The world is getting back to normal, which means two things: Vendors are shifting back to in-the-flesh conferences, and I’m writing again. The convergence of these two facts leads to me cranking out a short blog about SugarCRM’s Analyst Summit, held Nov. 10 in Santa Cruz, CA.
The real highlight of the event for me was speaking to Sugar’s customers, a healthy handful of whom were in attendance. This is a change from my usual experience, where I’m more absorbed in what the host company is doing in terms of strategy and/or product. These customers—I interviewed executives from an air travel contractor, a for-profit shoe charity, and a surgical instrument sterilizer, among others—were the stars of this show. It was a refreshing experience.
Feel the Message
The expected updates to Sugar’s product road map were there, along with some healthy discussion of messaging. As always, I appreciate Sugar’s leadership team and its willingness to listen to feedback on how the company presents itself and adjust accordingly, or at least tell us why they will keep what they have. But the real message for me was those customers and their relationships with Sugar. Most of the time, there’s a certain sameness about the reference customers vendors trot out at events like this; they’re either recognizable brands or have easily explained businesses, they have a typical application and employee environment, and the ROI story is A-B-C. Vendors want you to understand why their customers chose them, and sometimes a challenging story can delay that understanding.
Truthful Tales, Timely Told
SugarCRM’s spotlight customers for this summit brought their passion for their work with them, and their appreciation for Sugar as well. Each one left me feeling that, not only was SugarCRM the right choice for them, but that no other vendor could have satisfied them. If there were parts of the business where they’d never consider switching to Sugar products, they said so clearly and explained why, but we never lost the sense that Sugar was a partner and a permanent addition to their tech environment. Hearing about how easy it was for the fundraising organization to add new fields or modules to the system on the fly, with just a few minutes of downtime to put it in place, told me that Sugar’s core competency—highly adaptible and customizable software—was alive and well. Same for the aviation services company and its ability to identify new opportunities in a very low-volume business, or the surgical equipment sterilizer’s balance of field service and freight-shipped repair jobs, despite Sugar not being especially well-known for field service. (Not to say Sugar lacks it, they’re just not the obvious standout.)
New technology, and new ways of presenting and using it, will always be important in enterprise software. Analysts are not going to get tired of hearing about it. But it’s the stories behind the tech that sell it, and that sell us on why one vendor’s got momentum where a similar one doesn’t. While I don’t completely agree with Sugar CPO Zac Sprackett that CRM is “storytelling at scale,” he’s definitely onto something. Bring the best stories, the customers that we couldn’t imagine using somebody else’s product, and let them tell us why.