Q&A with SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin

SugarCRM CEO's Larry Augustin discusses the importance of an open infrastructure to get customers interested in and excited by social, mobile and cloud technologies.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

While technology industry insiders and analysts might already know about and understand the importance of next-generation technologies in the workplace, the same can't necessarily be said about most enterprise employees.

That in turn also has the potential to affect what kind of infrastructures are put in place as businesses evolve. If these technologies aren't considered properly and decisions aren't made carefully, the results could be catastrophic.


SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin recently spoke with me following Dreamforce '12 about the importance of building for a CRM future, emphasizing that the key to this is an open infrastructure. With this strategy, enterprises could have a better chance of enabling both their employees and their customers to be able to take advantage of social, mobile and cloud technologies in a way that they can control.

What do you see as the next steps for building the "future" of the CRM market? It's pushing the theme of bringing CRM to everyone across the enterprise in a customer-facing world. We see our vision as enabling the individual within the company that's about to talk to a customer prospect. Traditionally it was built for management to understand forecasts and what was happening within the sales team. We're trying to turn that concept around. We look at enabling the individual to help the customer.

How can customers control social in CRM infrastructures? Where we see social, there is a channel interacting with the customer. For a customer, a prospect is on Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, whatever. That's where their customer is and where they want to interact, so we enable that. We'll let you see the customer's individual profiles there. You can configure that in the system and connect in their LinkedIn profile. For us, those are all ways of helping an individual better understand who they are talking to and making a connection.

Where we're not going is looking for a broader analysis of that. We're not looking to go down the path of a marketing not broader sentiment solution. You could probably take that information and go broader from that. We see that as a different application. The application we want to solve is with the individual.

What are the barriers to these infrastructures? We don't yet have a good idea of how these systems come together to aid productivity. Will they aid productivity or will they be interesting things that really deliver on what people expect there? Collaboration in enterprise not a new space. It's getting the right mix of things for companies, and it's not just recreating Facebook within a company. It's not the same things people do on Facebook. You can reuse some of the patterns, but they're not the same. There is a lot of learning to do on what to get right.

How can these challenges be overcome? I think there's a very practical application in the new way of selling in the world of the Internet. That practical application can apply from a very small company to a very large company. But a large company can do different things because they have a broader set of users. But there is one application that extends from small to large: selling.

If you were to go back to Sales 101 before the Internet, salespeople were trained to look around the office for markers, such as a bookshelf, diploma or pictures. In a day where we don't travel but we have the Internet, the equivalent is the Linked In profile. The current thinking is reading Twitter and checking out the the family photos and favorite sports team on Facebook. That's a very practical application of social networks that any business today can understand that doesn't require a huge change in the sophistication in the way people do business.

People make social a little too magic. They act as if it's something completely new, but we've been talking with people forever. We have a new medium in the Internet that lets us talk to more people in new ways in different ways and channels, but its basically the same concept. You can still apply that. It's really just a new medium for doing the same old things.

Has Salesforce.com's catchphrase "social enterprise" been well defined yet? It's pretty loosely used term. What everyone wants across the company is more collaboration, efficiency -- all of those elements. The social enterprise is probably a catch-all term referring to different ways that we make those things happen with new technologies. I think that there is definitely an advantage to an open communications style with a business. The latest generation of tools helps enable that.

I look at things we're doing in our own products and linking activity streams to individual objects and letting people following an opportunity and getting that information. That qualifies and fits into the social enterprise view of the world. It's all about visibility and communication and those key things.

What's the future look like for the IBM-SugarCRM partnership? We signed global alliance a year and a half ago to integrate SugarCRM on IBM products. You'll continue to see us building integration with IBM products and support in various ways in the mid-market range.

Image via SugarCRM

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