SugarCRM – A Vendor getting its mojo back?

SugarCRM – A Vendor getting its mojo back?

Anno Domini 2019 SugarCRM seems to be on its way to getting its mojo back. I remember Sugar as a well renowned brand in the sales force automation arena with roots in the open source community. If memory serves right, the company lost a lot of momentum when switching from a freemium model to a paid model by essentially discontinuing the community edition.

Since then I need to admit that the vendor somewhat vanished from my personal radar. This happened around 2014 or 2015. SugarCRM had lost its mojo for me, which is somewhat sad. I knew it existed but it somehow faded away with the exception of news about the intensified partnership with IBM and then the company being acquired by a venture capitalist last year.

Is it only me? Not quite. This fading away is also mirrored by Google Trends.

On the other hand it is entirely possible that I did not appear on SugarCRM’s analyst relationships radar.

Fast forward to today, and SugarCRM consistently rates pretty well in the Gartner Magic Quadrants for sales force automation. The company ranks as a visionary at least since 2017 and is close to the threshold of becoming a leader. The Gartner Group finds it suitable for organizations of all sizes with a focus on mid-sized to large organizations. Forrester research also speaks favourably of the company. Sugar Sell (formerly known as SugarCRM) ranks well on G2Crowd, where it is placed amongst the leaders. SugarCRM also over time belted a few awards.

My interest was piqued again by Bob Thompson of CustomerThink who asked me for a comment when he queried whether we have reached “Peak CX”. This was shortly after SugarCRM announced that it will drive the future of customer experience with powerful products and a new vision.

Which is a pretty bold statement.

According to Sugar CEO Craig Charlton the new vision is to “create a world where companies cultivate customers for life by anticipating and fulfilling needs before customers realize they have them.”

By repositioning SugarCRM as a CX vendor, they do what nearly every other notable vendor did. There are voices that claim Salesforce to be an exception but I beg to disagree here. This is a mainstream positioning, that is currently wanted by the market. Not claiming to enable a good or even superior CX/UX these times is done at the vendor’s peril. So, no surprise here.

The split of the suite into three distinct applications on one platform is another step by SugarCRM to stay compatible with the (enterprise) market, albeit with the smart pitch of keeping the brand name in the solution name instead of going fully mainstream by calling them sales-, service-, and marketing cloud. It is also more in line with SugarCRM offering different deployment options instead of solely focusing on cloud deployment.

Calling the platform an “Intelligent Customer Experience platform” and offering “No Touch Information Management” and “Continuous Cloud Innovation” rounds out the picture of a vendor attempting to not offer a me too solution but one that attempts to leapfrog the competition by offering a higher value to its customers.

This announcement was more than enough to get in touch with Sugar to obtain some more information about how SugarCRM differentiates itself from the immediate competition.

At the end of the day with this announcement SugarCRM acknowledges the need for a strong platform play. Platform play is ultimately a winner takes it all game and there are already a good number of contenders, starting with the big four – Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and SAP – on the enterprise end, and continuing with the likes of Freshworks, Zendesk and Zoho on the small business end with ambitions to grow into the enterprise. Then there are players like Hubspot that want to become suite players for SMBs. I could have mentioned many more. The market is certainly crowded. Smack in the middle we have SugarCRM reasserting itself.

Thankfully Chris Pennington, SugarCRM Chief Customer Officer and Global Head of Professional Services and Support had some time for me.

Chris reaffirmed that Sugar still enjoys a tremendous following with a strong community and a large number of customers, partners and suppliers, which shall get to enjoy the benefits of continuing investments driving better engagement. Partners shall continue to broaden the already rich SugarCRM capabilities based upon its extensible platform.

According to him SugarCRM distinguishes itself via three dimensions:

  • It scales very well from SMB to Enterprise levels, supporting a large number and variety of companies – although its sweet spot is the midmarket
  • It delivers actionable insight as a key element of its value proposition. This is based upon the Intelligent Customer Experience platform with its time-aware data model that delivers consumable information geared towards uncovering new insights in an automated fashion.
  • Finally, SugarCRM requires less technical prowess to get insight out of it than other systems, as its intelligent platform aggregates the millions of different data points on end users and turns them into information, trends and predictions. This enables frontline employees to anticipate and act on their customers’ needs before these even realize they have them. With a unified customer data model, the result is an end-to-end view of the customer journey, with improved availability, performance, and reliability.

The key point clearly being that SugarCRM, in contrast to other CRM systems, is positioned as a system of insight where many other CRMs are still mainly systems of record. With its date-aware data model, SugarCRM promises to resolve the 40 year old CRM problem of not giving back more than what is entered.

The delivery of this concept is partially executed by Sugar Hint which, given some piece of information like an e-mail address, crawls specific sources to provide augmented information about the person – which in turn enables more informed decision-making. This concept will be applied to marketing and service functionalities as well.

My Analysis and PoV

SugarCRM has placed a big bet on its platform. The message goes into a similar direction as the message used by other vendors, but it is the right move. SugarCRM positions itself with a sweet spot in the midmarket in contrast to who I see as the main competition, setting themselves up either in the enterprise market or in the SMB market with a focus on smaller businesses with growth potential.

The difficulty is scaling down rather than scaling up. In respect to this SugarCRM should be more credible than the tier one vendors who are seen as enterprise vendors, rather than SMB vendors. The company’s positioning with a midmarket focus places SugarCRM where the tier one vendors need – and struggle to – go. On the other hand the company is still subject to being forced upmarket by the young and aggressive SMB players who can credibly grow with their customers.

Positioning itself as a CX vendor is straightforward since this is plainly what the market currently expects. The secret will be readiness for what’s next – maybe AI and machine learning, as bottom line is again looming as the next thing as opposed to top line for customers?

Focusing the messaging on actionable insight is a smart move in this context. On one hand it is a different message and on the other hand, it also serves efficiency, equalling bottom line, thinking.

Sugar Hint, as much as it sounds similar to what Nimble does, is an important tool. I haven’t seen anyone but Microsoft offering something like this as an integral functionality. If SugarCRM enhances it to marketing and service functionalities, the company has a real differentiator that helps customers derive value from the system.

This ability would even be strengthened by offering to be available where the users are. And users are not always working within their CRM system. So, making SugarCRM available through Sugar Hint within productivity applications would be really beneficial for customers and therefore to SugarCRM itself.

As a word of caution: with Sugar Market essentially being the result of an acquisition (Salesfusion) and Sugar Serve being a new product, some aspects of the platform are relatively new. The implementation of the platform thought is in my eyes still to be fully confirmed.

Integrating acquired software into an own platform is a difficult business, but I am happy to be convinced.

Overall, if SugarCRM executes on the strategy that I understand it to espouse, there is a real chance to regain quite some of that lost mojo.