has helped it achieve business success.
The company makes some elaborate claims on its website – that its product transforms the enterprise, makes users “heroes” at work – so I was keen to learn if the reality lives up to those claims. After a briefing and demonstration, I still feel these claims are a bit over the top, but overall I was impressed. As well as the extensive range of CRM capabilities, three things caught my attention. First, the single product integrates marketing, sales and customer service capabilities, uses a common user interface, is based on one customer database, and can be managed centrally. In this way it connects processes that span the customer life cycle. The software is underpinned by a design studio in which users can build rules-driven process maps that govern how processes flow, both within and across functional areas, for example, from closing a sale to onboarding the customer. One associated feature I particularly like is the ability to create journey maps that show the state of tasks as a customer moves through marketing to sales to support and not as is typical from one communication channel to the next. The integration capabilities extend to importing data from external systems such as ERP, which can enhance the information about a customer and add detail to the journey maps.
Second, as I watched the demonstration, I saw that the user interface aligns with modern user expectations, featuring highly visual widgets on a user’s main dashboard, the ability to drill down to more detailed information and the need to only enter data once. Finally, the product has been built to extend and customize. Organizations can configure the product to their own requirements and add new features, data fields and reports using tools made available by Sugar and its partners. All together the product provides broad support for the complete customer life cycle. It is available through multiple supply models, on-premises and in the cloud, which make it accessible to organizations of all sizes.
Despite my earlier comments about popular opinion on CRM systems, our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that CRM is still the most common system implemented by organizations (48% of them) in their efforts to improve customer engagement, and a further 17 percent expect to implement it over the next 12 months. The same research shows that customer experience is an enterprise issue, and although CRM is not the complete answer, it plays a critical role managing marketing, sales and service records and being a system of record about the customer. To provide customers with consistent responses to interactions, it is thus vital that all employees, and digital self-service systems as well, use the same up-to-date information. SugarCRM provides these capabilities so I recommend that any organization looking to improve the customer experience assess how it can help with those efforts.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director, Customer