SugarCon09: Times - Bad, SugarCRM - Good; Customer Retention - Good

SugarCon09: Times - Bad, SugarCRM - Good; Customer Retention - Good

Summary: How to retain your customers in a recession isn't always obvious and certainly is never easy. But tools, strategies, techniques and tactics are there to do just that -and acquire customers in the bargain - even in a downturn.

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I've just spent the last two days at SugarCon09 - SugarCRM's national conference (duh!).  It was held at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, a decent place but one that clearly shows it old style grandeur - and age. Because I just got back from Mumbai (more on CRM and India next week - amazing), I missed the key first day but was there as a speaker in any case.  But I would be remiss in my duties as a.....an.....a....an...a....something if I didn't make a few cogent comments before I got to the gist of what this blog entry is all about.

SugarCRM Rocks On

There were friggin' 600 people at this event from mostly the small and midsized business world.  That's a roughly 50% increase over last year and yet, they maintained the same undiluted enthusiasm that I saw last year from the smaller crowd - a Sugar high only bigger.  SugarCRM really has devoted fans.   I like that. Who doesn't want to be loved? They sure are.

But what I found particularly noticeable was attendees chatter about the Sugar product - it wasn't as much the straightforward use of the CRM solution that got the chatter going - it was the use of the platform. After I spoke I had half dozen people come up  and talk to me about their use of the Sugar platform.  Not SugarCRM per sé.

Does this surprise me? Nope.  That's a trend that I think I'm seeing more and - CRM solution providers or enterprise applications providers increasingly becoming focused on their platforms. I've now seen it with SugarCRM, salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM,  NetSuite, and numerous others. Interesting it's the mega uber ginormous players like SAP and Oracle, both of whom have sorta platforms. - SAP has their Netweaver platform. Oracle's is a little more murky as a platform with AIA and Fusion - really incredibly sophisticated middleware that seems to take on some platform-like characteristics. But neither company is emphasizing the platform all that much. Its noticeable that its typically the SaaS providers who are talking platform-speak.  Though, take a note here, SugarCRM is delivery-agnostic. You can get it on premise or on demand. Your call.

Don't get me wrong. SugarCRM is still pushing their now socially-enabled (somewhat) and rock solid CRM solution. They are constantly improving the core features and functions and now, with version 5.2, adding social features and characteristics to the mix.  Its just that the platform buzz was there noticeably  - where last year it really wasn't, though Sugar paid a bit of public homage to it - I suspect because they saw what was coming.

The Model Changes at SugarCRM...To Be Continued

SugarCRM - at least according to what I heard (honestly?...that I overheard from both SugarCRM and partners) - is going through some business model changes - moving to the channel as the sales machine for the company - with what seems to be an exclusive emphasis on small and midsized business.  This may have been reported somewhere else - I don't know. I also don't have final confirmation and even if I did, its not world shaking - the recession is that.   Do I think it's a smart move to do what seems to be 100% channel sales and 100% small and midsized. I'm not sure yet.  Once I figure it out, I'll of course, shoot off my mouth as all New Yorkers are genetically encoded to do - and then I can continue my imitation of an analyst. (Eat your heart out, Darrell Hammond).  I'll keep you posted.

John Roberts Rocks Again!

But here's what I was really there to do.  I was there to see if John Roberts, the very, very cool CEO of SugarCRM blew rock music lyrics from his laryngal pipes this year at their boat party better than he did last year when the SugarCRM rockband played at their winery party.  As some of you who saw my SugarCRM report of last year, you saw what I thought then . Here's a picture of him rocking out last year. Unfortunately, this year I missed the party (I missed the boat, to state the obvious cliché), but because I was on a stage I had an opportunity to find out from the crowd through shows of hands - especially those who had heard him last year - if they felt he had improved.  Yes, I really did that.  John is confident enough and just outright egoless enough to handle that. AND as it worked out, the majority of those who had seen both singing engagements thought he was better in 2009 than 2008.

Kudos, dude.

Customer Retention In A Recession

Actually, though I was there to speak on Customer Retention During An Economic Downturn and I was in a really adrenal mood when I did. I was leaping off the stage and walking into the crowd - around 600 strong and throwing out what you see here as the core of practical advice on how to implement the tools, strategies, tactics and techniques for maintaining your customer base in this rapidly increasing recession. I'm hooking you up with the presentation.  If you want to read a good article on what I actually spoke about without going through the entire presentation, go here. Do me a favor either way, don't only comment on the good or bad quality of the presentation or the article. Let's use this to start working together to refine tips and strategies and identify tools that will help those who want to hang on to their customers do just that. Get the conversation rolling so we can all figure out how to handle this.

Here 'tis.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Software

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6 comments
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  • SugarCON - Great Time, Great Future

    Paul - enjoyed your presentation at SugarCON and as usual agreed with most of it. Your observations on the channel are astute, and reflect new buying behaviors we are all seeing. Like the last downturn, open source options are getting serious consideration in the due-diligence process, but the eval cycles are longer. Even large customers want to start with small projects to prove the platform, prove integration concepts, use of the cloud, etc. Often the channel is better suited with services to guide that process. The team at Sugar are very smart and quick to respond.
    dguilbeau
  • RE: SugarCon09: Times - Bad, SugarCRM - Good; Customer Retention - Good

    Very interesting, Paul. I especially like the presentation. As a consumer, I appreciate the small things you mention - like getting and email that says, "thanks for sticking with us." It's a stark contrast to the "everything is on sale" counterpart.

    As a B2B marketer, I think it's more important than ever to rethink customer relationships. Adjusting relationship tactics for the downturn will drive loyalty as the market bounces back. So, even if your prospects can't pay now, you should treat them as valued customers if you want to hold onto them for the future.
    gbender26
  • RE: SugarCon09: Times - Bad, SugarCRM - Good; Customer Retention - Good

    Interesting read Paul. It feels like SugarCRM is doing well in the fight against Salesforce.com -- it's perhaps no coincidence that I heard someone describe in several years ago now as "like Salesforce.com, but much cheaper".

    I was also very interested to note SugarCRM's move into social CRM/CRM 2.0, albeit modestly. Integration to CrunchBase proves the point I guess, but why are we seeing no more progression on using the power of information residing in social networks to enable comprehensive profiles of contacts to be built and stored in CRM systems? Think about what people are willing to share online and how helpful that information could be if listed alongside their contact details and past contact in your CRM before you lift the phone to them, or target them with marketing. Not to mention the obvious benefits of customers essentially maintaining their own contact details.

    It seems an obvious pairing of highly popular technologies, but everyone seems to be dragging their feet...

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
    http://www.wecando.biz
    ianhendry
    • Interesting Times

      Hey Ian,
      Actually there is movement from both ends in the CRM and social spaces. Companies like Radian6 on the socmed monitoring side are calling what they are doing Social CRM as is Oracle and each is integrating features of the other - more or less. There is a slowdown in investment in this direction because of the recession but the interest is still very high for the marriage of CRM and social media/communities.
      pgreenbe
      • Stuff happening for sure... but the RIGHT stuff?

        Thanks Paul. I see things happening and Radian6 are very interesting, but is this space going to be led by vendors from the socmed monitoring space rather than existing CRM players like SugarCRM, Salesforce.com, Salesnet et al? This would be a shame, as it would mean that to benefit from the powerful customer residing in socnets, users need to swap systems; or, at the very least, put another layer in between.

        Also, I note a lot of the socmed monitoring guys providing solutions here are look at the bigger picture of listening and participating in conversation around your brand or market, identifying people you DON'T already know. To me this feels like Stage 2 before Stage 1 has been achieved: supplementing all the information stored on existing contacts (usually just contact details and call/email interaction info) with that found about the same people/companies across socnets. I don't know one CRM vendor that offers even this right now, yet the space is moving on to alert you to people whose basic details you don't yet have... This just feels like chasing the world of opportunity before you've got the process basics sorted. The wrong way round, in other words.

        In my mind, the clearer immediate market is to improve the effectiveness of existing systems with richer data (from the social web). I think there are potentially more buyers for this short term, as its a bold on sale to existing CRM and data with immediate benefits.

        I could be wrong of course. Your thoughts?

        Ian Hendry
        CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
        http://wwww.wecando.biz
        ianhendry
  • Business Model Changes?

    I always find it amusing to see how companies spin layoffs and turmoil, Sugar's "business model change" is just that - spin. SugarCon had a decent turnout, but it needs to stop bleeding $$$ or its VC funding will dry up. Since they laid off their enterprise salespeople, sales engineers, implementation and training teams late last year, they have to go through the channel now. We'll see if Sugar follows Paul's advice and weathers the storm.
    datawhse_diva